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Join the conversation! There are now 12 comments on this chapter's page 114. Inventing God and Law: Pious Frauds. What are your thoughts?
  1. Anonymous says

    The part about Institutional Arthritis was honestly pretty eye-opening. Like, given our world history it definitely makes sense.

    It even helps show why such arthritis can appear in present day – unlike in antiquity, we can’t go “actually there’s a religious text that says X”. Our pool of knowledge and history shows us what went on, so it’s harder to sneak something in that way.

    Which means that current institutions are basically beholden to the values they set up years ago. If, say, the Catholic Church wanted to go “trans rights”, they’d need to basically reform it themselves, and the religion is so widespread that convincing all of its practitioners to change their mind would be a difficult task.

    • You make some good points! We’re going to be seeing more and more examples of “institutional arthritis” from here on, and different ways people have dealt with it (or failed to deal with it). A lot of Constitutional Law deals with movements for institutional change, so it’s going to be good to know where we came from when we get there.

      • I think it’s interesting to see how different current religions handle those sorts of changes, and a lot of it depends on the institutional structures they’ve set up themselves. Catholicism has a pope who is considered infallible, so if the cardinals do elect a pope who wants change, they are allowed to claim direct instruction from God. But they also have 2000 years of history.
        Then the Mormon church is in a different situation. Their leader can also make change thanks to his direct connections with heaven, but the religion is also so much younger. The early days of Mormonism had other witnesses. We can read newspapers about what Joseph Smith was up to around the time he found his golden plates, making it harder for church leaders to ret-con anything inconvenient.

        • Another thing that makes the Catholic Church more flexible is that it doesn’t take the Bible literally. Its scriptures are considered to be very symbolic and allegorical, requiring educated interpretation to discover the deeper meaning and underlying principles. That’s a large part of what the Catholic Church considers its function: to figure out from the scriptures and its own traditions what God wants people to do and understand. In contrast to scriptures like the Book of Mormon and the Koran, the Bible is not a prophetic transcription of the direct word of God, but is a collection of writings that the Church itself selected and arranged. Unlike evangelical Protestant faiths, the Catholic Church says you can’t understand the Bible just by reading it at face value, and it’s not the only source of doctrine. All of this gives Catholicism a lot of room to evolve with changing times and accept new scientific discoveries as true, and even adapt its institutions and practices, all while preserving its essential beliefs and institutions. And you could write several books on how the different forms of present-day Judaism deal with change.

          But we’re just comparing the Abrahamic religions, whose faith is essentially handed down from on high in some form of received scripture. That is the exception in world religions, not the rule. I’d love it if someone who knows more about non-Abrahamic religions could chime in on how some of them adapt or undergo institutional change!

          • Disclaimer: Amateur religion geek here, should not be confused for an actual practitioner.

            In many to most cases, doctrine follows the standards of the community rather than the other way around, so institutional change comes as people…simply start practicing differently. As you noted, there’s no unifying authority (Catholicism), literal document (evangelical Protestantism), or established science of authentication and interpretation (Islam), so everyone can interpret the holy books as they see fit and decide which books they’re going to work from. For example, if you’re a Buddhist woman, and you don’t like what the Pali canon says about having to be reborn as a man before achieving enlightenment, you can decide that the Lotus Sutra got it right and that all beings have the potential to achieve Buddhahood. So as society changes and the Buddhist community moves on, so does Buddhism.

            (Obviously, saying anything unifying about Buddhism is a massive oversimplification of a topic you could do an entire college degree on, same with any other religion.)

  2. STM says

    The ancient text look like Sanskrit. Did Josiah predate the Hebrew script as we know it today?

    I feel like new interpretations of the constitution are the ancient document trick of today.
    “You can ban gay sex, and the constitution always said so.” Lawrence v Texas
    “Gay marriage and gay relations are protected, and the constitution always said so, even before Lawrence.” Obergfell v Hodges
    “14A protects abortion and always has.” Roe v Wade
    “Nothing in the constitution protects abortion. Roe was wrong.” Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization

    • How insightful! I’ve never considered the interpretation of the Constitution by justices to be akin to interpreting scripture by religious authorities, but as I think about it more and more, the two certainly share some parallels.

      Say, does that mean our Supreme Court Justices also consult a Magic 8-Ball to determine their rulings? Say it ain’t so, RGB, say it ain’t so!

    • That ancient text is indeed Sanskrit! But don’t read any significance into my choice of script, I was just having fun and showing that this is a thing that went on all over the world, not just in the Fertile Crescent.

      As for the role of judges, I agree with Stephen that your observation is very insightful. I think you both might be pleased when the comic gets back to the present day and draws some connections between the role of the courts and some institutions we think we don’t have any more.

    • Crap, I made a fool of myself on the Internet. At least I’m in good company. Lawrence v Texas struck down sodomy laws. I was thinking of Bowers v Hardwick.

      • Nah, fools are the ones who double down when they’ve made a mistake.

        No, wait, that’s not fools, that’s
        [choose your punchline from the following:
        a) cops.
        b) cult members.
        c) politicians.
        d) kids these days.
        e) other:_______.]

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