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Erika Rice Scherpelz
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Erika Rice Scherpelz

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Useful summary of biblical stuff, saved mainly for future reference.
 
In a post earlier today, +God Emperor Lionel Lauer asked about whether tattoos are religiously prohibited for Jews and for Christians, based on Leviticus 19:28. This led to quite an interesting discussion of the history and interpretation of the Bible, and I ended up writing a comment long enough that I figured that some of my readers here may enjoy it as well. So here's some of the story of how tattoos are viewed in Judaism and Christianity, and how that came to be.

In Judaism

Basically all of Leviticus (including 19:28) comes from the P source. [1] P gets its name because of its priestly authors – this book wasn't written to the Levis so much as by them. There's some dispute over the date of its authorship, but it's a question of whether it was written shortly after RJE (which would put it during the Babylonian exile) or around the 5-6c BCE (somewhat after the return). I join with the (narrow) majority in thinking that the second interpretation is more likely to be accurate, because at the time of RJE the priestly community hadn't yet formed a sufficiently strong post-Exilic organizational bureaucracy to come up with this detailed a rule list.

What's important about this dating and sourcing is that post-Exilic Judaism is a very different kettle of fish from pre-Exilic Judaism. Pre-Exile, the religion is centered around national identity and the monarchy, is generally monolatrous rather than monotheistic, and religious prohibitions are focused on things like "what kind of animal are you allowed to sacrifice." During the Exilic period, there was a major rethinking of the meaning of the religion: How do you have Judaism without a Temple? This led to the notion of the "self as Temple," so that e.g. kosher laws shifted from restricting sacrifices to restricting foodstuffs; to the notion of the Law as being the center of the religion; the development of the idea of the rabbi; and quite a few other things. (This is also where the idea of true monotheism makes its appearance)

Post-Exile, there was a very strong effort by the priests who led the return (which were, we should remember, a schism within Judaism: a lot of Jews were perfectly content to remain in Mesopotamia, and the Mesopotamian Jews remained the heart of Judaism all the way until the Mongol conquests moved the center over to Cairo and to Spain. The group that demanded a return to Israel after the rise of Cyrus were considered fairly radical, and one gets the sense that a lot of the people in Mesopotamia were glad to see them go) to enforce a "new religious order" in their recently re-occupied land. The prophetic command to get rid of all of your non-Jewish wives, etc., (Ezra 10:3) all comes out of this time period. 

So that's the context in which P was being written and loaded down with ritual prohibitions, and that's why P is so focused on defining the bounds between "Jewish" and "non-Jewish." The ban on tattooing is very much a part of that, it representing a custom of many of the local groups.

Moving forward in history a bit, the next major phase is the Tannaitic period during the Roman occupation. This is the point where the Mishnah was written, and it was a point where the leading rabbis were very concerned with the question of how to remain a Jew in a world where not everyone around you is one. The idea of a "fence around the Torah," and all of the more complex ritual prohibitions and conduct, really emerges from that period. These authors reinforced Levitical prohibitions fairly strongly. A similar process continued all the way through the Middle Ages and into the modern period.

The real shift away from this starts with the rise of secularism in the early 17th century, along with the general catalysis of the Enlightenment. This led to profound splits within Judaism as well, and a lot of the modern perception of the importance of ritual and identity versus core practice.

In Christianity

Among Christians, the story was fairly different. Christianity really had two fathers, and nowhere is it more visible than here.

Jesus (and his immediate followers, especially Peter) fit very naturally into the scope of 1st-century Judaism and its conflicts. Jesus took a particularly radical position against the core Tannaitic one (and more to the point, against the Pharisaic one, which was politically ascendant at the time) rejecting the increased emphasis on ritual law in favor of a nearly-complete refocusing on things like charity and moral conduct. I could summarize the Petrine perspective on ritual laws like Lev19:28 as "seriously, do you have nothing better to worry about with your time?" (Probably followed by an angry speech about the poor, if Jesus were giving it)

Paul, on the other hand, basically came up with a new religious tradition de novo which was tied to Jesus more as inspiration than as source. He based his theology entirely on the idea of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the ideas of grace, salvation, etc., which are so familiar to us from modern Christianity. He had no interest in the ritual law either, but for different reasons; he had basically converted to/created an entirely new religious tradition, with a wholly different set of interests.

Petrine Christianity largely faded into the background, as Paul's version was much more interested in selling itself around the world. (There are some remaining Petrine sects, and there has been a resurgence of interest in more Petrine principles of charity and so on among certain denominations in the US and Europe in the past few years) 

So when you ask about whether a particular chunk of law applies to Christians, you should first ask whether you're talking about a Pauline or Petrine sect. For the former case, the short answer is basically "no;" the only texts that matter are the letters of Paul himself. (And occasional chunks taken out of the Gospels, but not in any sort of coherent manner; a sharp deemphasis on the Gospels and on the words of Jesus, in favor of on the epistles, is a fundamental hallmark of Pauline Christianity) So the (Pauline) Christian response to homosexuality, for example, is generally rooted in Corinthians (eg 1Cor6:9) rather than in anything Levitical.

Just for one extra complexity, we know that we don't have all the letters of Paul (e.g., 1Cor5:9 makes it clear that there was an earlier letter to the Corinthians, a "0Cor," which isn't extant), and quite a few of the letters of Paul's are known to be outright forgeries. [2] In particular:

Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, Philippians, and Philemon are broadly agreed to all have been written by the same hand (Paul's) ca 50CE.

2 Thessalonians, Ephesians, and Colossians are of "uncertain authorship," most likely forgeries. (Rather amusingly, 2Thess2:1 warns the recipients to ignore other letters being circulated, saying that these aren't actually by me and they are forgeries. Except 2Thess itself is almost certainly a forgery as well, arguing forcefully for perspectives which Paul routinely argued forcefully against in his confirmed letters. Very Hall of Mirrors.)

1 & 2 Timothy and Titus are definite forgeries, written in the 2nd or 3rd century CE. 

There are also lines and chapters within legit epistles which are suspected to be forgeries as well. And while the Petrine Christians were focused much more on the words of Jesus, they didn't have many circulating written sources; the Gospels are anonymous texts (i.e. we don't know who wrote each one) with the earliest being Mark, ca. 65-70CE, written by educated, Greek-literate 2nd-generation followers of Jesus based on a few decades of oral tradition.

So the net of this is that Pauline Christianity (including all of Catholicism and almost all of Protestantism) doesn't care at all about anything written by the P source, or really almost at all about anything in the Jewish religious texts; their importance is entirely in their use rhetorically to show that their religion was prophesied. Thus the tattooing prohibition, in particular, has no significance there.

[1] Footnote for those who haven't encountered this: the names of the different sources come from the historical study of how the Bible was written. The book was written by a number of authors over a period of several hundred years, and the various authors and editors each had particular political axes to grind, which often manifested in their having arguments in the text itself. If you want to know more about this, I recommend Richard Freedman's The Bible with Sources Revealed, (https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Bible_with_Sources_Revealed.html?id=iw39_Eaq85QC) which is an edition of the Torah with sentence-by-sentence annotation of our best understanding of who wrote what and when.

[2] The study of early Christian sources is no less fascinating than the study of early Jewish ones. In the first few centuries CE, notable early Christian preachers were criss-crossing the Roman Empire pushing their various ideas and writing lots of letters to their supporters and potential supporters. Paul was the original and one of the most successful, which also meant that he was one of the most-often forged. If you're interested in this, I highly recommend Bart Ehrman's lecture series, "History of the Bible: The Making of the New Testament Canon," (http://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/history-of-the-bible-the-making-of-the-new-testament-canon.html), which goes into this in depth.
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When I see people arguing that sexism is all about women, that it's unfair to men, this is the sort of thing that I want them to see. Sexism limits both women and men, boys and girls in what they can do and who they can be. It pushes them into narrowly defined roles that do not reflect the full complexity of every human -- the ability to be silly and stupid, compassionate and graceful, strong and smart. Real individuals can't be reduced to stereotypes, but they can be profoundly influenced by the attempt to do so.
Yes, it is just a summer movie. Yes, it is supposed to be funny. Yes, the minions are cute. Then why are some people voicing negative feedback after viewing the movie, specifically critiques of sex...
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A fundamental principle of good engineering is that you design the whole system to function well, not just the part you're concentrating on. Most systems include humans as components -- as operators, maintainers, passengers, or even obstacles. And when you fail to take that seriously into account in your design, you make a fundamental design error which can have lethal consequences.

It appears that the cause of the SpaceShipTwo crash was precisely of this sort: the designers never considered the possibility that a particular switch might be flipped at an incorrect time. In this case, it was flipped only a few seconds too soon, at a speed of Mach 0.8 instead of Mach 1.4. (This under rocket power, where acceleration is fast) That caused the tail system to unlock too soon, be ripped free by acceleration, and destroy the spacecraft, killing the co-pilot and severely injuring the pilot.

Scaled Composites' design philosophy of "relying on human skill instead of computers" here reeks of test pilots' overconfidence: the pilots are so good that they would never make a mistake. But at these speeds, under these g-forces, under these stresses, and tested repeatedly, it's never hard for an error to happen.

There are a few design principles which apply here.

(1) It should not be easy to do something catastrophic. There are only a few circumstances under which it is safe for the feathers to unlock, for example, and those are easy to detect based on the flight profile; at any other time, the system should refuse to unlock them unless the operator gives a confirmatory "yes, I really mean that" signal.

(2) Mechanical tasks that can lead to disaster are a bad idea. Humans have limited bandwidth to process things: while our brain's vision center is enormously powerful, our conscious mind's ability to think through things works at language speed, a few ideas per second. Here, time was wasted with a human having to perform a basically mechanical task of unlocking a switch at a particular, precise time. This requires the human to pay attention, time something accurately, and flip a switch, at a time that they should be simply watching out for emergencies. Since the time of unlock is already known long before takeoff, a better design would be for the unlock to happen automatically at the right time -- unless the risks from having an automatic unlocker (perhaps due to a reliability issue, or having a complex part prone to failure) exceed the benefits of removing it.

What's important to learn from this accident is that this error isn't specific to that one mechanism: this is an approach which needs to be taken across the entire design of the system. Every single potential or scheduled human action needs to be reviewed in this way.

An excellent perspective on this comes from James Mahaffey's book Atomic Accidents, a catalogue of things that have gone horribly wrong. In the analysis, you see repeatedly that once designs progressed beyond the initial experimental "you're doing WHAT?!" stage, almost all accidents come from humans pushing the wrong button at the wrong time. 

Generally, good practice looks like:

(A) Have clear status indicators so that a human can tell, at a glance, the current status of the system, and if anything is in an anomalous state.

(B) Have "deep status" indicators that let a human understand the full state of some part of the system, so that if something is registering an anomaly, they can figure out what it is.

(C) Have a system of manual controls for the components. Then look at the flows of operation, and when there is a sequence which can be automated, build an automation system on top of those manual controls. (So that if automation fails or is incorrect for any reason, you can switch back to manual behavior) 

(D) The system's general behavior should be "run yourself on an autonomous schedule. When it looks like the situation may be going beyond the system's abilities to deal with on its own -- e.g., an anomaly whose mitigation isn't something that's been automated -- alert a human."

The job of humans is then to sit there and pay attention, both for any time when the system calls for help, and for any sign that the system may need to call for help and not realize it.

This wasn't about a lack of a backup system: this was about a fundamentally improper view of humans as a component of a crtiical system.
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To what degree is extra-biblical evidence useful in evaluating what the Bible has to say? For some Christians, generally those who don't take the Bible literally, it is highly useful. Information which highlights the cultural context, which helps clarify what the various books of the Bible may have meant to the original audience is valuable. The Bible is believed to have contemporary relevance in this view, but it is not meant to be interpreted in light of contemporary norms.

For other Christians, generally those who take the Bible more literally, the answer is more complex. If you asked these individuals, they may well say they believe in the plain sense reading of the Bible. God, these Christians believe, guided the writing and translation of the Bible such that Christians of all times and places would be able to understand it in their own context.

The relationship of the latter class of Christians with cultural context is complex. Often, these Christians embrace cultural context when it deepens their understanding of a text. But they reject it when it challenges their beliefs.

Two examples, one of acceptance and one of rejection. Time and again, I've seen Christians discuss the cultural significance of blood and disease to make it clear how radical Jesus was when he blessed the menstruating woman and healed lepers. The stigma of tax collectors is also brought up to illustrate why Jesus was being radical in breaking norms that seem odd or trivial today. Cultural context is considered valuable in understanding Jesus.

At the other extreme, consider the fact that sexual orientation as we understand it today was not how the cultures surrounding the Bible understood men having sex with other men. For example, Greek men who has sex with boys very much were operating in the context of a power differential. Men could have sex with weaker individuals — women and boys — but sex with other men made a man weak. This is very different than how gay relationships today work. But if this is brought up as a challenge to someone's interpretation of the Bible, it is thrown out as irrelevant. God meant for the Bible to be interpreted plainly.

Of course, confirmation bias and selectivity and not exclusive to any group. But when that selectivity is causing active harm, it might be worth scrutinizing more closely.
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Personally, it's my experience that understanding the context deepens the lessons the Bible has to teach us. The Jesus Project put out an incredible book a few years back where they examined all the early texts in their original languages, and then voted on each "red-letter text" how likely was it that these were Jesus' actual words. It's an excellent and enlightening read by a few scholars who have spent their lives examining texts this way.  

And it's just one of many marvelous observations that are available to us.

If knowledge can break one's faith, perhaps one's faith doesn't have a strong foundation. imho. 
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After this week is over, no more pumping for me!

I love that I can provide sustenance for the child, but it will be really really nice not having to carry the extra bag, schedule the extra time, and generally deal with all of it.
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+Antonio D'souza, yes, that's the plan. 
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This blanket for a dear friend is based off a blanket I had from when I was a baby.

Project info: http://ravel.me/ErikaRS/cbwase
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Thanks!
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I have finally had the chance to read this article in full. It's worth the investment in time.

What Coates makes clear is that America still has work to do on race. That even if we take the false assumption that all is equal and fair now, you cannot just ignore centuries of harm. Stopping abuse does not make the abuse that happened okay.

That gap comes not just from awareness that evil happened. It's not just abstract. Those years of disadvantage are the source of the gaps that we see today and that many still think of as being just the way blacks are. But, as quoted in the article, "'The reason black people are so far behind now is not because of now,' Clyde Ross told me. 'It’s because of then.'"

Even when we acknowledge the systematic gap, we tend to try to take off the racial edge. That makes the gap more palatable by hiding our shared culpability. "Liberals today mostly view racism not as an active, distinct evil but as a relative of white poverty and inequality. They ignore the long tradition of this country actively punishing black success—and the elevation of that punishment, in the mid-20th century, to federal policy."

So what to do? We don't need to jettison the past — to say, for example, that we should not respect Jefferson or Washington because they own slaves. But we do have to own up to the past and the waves it is still making in the present. One way of doing this, one very concrete way, is to at least seriously consider reparations. As Coates sums it up, "But I believe that wrestling publicly with these questions matters as much as—if not more than—the specific answers that might be produced. An America that asks what it owes its most vulnerable citizens is improved and humane. An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future. More important than any single check cut to any African American, the payment of reparations would represent America’s maturation out of the childhood myth of its innocence into a wisdom worthy of its founders."

Although Coates doesn't discuss this, I think it is not only our joint guilt that makes taking reparations seriously difficult. I think it's also that large swaths of Americans don't really believe in broad societal affects. The ability of the individual of character to rise above any difficulties is a deep part of the American worldview. Even liberals, who tend to be much more aware of how structural effects advantage some while disadvantaging others tend to buy into that to some degree -- there's an underlying belief that anyone can better their situation if they really try. Liberals then temper that with the acknowledgement that it isn't fair that some people have to try so much harder than others. But for blacks in America, success has often just changed the type of injustice, not transcended it.

So not only do we have to admit that we were implicated in evil. We have to admit that our fundamental view of individuals is flawed. It doesn't require racism to be intimidated by that. It does require character to get past it.
Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.
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+Mike Brau​, in general, that seems like a reasonable approach. But as Coates argues, for three issues that have come from slavery and racism in the US, it's not sufficient. There are some problems your cannot address without making amends for that particular wrong, because it's not just the material gaps that need to be fixed — although they do — it's the the broad cultural blind spot that needs to be removed and healed.
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Erika Rice Scherpelz

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I don't often share press articles about our products – they rarely seem to say much of use – but this was just such a good case of a journalist Getting It Right that I had to share. Google+ is very much alive, and our recent changes are focused on making it be the best product it can be for what it's best at: helping people meet people and have great conversations about things they're passionate about. 

One particularly noteworthy thing in this article is its discussion of the "majority illusion:" people tend to assume that their friends are typical of the wider world, but almost by definition they aren't – for one thing, they all have one uncommon attribute in common, which is being your friend in the first place. And since people don't choose their friends randomly from the entire spectrum of humanity, one's friends are always a distorted sample. 

So yes, we have here a tech press article which (correctly) uses an important result in cognitive psychology to explain why lots of tech press articles are nonsense.
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Best response so far to "all lives matter" as a dismissal of "black lives matter"
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For anyone who hasn't seen that the recent Planned Parenthood scandal video was selectively edited to the point of being fundamentally a hoax.
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And the Republican Reps are shocked. SHOCKED I tell you!
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This blanket for a dear friend is based off a blanket I had from when I was a baby.

Project info: http://ravel.me/ErikaRS/cbwase
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Beautifull colors and very good work!!!
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Seen on Facebook today: a straight white Christian male implies he is being harassed for his straight white Christian maleness in a discussion whose only other participants at that point were other straight white Christian males.
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Not unimaginable, but given this particular conversation, completely unfounded.
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Great venue for a baby shower! The cupcakes are a bit sweeter than I like, but still very tasty.
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The molten chocolate cakes are delicious, but so are the other desserts.
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