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Old 10-15-2001, 01:27 PM   #11
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bd-from-kg

A very persuasive commentary. Not only is the trilemma argument formally unsound, it appears that the preferred horn is not what one would expect christians to desire.
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Old 10-15-2001, 01:56 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally posted by bd-from-kg:
<STRONG>On Jesus’ sanity
The Bible itself gives ample justification for this conclusion. Let’s look at some of the relevant passages.</STRONG>
Another for the "Lunatic" column is one of my personal favorites -- Mark 8:31-33. Jesus predicts his death, and Peter goes "Say it ain't so, boss!" For this, Jesus barks "Get thee behind me Satan!" Sounds like a schizo to me.

Of course, none of this exegesis matters much for Lewis' Trilemma. Its target audience are those who assume, without knowing any better, that Jesus was a great teacher. With that as a given, it attempts to prove that Jesus was also divine. You reach a different conclusion if you actually read the "great teachings" attributed to Jesus.
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Old 10-17-2001, 08:18 AM   #13
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There is an interesting allusion to the trilemma in "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," one of CS Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia" series.

In the story, Lucy discovers the magical world of Narnia through a wardrobe, and when she comes back she tells her brothers and sisters about it. Skeptical, they consult the wise old Professor about it. He gives the standard trilemma argument. There are only three possibilities: Either Lucy is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. Since they know Lucy does not tell lies and one need only look at her to see she is not mad, the only remaining option is to presume that she is telling the truth.

It's funny that Lewis would choose to illustrate his trilemma argument in this children's fantasy book of all places because it illustrates just how ludicrous the whole argument is. If a small child tells me that he went into a wardrobe and entered a magical world full of talking fauns and white witches, I should conclude that since the child is not a known habitual liar and does not appear to be stark raving mad, the most likely explanation is that he did in fact enter a magical world of talking fauns and white witches??

Egads!
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Old 10-18-2001, 10:31 PM   #14
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The trilemma argument is one that Christians would be well-advised to avoid lest it prompt some serious thinking.
I think the trilemma is a very useful argument under certain circumstances. It is hard to disagree that Lewis was right to use it against those who asserted that Jesus was a good teacher but not correct in his claims to be God. If someone holds such a view of Jesus then the trilemma can be formulated as a very logically sound and useful argument indeed.
It is of course not appropriate for use on someone who doesn't hold that view of Jesus, and arguing that Jesus wasn't a good teacher and therefore the trilemma is useless only betrays and misunderstanding of what the argument is useful for.

Just out of curiousity is there anyone who actually favours the liar or lunatic options, even after BD's defense of them? It's just that all the atheists I've talked to have always favoured the "myth" option - that Jesus didn't really claim divine status. So I'm curious...

As far as BD's actual argument goes, I'm not particularly interested to waste my time refuting it any more than I'd be interested in refuting someone who told me the earth was flat or that Jesus never existed. (Especially as it seems to involve misinterpreting Jesus teachings for the most part) He's welcome to believe anything he wants as far as I'm concerned. But a few of his points caught my eye:

Quote:
(1) The Beatitudes

We start with the famous, admirable words which have provided comfort to so many:

Luke 6:20-21 "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh...

So far, so good. But one is left with the troubling question: what about those who are not poor, hungry, or grieved? Are they not blessed? The answer comes soon enough:

Luke 6:24-26 "But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.

So there we have it. It is blessed to be poor, hungry, or grieved, but accursed to be rich, well fed, or happy. (Remarkably, it is also accursed to be well thought of. So much for trying to acquire a good reputation say by being truthful, faithful, charitable, etc.)
I think you need a little education in the nature of 1st century Jersalem and Palestine.
There seems to have been a very wide gap between rich and poor at the time. The rich, using political and religious means - most of the Pharisees and Scribes seem to have been very rich - did everything they could to make that gap wider and avoided association with the average poor. Things like Jesus' story of the Good Samaritan reflects that: The priest and the levite both avoid the beaten man where even the Samaritan (who were historical enemies of the Jews) helps him.
In the temple Jesus "saw rich men dropping their gifts in the temple treasury, and he also saw a very poor widow dropping in two little copper coins" and he points out the widow really gave the more of the two because she gave all she had where as the rich men gave a tiny bit out of plenty.
The temple priests further extorted the people by forcing them to buy pure lambs for sacrifice from them with "pure" temple money which had, of course, to be exchanged through the temple money changers. Jesus drove these people out of the temple and said "It is written in the Scriptures that God said, 'My temple will be called a house of prayer.' But you have turned it into a hideout for thieves!"
The priests even had a bridge across from their luxury houses to the temple for exclusively their own use so that they didn't have to associate with the common people.
Jesus' complaining about rich people and priests and Pharisees is not just a random subject he choose to rant on, but rather a very serious issue of social injustice at the time which needed dealing with.

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(3) Insight into human nature

One might reasonably expect a great moral teacher to have some minimal understanding of the human psyche. Does Jesus display such an understanding? Let’s see:

Luke 7: 41-43 Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"
Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled." "You have judged correctly," Jesus said.

But in fact, as everyone soon learns to his sorrow, this is not the way things work in the real world. It’s far more likely that both of the men whose debts you forgive will not love you or be grateful to you for it, but will resent you. And the one who had the larger debt will be the one who resents you the most. How can anyone who is ignorant of this elementary fact about human nature be a great moral teacher?
Some of your points are downright laughable, but this one really takes the cake!

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(4) Family values

Luke 8:19-21 Now Jesus' mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. Someone told him, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you." He replied, "My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice."

The meaning is even clearer in Mark:

Mark 3:31-35 Then Jesus' mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, "Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you." "Who are my mother and my brothers?" he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother."

Now it’s all very well to say that whoever does God’s will is one’s brother or sister or mother. but Jesus’ purpose here was clearly to reject and insult his own actual, biological family. They came to see Him and He refused them.
I always see skeptics quoting this passage and saying that it shows Jesus rejecting his family. But it shows nothing of the sort. Jesus takes two seconds to teach a brief lesson that all who follow God are true family. And then what? Presumably going to see his mother and brothers as they wanted.
If anything the passage shows Jesus' ability as a teacher to be able to give deep messages on the fly.

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(7) Responsibility and foresight

Luke 12: 22-24 Then Jesus said to his disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!

Heaven forefend that we should display more intelligence than birds! Perish the thought of trying to make one’s own life, or the lives of one’s family, a bit more pleasant and civilized by acting responsible, exercising discipline and foresight and working hard to improve our lot.
I think you've missed the whole meaning of that passage entirely.

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(9) Loyalty to friend and family

14:12 Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.

Profound, insightful advice indeed. By all means don’t invite your friends or family to dinner or lunch; invite strangers instead.
Apart from missing the meaning again, deliberately I'm sure, you've misread it. It's not "strangers" that Jesus tells us to invite but "the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind".

More systematic misinterpretation occurs in 10 btw.

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(11) Use wealth to gain friends?!

16:9-10 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.

Say what? Was Jesus having a bad day? A little disoriented, perhaps? Aside from the fact that the first sentence is totally at odds with Jesus’ other teachings, the second is plainly false: a person who can be trusted with little cannot necessarily be trusted with much.
There's nothing wrong with Jesus' first sentence, you've just misunderstanding him (again). The "friends for yourselves" Jesus is referring to is God. (There is a not so subtle hint in the friends living in eternal dwellings bit). He's saying to use your money in a way pleasing to God so that when you get to heaven, God will welcome you.
And I disagree with you and agree with Jesus:
Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.
It proves itself true in my experience often.

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(13) On slavery

Luke 17:7-10 "Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, `Come along now and sit down to eat'? Would he not rather say, `Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, `We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.' "

It must be understood that when English translations of the Bible refers to servants the original actually refers to slaves. So what Jesus is saying is that, after your slave has spent a hard day working in the fields, you should make him prepare your supper for you, and allow him to eat only when you’ve finished. And the slave should not expect thanks for any of this; after all, he was just obeying orders, which is what slaves are supposed to do.
Your systematic misinterpretation astounds me. Jesus is not saying anything of the sort.
You don't comment much on 15 but from the way you've divided the text it seems you've missed the point of that one as well.

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All in all, the interpretation of Jesus as a madman whose moral teachings were badly flawed seems to be perfectly defensible. It is true that many of the teachings above have been interpreted by the Church as meaning something radically different from what they seem to say.
LOL! Okay, so now you're accusing the Church of misinterpretaion of the teachings of Jesus... :lol:

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But then, if one starts with the assumption that anyone is a divinely inspired teacher of profound moral truths, it is possible to interpret almost anything he says as meaning something sensible, or at least defensible. The point is that the Christian interpretations of these teachings are rather forced, and they obviously derive from a moral understanding that is based neither on the Old Testament nor on Jesus’ other teachings. If we look at the teachings themselves, without reference to the gloss that has been put on them by Christianity, they appear to be anything but inspired or profound or even sane.
If we ignore the historical background of 1st century Judea, ignore the Jewish tradition Jesus was living in and then do some systematic misreading and misinterpreting of the texts, we can make them say whatever we want them to and make Jesus sound pretty stupid.
Or we could simply interpret them sensibly and realise that Jesus was actually a sensible teacher who knew what he was taking about.

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Old 10-19-2001, 02:57 AM   #15
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Just out of curiousity is there anyone who actually favours the liar or lunatic options, even after BD's defense of them? It's just that all the atheists I've talked to have always favoured the "myth" option - that Jesus didn't really claim divine status. So I'm curious...
There are numerous "myth options": a whole continuum of them, ranging from "Jesus was entirely mythical" to "Jesus was just a man, never claimed otherwise, and never performed miracles".

I think it's likely that Jesus was real and not entirely sane, but probably not so far gone as to believe he was the "Son of God" (this was probably a later embellishment of the myth, like the virgin birth). But other myths have been heaped upon him. The obvious parallel is Merlin, a real man (Myrrdin the Bard) later regarded as a wizard. Merlin became part of the Arthur myth, which also absorbed other myths and made them "Arthurian" (e.g. Gawain and the Green Knight: the unkillable, eternally-regenerating Green Man is an old Celtic myth).

So, metaphorically, the Legend horn is linked by a bony ridge to each of the other horns. Even if Jesus was a liar, or a lunatic, or a genuine agent of God, he was also part legend.
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Old 10-19-2001, 01:55 PM   #16
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Tercel:

Sorry to hear that you’re not interested in wasting your time refuting my arguments. However, some of your comments (and you’re right – they’re certainly not refutations) seem worth responding to.

Quote:
Just out of curiosity is there anyone who actually favours the liar or lunatic options, even after BD's defense of them?
So far as I know, very few people support the “diabolical liar” option, although a few go with the “noble lie” theory explained in Jim Perry’s article. But lots of unbelievers think, like me, that Jesus was at least mentally unbalanced. The best evidence for this is not His teachings (since no one knows what He really taught) nor His claim to be God (since there is little evidence that he ever actually made such a claim, explicitly or implicitly), but His belief that the end of the world was imminent (something that He clearly did believe and preach). Of course, it can be argued that such a belief (even if false) doesn’t necessarily indicate insanity, but I disagree.

Also, the passages that I cited from the Gospels are pretty good evidence of a man who was seriously disturbed at best. I note that you chose not to deal with any of them.

Quote:
It's just that all the atheists I've talked to have always favoured the "myth" option - that Jesus didn't really claim divine status. So I'm curious...
First, it’s annoying to hear Christians refer habitually to all unbelievers as “atheists”, as though not believing in their weird, totally implausible “God” is the same thing as disbelief in any God at all.

Second, the term “myth” in this context usually refers to the idea that Jesus didn’t exist at all. This is hardly a majority opinion among non-Christians, Doherty notwithstanding. But if you mean only that most non-Christians consider it a “myth” – i.e., a falsehood – that Jesus claimed to be God, you’re probably right. (But if that’s what you mean, Metacrock may have a few words to say about your equating “myth” with “falsehood”.)

Now as to your specific rebuttals, the most striking thing about them is that about half of my points, including several of the most significant ones, are ignored entirely:

(2) Loving one’s enemies
(5) Wisdom and learning
(6) The sins of the fathers
(8) The peacemaker
(10) How to deal with irresponsible behavior
(12) Divorce and adultery
(14) The squeaky wheel gets the grease

I can only assume that you have no answer to these. So let’s proceed to the ones that you did attempt to answer.

(1) The “Beatitudes”

Quote:
I think you need a little education in the nature of 1st century Jerusalem and Palestine.
Doesn’t it strike you as odd that a understanding of first-century Jewish society is needed to understand the precious gems of wisdom that God chose to impart during the very short time He was personally present here on Earth? Why would He waste valuable time critiquing a society that He knew was going to disappear forever in a few years?

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Jesus' complaining about rich people and priests and Pharisees is ... a very serious issue of social injustice at the time...
The problem with this is that it reduces the Beatitudes and the mirroring denunciations to a social commentary about first-century Palestine. Even if were possible to believe that God became Incarnate in order to pronounce judgment on the injustice of the social conditions prevailing in this obscure corner of the world at that particular time, if it were true why would anyone today be interested in what He had to say?

In particular, in view of the obvious correspondences between the “blessed are” verses and the “woe to” verses, this interpretation of the latter reduces the Beatitudes themselves to the level of a social commentary on that particular society.

(3) Insight into human nature

Quote:
bd:
It’s far more likely that both of the men whose debts you forgive will not love you or be grateful to you for it, but will resent you. And the one who had the larger debt will be the one who resents you the most. How can anyone who is ignorant of this elementary fact about human nature be a great moral teacher?

Tercel:
Some of your points are downright laughable, but this one really takes the cake!
Perhaps in time you’ll learn a little bit about human psychology. Far from being absurd, this observation is spot on. It’s not a novel, idiosyncratic notion of mine; it’s a well-known, well-understood psychological phenomenon.

(4) Family values

Quote:
Jesus takes two seconds to teach a brief lesson that all who follow God are true family. And then what? Presumably going to see his mother and brothers as they wanted.
Curious. Your reply to (1) was in essence that Jesus’ statements had to be understood in context. But here you stubbornly refuse to consider the context of His remarks. Sorry, you can’t have it both ways. If you weren’t being willfully blind, the meaning would be obvious. Just ask yourself how you would interpret such remarks coming from anyone else under such circumstances.

If your interpretation were correct, all that Jesus would have had to do to avoid being misunderstood was to say the same thing at a time when His family was not seeking to visit with Him. Far from showing Jesus’ ability to give deep messages on the fly, this story (on your interpretation) shows his total inability to choose appropriate circumstances for giving a particular lesson.

Also, there is no evidence whatsoever that Jesus went to see his mother and brothers after making these remarks. You’re just making this up. This story is repeated in all three of the synoptics, and not one of them records that He later went to meet His family or had them ushered in to Him.

Some further evidence of Jesus’ disdain for His mother:

Luke 16:27-28 As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you." He replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it."

Note the wording. He did not say, for example, “Yes, as is anyone who hears the word of God and obeys it”, or “Yes, but not because she bore me; rather, because she hears the word of God and obeys it”. No, He said “Blessed rather are those...” The clear meaning is that He is denying or disagreeing with what the woman in the crowd said. He is saying that His mother is not blessed, but that those who hear the word of God and obey it are blessed.

By the way, while looking for this passage I found another that I had forgotten. Jesus cites the OT approvingly as follows:

Mark 7:10 For Moses said ... ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.'

It seems to me that Jesus is agreeing here that anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death, but no doubt I’m deliberately distorting the meaning of this passage too. Perhaps you would like to explain the “correct” interpretation.

(7) Responsibility and foresight

Quote:
I think you've missed the whole meaning of that passage entirely.
No, I’ve simply taken what Jesus said at face value rather than putting my own gloss on it. As I pointed out before, if you start from the assumption that someone is God, or divinely inspired, you can interpret practically anything he says as meaning something sensible or even profound. It doesn’t follow that that’s what he really meant.

(9) Loyalty to friend and family

Quote:
Apart from missing the meaning again, deliberately I'm sure, you've misread it. It's not "strangers" that Jesus tells us to invite but "the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind".
Actually He tells us to invite those of the poor, crippled, lame and blind who are neither friends nor family. It could be argued that my equating of “non-friends” with “strangers” was a bit sloppy, since on the face of it Jesus seems to have no objection to our inviting acquaintances who are not friends (as long as they’re poor, crippled, lame, or blind). But the plain meaning seems to be that we should invite people based on their need rather than on any relationship we may have with them.

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More systematic misinterpretation occurs in 10 btw.
Clarify.

(11) Use wealth to gain friends?!

Quote:
There's nothing wrong with Jesus' first sentence, you've just misunderstanding him (again). The "friends for yourselves" Jesus is referring to is God.
This doesn’t seem to jibe with the plain meaning of the passage as a whole. The bit I quoted is the “punch line” of a story about a manager who had displeased his master and was being fired. According to the story:

Matthew 16:3-4 The manager said to himself, `...I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.'

The manager then allows some of those who owe his master money to settle their debts at a discount, presumably on the theory that these people (and those who hear about it, perhaps) will later welcome him into their houses. The master then praises the manager for his shrewdness. There follows the passage I quoted earlier. the “moral” of the story is made very clear at the end:

Matthew 16:10-11 Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?

Thus Jesus seems to be saying that you should use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourself, because this will show that you can be trusted to handle “very little” here on earth, and so can be trusted to handle “much” in Heaven. On this basis God will trust you with “true riches” by welcoming you into “eternal dwellings”. Is there really another plausible interpretation?

As for “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much”, I’m not surprised that it has often proven true in your experience. For one thing, there really are people who can be trusted with any amount. Also, I have no way of knowing what you consider “much”; it’s possible that it just happened to be below the threshold where the benefits of stealing it would have seemed to be worth the costs for the people in question. At any rate, we all know that there are lots of people who can be “trusted” not to steal “very little” but will find the temptation to steal “much” difficult to resist. Why are you disputing something so obvious?

(13) On slavery

Quote:
Your systematic misinterpretation astounds me. Jesus is not saying anything of the sort.
In what way am I misinterpreting the text? It seems perfectly clear what Jesus is saying. He’s saying that, just as a slave should work diligently for his human master, be subservient to him, and not expect any thanks for merely doing what is proper and appropriate for a slave, so we should work diligently for God, be completely subservient to Him, and not expect any thanks for merely doing what is proper and appropriate for those who serves God – i.e., our duty. The analogy simply doesn’t work unless it is in fact proper and appropriate for a slave to serve his master diligently, be totally subservient to him, and not expect any thanks.

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You don't comment much on 15 but from the way you've divided the text it seems you've missed the point of that one as well.
This is tiresome. One unsupported assertion after another. If you want to argue that I “missed the point of” or deliberately misinterpreted a passage, it’s incumbent on you to explain how.

But since you’re accusing me in effect of taking things out of context, here’s the entire text of Luke 19:12-27 .

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He said: "A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. `Put this money to work,' he said, `until I come back.' But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, `We don't want this man to be our king.' He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.

The first one came and said, `Sir, your mina has earned ten more.' `Well done, my good servant!' his master replied. `Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.'

The second came and said, `Sir, your mina has earned five more.'
His master answered, `You take charge of five cities.'

Then another servant came and said, `Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.' His master replied, `I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn't you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?' Then he said to those standing by, `Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.' `Sir,' they said, `he already has ten!' He replied, `I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away.

But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them - bring them here and kill them in front of me.' "
Now obviously there’s a lot more to this story than the part I quoted; I as drawing attention to a particular aspect of it. But isn’t it true that Jesus is making an analogy here between the “man of noble birth” and God? And isn’t the whole idea that this man’s behavior is fair and admirable, and thus illustrative of how God can be expected to behave?

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LOL! Okay, so now you're accusing the Church of misinterpretation of the teachings of Jesus...
It’s telling that you should think this ludicrous. Take those blinders off. The plain fact is that it is commonplace for the various Christian denominations to accuse each other of misinterpreting the teachings of Jesus. The best-known example is Jesus’ teachings about divorce and remarriage. The Catholic Church has interpreted this to mean pretty much what it says, while many Protestant denominations allow divorce and remarriage relatively freely. Obviously the latter feel that the Catholic Church is misinterpreting the teachings of Jesus, and vice-versa.

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If we ignore the historical background of 1st century Judea, ignore the Jewish tradition Jesus was living in and then do some systematic misreading and misinterpreting of the texts, we can make them say whatever we want them to and make Jesus sound pretty stupid.
Actually I was simply starting from the premise that Jesus saw Himself as a great moral teacher rather than a social commentator, and accordingly offering moral teachings valid for all people and all times, and said what He meant so that His teachings could be understood by anyone who read His words with an open mind and heart, rather than disguising His meaning so thoroughly that it can only be “discovered” through scholarly exegesis so complex that it requires the development of a “science” of hermeneutics.

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Or we could simply interpret them sensibly and realize that Jesus was actually a sensible teacher who knew what he was taking about.
That is, if we start from the assumption that Jesus’ teachings are valid and sensible, we will “realize” that His teachings are valid and sensible – no matter how much “interpretation” may be required.
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Old 10-19-2001, 05:13 PM   #17
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Originally posted by Tercel:
<STRONG>...Lewis was right to use it against those who asserted that Jesus was a good teacher but not correct in his claims to be God. &lt;snip&gt;
It is of course not appropriate for use on someone who doesn't hold that view of Jesus, and arguing that Jesus wasn't a good teacher and therefore the trilemma is useless only betrays and misunderstanding of what the argument is useful for.</STRONG>
I'll agree that the Trilemma is aimed at a particular audience, and should not be attacked for failing to be something it never was. However, limiting the argument's utility doesn't make it sound.

Those who wield the Trilemma assume that "great teacher" believers are simply overlooking (or under-appreciating) the Bible verses which proclaim Jesus' divinity. But they (Christians and mere Jesus fans) are both overlooking other verses (see above) which indict Jesus' sanity and character. Both, in a sense, are guilty of selective quotation.
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Old 10-19-2001, 08:41 PM   #18
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So far as I know, very few people support the diabolical liar option, although a few go with the noble lie theory explained in Jim Perry’s article. But lots of unbelievers think, like me, that Jesus was at least mentally unbalanced. The best evidence for this is not His teachings (since no one knows what He really taught) nor His claim to be God (since there is little evidence that he ever actually made such a claim, explicitly or implicitly), but His belief that the end of the world was imminent (something that He clearly did believe and preach).
I see, so what you want to believe as true is? You don't like his teachings or his claim to be God so they get stuck in the unlikely basket. Whereas His belief in that the end of the world was imminent sounds good to you so you regard it as clear that he believed and preached it.
I certainly have to wonder that if "no one knows what He really taught" how you can think it clear that he preached "that the end of the world was imminent"!!!
Faced with this sort of thing, I really am going to have to accuse you of making up your beliefs based on no reasonable criteria other than what you would like to be true.
Even if you could be sure that Jesus taught the end of the world was coming I have to wonder how you knew that he meant to be taken literally. After all, in Jewish Apolcalyptic literature "the end" coming is often meant metaphorically as the end of an age or the end of a reign of a king.
The again one of the things the Gospels say Jesus taught was the coming of the spiritual Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of the World (controlled by the devil) is the antithesis of the Kingdom of God so perhaps he connected the coming of God's kingdom with the passing of the world's kingdom and his teachings were changed by his ignorant followers into the World would end.
etc etc.
There are all sorts of such metaphorical alternatives that can be reasonably held, if you believe Jesus taught the end of the world was imminent there is no powerful reason to take him literally other than want to make him look stupid.
I don't think there's any doubt that the Christian Church has changed the world so much that it's an not exaggeration to say it's coming ended the world as it was known.

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Also, the passages that I cited from the Gospels are pretty good evidence of a man who was seriously disturbed at best. I note that you chose not to deal with any of them.
I thought most of your points which weren't self-refuting were pretty laughable. If you want to construct your own wierd beliefs I'm not going to take the time to refuting them point by point.

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<STRONG>It's just that all the atheists I've talked to have always favoured the "myth" option - that Jesus didn't really claim divine status. So I'm curious...</STRONG>

First, it’s annoying to hear Christians refer habitually to all unbelievers as atheists, as though not believing in their weird, totally implausible God is the same thing as disbelief in any God at all.
I class atheists and agnostics under the single term "atheist". Atheist literally means "not a theist", so I'm certainly well within the meaning of the word to do so.
I haven't talked to anyone of another religion on the subject, hence my use of "atheists" as opposed to "non-Christians".
Happy?

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Now as to your specific rebuttals, the most striking thing about them is that about half of my points, including several of the most significant ones, are ignored entirely:

(2) Loving one’s enemies
(5) Wisdom and learning
(6) The sins of the fathers
(8) The peacemaker
(10) How to deal with irresponsible behavior
(12) Divorce and adultery
(14) The squeaky wheel gets the grease

I can only assume that you have no answer to these. So let’s proceed to the ones that you did attempt to answer.
I told you I wasn't interested in answering them because they are not worth answering. Perhaps you should keep in mind that, even if the Gospels' statements that everyone flocked to see Jesus teach are exaggerations, the people of the day thought Jesus was at least a reasonable teacher.

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<STRONG>Jesus takes two seconds to teach a brief lesson that all who follow God are true family. And then what? Presumably going to see his mother and brothers as they wanted.</STRONG>

Curious. Your reply to (1) was in essence that Jesus’ statements had to be understood in context. But here you stubbornly refuse to consider the context of His remarks. Sorry, you can’t have it both ways. If you weren’t being willfully blind, the meaning would be obvious. Just ask yourself how you would interpret such remarks coming from anyone else under such circumstances.
I'm not ignoring context at all.

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If your interpretation were correct, all that Jesus would have had to do to avoid being misunderstood was to say the same thing at a time when His family was not seeking to visit with Him. Far from showing Jesus’ ability to give deep messages on the fly, this story (on your interpretation) shows his total inability to choose appropriate circumstances for giving a particular lesson.
By my interpretation he tells his followers that they are his true family and then goes to see his real family. Why should he need to avoid being misunderstood when such a lesson would be perfectly clear?
The circumstances are entirely appropriate as someone has just mentioned his physical family.

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Also, there is no evidence whatsoever that Jesus went to see his mother and brothers after making these remarks. You’re just making this up. This story is repeated in all three of the synoptics, and not one of them records that He later went to meet His family or had them ushered in to Him.
Not one of them records that he didn't. All the Gospels show is Jesus teaching an impromptu two second lesson which to me demonstrates his ability to teach on the fly. Skeptics use this passage to show that he refused to go to his family, yet not a single one of the Gospels has him refusing his family or even implies that he did. From this, I think we can reasonably deduce that he did go to see his family by placing the story in its context of Jewish tradition. One of the commandments is to honour your parents. If Jesus had refused to see his mother this would have been a hugely notable event. Everyone would think Jesus was making some huge statement and rewriting the commandments etc. That none of the Gospels make any mention of Jesus having refused to see his family makes it extremely likely that he didn't.


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Some further evidence of Jesus’ disdain for His mother:

Luke 16:27-28 As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you." He replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it."
Wow, another passage demonstrating his brilliant ability at teaching.

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Note the wording. He did not say, for example, Yes, as is anyone who hears the word of God and obeys it, or Yes, but not because she bore me; rather, because she hears the word of God and obeys it. No, He said Blessed rather are those... The clear meaning is that He is denying or disagreeing with what the woman in the crowd said. He is saying that His mother is not blessed, but that those who hear the word of God and obey it are blessed.
Not quite, he is saying that his mother is not blessed for the reason of having born him like the woman in the crowd is suggesting. But rather that those who are blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it. According to Luke this plainly includes Jesus' mother because she does just that in the Birth Narrative.

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By the way, while looking for this passage I found another that I had forgotten. Jesus cites the OT approvingly as follows:

Mark 7:10 For Moses said ... ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.'

It seems to me that Jesus is agreeing here that anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death, but no doubt I’m deliberately distorting the meaning of this passage too. Perhaps you would like to explain the correct interpretation.
Perhaps you'd agree that it makes it less likely that Jesus cursed his father and mother?

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Actually He tells us to invite those of the poor, crippled, lame and blind who are neither friends nor family. It could be argued that my equating of non-friends with strangers was a bit sloppy, since on the face of it Jesus seems to have no objection to our inviting acquaintances who are not friends (as long as they’re poor, crippled, lame, or blind). But the plain meaning seems to be that we should invite people based on their need rather than on any relationship we may have with them.
No, the plain meaning is that we should not do good just to people who will invite us back but instead should help those who can not repay us.

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<STRONG>More systematic misinterpretation occurs in 10 btw.</STRONG>

Clarify.

OP:
(10) How to deal with irresponsible behavior

Here we come to the tale of the prodigal son. We all know the story, so I’ll quote only the moral:

15:28-32 "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, `Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'
" `My son,' the father said, `you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' "
Jesus has the father saying "everything I have is yours" to the older brother only. The younger brother has no inheritence at all left. The older brother's "discipline, industry, and loyalty to family" has earned him everything his father has which has been no doubt increased by what he himself has added. The "irresponsible, dissolute behavior" of the younger son has lost him everything and he must now rely purely on the generosity of a family he once rejected.
Your interpretation can be seen for the joke that it is:
"Thus one should reward irresponsible, dissolute behavior by rewarding it far above the boring, pedestrian virtues of discipline, industry, and loyalty to family."

Tercel

[ October 20, 2001: Message edited by: Tercel ]
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Old 10-23-2001, 09:32 PM   #19
bd-from-kg
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Tercel:

Before responding to your latest comments I want to clarify the logical structure of the argument that I’ve been making.

The “trilemma” argument only makes sense on the assumption that the Gospels give a reasonably accurate portrayal of Jesus – what He did, what He said, what He thought. Accordingly, I have been assuming for the sake of argument that they do. That doesn’t mean that I believe it. In fact, a perfectly sound refutation of the “trilemma” is that the Gospels are not reliable sources, and that in reality we know very little about the real, historical Jesus.

Moreover, since the people who make this argument are invariably Christians, it is legitimate to assume for the sake of argument at times that Jesus really was God, in order to show how this assumption leads to apparent contradictions or absurdities. The fact that I make such an assumption for the sake of a reductio ad absurdum argument should not be interpreted as meaning that I believe it.

Now to your comments.

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I see, so what you want to believe as true is? You don't like his teachings or his claim to be God so they get stuck in the unlikely basket. Whereas His belief in that the end of the world was imminent sounds good to you so you regard it as clear that he believed and preached it.
Unlike many Christians, my beliefs about what Jesus did and didn’t say and do are based on the evidence rather than on what I wish were true. In the context of this argument I’m treating the Gospels as reliable evidence, and on this basis His moral beliefs are unclear whereas His apocalyptic eschatology is stated explicitly in three places and clearly alluded to in many others.

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I certainly have to wonder that if "no one knows what He really taught" how you can think it clear that he preached "that the end of the world was imminent"!!!
There’s plenty of “wiggle room” in interpreting Jesus’ moral teachings as presented in the Gospels. On the other hand, it’s quite clear from the text that He preached an imminent apocalypse.

Once again, to be sure that I’m not misunderstood I want to say that back in the real world it’s not at all clear that Jesus believed in an imminent apocalypse. These teachings might have been imputed to Jesus later by early Christians. But the meaning of the Gospels (especially the synoptics) on this point is not really open to serious dispute.

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Faced with this sort of thing, I really am going to have to accuse you of making up your beliefs based on no reasonable criteria other than what you would like to be true.
I have no interest on your opinions about how I arrive at my conclusions.

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Even if you could be sure that Jesus taught the end of the world was coming I have to wonder how you knew that he meant to be taken literally. After all, in Jewish Apocalyptic literature "the end" coming is often meant metaphorically as the end of an age or the end of a reign of a king.
According to the synoptics (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21) Jesus was quite explicit on this point. Do the descriptions there sound like metaphorical expressions to you? Do they sound like the end of the reign of a king?

Besides, surely you are aware that the Church has always regarded Jesus’ teachings on this matter as having been meant literally. (It disputes only that He meant that the Second Coming was imminent.) And the early Church surely knew what Jesus’ early followers believed. (After all, it declared many of these beliefs heretical.) If the early Christians had not believed in a literal, imminent Second Coming, the Church would have known.

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There are all sorts of such metaphorical alternatives that can be reasonably held...
Not really.

By contrast, there are also lots of interpretations of what Jesus said that do not entail that He claimed to be God. Indeed, this supposed claim has to be teased out of various passages that are all capable of completely plausible alternative interpretations. Moreover, there is no evidence that the surviving disciples regarded Jesus as God for a considerable time after He died.

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I don't think there's any doubt that the Christian Church has changed the world so much that it's an not exaggeration to say it's coming ended the world as it was known.
Oh, please.

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I thought most of your points [regarding Jesus’ sanity] which weren't self-refuting were pretty laughable. If you want to construct your own weird beliefs I'm not going to take the time to refuting them point by point.
In other words you have no answer, so you resort to ridicule. Actually the only one of these points that can be easily dismissed is (4), which can reasonably be interpreted as hyperbole. But even then it raises the troubling question of how we are to distinguish those of Jesus’ statements which were meant as hyperbole from those meant literally. If He was God, He must have known that His statements would be translated into numerous languages and read by many who were completely unfamiliar with the culture in which He lived. Under the circumstances it would have been far wiser to say only things that He meant literally, and keep His teachings and statements as simple and clear as possible to avoid later misunderstandings.

By the way, do you have any idea what “self-refuting” means?

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I told you I wasn't interested in answering [the points about Jesus’ moral teachings] because they are not worth answering.
You mean that you can offer no reasonable interpretations other than the obvious, straightforward ones. Surely you’re aware that none of these points are original with me. Many other non-Christians have found them absurd, and many thoughtful Christians have been troubled by them.

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Perhaps you should keep in mind that...the people of the day thought Jesus was at least a reasonable teacher.
Some of the people of the day thought so, just as some people today think that Louis Farrakhan is a reasonable teacher. Others (like me) think Farrakhan is a total fruitcake, and no doubt a great many thought the same of Jesus.

Now let’s turn to your latest comments on my examples.

(4) Family values

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Skeptics use this passage to show that he refused to go to his family, yet not a single one of the Gospels has him refusing his family or even implies that he did. From this, I think we can reasonably deduce that he did go to see his family ...
Wow. Talk about an argument from silence.

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If Jesus had refused to see his mother this would have been a hugely notable event.
Yes. That’s why this incident was recorded in all three of the synoptics. As for His “refusing” to see His family, there was no need to do so. By simply doing nothing He ensured that they wouldn’t see Him. The Gospels cannot be expected to record everything that Jesus didn’t do. The reader is expected to be intelligent enough to grasp that, if they don’t record that He saw His family on this occasion, He didn’t do so. It’s far more plausible that, if He had seen His mother and family on this occasion (which would have been a rare event) at least one of the Gospels would have thought fit to record not only the fact itself, but what was said. [If you can argue from silence, so can I.]

As to your suggestion that only skeptics interpret this passage this way, let’s look at some classic Bible commentaries.

First, Matthew Henry:

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Jesus Christ would rather be busy at his work than conversing with his friends. He would not leave his preaching, to speak with his mother and his brethren, for it was his meat and drink to be so employed. Christ is pleased to own those as his nearest and dearest relations that hear the word of God and do it; they are to him more than his mother and brethren.

“Who is my mother and my brethren?” In this answer Jesus shows that he brooks no interference on the score of earthly relationships...
McGarvey-Pendleton says (commenting on the parallel passage in Mark 3):

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Who is my mother and my brethren? In this answer Jesus shows that he brooks no interference on the score of earthly relationships...
Behold, my mother and my brethren! Jesus was then in the full course of his ministry as Messiah, and as such he recognized only spiritual relationships.
The same is my brother, and my sister, and mother. ...It is remarkable that in the only two instances in which Mary figures in the ministry of Jesus prior to his crucifixion, she stands forth reproved by him
Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown say (commenting on the parallel passage in Matthew 12):

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... He felt this to be an unseasonable interruption, fitted to dissipate the impression made upon the large audience - such an interruption as duty to the nearest relatives did not require Him to give way to.
[Note: Neither Henry nor JF&B explain why, if Jesus thought this an unseasonable interruption and did not want to leave His preaching, He did not simply send them a message that He would meet them later. McGarvey-Pendleton, on the other hand, suggests clearly that Jesus had serious issues with His family – perhaps because they had stated publicly that He was out of His mind.]

At any rate, it is clear that many knowledgeable, intelligent, pious Christians have interpreted these passages as meaning what they appear to mean on their face; that Jesus refused to meet with His mother and brothers when they came to Him and expressed a desire to visit with Him.

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... He is saying [in Luke 16:27-28] that His mother is not blessed for the reason of having borne him...
OK, let’s take your interpretation and run with it. Isn’t that a rather peculiar thing for Him to say? Actually it’s shockingly disrespectful for even an ordinary person to argue with, much less contradict, someone who says “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you”. But in Jesus’ case it’s incomprehensible. Surely He knew that his mother had been blessed above all other women by being given the honor of bearing Him. Doesn’t the Church itself refer to Mary as the “Blessed Virgin”?

Of course, you may say that Mary was not blessed by virtue of having borne Him, but that she was blessed with the honor of bearing Him because she was virtuous. But the “woman in the crowd” did not indicate what the connection was between Mary’s being blessed and being Jesus’ mother (or even that there was any). At the very least, the “rather” in His statement indicates that Jesus was denying that there was any connection at all between the two.

Regarding Mark 7:10, in which Jesus quotes Moses approvingly as saying “‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’, your only comment is

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Perhaps you'd agree that it makes it less likely that Jesus cursed his father and mother?
I never remotely suggested that Jesus ever cursed His mother or father. Now would you explain the “correct” interpretation of Jesus’ statement? Does He or does He not agree that anyone who curses his father or mother should be put to death? If so, is this a sound – or even sane - moral teaching?

(9) Loyalty to friend and family

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No, the plain meaning is that we should not do good just to people who will invite us back but instead should help those who can not repay us.
Let’s look at the verse again: "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.” What part of “not” do you not understand?

(10) How to deal with irresponsible behavior

[quote]Jesus has the father saying "everything I have is yours" to the older brother only. The younger brother has no inheritance at all left. The older brother's "discipline, industry, and loyalty to family" has earned him everything his father has...”

This is nonsense. The older son did not “earn” his portion any more than the younger son earned his. The law stipulated how the father must divide his property between his two sons. Moreover, as we see in verse 12: “The younger one said to his father, `Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.” Thus the younger son had already received his share of the inheritance, and the father was legally obligated to leave the remainder to the older son. But with respect to what was in the father’s gift, the younger, prodigal son received far more than the older, responsible one.

Moreover, as the story ends the younger son is not relying on “generosity”, at least in a sense that can be considered humiliating or degrading; he is relying on his family’s love. This is all in accordance with the point of the story. If Jesus thought that there was something wrong with relying on God’s love, he certainly didn’t let on.

As I said earlier, the interpretations I gave for these passages are not the only possible ones; they are just the most natural, straightforward ones. (Many of them also exemplify what many reputable Biblical scholars believe to be Jesus’ actual moral philosophy, though all opinions on this subject are just educated guesses.) In any case, if you are to have any hope of understanding even the “Gospel Jesus” (much less the real, historical Jesus, who is a figure of mystery) what you must not do is assume that His teachings must agree with your own moral intuitions. If you insist on filtering all of His teachings through your own pre-existing moral understanding you will simply see your own reflection.

[ October 23, 2001: Message edited by: bd-from-kg ]
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Old 10-24-2001, 04:46 PM   #20
Vorkosigan
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Nice work, BD.

Michael
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