Response to question about What was good and right in ancient Egypt and still is today? Some general reflections. (A revised form of comments originally posted in the Egyptian Religion Forums on Glyphdoctors, Summer 2008)

Response to question about "What was good and right in ancient Egypt and still is today?" Some general reflections. (A revised form of comments originally posted in the Egyptian Religion Forums on Glyphdoctors, Summer 2008)
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  Response to question about “ What was good and right in ancient Egypt and still is today? ”  Some general reflections. Edmund S. Meltzer (A revised form of comments srcinally posted in the Egyptian Religion Forums on Glyphdoctors, Summer 2008.) It isn't entirely clear to me what criteria we can use to try to determine what was true in Ancient Egypt and is still true in our age. a question which is sometimes asked about ancient Egyptian religion and world view. Obviously we can see from letters, stories and other texts, as well as art and a large array of physical remains, that many of the behaviors and characteristics of people we're familiar with today already existed then, and we can see that many similar characteristics or actions were considered good and bad. But can we take that common denominator as a yardstick for "eternal truth"? Is our judgment so infallible that if we agree with the ancient Egyptians it's "eternal truth" and if we don't it's not? What about yet other traditions that might disagree with either or both the ancient Egyptians and “ us ” (however exactly “ us ”  is to be defined) on some points? Are they automatically wrong? And that leads to a related question –  true to whom? Which tradition or traditions is/are the "in group"? How do they get elected? Does the Navaho Way have the same standing as Christianity or Buddhism? Do they have to be religious traditions, or could they include entities such as the Theosophical Society (which is not a religion -- in fact it expressly rules out arguing the superiority of one religion over another) or the Society for Ethical Culture? I want to illustrate a couple of complications. For me these dramatize that when one leaves broad principles and gets down to a detailed level there are many disagreements coming from different premises. By and large, people dislike and often condemn physical violence or inflicting harm on another. But few societies have entirely rejected war, many have accepted capital punishment through this generation and quite a few still do, there are many who still accept corporal punishment (as did the ancient Egyptian scribal school as well as legal system). Some consider it extremely cruel and abhorrent to kill and eat animals, while others consider it normal and totally unremarkable, while yet others consume only certain species of animals. Some consider sensory and carnal pleasures a divine gift and consider it ungrateful to reject them;  others insist that the physical body and its drives need to be subdued and overcome by sometimes draconian discipline. As one navigates this maze, which things are or aren't "eternal truth"? This brings us to a more categorical follow-up question, whether or how we can pass  judgment regarding whether the Ancient Egyptian Religion was basically “ good ”  or “ bad." "Aye there's the rub." I think that if anyone wants to make that judgment, it's a strictly personal matter for him or her. I myself don't go in for those types of  judgments, nor do I think the goal of Religious Studies scholarship is to make such  judgments. I think that it is a goal of Religious Studies scholars to understand why people in a given tradition understand or understood certain things to   be right and certain other things to be wrong, certain things to be good and certain other things to be bad. I've studied about and encountered many religions, and I've taught about a few. In no case have I found myself judging whether one of them is "good" or "bad." What I have found, in academic studies as well as relationships with people (and which I hope I can say without offending anyone), is that ANY religion can serve as the basis for what I regard (and I think many would regard) as right action, right intention and right attitudes, and that people belonging to ANY religion are capable of what I regard (and I think many would regard) as wrong action, intention and attitudes. To proceed to more explicitly theological questions, I think that whether or not God can "be differentiated and non-differentiated at the same time" (or any such question) is entirely up to a given theological system and its practitioners or expounders. One system might say "yes," another might say "no," another might say "non-issue" or “ all of the above. ”  Different systems can start from different starting-points or axioms or postulates, leading at least in some cases to systems that regard their own perspective as privileged and regard themselves as incompatible and mutually exclusive with other systems. One system can regard another as "false" or "invalid," but strictly speaking, postulates can't be proven one way or the other. Hence (and I'm pretty sure this will be my only excursion into anything that might be even remotely identified as mathematics) systems of non-Euclidean geometry can be elaborated and used, and proofs presented in them, just as much as can be done with Euclidean geometry, even though they start out from postulates incompatible with those of Euclidean geometry. That I think points to the central problem of evaluative theology or trying to find a "unified field theory" of theology. Any systematized statement of theology has to entail certain axioms -- which was one thing I was trying to get at with my attempt to develop a list of "talking points" in my article on “Some Basic Principles  of Ancient Egyptian  Religion ” in   DE and the Revista de egiptología Isis , a set of axioms or postulates that encapsulate the dynamics of ancient Egyptian religion –  and it seems very elusive to say the least whether it's possible to form a set of criteria for evaluating all theologies, a metatheology if you will, that is in any way truly "objective" and isn't subservient to one or another specific perspective or type of doctrine, or philosophical approach, from the outset. Is "polytheism" or “monotheism” a "better" way to understand the nature and articulation of the Divine? Or should one be operating in a different frame of reference altogether? (As Terence DuQuesne has noted, the term “ polytheism ”  was coined by monotheists.) People with whom I have discussed these issues over the years have not arrived at a consensus (which is putting it very mildly). My colleagues in the Department of Religion at The Claremont Graduate School said that as monotheists they were bearing witness to the integrity of reality. Might not, say, an ancient Egyptian say that he or she is bearing witness to the diversity of reality, or the tensions and paradoxes inherent in reality? Whatever my own opinions may be in all of this, they're something very distinct from my endeavor to understand how the ancient Egyptians thought about it all. Whether, after doing my best to understand the Egyptian sources and to learn from other students and commentators, I find that there's something personally edifying for me that I think informs or enriches my own theological understanding, that is a part of my own theological quest, if I have one, and not any generalized or normative yardstick of “ truth ”  that I would argue in an academic setting regarding the ancient Egyptian or any other religion.
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