Face Forward

21 04 2008

This is part of a synchroblog on http://www.emergingafrica.info/

I’m afraid that I threw this together rather hastily. It’s really just a few thoughts.

I think what we have to watch out for here is going backwards. The animist reindeer hunter on the Kamchatka Peninsula who thanks the reindeer for sacrificing his life so that the tribe can eat is on his way somewhere truthful. His myth is still serving him bits of truth.
But, if four generations from now, my decedents were thanking the roast chicken at Woolies for giving up it’s life so that they could have Sunday lunch that would be heresy.
Simply because my family would have gone backwards and would be on a backwards trend.

In the emergent heresies debate I don’t think there needs to be competition between myth and doctrine in our thinking. But that depends on what we mean by both ‘myth’ and ‘doctrine’. But I believe that there is doctrine that is myth.
There are 2 keys to this debate:
1. Doctrine is not Theology. Theology is what man thinks about God. Doctrine is what God reveals about Himself.
2. Some Myth is fact and all myth contains threads of absolute truth.

Paul’s advice to Timothy can be very helpful here. “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16)
I don’t think Paul is speaking here about Timothy’s theology or dogma, but he is speaking about something vitally important. We cannot simply take the stance that doctrine is whatever you happen to discover.

1 Timothy 4:7Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.

2 Timothy 4:1-5In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

I think that Paul is encouraging Timothy to train himself, and others, not to abuse mythology. Mythology has a purpose, it is there to dream us towards the truth which, when we get their, will turn out to be much more of the same kind of thing, but we will be fully awake. The temptation of a myth is to mistake it for The Truth and stay sleeping. Myth functions as a road, not as a settler’s post. Many cultures have set up posts on the road and the temptation is to settle with them where the myth actually calls one to travel further.
In the first Timothy passage Paul’s encouragement to Timothy is to go forward personally, not to dead backwards down the road. The emphasis is not that godliness is un-mythical, but that godliness is further down the mythical road. It is truth where ‘old wives tales’ are merely pointing to the truth.
In the second Timothy case his charge to Paul is pastoral. And is is very similar to the charge in 1 Timothy.

One cannot have a heresy without a doctrine. But one can have doctrine without heresy.

The gender of The Creator?

19 04 2008

This is part of a synchroblog on http://www.emergingafrica.info/

The question is this: What would the Church look like if we were to refer to God exclusively in the feminine? Perhaps we should ask what the local church would look like.
Here are two stories that may help:

1. I heard of a man once who had really caught the principle of asking God for every day guidance. So much so that one morning he asked “What shirt shall I wear today Lord?” Apparently he had an instant word from God which brought him from the brink of silliness: God answered him, “I’m your father, not your mother”.
Now that may or may not have been God speaking, it may just as easily have been his own reason speaking sense to its owner – often, but not always, God and reason say the same thing.
When I heard that story I wondered what God’s response would have been if it was a woman asking the same question. I think His answer would have been very different; a lot more motherly (or perhaps sisterly), but it would not have been any less fatherly I think.
We must be careful not to ascribe human and created qualities onto God, they at best divine metaphors.
Arlyn put it exceptionally well: “I think that whenever something is established as a “base fact of eternal life,” care must be taken that we don’t come to put our faith in those base facts. After all, they’re merely rational constructs, and God is supposed to be ineffable, right? I mean (to sort-of quote a definition of theism) that anything we can think of about God is a limited and linear approximation of the inconceivable transcendence of God. Therefore, our ‘eternal base facts’ are merely the best we can do, but not actually the reality. In other words, when it comes to faith, they’re mirages that ought not to be confused with reality – which, practically speaking – is simply to approach oneness with God. And that’s an extremely mystical undertaking :-)”
In reality male and female will most likely be hopelessly inadequate to describe God when we finally see him. we think rightly of the Warrior Lover King as male, and the Generous Brooding Creator as female, but it is inadequate the other way round.

2. In my efforts to become more like a little child (which is something we are told is a prerequisite for entry into The Kingdom), and to answer this question as pastorally as possible, I asked my 10 year old if we should call God “He” or “She”. He said “God must be a man because the Church is His bride. If He was the bride that would just be funny.” [by funny I think he means either awkward or strange]
“Any other reason?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, “the bible says God is a warrior and you don’t see girls going into battle and stabbing other men and chopping their heads off – charge, charge; Shing, Shing.” [the sound of swords clashing with appropriate actions]
Now one has to understand that my son is male, but I do think that you would get a similar response from girls his age – with a little more rolling of the eyes, more focus on the marriage, and a little less “Shing, Shing”.
(Half of me wishes he could stay little. When he was 3 he gave me the most profound understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity I have ever heard. “It’s easy to understand dad,” he said, “they are all just stuck together.” Brilliant.)

The focus of both these stories is on the necessary either/or understanding of God’s gender (which is much less of an issue even in English than in other European languages), and the denial of Him being neuter. I think this is an overriding truth of Christian identity.
The question is doctrinal, it is mystical but it is also sociological in the nuts and bolts if the local church. Imagine for a moment explaining to my son that he’s actually wrong. That God is as much a bride as a husband. Or, as the question demands that She’s not a husband at all, She is only a bride! Imagine explaining to him that She prefers to let us fight the battles because She is merely creative.
Besides trying to make sense of Jesus’ initiative and His hero status, imagine all the myths that we would have to do away with (not to mention the great movies). I cannot think of a child who be thoroughly confused by that kind of conversation with an adult she trusted. I would battle to think that I am not exposing them to some kind of horrid abuse. And we are only starting with Children; there is every age group and level of faith included in the local church.
Imaging explaining to a single mom that God does not actually take the role of her husband/dad being a, but more of a supportive mom.
Imagine explaining to a teen orphan that God is not actually a father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5) that God is more of a mother to the parentless.
Now we could argue that it is just social conditioning that needs to be rearranged. But then we immediately have moved from theology to psychology, and that is a worthy debate but not the current one. We could also argue that gender injustices of the past must be put right. But then, given that we have made this mistake in one direction, what is in place to stop equal injustices from happening in the other? A purely feminist society is no more just that a male dominant one, it certainly has not been in the past.
Being correct with the ‘bothness’ of God’s gender in our preaching and everyday speech is not even close to the importance of the either/or understanding of God’s gender for Christians. Especially for those who do not have the mental muscle and the robust faith to reach biblical conclusions without damaging their relationship with themselves, others and God. And, that being true, we must refer to God in the male gender, again my reasons are pastoral.

I remember watching puppies being born. The bitch watched, amazed as a dog can be at what she was producing. Her owner kept encouraging her as her offspring made their debut. She kept saying “You are such a clever girl!”
It was a sweet thing to say, and I must admit that I agree that the whole process is astoundingly clever, or more accurately it reveals an astounding cleverness. But the cleverness is not the dog’s. She is merely the vessel of cleverness, and I hate to admit it but humanity has as much claim on this cleverness as the dog does.

There is something gloriously mystical about gender, and as Envoy has pointed out, in doctrine, the mystical must lead, not the theological. I like Lewis’ take on the matter. We don’t deal with gender issues; gender issues deal with us.
From His essay ‘Priestesses in the Church’ (which I highly recommend for this debate):
“With the Church, we are farther in: for there we are dealing with male and female not merely as facts of nature but as the live and awful shadows of realities utterly beyond our control and largely beyond our direct knowledge. Or rather, we are not dealing with them but (as we shall soon learn if we meddle) they are dealing with us.”

That, I believe, is a foundation. The cleverness of the design does not rest with us because we are not the designer. We may become very skilled at using these instruments but we did not make them, and we ought to recognise that.
As brilliant a guitarist as he was it would have been wrong for Jimmy Hendrics to have taken credit for making either his guitars or his fingers. How then could he have insisted on their attributes?
Also foundational is this; that the skill in using gender instruments is a moral skill. Perhaps it would be better to call it a relational skill. One of the greatest evils in God’s Word is using gender skills immorally. Manipulation and Domination are probably the two worst immoral gender extremes.
Installing political correctness in God’s gender status is, I feel tantamount to claiming gender cleverness. I cannot see that it will in any way enhance church. I can only see it pulling the very fiber of church apart.
It was a great evil to use women as David did the Shunammite, and it only resulted in her further abuse by Adonijah (1 Kings 1) and the abuse of the whole society. But it was an equal evil for Solomon to allow himself to be influenced by the religions of his many wives. (Interesting to note that both faults rested with the men. It always takes an Ahab to allow a Jezebel, but it does not necessarily take a Jezebel to make an Ahab).

This is what I get from scripture:

1. I think that male is legitimised by female and vice versa. Neuter needs no legitimising, male and female do – conceptually and practically, physically and spiritually. God is not neuter, and it is our language, our logic, our observation and our future which demands that we think of Him and refer to Him as one or the other, and that our choice be male. At the same time I see no reason to insist theologically that God is male. In fact I see every reason not to insist this. equally I see no reason to insist that God is female.
Psalm 45 is probably the best place to start, it is my favourite wedding Psalm because it is as much male orientated as female. It is, as far as I can see, the only maskil that is also designated as a wedding Psalm (as the disciples were also designated apostles in Mark 3:14). And it makes the gospel message as accessible as Grimms fairy tails for both grannies and kids.

2. Christ is to the church as a husband is to his wife. Not the other way round.
The explanation in Ephesians is pretty clear. “You thought I was speaking about a man and his wife… no no, I’m speaking about The Great Myth – Christ and His Church. Make sure you follow this perfect example.” (paraphrase Ephe 5:31-33).

3. I think it is significant that not one of the 12 was a woman and that it was a woman, not any of the 12, who had the privilege of seeing Jesus first after His resurrection and carrying the happy news and delivering it to the disciples.
She carried the shortest, least painful (perhaps), and most joyous pregnancy ever. Jesus could have easily appeared to John – he got there first (well not really, that title also belongs to a woman), or to Peter – he went in first.
In every way this function had to be carried out by a woman in the same way as the function of the 12 had to be carried out by men.
Maleness is a backdrop for femaleness and vice versa. This is an essential fact woven into the family fabric of Church and to unweave it is to unweave church and the possibility of future salvations.

I don’t think injustices of the past are enough reason to discard references to God in the male gender. Perhaps what would be consequential (maybe unavoidable) to this discussion would be to address male leadership in the local church.

The delusion god

18 04 2008

This post is a bit of a rant, and not really in the spirit of debate. But I feel that I am justified in this case because I actually bought the book and I was expecting a whole lot more.

Anyway, I have decided to give up on Dawkins’ book “The God Delusion” on page 122. If anyone can convince me that there is anything actually worth reading in the rest of the book I might give it a go. It really is the kind of book that once you’ve put it down, you find it very hard to pick up again.

It is hard to believe that someone with a professorship can produce something so utterly mindless, (perhaps it was just really rushed). It is badly researched, but it’s the lack of just plain thinking that really gets to me.

His initial observations on agnosticism are a little obvious, but fine, as are his collection of quotes leading to an opinion of religion and the religious mind. Both topics are handled in an unoriginal way, but I have nothing further to say about his understanding of either of them. But, as I said, it is the lack of plain thinking that really irks me. I’ll give you some examples:

In the footnote on page 122 (where I have decided to give my reading time to something a little more worthwhile; Job for instance, which is at least real speculation) “… the mistranslation of Isaiah’s Hebrew for young woman (almah) into the Greek for virgin (parthenos). An easy mistake to make (think of the English words ‘maid’ and ‘maiden’ to see how it might have happened), this one translator’s slip was to be wildly inflated and give rise to the whole preposterous legend of Jesus’ mother being a virgin!

Now, besides the bad exegesis, if the dear Professor had bothered to actually look up, read and (heaven forbid) THINK about the verse which causes him such offense this is what he would have found:

Isaiah 7:14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin (almah) will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Now I would love to know how it is that Isaiah would have expected that his readers could suppose a pregnant young girl who has lost her virginity to be a sign from God? Currently there are 6.5 billion people on the planet, how many million of them would be pregnant young women? There are babies born every second so I would guess a few million at least. Even in Mary’s day, which one of them would Isaiah’s readers have expected to be ‘The Sign from God’, where would they expect the sign to show itself? Mere pregnancy, though miraculous, does not qualify as an individual signal from God. Perhaps Dawkins is suggesting that reason only evolved in humans after Isaiah’s writings.

Obviously Isaiah means that she is to be a virgin, because a pregnant virgin would be a very obvious sign from God… hello?

Then, in terms of his exegesis, if he had done just the briefest of Hebrew studies he would discover that there is actually no instance where ‘almah’ is used in the Old Testament where it does not mean ‘virgin’, but in each case it also means ‘young woman of marriageable age’ ; ie. not a spinster who is a virgin, and also not a man who is a virgin; ‘Alma’ always means a young virgin girl and so we may make sense of Isaiah’s prophecy (what I’m saying does not prove it to be true in Mary; it just makes sense of it). I think it’s an insult to the brilliance of ancient Hebrew literature to suggest that Isaiah and his readers were that dense.

Dawkins’ thinking is a little like this: Imagine the writers of a major spy movie working on the part where the hero is going to break in to some government agency and steal a secret code. In the story his team need to wait for a sign from him after he has the code. So as they are planning the story the writers of the movie have him say this, “OK, as soon as I have the plans I will make sure that nothing out of the ordinary happens… OK? Any questions?” Obviously no one would write such a thing, a sign must be out of the ordinary… It’s just plain thinking Professor.

Another example is this: Dawkins suggests that there is a 4th option to the “liar, lunatic or Lord” options of who Jesus is. The apologetics goes something like this: Jesus must have been one of three things, a liar, a lunatic or Lord, as he claimed to be. Dawkins’ suggestion that a 4th option is this; that Jesus could have simply been mistaken.

I’m not sure how he came to that startlingly stupid suggestion, but he makes as if it is so simple that no Christian has ever thought of it before, presumably blinded by the ignorance of their religiosity. I think that very few people (let alone psychologists) would call a man who claims to be God, but is not, merely ‘mistaken’. People are put in the crazy house if they claim to be Napoleon; let alone God.

If Jesus was mistaken, would than not make him a lunatic?

Dawkins does seem to agree with Sam Harris in his opinion that all people of faith are actually lunatics, it’s just that there are too many of them to lock away (a situation they seem eager to change). It seems bizarre to me to suggest that all his disciples be committed to lunacy but to let the instigator of the faith off the hook, calling him merely ‘mistaken’.

I don’t know about you but I find that kind of thing disappointing in a book. If someone just said it off the top of their head that is one thing, but presumably someone actually edited this thing?

I would hate to think, but am lead to conclude, that this is the way Professor Dawkins does his research. Perhaps he commands such academic awe that he has advanced to some untouchable league and has been encouraged by his peers to believe that he can walk into a sphere he clearly knows nothing about and in one quick step, with no need for research of any kind, point out the obvious errors that no Christian in 2000 years could possibly have the wits to see (being the ignorant ‘faith’ people that they are); despite publications of the caliber of Augustine’s City of God being available to him since 1400 years ago. It is to me a picture of the state of science-academia that Dawkins gets to publish on a subject he has neither knowledge nor credibility and has clearly done less than enough research, and then wins an award for it! I am bitterly disappointed that I wasted my time and money on this book on the recommendation of it’s award.

Dawkins then has a brief glance at the gospels of Matthew and Luke and keeps repeating that they have these glaring and obvious contradictions. Yet he mentions not one of them. He tries, I think, to get Matthew, Luke and John to be contradictory with regard to Jesus’ birth place. The attempts are pitiful, and show that if he (and his editor) have actually read the gospels, they have certainly made absolutely no attempt to actually think about them. The whole thing is glaringly preconceived.

Only one issue of supposed contradiction is worth an answer; that is Robin Fox’s (equally un-researched) suggestion that Luke’s record of Quirineus’ census was a weak, but understandable, attempt to put Jesus in Bethlehem for his birth.

Apart from historical records, which I will get to last with the help of Dr Ernest Martin, just think for a moment: Luke was obviously not writing for the purpose of manipulating 20th century mass ignorance (as both Dawkins and Fox seem to think). The people Luke was writing to had no need of historical research; they were actually there. What possible reason could Luke have had to to either make up a fictitious Augustus-issued census or to get the dates so horribly wrong by putting the Quirineus census too early? More importantly, how did Luke’s record make it through its eye witness critics, copied as many times as it was, if it was as badly put together as they presume?

He says that Robin Fox “sympathises with Luke’s plight and his desire to fulfill prophecy of Micah.” But what he fails to recognize is that Luke was making no attempt to fulfill any Hebrew prophecy, it’s doubtful if he even knew of the prophecy and he certainly was not writing to convince any Hebrews. A plain read of his gospel makes that a very obvious observation.

Luke’s readers were either Greek or Roman (probably both), and certainly very well acquainted with their own recent history. Actually I go with the theory that Luke and Acts were written as a 2 volume pre-trial brief in Paul’s defense against Nero, no margin for eye witness error in that kind of document.

Dawkin’s suggestion here would be like Jacob Zuma’s legal defence trying to claim that there was never actually any European / South African arms deal… and then getting away with it! In 2000 years time that would be feasible because people would have forgotten about current South African politics, but how would Zuma’s case survive the ridicule and the courts of today so that it would be around in 2000 years? It is a silly suggestion.

But, besides the obvious, i.e.: what can be deduced by merely reading and thinking (preferably at, or almost at, the same time), here is the research:

Quirinius had more than one census. Luke says it so plainly, in verse 2 of the second chapter, that he seems to expect his reader to know of more than census under Quirinius and wants to be sure they know which one he’s speaking of: “(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)” (emphasis added). His first census was under the orders of Augustus, it was empire wide and racial. Hence the men returning to their family towns. Joseph went to Bethlehem because that was where his family records were kept, it was not an ancient ancestor issue, as Dawkins again presumes.

Perhaps Professor Dawkins does not realize that at that time there was no such thing as a centralized database and bar-coded ID documents. Apart from that if Dawkins and Fox had just bothered to read the text they would see that Acts 5:37 describes the second census under Quirineus that Dawkins mistakes for the first Augustus-issued census; I think he could do a bit better than that. It’s not even like it’s in a different volume, Acts and Luke are both in the Bible.

Perhaps Dawkins doesn’t know that Luke was a Greek doctor, not at all familiar or interested in Jewish Messianic prophecy and almost certainly not able to speak or read Hebrew. But then what is the Professor doing writing such an opinionated book?

It is John and Matthew who wrote about Jewish prophecies being fulfilled, not Luke. As I said Luke was most likely writing a brief in defense of Paul in Rome. He was certainly not trying to fulfill Messianic prophecy. Though he was being thorough. The prophecy lines up with Luke’s record simply because the prophecy was true.

Dr Martin summarizes the literary and archaeological evidence for this:

A sixth reason for placing the nativity of Jesus in 3 or 2 B.C. is the coincidence of this date with the New Testament account that Jesus was born at the time when a Roman census was being conducted: “There went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the Roman world should be registered” (Luke 2:1). Historians have not been able to find any empire-wide census or registration in the years 7-5 B.C., but there is a reference to such a registration of all the Roman people not long before 5 February 2 B.C. written by Caesar Augustus himself: “While I was administering my thirteenth consulship [2 B.C.] the senate and the equestrian order and the entire Roman people gave me the title Father of my Country” (Res Gestae 35). This award was given to Augustus on 5 February 2 B.C., therefore the registration of citizen approval must have taken place in 3 B.C. Orosius, in the fifth century, also said that Roman records of his time revealed that a census was indeed held when Augustus was made “the first of men”–an apt description of his award “Father of the Country”–at a time when all the great nations gave an oath of obedience to Augustus (6:22, 7:2). Orosius dated the census to 3 B.C. And besides that, Josephus substantiates that an oath of obedience to Augustus was required in Judea not long before the death of Herod (Antiquities I7:4I-45). This agrees nicely in a chronological sense with what Luke records. But more than that, an inscription found in Paphlagonia (eastern Turkey), also dated to 3 B.C., mentions an “oath sworn by all the people in the land at the altars of Augustus in the temples of Augustus in the various districts.” And dovetailing precisely with this inscription, the early (fifth century) Armenian historian, Moses of Khoren, said the census that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem was conducted by Roman agents in Armenia where they set up “the image of Augustus Caesar in every temple.”. The similarity of this language is strikingly akin to the wording on the Paphlagonian inscription describing the oath taken in 3 B.C. These indications can allow us to reasonably conclude that the oath (of Josephus, the Paphlagonian inscription, and Orosius) and the census (mentioned by Luke, Orosius, and Moses of Khoren) were one and the same. All of these things happened in 3 B.C.

The bit of The God Delusion that I have read leaves me with the distinct impression that its author has approached the subject of God with some massively obnoxious preconceptions; preconceptions that he obviously enjoys the company of. Because if he just used a little of the thinking capacity he clearly has, he would be obliged to send them on their way.

Hot Air

18 04 2008

I was reminded of a story I heard a long time ago but which I still think is very funny.

Some first year varsity students were being forced to listen to a long and pretentious lecture by one of the senior students. He was expounding on the use of descriptive verbs as nouns for clothing.
“Do we really sneak in sneakers?” He asked, “and do we actually jump in jumpers?”
He then waited for the enormity of this last statement to sink in… a little too long though, because a student in the front row suddenly said, “before you continue would you mind taking off your wind breaker?”


18 04 2008

I saw an insurance billboard recently with these words;
With foresight, who needs hindsight?

It got me thinking… who indeed?
Well here’s my conclusion:

There are always 3 or 4 generations involved on the playing field at any given time with a few spectators on each end of the spectrum.
If the second generation, the ruling generation (most of the decision-makers of life are from this generation that’s why I call them the ruling generation) is making a successful go at it, then it is my view that the generation before them (the first generation) had exceptionally clear hindsight. The second generation has clear foresight but only at the expense of the first generation’s hindsight. The third generation is a little blind in both directions and will tend to blunder, creating a foresight blockage but giving the fourth very clear hindsight, the fifth then begin the cycle again by converting the fourth’s hindsight into foresight.

There are many examples of this phenomenon, perhaps the best is the generations after the world wars and the consequential economic depressions. The war/depression generation had a huge amount of hindsight. They set up a productive generation with a great deal of foresight in the 50’s. Who in turn created a generation with very little of either in the 60’s and 70’s. They then created a new generation of hindsight cold-war people who gave rise to the current generation with enormous foresight.
It’s like sociological seasons.
I think we all need hindsight, foresight is not possible without it. But we also need foresight. In a sense we need to make our mistakes, because hindsight is not possible without it.

The Greeks I think had it right in their language 3000 years ago. What a marvel Ancient Greek is. Language has certainly not evolved since then, if anything the reverse is true.
They had a number of words for Time. But the three key words were: Hora, Chronos and Keiros.
Hora is a fatalistic word, it has hindsight written all over it. When my grandfather (who is now 93 and not only still driving but servicing his own car too) moved from his house I asked him what he wanted to do will all his old rusty bits of steel and broken tools. “You can’t throw those away,” he said, “you never know when you might need them.” He is a classic hindsight generation man, and I love him!
Hora describes time as a master to whom we are all subject.
Chronos is the opposite, Chronos describes time as the servant of man and opportunity as available to the quick and the hungry. Compounding interest is a product of the Chronos mind. Chronos people are classically foresighted, but with a lack of hindsight they tend to create problems that their foresight, by it’s mere existence, is blind to.

Keiros is to me a word to live by. It is providential, granted (as I said – a word to live by). Opportunities are coming and will keep coming. Keiros says that we should use both foresight and hindsight to recognise which opportunity to take and which to leave. Hora is over cautious reluctant to take any opportunity, always focused on what might go wrong. Chronos rushes in where angels fear to tread, grasping at every opportunity as if opportunity itself was the key to life. A Keiros man is both prudent and full of Joy, he’s at peace and he has mastered fear… not just his fears, but fear itself.

Keiros is a word that teaches me what The Eagles seem to know already… “Learn to be still.

Zeal & The Zeitgeist – Part 5

11 02 2008

Second to right now in history I would want to be alive during Daniel’s time. To witness the birth of Western civilisation, what a grand moment.

There are four main branches of philosophy which have dominated the world.
They all came from the combined efforts of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and the applied philosophy of Alexander.
Before this time men were ruled by a King with a state religion, an administration and and an army to keep control. Not till after the Romans and through the horrors of the dark ages did mankind truly grapple with the realities of a separation of religion and state. But in Daniel’s life he was just seeing the beginnings of democracy. We see the later Darius passing a law of the Medes and Persians which “cannot be revoked”, that particular law saw Daniel thrown to the lions against the kings wishes. So we know that by then the king was at least accountable to his own law. The same thing happened in the story of Esther, Artaxerxes passed a similar law and was unable to revoke it when he was told the truth of it’s inception. So Democratic law was conceived but unborn, what followed was the rise not only of Greek thought, but Greek military dominance, and in particular the 4 main branches of Greek philosophy which still rule our Western world.

Daniel, particularly in the last 5 chapters, describes in magnificent prophetic detail, the rise of Greece and a military power and the rise of these four philosophies through wonderful pictorial language. He calls them ‘kings’ because that is exactly what they are, ruler personalities. But we know that they are not individual rulers because they last: Through the Greek conquests, they last after Alexander and the division of his kingdom, they still persist through the Stoic and Hedonist Roman rulers, right through the Holy Roman Empire (which was not any of those things).
We can sum up Daniel’s prophetic insight into this:
He predicted the rise of the four ruling/competing branches of Greek philosophy and, in the midst of their rise, also predicted, very precisely, the birth of Jesus.

In The introduction to the Symposium (written around 380 BC by Plato as a one sided dialogue) Apollodorus’ travelling companion describes Apollodorus like this:
“I see, Apollodorus, that you are just the same-always speaking evil of yourself, and of others; and I do believe that you pity all mankind, with the exception of Socrates, yourself first of all, true in this to your old name, which, however deserved I know how you acquired, of Apollodorus the madman; for you are always raging against yourself and everybody but Socrates.”
This is a rather lengthy character criticism, and at first we wonder why he didn’t just say what he meant: “Apollodorus you are such a Cynic”.
The reason is that the word ‘Cynic’ was no available to Plato, not even in ancient Greek, because it was only introduced as a philosophy after Alexander. Cynicism was the first of our four philosophical pillars to emerge after Alexander, it was established as a philosophy by Antisthenes who wanted no government, no private property, no marriage and no religion. His pupil was Diogenes who lived in a burial urn and often walked round naked. He lived like a dog which is where we get the word “Cynic” (“Kynikos” in ancient Greek) which literally means “like a dog”.
Some ancient Greek patriot once asked Diogenes what his country was. He replied “I am a citizen of the world,” and so he coined the Greek concept “Cosmopolitan”.

The second of the four pillars of Greek Philosophy is Scepticism. The cornerstone of the philosophy is the idea that, although we are always learning, we can never be absolutely sure that we know. The difference in the definitions of ‘Fact’ and ‘Theory’ would be a prime example of the dilemma the sceptics focus on. Pyrrho, the father of Scepticism and one of Alexander’s soldiers was very impressed with the wealth and variety of cultures. He began to see that most ideological arguments are equally good on both sides, so we should never assume the truth.
Sceptics after him would often argue and defend both sides of an argument.

The third pillar of the four is Hedonism (or Epicureanism after it’s founder Epicurus). “He who dies with the most toys wins,” is the modern mantra of the hedonist. The ancient one was “death is nothing to us.” The hedonist’s believed that he pursuit of life is pleasure. In terms of causality, ‘reason is slave to the passions’ David Hume put is rather sceptically in the 1700’s.

Lastly we come to the fourth pillar, the strongest and most powerful one of the four. Stoicism, the governing philosophy of the Roman and the British Empires and I think the philosophy ruling today. It is a moral philosophy of individual endurance to remain faithful against the pressures and tragedies of life.
From Zeno of Citium to Ralph Waldo Emerson, from Seneca to Bertrand Russell, from Marcus Aurelius to Jean-Paul Sartre. More than any other thins, stoic philosophy has shaped the work ethic, economies, education, politics and policies of the Western World. It is a very powerful ideology.
Did you know that Cincinnati (in Ohio, USA) was not named after an American Indian chief. It was actually named after a Roman General, Cincinnatus, who relinquished his title after an amazing victory and went back to farming so as not to take personal advantage of his position. He became so famous for his combination of military genius and personal humility that George Washington founded a society of soldiers on his legacy and the city was named after him.
American soldiers are supposed to do the same as General Cincinnatus, protect the innocent, never abuse their power, etc (yea right, “supposed to” being the operative words). But it explains the view most Americans have on the wars America has fought: Most Americans believe implicitly that every American aggressive military move is absolutely altruistic and for the good of the whole world. As I said Stoicism rules the world right now.


The word “Zeitgeist” was coined by the German philosopher Georg Hegel. It means the ruling ‘spirit of the age,’ Hegel used the word to point out that greatness comes from circumstances as well as talent, not talent alone. But Zeitgeist is also a wonderful description of the greatest of the Greek philosophies, Stoicism and it’s derivative philosophies which hold sway in every area of our lives. The other three also play a major part. It’s interesting to listen for them popping up in people’s arguments. Some argue sceptically, when they start to loose they become stoic, or cynical. Many just choose the hedonist line, “well I don’t care, and I feel like a beer.”

By Jesus’ time he and his followers were faced with ideologies and ethos that didn’t exist in Daniel’s day (just as Daniel predicted). “What is truth” asked Pilate at Jesus’ trial (John 18:38), the key rhetorical question of the sceptic.
Paul came across and argued with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in Athens (Acts 17:18)

Etienne Gilson, in the foreword of my translation of Augustine’s City of God says this:
“If we are striving toward the unity of all men, we must look beyond mankind for the unifying principles.”
Ideas have consequences, and I believe that the consequences of ideas are much more powerful and enduring than those of actions. Actions speak louder than words, but ideas speak louder than actions.

I believe that Zeal is greater than the Zeitgeist.

Zeal & The Zeitgeist – Part 6

11 02 2008

Here’s the last one, if you’ve read through them all, thanks, you deserve a medal for endurance.


I ended off my last post saying that I believe that Zeal is greater than the Zeitgeist.

This is one of the great themes in Daniel’s writing. In his vision the four kings are eventually dominated, not by a greater philosophy, but by Zeal. In the kings dream the Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman and Byzantine kingdoms were smashed apart, not by a greater civilisation but by an eternal kingdom, a kingdom of Zeal.


Before I conclude I’d better explain what I mean, and don’t mean, by “Zeal”.

A man who blows himself up in a car bomb or hijacks a plane to fly it into a building is not zealous. Neither is a social worker who beats up a kid because they must have deserved to be an orphan by some great evil they did in a past life. Neither is the inquisitor who drowns a woman because she is labeled as a witch by his religion. No form of terrorism was ever motivated by zeal!

Those people are not zealous, they are greedy, they are doing what they are doing because they believe they are going to get something for it, or they have already got something for it. They are all selfish acts motivated by greed, they have nothing whatsoever to do with zeal.


I would describe ‘Zeal’ as the ‘energy of love’. It is not routed in religion or even in faith; zeal is an action motivated by a relationship.

The antonym of zeal is ‘apathy’, pathos means ‘to suffer’ and apathy means an unwillingness to suffer, or even to put yourself out, for that which you say you love.

We’re not talking here about giving for gain, Zeal is giving with no thought of self.


The best illustration I can think of for ‘Zeal’ is a true story I once heard, from someone who witnessed it, about a fisherman on one of the big African lakes. Most of the local fishermen go out onto the lake on dugout canoes, sometimes they go really far out; but hardly any of them can swim, they never get to learn for fear of crocodiles. One day a father took his son fishing, the boy was dangling his fingers in the water and a croc grabbed him and pulled him right out of the boat. The father, with barely a thought, jumped straight in, he caught the crocodile and forced his own arm into its jaws, so releasing his son. In the process this father, who could not even swim, lost his arm, but he rescued his son!

That is Zeal. It is utterly selfless applied Love.

Zeal is the greatest definition of both Love and Charity. Zeal is both the driving and the creative force behind the Universe, and I believe, by what I see, that Zeal is God’s work ethic.


Now a philosophy is a very powerful thing (provided it is a good philosophy), ideas, as I have said, have consequences. Philosophy could even be a type of love, the love of the acquisition of knowledge. But the downfall of philosophy is that it is powered by self interest. It could never be Zeal, it requires no other, it is un-relational often it is anti-relational. In fact one of the best of the modern conclusions is an idea that we call Existentialism, Søren Kierkegaard’s grand discovery that all a mind can truly ‘know’ is that it does exist, everything else is a theory. Quite true but unhelpful in the extreme.


There are four pillars of Greek thought that Daniel predicted:

1. The Stoic, the stern faced king and master of intrigue, who defines his subjects’ duty to them by engaging their pride.

2. The Hedonist, the party king, the pursuer of pleasure for his subjects.

3. The Sceptic, the king of argument, who calls his subjects to question even their own reason, by their own reason.

4. The Cynic, the alternative king, who calls all his subjects to anarchy of every authority except his own.

They rule people’s lives today. Sometimes it is good to evaluate your behaviour, ask yourself: to the call of which king are you responding to today?

These self-focused ideologies came through Greek thinking, deduction, causality, critical thinking methods. They came from the Persians and the Babylonians and originally, I believe, from Abrahamic linear thought (as opposed to seasonal/circular thought). They have brought knowledge, created wealth and spread opulence wherever they have been, and they have been used to dominate the poor and keep people focused on themselves.

One of the hardest things about cultural differences is that these four ideologies are very foreign in the third world. The developing nations have their own, equally selfish, propensities (tribalism being the most devastating).


But there is no system, ideology or religion like Zeal, the love and passion which becomes willing, joyful sacrifice for another, not for self. This Zeal is at the core of Christianity, and it is nowhere else to be found.

Well perhaps not ‘nowhere else’. One does come across it (on occasion) in small children. One sees it (though not always) in families. Parents seem to have it to a fault. One sees it on very rare occasions between strangers.

But Zeal has never been a national ideology or a religious reality.


in it’s simplest form Zeal says “Love your neighbour as yourself.” In it’s most complete, mature form Zeal says “Lay your life down for those you love.”

The Zeitgeist is utterly opposed to Zeal, because it wants to rule. Zeal is not opposed to the Zeitgeist because Zeal is not threatened by the Zeitgeist. Economically the Zeitgeist is still reliant on a working class, but it was Zeal which abolished slavery and ushered in economy that no-one dreamed of under slavery.

Just like every love story of every good hearted hero and every beautiful maiden in need of rescuing, Zeal will overcome, it is destined to.

My advice, to everyone I meet, is to become the subject of Zeal, it is the only way to become truly zealous!