Sunday, December 27, 2009

Saved (the Desire Behind Desire)

Next week I'll be posting my last article. It will be quite short and will include some thoughts about the religion of Adam. I'll also be giving some book recommendations.

Romans 2: 28-29, “A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.”

The Apostle Paul seems to state in several places that he believed in all of humanity having something along the lines of what the ancients called the "laws of nature". Some cultures call them "first precepts" or "the Tao" etc. It’s basically the notion of a universal conscience common to all men at all times everywhere throughout creation. For instance, as C. S. Lewis once said, no one has ever admired cowardice or selfishness. We're always amazed when we hear of somebody committing inhumane acts of extreme torture and the like, and say, "How could somebody do that to someone else?", as if they've done something that goes against nature itself--and they have. A materialist would like to think this proves there is no Tao, and men create their own conscience, but this is not so. These are men who have simply chosen not to follow their God given consciences. I had a friend many years ago whose cousin was jumped in a bar by some bikers; they held him down while one of them cut out one of his eyes with a pocketknife. They were following their own design of moral conscience while choosing to ignore the one God gave them at birth. I stated in a previous article that if you ignore your God given conscience it would begin to leave you, and eventually there would be hardly a trace of it left. Men can replace this conscience with one of their own making, and men that do this are capable of any detestable act that comes into their heads.

Another example of this Tao would be its presence in very young children who are molested. Almost every one of them will say on a witness stand that they knew/felt that what was being done to them was wrong even though they were too young to even know what sex was, but that didn't stop them from knowing a universal wrong when it was done to them.

Let's look at the following comment by Paul:

Romans 2:13-16 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

As for Paul's later reference in Romans to being "justified by faith", I don't see this as being a self-conflicting argument against his earlier statement about gentiles being saved by obeying the laws on their hearts, i.e.—conscience. I believe he reasons that the very fact that a man chooses to follow his God given conscience creates a turning point for him. That he has chosen God because God is a part of his conscience in some way.

Nobody can find friendship with God through obeying either the Deuteronomical laws or the laws of nature either one because nobody keeps them all the time. This is true. We all mess up now and then. Neither can anyone aspire to divine favor through faith alone. Paul also states that, even if we prophecy and have faith, we are worthless if we don't love others.

Nor do I think holy friendship is attainable through the magic invocation of names. No one gets points simply for saying they believe in Jesus. You might as well tell someone, "Say abracadabra and click your heels three times; there now, you get to go to heaven!" When Christ talked of separating the sheep from the goats, he was talking about people, all of whom, believed in him and weren't shy in saying his name. Those who were called the "goats" were called so because they didn't do, or didn't want to do, the good works they should have.

We can point to biblical passages that seem to contradict each other concerning the names/works/faith route to heaven all day. Therefore whatever brings us into the presence of Holiness must be something that concerns all of these things, but yet is something a little beyond them--something that is a bit of a mystery. Paul even spoke about "the mystery of faith". I don't pretend to know the mind of God, and I'm no mystic, but I think I may be able to shed a tiny bit of light on this mystery. Paul alludes to it when he speaks of the way the mind (or will of the body) wants to do one thing while the will (of his spirit) attains to something holier. CS Lewis said in The Weight of Glory that he believed the human conscience to be composed of both the Tao (something he likened to moral instincts) and the choices the mind makes between right and wrong where the Tao is unclear. I think Lewis is right. Paul separates the mind from the conscience in Titus 1:15 where he says "…both their minds and their consciences are corrupted", and I think he was right to completely separate the two here. The conscience for Paul seemed to hold a certain reverence. It was God himself, a glimmer of divine light, within mankind. It was like the first precept of all reason, because it was reason without cause. It was simply there, as a gift, just as the formulae of pi exists within all circles. We find that 3.14 keeps coming up in many geometrical measurements. It’s a sort of first precept of geometry, and it exists on its own whether we realize its existence or not. Yet Paul also talked of the conscience in other places where he admits that it's at least partially developed by our choices. So I tend to think he thought of the God given conscience as something like a big dam with Satan on the other side, where the biggest part of the structure was made by God, but where we have the ability to add to it and strengthen it, or to tear away at it until it comes tumbling down altogether. A man who has torn down that dam is the kind of man who can do unspeakable acts. The dam that would have kept the evil out of him is gone, and he's floating in the filth he let in.

Now this is a hard subject to grasp, and I believe that's why Paul thought of it as a mystery, but the body seems to have a mind of its own. It not only has physical desires but also mental desires that are not healthy. We all have thoughts that flood our heads now and then that we wish were not there, yet we find getting rid of them is not so easy as just wishing them to be gone. Yet we do wish them to be gone. How can it be that the minds of our bodies wish one thing, and yet we possess something behind that mind which would wish another thing altogether? It's as though we have a physical will and a spiritual will, and often they are at odds with one another. The closer we grow to Christ, the more at odds they will become. At this point you may think that winning this Olympics of wills is what sets good men apart from bad men, but you would be wrong. Here a third oddity comes into the fray that’s even more difficult to take in.

We may wish to be good and to follow our God-given consciences. Sometimes this involves heavy lifting (both physically and of the will). I may know through my conscience that God is telling me to do a certain good work, perhaps to cut my neighbors grass because they're sick in bed. However, what if cutting grass is my least favorite activity? For that matter, what if feeding the poor is one of my least favorite activities as well? Not only does my physical mind lack a desire to do a certain good work but even my spiritual mind seems to have no will do to the thing. Yet, I know it is a thing worth doing and a thing that will somehow do me good as well as those who are being done for. Therefore, I have a desire to desire that I would do these things. That is, I wish I would desire to do certain things that I have no desire to do--that they would become a part of my spiritual will. They may never be part of my physical will because it's always at odds with my spiritual will, but I at least wish that my spiritual will would be in step with the desires that the Tao is telling me are good and proper to have. I don't want to cut my neighbors grass, but I really wish I could make myself want to.

If we wish to have a desire to do good things, often that wish is fulfilled at some point. That wish can only be fulfilled by another kind of Will, one that is foreign to our own. Only God can convert our "desire to desire" into being a part of our own will. The bible says to love our enemies, but no one in the history of man ever wanted to love his enemies, and you can't make yourself want to. However, as long as you at least desire to want to then God will step in and convert that desire to a want to. (This is very hard to express verbally; I can only hope the reader will understand the mental imagery I am trying so hard, and yet so poorly, to convey). Before long you'll find that you really do want to love your enemies or cut your neighbors grass etc. It came by no power of your own, and it usually came after you gave up on it ever coming. One day you suddenly realize that you have a kind of love for people that you never had before, and this is what Paul meant by transforming our minds. It also happens to be what salvation (for lack of a better term) is. It's not the acts that we do, or the words we say, or opinions about God that we express. It’s the desire to desire goodness in all things. I know of no word or phrase for that desire behind desire, but the thing surely exists, and it’s the most important thing a man must take heed of within all of creation.

A man may choose to desire goodness in all things without ever having heard of Christ. He still chooses Christ, because Christ is the voice calling him to that desire behind desire. Or as Lewis once said, a man can be saved from drowning and never find out who it was that saved him. That's just my opinion, but it comes from something so deep within that it's without.

There's so very much more to this earthly existence than the tidbit I've tried to express here. There are things that Christ did and changed just by coming into the world that I haven't even begun to touch upon--things that changed all of humanity whether they realize it or not. For instance, people no longer build pyramids and mounds; no one builds them today at all. Worshipping in the high places is all but over for the most part. Magic, if it ever existed, no longer does. Mass human sacrifice is no longer a part of everyday culture throughout the world as it once was. The coming of Christ had a lot to do with that. There are ways in which Christ changed the world that even the bible itself doesn't go into. It doesn't matter if we know what all those changes are. We can still be grateful for them.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Great War (CS Lewis, Owen Barfield, and—Anthroposophy)

The following first appeared in my old blog a few years ago. I've always considered the letter by CS Lewis quoted here to be among the best and most significant he ever wrote, and it seemed important enough to me to merit posting it once again.

The Great War (CS Lewis, Owen Barfield, and—Anthroposophy)

CS Lewis, when speaking about Owen Barfield, once said that there are two kinds of best friends a person can have. One was the type of friend Lewis had during his younger years in Arthur Greeves, and this was the kind of person with whom you had everything in common. The other was the kind of friend he had in Owen Barfield, and this was the type of friend with whom you disagree about everything: "He has read all the right books but has got the wrong thing out of every one... How can he be so nearly right and yet, invariably, just not right? He is as fascinating (and infuriating) as a woman."

Owen Barfield was a lifelong friend to CS Lewis despite their differences in opinion. They were introduced during their days as students at Oxford by another student, Leo Baker. Baker was a priest with the Anthroposophical Christian Community and taught at one of the early schools started by the Anthroposophical Society to promote the spiritual philosophy of Rudolf Steiner widely referred to as Anthroposophy.

Anthroposophy itself would become a lifelong point of contention between Jack and Owen. Barfield was enticed into joining the Anthroposophical Society in the early 1920's after hearing Steiner lecture on the subject.

Steiner's spiritual philosophy was based on mankind being a part of the creative thought behind the development of the world, both spiritually and materially, that man's will was there from creation, and that will took part in all decisions that would influence the evolution of the whole world and man's place in it. Like many spiritualists groups of the day, Steiner introduced meditative techniques involving visualization and concentration of the will in bringing man back into a conscious state whereby he could regain his lost knowledge of those latent creative forces which a devotion to materialism had made him to forget. He believed that when enough people had regained this knowledge of themselves and their capabilities that mankind would enter a new evolutionary stage of consciousness. Anthroposophical teaching, along with various apocalyptical prophecies from the Mayan; the Hopi Indians; and several other sources including the Bible itself, were the basis for the New Age movement of the early 1970's. Steiner was careful not to espouse a pantheistic philosophy that replaced God with a super-consciousness that encompassed every living thing. In his mind, God was still the chief architect, but he allowed man to have a much larger part in running the world than traditional Christianity had taught.

Lewis, however, was not convinced and once described Anthroposophy as "a kind of Gnosticism". The Catholic Church agreed and denounced Anthroposophy condemning it as far back as 1919.

Barfield and Baker would not be the only members of the Anthroposophical Society to come into Lewis' life. While attending Oxford, Barfield would meet another lifelong friend in Cecil Harwood. Harwood and his wife Daphne would later be at the forefront in the development of the Rudolf Steiner Schools. Daphne taught in the schools throughout much of her life while Cecil would give lectures promoting them. These schools would eventually become the basis for the Waldorf Schools still in existence today. Owen Barfield and his wife Maud would stay close friends to the Harwood's throughout all their years. Any friend of the Barfield's was a friend of Lewis.

Jack would engage in lively debates with his Anthroposophical friends during the 1920's even writing a long paper detailing his arguments against Anthroposophy and delivering it to Owen by mail. They jokingly referred to the paper as "The Summa", and it was just a small part of on ongoing debate that would last for years which they called "The Great War". It was a friendly war, however, and by the 1930's Lewis declined debating the subject any further. Instead, he would often focus on the things they had in common and the points in Anthroposophy that he agreed on. His disagreement with Anthroposophy was well-summed up in a short letter to Cecil Harwood in 1926:

No one is more convinced than I that reason is utterly inadequate to the richness and spirituality of real things: indeed this is itself a deliverance of reason. Nor do I doubt the presence, even in us, of faculties embryonic or atrophied, that lie in an indefinite margin around the little finite bit of focus which is intelligence—faculties anticipating or remembering the possession of huge tracts of reality that slip through the meshes of the intellect. And, to be sure, I believe that the symbols presented by imagination at its height are the workings of that fringe and present to us as much of the super-intelligible reality as we can get while we retain our present form of consciousness.
My scepticism begins when people offer me explicit accounts of the super-intelligible and in so doing use all the categories of the intellect. If the higher worlds have to be represented in terms of number, subject and attribute, time, space, causation etc (and thus they always are represented by occultists and illuminati), the fact that knowledge of them had to come through the fringe remains inexplicable. It is more natural to suppose in such cases that the illuminati have done what all of us are tempted to do:—allowed their intellect to fasten on those hints that come from the fringe, and squeezing them, has made a hint (that was full of truth) into a mere false hard statement. Seeking to know (in the only way we can know) more, we know less. I, at any rate, am at present inclined to believe that we must be content to feel the highest truths 'in our bones': if we try to make them explicit, we really make them untruth.
At all events if more knowledge is to come, it must be the wordless and thoughtless knowledge of the mystic: not the celestial statistics of Swedenborg, the Lemurian history of Steiner, or the demonology of the Platonists. All this seems to me merely an attempt to know the super-intelligible as if it were a new slice of the intelligible: as though a man with a bad cold tried to get back smells with a microscope.

This letter, written five years before Jack would proclaim himself a Christian, and at the young age of twenty eight, already shows an admiration for the mystical and a disdain for unrealistic ideologies turned dogma which would become the hallmark of his conversion process.

That men can disagree on religious and theological ideologies to such a degree as did Lewis and his Anthroposophical friends and still remain full of admiration and brotherly love for many decades, is a testament to level headedness, the likes of which one seldom encounters in any religious circle. Lewis dedicated his book, The Allegory of Love, to Owen Barfield, (Lewis sometimes signed his letters to Owen, as—The Alligator of Love). The Barfield's had three adopted children. Lewis was godfather to the second one, Lucy, and dedicated The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to her. He dedicated The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to the third child, Jeffrey. Lewis dedicated his book, Miracles, to the Harwood's, and was godfather to their son Laurence. And Lewis openly praised Barfield's first book, a novel called, The Silver Trumpet, as did Tolkien. Friendships such as these are rare indeed.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Bad Scholarship - The Root of Much Evil

Perhaps you've heard about a website called Conservapedia founded by Andrew Schlafly, son of conservative radio commentator Phyllis Schlafly. It proposes to be something along the lines (the wrong lines) of an encyclopedia for conservatives, particularly conservative Christians. It was in the news recently when the owner announced that he's also attempting to use the device to construct a new bible geared toward conservatives. He complains that most modern bibles have been liberalized to the point of being inaccurate (he seems to especially despise gender neutral words), or that they've been dumbed down to a grade school reading level (a criticism decidedly aimed at the NIV Bible).

I'm no theologian. Even at my finest I'm just a man who does the best he can with what little common sense God has seen fit to give him. I recently mentioned that I also believe God has given me a fair amount of discernment/intuition. In addition, my father once paid me a great compliment in saying that he thought I should have been a policeman or in some other way involved with justice because he thought I would have been "fair". Common sense, discernment, and fairness may seem the tiniest and humblest of gifts to you. To me prophecy, healing, and miracles pale by comparison. I will endeavor to illustrate to you why I feel this way.

I find it increasingly rare to come across individuals today who are, in my estimation, fair in their reasoning. People tend to be jaded by circumstances. There's an old saying that hard times will either make you or break you. They seem to break most, and one of the things that gets broken more often than not is our sense of fairness. A young man dates a French girl who treats him badly; suddenly all French people are now second class and to be distrusted. Perhaps you were once passed over for a job by a factory that makes a certain brand of watches, and the man they hired instead of you is your worst enemy, so now this is a lousy brand of watch. It may have been something as simple as someone cutting you off in traffic, and now you even loathe the type of car they were driving, and nothing will ever convince you that it's a well-made vehicle. Topping it off are all the cultural prejudices we're taught growing up from our parents, our teachers, our clergymen and so on--prejudices that aren't always beneficial and which may not even represent accurate details of the various situations. I had a friend across the street in the 3rd grade who I distinctly recall telling me that Catholics like him were supposed to hate Protestants like me after he found out I was one. Of course it was just childhood gibberish. He made a poor stab at saying something he had heard an adult say and probably didn't get it exactly right. At any rate, we both quickly forgot what we were talking about and went on playing. But who's to say this conception which was already beginning to bud in him wouldn't flower into something greater later in life without his even thinking about it? You might be surprised how many unjust prejudices we pick up in childhood without realizing it.

If there's one area in which I constantly see people acting in an unfair manner it's the political arena. This is especially troublesome in the USA specifically because we're primarily a 2-party system, and these two parties, more often than not, act like two warring mafia families. I don't find liberals in America so much as I find haters of conservatives. And conversely I find many more haters of liberals than people who are truly practicing conservatism. Mr. Schlafly of Conservapedia, I believe, falls into this latter camp. Most people probably couldn't even tell you what liberal or conservative mean. I'm going to quote someone who does, but you may be shocked to find out that the quote is from a very well-known Hollywood actor:

My reputation as a conservative is valid in a lot of ways," he says, "but what disturbs me is what people think conservatives are. What conservatism represents to me is civil libertarian thought. To me, it's as simple as this: We all agree we need to solve social problems. My leanings tend toward individualist solutions. I don't like to characterize anybody, but I think liberals tend to have collectivist solutions. The twentieth century has been a collectivist century. Most of our solutions to social problems--even the term social problems--are collectivist. We've had this global experiment, and we're starting to see the end of the chain letter. I say let's try new things. I can't guarantee you they'll all work. If thirty percent of them work, I'll be happy. It's just time to reassess things and say that maybe this idea of the common good has to be translated through the individual.

I've learned by hanging out in Hollywood, where I disagree politically with most people, that most people's hearts are in the right place, and the only thing we have to argue about is the way to solve the problems. So I don't like it if the conservative philosophy becomes an 'anti' philosophy, just sheer negative thought.

If that's conservatism, I don't want to be labeled a conservative. If I can be an advocate of individualist solutions to our society's problems that are affirmative solutions, that to me is what conservatism means.

Those were the words of Tom Selleck in an interview some fourteen years ago. It's heartening to hear someone talk politics with no animosity toward others who may own antithetical viewpoints. Mr. Schlafly could learn a lot from Mr. Selleck. A cursory glance at Conservapedia easily shows conservatism gone wrong. There is properly placed prejudice and improper. There is fair and just bias and unfair. Mr. Schlafly represents to me someone whose biases have clouded his judgment to appalling ends. But I really have no wish to talk any further about his political demeanor. It's there for all the world to see. What interests me is his Conservative Bible Project.

The term liberal often means something different among theologians than it does when speaking of politics, although in Mr. Schlafly's mind it appears the two often get intermingled. Bibles that purposely change words from their original gender specific expressions such as he to something like they are no doubt using liberal ideologies when doing so. We often use the word man alone when speaking of all humans, as in mankind. We've all come across feminists who dislike this broad terminology and would rather see a text read humankind. Most of us probably aren't concerned whether a writer uses one or the other in most instances. But what if a feminist placating bible translator decides it's more decorous to use vague terms when speaking about God's own gender and chooses to use it instead of he or him? Then things start sounding convoluted. They may also be inaccurate because, for all we know, God may have more manly traits about him than feminine ones. Schlafly dislikes this treatment of God. I don't blame him. But does he dislike it because it's an inaccurate translation of the original texts, or because of his aversion for liberals and feminists? A theologian, like a scientist, or a school teacher, has got to be fair-minded. If he allows for the faintest hint of prejudice in his work he will have tainted all of it. People will then be able to point out the blemished parts and easily form a bias against the whole. Mr. Schlafly has caused a bias against his own work before he has even gotten past the opening stages.

Schlafly hardly stops there. If modern bible translators show any progressive leanings in their theology (whether these leanings are come by honestly or not) they're to be rejected on the spot. This basically comes down to the fundamentalist (biblical inerrancy) verses non-fundamentalist camps. Schlafly will have no part of the latter.

More importantly though, I find his reasoning often void of any substance or precision. For instance, he gives several reasons why he believes modern translations such as the NIV are frequently incorrect. One example he cites is the following:

At Luke 16:8, the NIV describes an enigmatic parable in which the 'master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.' But is 'shrewdly', which has connotations of dishonesty, the best term here? Being dishonestly shrewd is not an admirable trait.

Go and read Luke 16, and I think you will quickly see the problem with Schlafly's argument. The parable never says that the rich master is himself a good man or any better than his servant. In fact, that the master "commended" the dishonest actions of his servant shows us a great deal about the master's own lack of morality. There's also the fact that Jesus is painting a picture of a man he calls a "rich master", and we all know how hard it is for the rich to enter Heaven according to Jesus. If he were going to tell a story about a good businessman and a dishonest servant, he probably wouldn't have prefaced it by indicating that the businessman was rich. What disturbs me even more, however, is the fact that Schlafly depicts the word shrewd as having something in common with dishonesty. It does not. Shrewd simply means wise. In every text of Luke I know of (and of course all are in Greek), the Greek word used is "pronimos" which does indeed mean shrewd, wise, astute etc. The word Schlafly suggests using is resourceful which isn't necessarily incorrect, but it's not as accurate as shrewd either. Resourceful denotes a certain kind of creativity at work. There used to be a TV show called MacGyver about a man who was very resourceful indeed. If you needed a way to listen in on satellite telephone conversations, Angus MacGyver could probably tear apart an old radio and use the parts, with the aid of his ever present Swiss army knife, to build a working cell phone interceptor in less than ten minutes. His exploits often reminded me of the Professor on Gilligan's Island who could build just about any modern convenience from two coconuts and a hairpin. If the rich man's servant in Luke showed any resourcefulness at all, it certainly wasn't much. But he could unquestionably be described as being shrewd.

Another disconcerting aspect to Schlafly's translation efforts has to do with the fact that he's using the King James as a source to start from. Actually, what he's trying to give us is not so much a translation of a new bible as it is a paraphrase of an old one. He suggests to his helpers that they use the KJV as a starting point and then look up words in a Strong's Concordance for further assistance when needed. Part of his reasoning for doing this is because the KJV is in public domain, so they can use it freely. There is a great problem with this approach however. The translators of the KJV used Hebrew texts exclusively when translating the Old Testament because they assumed that the Jews would have more accurate copies even though they are considerably later than the Greek Septuagint and Theodotion copies we have. This assumption turned out to be incorrect. If you ignore the older Greek copies you will never have as accurate a translation because there are some passages the later Hebrew copies simply got wrong. An example I've always used is that of King Saul's daughters. The KJV says the following:

II Samuel 6:23 Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death.

II Samuel 21:8 But the king took the two sons of Rizpah . . . and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul.

Obviously the two verses cannot both be right. If Michal can die barren and yet have five sons she would have one-up'd the virgin Mary considerably. Why does the KJV read this way? Actually 21:8 should read Saul's other daughter Merab as having those five sons. We know this because I Samuel 18:19 correctly tells us Merab was married to Adriel.

1 Samuel 18:19 But it came to pass at the time when Merab Saul's daughter should have been given to David, that she was given unto Adriel the Meholathite to wife.

In II Samuel 21:8 the KJV again uses the wrong name for Saul's daughter:

But the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bare unto Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth; and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul, whom she brought up for Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite....
So, now here it is saying that Michal was married to Adriel when it just got done telling us that Merab was married to him instead. If you read through the two books of Samuel you will come to realize that it had to be Michal who was barren and Merab who had the five sons. The problem with the KJV in this instance is that there are only two Hebrew fragments of II Samuel which show the correct names, and to the best of my knowledge neither of these were known of until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1940s. However, even though most of the Greek Old Testament copies got the name jumbled too, there were some that got it right. If the KJV translators had bothered to use the Greek manuscripts they could have easily figured out the correct name to use in each verse. In using the KJV as a starting point for the Conservative Bible, Schlafly will be making many of the same mistakes they did. It's simply bad scholarship corrupted by a combination of poor thinking skills and a bias that favored the Hebrew text over the Greek.

Schlafly also talks about trying to get the "precision in the original language" accurate with his new version. The problem is that we don't know how the original Hebrew Old Testament texts read since there are no extant copies from the B.C. era. There aren't even many fragments until much later. If you follow Schlafly's logic, he seems to think there must have been something majestic about it which explains why he's so fond of the KJV. There are two problems here. I'm not fluent in it, but I know that ancient Hebrew was actually a very simple language, especially compared with Greek. The Greeks had amassed a huge vocabulary by the time the Septuagint came into being while the Jews still had a very small one by comparison. Ancient Hebrew had very little by way of conjunctions and connecting words that we take for granted today. For instance they didn't have a word for that. I've always likened the language in those days to something very similar to various native American Indians. If you can recall Indians speaking in the old cowboy movies, they might give directions by saying, "Go north two moons, look great oak, valley down many buffalo." In other words, travel north two days until you get to a big oak tree, and in the valley below you will find large buffalo herds. While ancient Hebrew may have been slightly more sophisticated, it wasn't by much. There was nothing majestic about it. The Greeks made it look more majestic than it really was, but the KJV translators did even more so. When the original KJV first came out in 1611, it was negatively criticized in its own day for being in an archaic form of English that was no longer used even then. People had stopped using words like thee and thine at least two or three centuries earlier. Critics of the KJV at that time accused the translators of trying to pretty it up and make it sound grandiose. Apparently Mr. Schlafly will be doing the same. If the NIV translation is written at a grade school reading level (which I judge to be a false claim) it's only because the bible was written at one. There's nothing difficult in the words themselves. The more important truths don't need difficult words to express them. They're inexpressible anyway.

My hope is that you are beginning to see why I consider common sense, discernment, and fairness of such great importance. Without them, truth and accuracy are unachievable. This is why most books are bad books. I don't want to single out Mr. Schlafly though. let me give you another example of bad scholarship. I made a short film a while back on beauty not being in the eye of the beholder. In other words, that it's not subjective at all, and I showed where this ungodly notion came from. If you search on the internet you can find several websites devoted to showing the origins of words, phrases, and sayings. Of course there are several books that do this as well. One of the more popular websites for this type of thing is called The Phrase Finder. I will post below the information they give for the origins of the phrase, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Keep in mind that other similar websites give almost identical information.


This saying first appeared in the 3rd century BC in Greek. It didn't appear in its current form in print until the 19th century, but in the meantime there were various written forms that expressed much the same thought. In 1588, the English dramatist John Lyly, in his Euphues and his England, wrote:

" neere is Fancie to Beautie, as the pricke to the Rose, as the stalke to the rynde, as the earth to the roote."

Shakespeare expressed a similar sentiment in Love's Labours Lost, 1588:

Good Lord Boyet, my beauty, though but mean,
Needs not the painted flourish of your praise:
Beauty is bought by judgement of the eye,
Not utter'd by base sale of chapmen's tongues

Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard's Almanack, 1741, wrote:

Beauty, like supreme dominion
Is but supported by opinion

David Hume's Essays, Moral and Political, 1742, include:

"Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them."

The person who is widely credited with coining the saying in its current form is Margaret Wolfe Hungerford (née Hamilton), who wrote many books, often under the pseudonym of 'The Duchess'. In Molly Bawn, 1878, there's the line "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder", which is the earliest citation of it that I can find in print.

I agree that Hume was the first to suggest this concept, and Ms. Hungerford only rewords his thoughts slightly. This isn't to say that no one had the thought before Hume. I'd be very surprised if someone hadn't said similar things before Plato was ever born. But so far I've not found it in writing. More importantly though, is the fact that every listing this website gives prior to Hume is incorrect.

The 3rd century Greek writer they refer to is Theocritus. What he says is, "...for in the eyes of love that which is not beautiful often seems beautiful." He does not say beauty is in the eye of the beholder but merely says things sometimes seem beautiful whether they are or not. But he never for a moment suggests that this beauty is a realty.

This website quotes Shakespeare without realizing that his wicked queen is saying exactly what Shakespeare, like all just men, disapprove of. Elsewhere in the poem it says:

O, who can give an oath? where is a book?
That I may swear beauty doth beauty lack,
If that she learn not of her eye to look:
No face is fair that is not full so black.

These are the words he gives to a very ignoble character. He gives her wicked words to say because she is wicked. Shakespeare makes plain his dislike for any nonsense involving subjective beauty in Sonnet 127:

In the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were, it bore not beauty’s name.
But now is black beauty’s successive heir,
And beauty slandered with a bastard shame.
For since each hand hath put on nature’s pow'r,
Fairing the foul with art’s false borrowed face,
Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bow'r,
But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace.
Therefore my mistress' eyes are raven black,
Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem
At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack,
Sland'ring creation with a false esteem.
Yet so they mourn, becoming of their woe,
That every tongue says beauty should look so.

What he's saying is that once women with fair complexions were considered beautiful, but in his day people had begun saying that it was the women with dark complexions who were accounted beautiful. He goes on to say that it was becoming fashionable for women to paint themselves up and use powders to feign the look of beauty. He laments that beauty has been so mistreated because if everything can be beautiful then nothing is beautiful. And there lies the sophistry of the subjective argument. If beauty is not universal then beauty does not exist.

Lyly is quoted from, but let me quote the entire line:

And as rare it is to see the Sunne with-out a light, as a fayre woeman with-out a lover, and as neere is Fancie to Beautie, as the pricke to the Rose, as the stalke to the rynde, as the earth to the roote.

Fancie here does not mean imagination. It means desire as in, "She fancied going to the opera". Therefore it has nothing to do with beauty being in the imagination, and if it did, the line would make no sense.

Franklin is also quoted, but he did not say this. He was quoting Jonathan Swift who wrote the line ten years earlier in his poem Strephon And Chloe:

For Beauty, like supreme dominion,
Is best supported by Opinion:
If Decency bring no supplies,
Opinion falls, and Beauty dies.

The poem is about a married couple who realize after marriage that, though initially attracted by physical beauty, they are still human and have to "poop and fart" (Swift's very words) like everyone else. They try to put a pleasant face on it as though it's still part of the beauty, but clearly Swift toward the end of the poem says they are wrong to do so. Also, if you read the above lines carefully you'll see that he isn't saying what this website seems to think he does. He in fact is saying just the opposite. He is not talking about individual opinion, but is simply saying that the more people who can agree on a thing being beautiful, the more likely it is to be so. This attests to beauty being universal rather than subjective.

Other websites mention Plato as being the first to suggest beauty as being subjective in the following.

Plato ~ Remember how in that communion only, beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, he will be enabled to bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities (for he has hold not of an image but of a reality), and bringing forth and nourishing true virtue to become the friend of God and be immortal, if mortal man may.

They're completely misinterpreting what Plato said. He's simply saying that beauty is transcendent from God, and that when the mind taps into this beauty, it is tapping into a real place within the mind of the creator. Had they read The Republic in school, they would have realized right off that this is an element in his Theory of Forms.

It was the atheist (or at least agnostic) philosopher David Hume who actually came up with the notion of beauty being a matter of taste. He says in 1742: "Beauty, properly speaking, lyes in the Sentiment or Taste of the Reader", and "Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them." Again I must say that if everything can be beautiful then nothing is beautiful. What Hume has actually managed is the abolition of beauty (as C. S. Lewis might say).

Speaking of Lewis, let me close with some choice words he has to say about poor scholarship. From his essay, Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism, later titled Fern-seed and Elephants:

First then, whatever these men may be as Biblical critics, I distrust them as critics. They seem to me to lack literary judgment, to be imperceptive about the very quality of the texts they are reading. It sounds a strange charge to bring against men who have been steeped in those books all their lives. But that might be just the trouble. A man who has spent his youth and manhood in the minute study of New Testament texts and of other people's studies of them, whose literary experience of those texts lacks any standard of comparison such as can only grow from a wide and deep and genial experience of literature in general, is, I should think, very likely to miss the obvious thing about them. If he tells me that something in a Gospel is legend or romance, I want to know how many legends and romances he has read, how well his palate is trained in detecting them by the flavour; not how many years he has spent on that Gospel. But I had better turn to examples.


Finally, from the same Bultmann: 'the personality of Jesus has no importance for the kerygma either of Paul or John... Indeed, the tradition of the earliest Church did not even unconsciously preserve a picture of his personality. Every attempt to reconstruct one remains a play of subjective imagination.'

So there is no personality of our Lord presented in the New Testament. Through what strange process has this learned German gone in order to make himself blind to what all men except him see? What evidence have we that he would recognize a personality if it were there? For it is Bultmann contra mundum. If anything whatever is common to all believers, and even to many unbelievers, it is the sense that in the Gospels they have met a personality.

That then is my first bleat. These men ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves. They claim to see fern-seed and can't see an elephant ten yards way in broad daylight.

Don't think for a moment that because someone has a PHD and many years of education or even a high IQ that this qualifies them as good scholars even if they are well-read. As Lewis once pointed out, a man can read all the right books and still get the wrong things out of them. He also mentioned that John Bunyan, with less than four years of formal education, went on to write a book which has astonished the world. Common sense, discernment, and fairness can take some men a very long way indeed.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Demystifying the Mystagogues

I saw this on another blog a few days ago: "Both you and God are ultimately absorbed in the One ... For this is the ultimate goal of traditional yogic practice: to throw oneself under the cosmic bus, and merge with the Infinite. No self, no problem."

It made me ponder my own position in accordance to the proximity of the Almighty. Many Christians, starting with the earliest Gnostics, have taken up this Hindu concept of oneness with the divine. Of the 31,000 verses in the bible, there are only three or four that on the surface sound as though they might have anything at all to do with this concept of merging with that hypostasis we call the trinity.

John 10:30 "I and the Father are one."

John 17:11 "I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one."

John 17:20-22 My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
But are these scriptures actually talking about our being sucked up into the Godhead, a sort of reversal of the Big Bang where all goes back to its original state of primordial substance before the fall? That is indeed very similar to the Hindu concept of nirvana where man loses his individual consciousness in God. This, however, has nothing in common with the teachings of Christ or the character of a creator. God's greatest triumph was being able to do the very opposite of this. The connectedness of all things isn't a particularly tricky subject. That all beings are within the whole yet can still remain quite separate, take divergent paths, and act with extreme variance is the more interesting and inexplicable phenomenon. To create beings apart from himself, each with their own personality and awareness, in essence--a soul--was an act of excogitation no man can begin to comprehend.

Being drawn into the divine and losing our individuality in the process is the last thing on God's mind.

What Jesus was talking about in the above verses was something very much like what we're told his followers took to heart and did: Acts 4:32 "All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had."

God wants us to have a common sense of right and wrong that comes from him, to live in a mutual attitude of love and respect for one another, to share each other's physical and emotional troubles. He has no intentions of un-creating our individuality even when we're in Heaven. What he wants for us is to be creators ourselves and to go on creating throughout eternity. He didn't tell Noah to have no children and live in a state of constant meditation in an attempt to become one with God. Far from it, he told him to go out and replicate, to fill the world with more souls. That's what creators do--they create. There's no talk of "less is more" in Heaven. Scientists tell us they now believe the universe will expand forever. There are billions of stars in the universe, billions of people on this one planet, billions of photons passing through your body this very instant. God is about more, more, more! He can be nothing less. A dog barks because it's his nature. God creates because that is his.

The Mystagogues talk in lofty words full of air like a poem with no subject. They love the mere mention of words like eternity, infinity, timelessness, intangible, ineffable. They live for the mystery of things. They have little use for either hard answers or the hard work of a life well-lived. Theirs is a wistful world of imponderable bliss without end. And if they're not careful they may get it. I loved what G. K. Chesterton had to say in his essay entitled The Mystagogues.

Whenever you hear much of things being unutterable and indefinable and impalpable and unnamable and subtly indescribable, then elevate your aristocratic nose towards heaven and snuff up the smell of decay. It is perfectly true that there is something in all good things that is beyond all speech or figure of speech. But it is also true that there is in all good things a perpetual desire for expression and concrete embodiment; and though the attempt to embody it is always inadequate, the attempt is always made. If the idea does not seek to be the word, the chances are that it is an evil idea. If the word is not made flesh it is a bad word.

Thus Giotto or Fra Angelieo would have at once admitted theologically that God was too good to be painted; but they would always try to paint Him. ... The trend of good is always towards Incarnation. ...those refined thinkers who worship the Devil ... always insist upon the shapelessness, the wordlessness, the unutterable character of the abomination. ... they worship him as the unspeakable name; as the unbearable silence. ... It was the Christians who gave the Devil a grotesque and energetic outline, with sharp horns and spiked tail. It was the saints who drew Satan as comic and even lively. The Satanists never drew him at all.

... The man who really thinks he has an idea will always try to explain that idea. The charlatan who has no idea will always confine himself to explaining that it is much too subtle to be explained. ... The honest man is he who is always trying to utter the unutterable, to describe the indescribable; but the quack lives not by plunging into mystery, but by refusing to come out of it. [my emphasis]

There is a proper longing that every Christian has to be with God in something like a physical way although we may not realize what that longing is initially--that Sehnsucht which C. S. Lewis spoke of so often where there seems to be joy in the longing itself. But the mature Christian, in time, learns that this feeling is not a love for mystery, nor a desire to be drawn in to God's own self. God allows us our "selves" and instead causes his light to shine on everything we experience no matter where we go in the world. Lewis figured this out after reading MacDonald's story--Phantastes.

There was no temptation to confuse the scenes of the tale with the light that rested upon them, or to suppose that they were put forward as realities, or even to dream that if they had been realities and I could reach the woods where Anodos Journeyed I should thereby come a step nearer to my desire. ... Thus, when the great moments [Sehnsucht] came I did not break away from the woods and cottages that I read of to seek some bodiless light shining beyond them. ... For I now perceived that while the air of the new region made all my erotic and magical perversions of Joy look like sordid trumpery, it had no such disenchanting power over the bread on the table or the coals in the grate. That was the marvel. Up till now each visitation of Joy had left the common world momentarily a desert.... Even when real clouds or trees had been the material of the vision, they had been so only by reminding me of another world; and I did not like the return to ours. But now I saw the bright shadow coming out of the books into the real world and resting there, transforming all common things and yet itself unchanged.

Our objective is not to live in mystery (although it may start as such). It is to live in the embodiment of divine grace.