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Outliers, 8– Profile of the Ultimate Outlier, 2

Even if someone [meaning himself] were to rise from the dead, still they would not believe. –

Jesus/Yeshua, in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in the afterlife. – ca 32 CE

There is no God but Allah, and I am the Prophet of Allah.

Muhammad to the Meccans in 610 CE.

The Buddha is not to be worshipped, nor is he himself the way; the Buddha is but the one who shows the way.

Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) to the Sanghya (the order of monks who followed him), ca. 500 BCE

Last time, we concluded that only three persons in human history qualify for the designation “Ultimate Outlier” or “Super-Outlier”: in chronological order, they are Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama – 563-483 BCE), Yeshua ben-Yosef of Nazareth in Israel (Jesus – 4 BCE-33 CE), and Muhammad of Mecca (570 CE – 632 CE). There have been almost innumerable other prominent outliers in human history down through the last five recorded millennia, but previously we rather conclusively demonstrated that none of them approach the caliber of the three named above.

Furthermore, these three are all well-established, documentable historical persons, not vague legendary individuals of whose real lives we know very little or next to nothing. As we found previously, the legacies of these three are so gigantic and durable that they bear no comparison with any other famous personage in any field of achievement we could name. They surpass any temporal empire based on conquest and national ambition, as well as any other great achievements in any category of historical renown.

When considering the issue “Who is the greatest person who has ever lived?” Western materialists are inevitably prone to reduce it to some sort of quantifiable criteria. As tempting as this may be, it simply will not do for these three. What sort of quantifiers could be used? Numbers of followers over time and in the present? A mugs game at best. How about numbers of ethnicities or nations whose populace by-and-large today name each of them as their religious icon or Messiah? Once more, there are so many variables as to render such a comparison mute. Using such crude indices will render no meaningful result.

When answering the burning question, “Who is the greatest of all?” Mohammed Ali (Cassius Clay), the world heavyweight boxing legend, brazenly and unabashedly replied, “I AM THE GREATEST!” Similarly, the adherents of one or the other of the three great faiths named above would doubtless nominate their own founder to the title.

No human, living or dead, is capable of objectively deciding who is THE Ultimate Outlier in human history. I will not pretend to be objective either. For any regular reader of this blog, you will already know that I am an affirmed Christian, so my answer is obvious. Yeshua ben-Yosef/Jesus, son of Joseph, of Nazareth IS THAT ONE.

That does not mean that I cannot admire the other nominees, at least to some degree. For example, Buddha’s teachings are among the most sublime on record, and those who practice them consistently may well succeed in living harmonious lives and doing far less harm to others, their world, and themselves than those who do not. “Good” Buddhists are among the least offensive and aggressive people on Earth.

Muhammad faced and overcame great adversity. He was ready to die for his mission and message and was a great teacher, inspirer of men, organizer, recruiter, and unifier of previously hostile tribes. But the harshness of parts of his message, once he had gained power in Yatrib (Medina), and the thrust of his revelations underwent a profound change. Its application by both himself and subsequent Caliphs towards those who did (and do) not voluntarily accept it has led to enormous injustice against those named “infidels” for their refusal, including wholesale massacres and mass forced conversions. The justification for this kind of “evangelism” counterbalances subsequent attempts to create more equitable conditions. Too often these have failed and continue to fail in the face of stubborn insistence on holding fast to Medieval cruelties and inequalities in the name of “preserving the faith”. For example, by and large in Islamic societies, women are still kept in abject suppression to men at every stage of their lives.

Neither can the reprehensible behavior of people claiming to be sincere followers and adherents of Jesus be excused, either in the past or in the present. Horrors committed on millions in the name of Jesus and “Christian civilization” are an inexcusable blot on the legacy of the Lord of lords and Prince of Peace. Those who condoned and continue to condone such blasphemies will have much to answer for standing before the Judgment Seat of the One they profess to serve. They also have much to answer for right now in the court of human esteem and justice itself.

Diametrically opposite to the above kind of behaviors, and like Buddha, Jesus taught and exampled peace, respect for all regardless of any sort of categorization extant in the prevalent society, forgiveness, and open acceptance of all, male and female, slave and free, regardless of race (there is only the human race, not several) and ethnicities. For him, all can come to him as equal inheritors of God’s offer of a new Kingdom here on earth and in “the age to come”. No evidence can be advanced from any legitimate historically vetted source to show that Jesus ever preached taking power by force, overthrowing established powers and societies by subversive revolution, or advancing the idea of any sort of racial or cultural mastery of one people, tribe, or nation over others. On the country, when on trial for his life before the Roman Superpower’s governor in his homeland of Israel, Jesus told Pontius Pilatus, “My Kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my followers would fight for me, and I could ask my Father [he claimed God as his Father] for ten legions of angels [60 000 angels!] and He would send them.”

Instead, he declared that he had come to bring an end to the dominion of sin on Earth, and that he would do this by voluntarily sacrificing his own life as the price to bring reconciliation between forlorn and lost humanity and our broken-hearted Creator. In turn, that would open the road to mutual reconciliation among the warring peoples of earth, among individuals, and even with the wider creation itself.

Instead of launching a violent revolutionary crusade to overthrow the military Superpowers of the world who crush and oppress the suffering masses, he would send a bunch of ordinary people to teach and live by example God’s message that the way out of the same-old millennial pattern of ambitious, unscrupulous, and downright wicked people taking over and ruling using a lot of helping soldiers and bureaucrats and accomplices who benefit from the system was to turn the value system and heart commitment upside down.

“You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, but I tell you love your enemies, forgive those who persecute you, do good to those who hate you, and you will be children of your heavenly Father.” Jesus said that real change could only happen when heart-and-soul inner change took place and enough people started living by a whole other set of criteria.

The usual response to this very hard message is that it is all very nice in theory, but can never work in practice in the dog-eat-dog, only-the-fittest-survive universe we have seen extant since human history has been recorded.

Ending war, mutual hatred, and group-to-group animosity and fear has long been recognized as the great quest for bringing peace on earth and true goodwill to all humans. All of us know that this must happen or we are doomed – and perhaps life on Earth itself is doomed if we fail.

But, despite all the understanding of the need for such a great utopian breakthrough, we continue to see that “the beat goes on” as it ever has. Every great Golden Age of every society and civilization has come crashing down in ruins as one kingdom has risen up against another and people beat their ploughshares into swords and their pruning-hooks into spears and shields, and once more the chariots of war rumble out.

Once more we live in a time of wars and rumors or wars. Once more we hear the trumpet blast to rally the armies for another time of slaughter. And we now also sea the seas being turned to wormwood, and the heavens becoming as brass, burning up the very ground. The very skies can now rain down fire and brimstone.

Buddha’s offer of peace is for personal extinction in nirvana. Muhammad’s offer is that everyone submit to Allah or the might of his wrath will smite all the infidels until all who are left bow to him or burn in hell forever. Jesus’ offer is, through confessing your need to God to be forgiven through the sacrifice of Jesus, to receive forgiveness for all your sins and then become an ambassador of peace and God’s love to any who will hear.

In simplified form, these are the three basic choices the three Ultimate Outliers of human history have left for us.

But there are four choices, not just three.

The fourth choice is to refuse all of them and keep hoping we humans can still find a way out of our deepening crisis for ourselves. That is the choice actually at work for a great many, if not most people in the West right now. It is also the choice at work in non-Western nations which have taken on a largely Western approach to living and dealing with socio-economic-political realities.

Making war to end war has never brought an end to war. Karma is as true now as it ever was. “If you live by the sword, you will die by the sword,” another one of those straight-to-the-heart Jesus sayings. Biblically speaking, “The wages of sin is [always] death” – and, “Those who sow the wind reap the whirlwind”.

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Outliers, 7 – Profile of the Ultimate Outlier, 1

No one has ever spoken like this man! –

The Temple Guards Captain to the High Priest when he returned without arresting Jesus, ca. 33 CE

It is harder for a rich person to enter God`s family than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.

– Yeshua/Jesus of Nazareth

The typical individualistic Westerner wants to express who “I really am underneath”; to make a statement and stand up for his/her own special uniqueness. The quintessential launching point for this ideal in recent memory was in the 1960s, the era of “Flower Power”, long hair for guys, newly approved birth-control pills, adaptable morality, and Rock Festivals. However, it must be recognized that the genesis of this movement had begun long before, reaching as far back as the Renaissance and Reformation in the 14th-16th centuries. What we saw emerge in the 1960s was the fruit of a long process of shedding traditions based on God and religious institutions.

The Beatniks of the ‘50s and Hippies of the ‘60s spawned millions of wannabe imitators growing long hair, reciting often bad poetry, singing folk- and protest-songs, wearing headbands, talking “cool” new lingo, sporting tie-dye T-shirts and pastel dresses and robes, marching in antiwar and Ban-the-Bomb protests, and flashing the Peace-sign as they jumped on the “All you need is love” bandwagon. They defied their parents and found their validation with their peers, asserting they did not have to conform to the “Man’s” (the System’s/the “Establishment’s”) expectations, while imitating the music, the clothing styles, and the talk of their “Counterculture” idols.

Many of these “cool” and “groovy” “dudes and chicks” were mostly aiming to hop into as many beds as possible while the hopping was hot. They could also sample some other groovy stuff like smoking joints, toking hashish, and trying out the psychedelic fast-track to spiritual enlightenment. But when real disapproval with real consequences began to assert themselves and “the Establishment” began to shut down a lot of their cultural mirages, “giving the Man the finger” went underground and external conformity to the Rat Race set in.

Since then, when the Western individual vaunts his/her dedication to unique individuality and personal expression, Western Capitalism quickly adapts and graphically markets the proper fashions and parameters by which to be your own unique person. Given the now great capacity to micro-market, any trend can be rapidly commercialized. The Counterculture Movement of 1963-75 was eventually massively coopted by smart entrepreneurs and its idols were brought mainstream by slick entertainment and business agents offering deals that could not be refused to people who were addicted seeking personal pleasure. The music idols of that generation all signed on to cash in. Many former real, and most pseudo-, Hippies headed back to school or got jobs to get a rich life once the hangover set in.

The West continues its admiration of everyone’s striving to be an Outlier in their own way while showing and telling via many cultural products what ways are actually acceptable to pursue modest individualistic distinction while advising, “Don’t get too far carried away by it.” After all, aspiration to self-expression via commercial stylism is extremely good for business.

No other culture in recorded history has idolized the appearance of individuality and pseudo-Outliership so avidly. It is no longer just the fashionable “stars” of entertainment and sport who aspire to be noticed. Imitate your preferred petty-gods and you gain a sort of proxy-Outliership. Not so different from the ancients with their domestic deities and ancestor-busts (a Roman custom) set up on little altar-shrines in their homes.

Historically, until the modern and post-modern, post-Christian West emerged, an excess of individuality had always been seen as presumption and even arrogance. It was also a threat to the social equilibrium. Some allowance was made for a few really fringe cases, but too many would eventually bring out the heretic hunters to deal with the order-disturbing elements. This pattern is still seen in many non-Western cultures, particularly among Muslim and Oriental nations. There are remnants of this even in the West.

In honor-and-shame cultures, fulfilling one’s role, keeping traditions, honoring one’s ancestors and relations, and avoiding bringing shame on one’s family and personal reputation weigh too heavily to allow Outliers a lot of leeway. In these cultures, the obsession of Westerners with self-expression, often at the expense of the very values so honored in the Middle East, the Orient, much of Africa, and, to a lesser extent, Latin America, is seen as decadent and irresponsible.

Cultural pendula swing back and forth, like Western clothing and hair styles. The degree of unorthodoxy a culture is willing to sustain without seeking to suppress it usually depends on the elite controllers’ sense of security in holding onto their sway and keeping their ability to maintain compliance among the generality of the populace for the benefit of those at the social, economic, and political summit. Thus, if the arbitrators of the key areas of conformity to orthodoxy feel secure in the mass of the people’s compliance to the “Establishment’s” set forms and rules and standards, they will allow the occasional outrageous manifestation to play itself out as long as it does not become a blatant challenge to fundamental official values or the culture’s general worldview.

In the ancient world, non-violent insanity was often viewed as “an affliction of the gods”, and the insane were not locked up but tolerated lest the god whose work the insanity signaled be offended. The European Medieval world took the view that the devil might be to blame and exorcism might be in order. Some examples needed to be made, and this might mean a few show-trails and heretic-burnings. If the affliction was of only mild effect on the family and community, the afflicted might be cared for in the home or an institution for the “mad”. Dementia was not understood. If the disorder became widespread, out came the heavy hitters of Church and State to root out the heretics, the witches, and the demonized. Perhaps a Crusade might be deemed necessary.

The problem has always been how to deal with anyone whose Outliership is so sane and well-developed that it remains within the boundaries of cultural, theological, and ideological orthodoxy but challenges the abuses of the system and some of its most fundamental interpretations of long-held Truth right to the core.

Enter Buddha, Muhammad, and, most outstanding of all, Yeshua/Jesus of Nazareth.

When someone of this caliber appears, the whole established order and the system itself can and will be challenged. The usual response of killing the interloper cannot erase the effect they have. Of the Big Three, only Jesus was executed, but He then proved His ultra-ultimate Outliership by refusing to stay dead and actually physically resurrecting! At least so say the Christians, and there is pretty solid historical evidence for His really having done this. Pretty hard (actually … IMPOSSIBLE! …) to get rid of Him after that!

There is no one else who matches the overall impact of the Big Three in recorded history. These three individuals stand out as the Ultimate Outliers. They are head and shoulders above other great leaders, teachers, and moral examples – and certainly far above famous military and political “heroes” such as Cyrus of Persia, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, or more modern figures such as George Washington, Catherine the Great, or Napoleon Bonaparte, to name a few. Neither do scientific “heroes” like Newton, Madame Curie, and Einstein belong in such a discussion, as great and revolutionary as they are for science. And as to entertainment and sports superstars staking a claim to supreme Outliership, the less said the better.

There is an abyss separating the “Big Three” from the rest of the ranks of “Great Outliership”. Here are some similarities among the Super-Outliers: all three taught and established one of great religions of the world, leaving an immense legacy that endures to this day. All three continue to inspire and create disciples in the millions even today. All three did not themselves leave writings and authoritative documents with instructions for successors to follow in establishing institutions and systems to propagate and regulate the work their disciples would carry on in their name. That was all left to the disciples to work out along the road into future. What they left were stories, actions, discourses, examples, and moral authority to carry on and extend their message and example of how to live. The disciples set about collecting and regularizing the accounts of what they said and did so that followers would know how to follow.

All three left an embryonic sort of organization, a living, morphing movement rather than a set-in-stone system and institution. The followers would have to work out how to create a lasting organism to preserve and grow the founder’s message and mission. This sort of legacy was genius, for it left a flexible, organic, adaptable movement able to live and grow in different times, places, and cultures and so become “universal” rather than time-limited, parochial, national, or merely ethnic.

TO BE CONTINUED

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Outliers, 6 – Consequences

Whoever undertakes to set himself up in the field of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.

– Albert Einstein

There is no error so monstrous that it fails to find its defenders among the ablest men [and women].

– John Dalberg (Lord Acton)

Today we set out to explore how choices always create consequences. In the previous episode, we discussed the greatest, most consequential choice we can ever make – that of our dance partner in the “Great Dance” and our individual part in it. We noted that everyone must dance. When we boil it all down, we will dance with one, or perhaps, over the course of our lives, with a succession or combination of the following partners: (1) the gods/idols of our ancestors, (2) the gods/idols of the present time, (3) ourselves as our own god/idol, or (4) Yahweh the Creator, the One, the Ultimate Partner. As Bob Dylan said “You gotta serve somebody.”

There are no doubt some who will argue that the sort of statement made above is based on the false and thoroughly discredited notion of belief in a Divinity, a Creator, and its corollary that there is such a thing as Absolute Truth. [For the remainder of this discussion we will use “Truth”, capital T, to mean Absolute Truth and “truth” for its opposite – relative truth based on personal conviction.]

To say that there is no such thing as Truth is an inherent contradiction. The declarer is in fact saying there is at least one Truth – that there is no Truth. Simply affirming or denying one’s personal conviction about Truth cannot prove or disprove its actual existence. Just as the denier of Truth will doubtless appeal to science and mathematics to “prove” that there is no “Truth” because there is no scientific way to demonstrate its reality, it is equally accurate to say there is no scientific way to disprove its reality. In each case, the affirmer must weigh the evidence and the probabilities, choose to believe, and accept the ensuing consequences based on the life one lives in accordance with one’s “faith” – for both are faith-based decisions about what is ultimately true.

If I cannot or will not live by the truth/Truth I declare to be reality, I am perhaps an unconscious deceiver of myself and others, or a self-deluded hypocrite, or an outright scoundrel who is deliberately misleading others, or a fool who does not even know what my true convictions are.

Perhaps my delusion is based on my desire to impress others, to be seen as someone I am not. Perhaps I think that, if I profess certain convictions, I may gain recognition, acclaim, position as a road to power and influence, wealth and immunity from consequences – with a secret aim of being able to indulge my baser passions without giving an account. Or perhaps this is what happens as a by-product of the underlying quest disguised by the nobler-sounding aims designed to fool oneself and the others I have used along the way. All too often we see this on vivid display among tycoons, states-people, and high-profile big names in all sectors from religion to entertainment.

The old saw about religion and science not mixing and being completely incompatible was never true and is wearing thinner and thinner. We suffer every day from its Goebbelsian (Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Minister or Propaganda) Big-Lie repetition from on high in Academia. In public oratory and decreed public policy about all the new values that must be unquestioningly bought into, we are lectured about all kinds of censure and other opprobrium which will be the consequences upon transgressors of the New Enlightenment discoveries about Nature, Human Nature, and the Cosmos itself. [These are spelled with capitals to designate their status as gods/idols of this age.]

The Truth is that faith and science have always been intimately connected. There is in fact now a very large minority of serious “real” scientists who quietly recognize both their own individual spirituality, and that it is not a contradiction for them to believe that there is deep mystery in the Cosmos – both macro and micro. They understand and see up close that life in all its inexplicable, intricate, and mind-blowing complexity, which hangs on a razor’s edge, bears a profound impression of deliberate purpose and design which no amount of infinite evolutionary regress can erase. One micro-deviation at any number of infinitesimal micro-instants would have aborted and still could abort it all.

This brings us to “probabilities”. In brutally brief clarity, the odds are virtually infinitely against anything being here, let along what actually is with all its mind-blowing wonder. And then we add in the even much less probable emergence of a highly sentient, self-aware entity called humanity, complete with innate moral and ethical sensibilities and a capacity to conceive the infinite and the Ultimate Source of all that is or ever could be.

Admittedly, understanding probabilities does not constitute “Truth”; it only points overwhelmingly towards its probability. The choice whether to accept this gigantic probability remains with the perceiver. Regardless of saying “yes” or “no” to the Great Partner in the dance, we humans are certainly, absolutely the most extreme of Outliers in the great Cosmos.

The absurd paradox of it all is that in the most scientifically advanced society in the history of Earth, most of its denizens are desperately choosing to deny who and what we are and what we were made for, and by Whom. The consequences of this flight from reality are akin to a Berchtold Brecht Theatre of the Absurd drama – Waiting for Godot, Reprise to the nth degree. [Apologies to Brecht fans; this “title” is my invention, not a real play.]

By all rights, the most scientific and mathematically honest perspective should be that there is a virtual certainty that, even if we poor humans can’t fully perceive it, absolute Truth exists because a Creator-Designer exists to give True meaning to the Cosmos and to us. Whether the Creator worked this wonder by fiat decree or gradual, guided processes is not the debate at this point.

As to consequences, for 300 or so years the West’s most influential Intelligentsia have striven with grit, determination, and even some rudimentary design, to deconstruct the “old regime” based on the existence of the Creator to give order and meaning to all things. This work has been carried on with great ingenuity in undermining all the extant influences of tradition and meaning founded on the Creator – whether by discrediting the Scriptures or the Church as institution, or the intellectuals who have opposed their work. Humans have been reduced to sophisticated animals. All in all, this long culture war has brought victory to the Enlightenment ideas of relativistic truth, relativistic morality and ethics, and plastic, every-morphing concepts of human nature – even while “Nature” has been idolized and humanity largely vilified.

In the 2020s, we find ourselves swimming in the social, moral, ethical, environmental, industrial, cultural, and economic swamp which is the consequence of this deconstruction. The swamp is filled with the increasingly murky waters of personalized, politicized “truth” seeking to drown and smother Truth in the muck of “everything is OK, as long as you’re not intolerant (oops! how did that new “Truth” slip in there?), except of those we declare to be intolerant because they tell us there really is Truth and right and wrong and good and bad in the world.”

The Big Lie says that there are no consequences for all the lunacy we can indulge in in the name of Freedom (another modern idol) and Self-Expression. There are always consequences. Science tells us with absolute certainty that “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction; what goes up, will come down; what goes around, comes around.” Karma tells us, “Every action has an outcome; good actions beget good outcomes; bad/foolish/self-deluding/wicked actions beget bad and even disastrous consequences.” We can deny what nature (both Cosmic and human)/the Creator has designed into everything and us only until we reach the limits of what the design can absorb before it and our own beings will suffer brutal and terrible consequences. We are on the cusp of judgment. Whether it be the Last Judgment remains to be seen and is known only to the Creator.

Saying this is not “judgmental”. It is not a personal attack on any individual or group. Take it to heart as appropriate. Ignore it at your peril – individual and collective. It is the judgment of consequences which we largely inflict on ourselves. It is not accusatory to declare what is patent and ought to be totally obvious Truth. Running away from it hiding our eyes and blocking our ears while screaming “You have no right to tell me this! I don’t have to listen to your holier-than-thou diatribe!” will not stop any of the consequences which are coming as ineluctably down the mountainside as an avalanche. It is as sure as Bob Dylan’s “Slow Train Coming’” told us several decades ago.

Choices! We all have them! We can’t avoid them. Small ones lead to big ones. I can avoid and ignore warnings and signs of what’s coming until I become oblivious and even morally comatose.  But I have no one to blame but myself for the consequences.

There is always a choice. Even now, you can choose to be an Outlier willing to give up your other god/gods and turn to the only Dance Partner who can set you free from the ultimate consequences of denying who He/She is and who you are and are really meant to be.

Absolutely!

TO BE CONTINUED

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Outliers, 5 – Choices

The key to good decision-making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.

– Malcolm Gladwell

… the man [woman] of firm decisions fashions the universe.

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Life puts no greater burden upon a man [woman] than the necessity of making decisions.

Frank Yerby

Choose today whom you are going to serve; if Adonai (the One Creator-God) is God, serve Him. Or if the gods of your ancestors from centuries past are gods, or the idols of the people among whom you live today are gods, serve them. But as for me and mine, we will serve Adonai. –

Y’hoshua/Joshua – Book of Joshua in the Bible, chapter 24: 15,16 (my partial paraphrase)

You gotta serve somebody.

– Bob Dylan

(Photo credit FUMC Allen)

From infancy to the grave, life is choice. Almost everything we do and experience involves choice in one form or another.

There are a few exceptions: we don’t get to choose our parents; or our siblings; or when and where we are born. We don’t get to design our basic anatomical specifications, or even many of the details such as hair and eye and skin colour, or how tall we can grow. And as young children, we don’t get any (direct) say in major decisions within our families, or much of our early life. Our parents or some other adult authorities make those choices.

The question of choice always raises the issue of predestination, determinism, fate, heredity versus nurture, etc., versus freedom. Perhaps freedom is mostly an illusion, but I doubt that my choice to wear blue socks today has been predestined in any meaningful way, and will likely have no significant effect on the course of my or anyone else’s existence. The Big Bang 14 billion years ago did not ordain me to wear blue socks on a particular day in May 2022.

Did God? Setting aside the most abstruse, obscure, divisive, and ultimately sterile kind of theological debate about God’s interventions (if any) in time and space, let alone my or anyone’s private affairs, the practical answer remains, “No! God does not weigh the fate of the universe, or even my personal well-being or that of anyone else, on my choice of which socks to wear on a particular day.” Does this exclude the possibility that God may choose to intervene directly on rare occasions in the realm of time-space? As the Creator, that is His/Her prerogative and He/She is answerable to no one else for such sovereign action. Your liking or disliking the Creator’s decision to change the course of an event every so often will have no bearing on His/Her action or inaction. Your disbelief in His/Her existence affects nothing as to its reality, it simply blinds you from seeing what is sometimes staring you in the face!

Our wise opening commentators concur with this. We have to choose day by day in big and small things, philosophy and theology aside. Believe what you want about God’s final sovereignty and predestination, but you must still live day by day as if you have real choices to make with real consequences ensuing – from blue socks to “popping the Question” to the love of your life. And in answer, she/he will also have to make a real choice with lifelong consequences.

Choice is real for other sentient life-forms as well. Instinct does not govern every decision your dog or cat or horse, or the wild creature nearby, makes. A little aside: in French you “take”, not “make” a decision – an interesting little twist in cultural perspective among different peoples.

Some decisions, like the question of wearing socks, are frivolous. Some, like choosing a mate, a fraught with serious repercussions. All are made with both micro and macro contexts leading us to them – hence the argument about ultimate predestination or determinism. After all is said and done, could we make any other choices than the ones we make? But we return once more to the practicality of our lives. No psychological analysis can “deterministically” tell me if I was compelled to marry this one person and no other.

When we look at choosing to believe in a personal Creator, we face the same questions. Theology is of little real help even here. Whether God “sovereignly chooses and draws to Him-Her-self whom He/She will” or not, doesn’t release me from, to all appearances and in personal application, making/taking the Yes-No choice. What is for certain is that your answer to this central question will have a profound impact on the rest of your life-journey.

Which brings us back to Dylan’s famous and excellent song, “Gotta Serve Somebody”. This “gotta” is one more for our list of things we don’t get to choose. You get to choose whom you will serve, but not whether you have to choose. The choice of words is not that we ultimately get to choose “what” we will serve – regardless of making a commitment to some noble or ignoble cause, some selfless or quite selfish goal and ambition, — but, ultimately, that we “gotta”, HAVE TO, serve somebody, a personal being.

This is the point at which most of we Westerners consciously tune out. Serving the Creator-God is not very much on the radar for a huge majority of 21st-Century Westerners. Let alone the idea that if we don’t choose the Creator, we are actually choosing to serve another personal being in place of Him/Her.

Why does Dylan use this language; is it all poetic license? He is saying something profound, as any great artist does at her/his best. The universe is not dead. It is not an impersonal, accidental kaleidoscope which has totally improbably emerged from nothing into the big Something. It has come from the choice of SomeOne! The Ultimate Someone. The Alpha and Omega Someone. The Beginner and Final Destination of all beings and things that ever have been and can be and will be.

Only the blind, whether from ignorance or from willful, deliberate decision, can fail to see that the choice not to serve the SOMEONE is a choice to serve someone else – not something else, but someone else. For when we get deep down inside it all, at its most profound depth, beyond all possible sub-atomic particles, whether known or not-yet-known, beyond great galaxies dancing with one another in almost infinite space, the signature of THE PERSON is everywhere, in and on everything and everyone and every possible thing and being.

We are all in the dance, and we must all choose a partner. If I will not choose THE PARTNER, I still cannot avoid the dance. I must dance. If not with HIM/HER, then with another I put in HIS/HER place, even if it is, to my mind, a choice to dance alone to my own tune according to my own rules – or what I believe to be my own rules.

But, underneath that chimera, my rules, or those of anyone else than THE ONE’s rules, do not exist except in my arrogant hubris substitute for the real thing. Thus, in the final analysis, I can do the dance (Evan Almighty anyone?) with the ONE AND ONLY PARTNER Who matters, or as a shadow-dance, or with a substitute other partner (shudder at what some of those choices can be and have been in history) I set in the ONE’s place.

By this point, the reader may be wondering what this rabbit-trail has to do with the whole subject of “Outliers”. Simply that to choose to dance with the ONE as your partner in life, will make you an Outlier, especially now in the West in 2022 and henceforward. And, whether you think so or not, your choice about partnership with the ONE, matters even more than the one who has answered or will answer “Yes” to “the Question” and with whom you will also dance for a long time.

Therefore, be warned before you say that even bigger “Yes” to Adonai, the One Creator. A yes to Him/Her is an eternal decision. He/She does not take it lightly, nor will He/She ever let you take it lightly from this day forward, or from whatever other day it was or will be when you answer Y’hoshua’s momentous question, “Choose today whom you will serve – Adonai, the idols of your ancestors, or the idols of the world you live in now.”

Among the idols of today, put yourself. For, believe it or not, a refusal to serve any of the three choices Y’hoshua laid out is the choice to be my own sovereign god.

NEXT TIME: CONSEQUENCES

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Outliers, 4 – Losing Our Salt

If the salt loses its savor, what good is it except to be thrown out on the trash heap?

Jesus – Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 5, verse 13a

(Photo credit – aero)

How does salt lose its potency? If you leave it alone in its natural state, it is almost impossible for that to happen. The only way to disarm salt is to dilute it, wash it away, or combine it with another substance that neutralizes it by another chemical reaction that breaks its bond.

While the ancients may not have known the specific chemistry involved in making and destroying salt, they knew the practical method of rendering it ineffective. Dump it into water, or wash it away with water. Pollute it and dilute it by mixing with something else. Some of their more knowledgeable scientists even understood about using another substance to wipe it out.

Salt was a valuable commodity. It had to be mined. We still have to mine it. Effective, large-scale evaporation techniques had not been developed to render it from sea-water in enough quantity to make that a practical alternative.

Salt-mining was a deadly and dirty business performed by criminals and recalcitrant slaves condemned to a slow death. The Roman state kept a tight control on who could operate salt-mines. The average life-span of a slave or criminal in the salt-mines was three years. Salt was an imperial monopoly, although its mining was contracted to entrepreneurs willing to foot the production bill and pay hefty annual fees to the Imperial treasury. Profits margins were high, as were the risks of losing shipments by shipwreck, or to pirates, raiders, and bandits.

Salt was used in preserving food, cooking, cleaning, and medicine. The ancients understood quite well that it was essential for good health. As did Jesus, which is why he referred to it in his teaching. To run out of salt was a serious issue.

Therefore, when Jesus told his disciples and listeners, “You are the salt of the earth,” they understood implicitly what he meant. It wasn’t just that they added some zest to life or helped a bit in making the world a better, more interesting, and healthier (tastier) place. It included those nuances, but it also meant that they were essential to the world’s preservation, cleansing, and healing. It was a commission to become world-changers, difference-makers, genuine Outliers who challenge the status quo and bring metanoia (see previous post) and shalom (true peace).

Two thousand years in, we’ve lost most of the urgency and immediacy of what Jesus was saying. Here in the West, the old heartland of Christendom, we’ve also lost our way, living for generations now as we do in so much abundance and wealth and inherited power. To us, salt is a condiment in our diet. It’s incorporated in our prepared foods and restaurant servings to the point we are incapable of understanding Jesus’ metaphor about salt. With rare exceptions, we don’t use it to clean or even very much in medical applications.

The Ekklesia, the God-family Jesus founded two thousand years ago and told to be “the salt of the earth”, the God-family which once upon a time wielded immense influence and power in the West, and, by imperial extension, the world, has largely lost its preservative power, its cleansing and healing power. These days, it certainly appears to have lost its ability to add “savor” – joy and happiness to life.

We cannot say such things about the Church (non-denominational sense) without applying them to ourselves as individuals and local expressions of God’s family on earth. When people look at us – at me – do they see anything that looks like metanoia, joy, and a healing presence? Do they see and hear the voice of a comforter, an Outlier pointing beyond my personal goals and desires and towards the presence of the Creator among us and within me?

Do my neighbors, near and far, known and strangers, only hear a wrathful message of “You’re all damned!” even while they watch me/us play out the old hunger and thirst for lost political power and social control manifesting as self-righteousness? Do they ever hear about the mercy and grace of God brought by the Prince of Peace and the sacrificial lamb instead of a proclamation of Jesus’ coming wrath and his warrior return as the arm of God’s avenging justice? Far too often this generation sees and hears a militant crusade to take back the lost levers of power and access to the top echelons of decision-making over society, rather than the servant-way of reaching out past the great rift through our culture and society to offer a road to reconciliation and mutual forgiveness,

Jesus did not give the example of the truly humble, suffering servant to His disciples so they (and we) could shrug it off as some sort of time-limited one-off performance so we could all move into triumphalist militant preparation for the Second Coming. To those who wanted to outdo the Romans by overthrowing the Empire and taking over the reins of power as His right- and left-hand wielders of justice and vengeance on all the infidels, He said things like the following (a little paraphrased): “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword. Do good to those who persecute you. Rejoice if you are persecuted and killed for bearing My name. Your reward will be great in My Father’s Kingdom. The servant is not above the Master. It is enough that the servant be like (Greek implies “just like/the same as”) the Master.”

The kind of deeply militant representation of the Gospel we have seen and continue to see in some North American manifestations as “real-man Christianity” is an aberration bordering on a heresy. It is dangerously close to blasphemy in refashioning Jesus as the “ultimate manly Man” inspiring an imperial state which operates with an acute sense of being God’s anointed nation in the earth with its own special “Manifest Destiny”. Into this theologically justified ideology have been grafted all kinds of special doctrines (some of which are used to soft-peddle the continuation of repression of racial minorities and the definite subordination of women) in a kind of blind, or even deliberate, syncretism justified as the true will of Jesus for today. Forget the original sense of the “Great Commission” and the methodology of love and compassion and inclusion passed from the Master to His Messengers [Apostles] in carrying it out.

The analysis presented here may be offensive to some readers of this episode of this series. If so, I would ask them to seriously ask themselves why they are offended. I would suggest that they honestly review the Gospel Jesus preached and the way He treated people as the living, breathing, human (as He still is even as the resurrected One) Messiah, including minorities and women, and instructed His first disciples to treat them and serve them and be light and salt in the world. That is the standard, not the ideological reinterpretation of cherry-picked aspects of things Jesus and the Apostles said, did, and taught to fit an extra-Biblical ideology needing baptism or holy-water sprinkling.

Recovering our salt means recovering our true calling and doing a reset to once more become the heart, soul, and hands and feet of our Master for the world of today, rather than shouting at the darkness and launching imprecations at the things we find ugly and reprehensible.

TO BE CONTINUED

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Outliers, 3 – Metanoia

The usual English translation of the Greek word which is this episode’s title is “repentance”. As is often the case in translating ancient words, and as with the art of translation at all times, the English (or other modern languages of your choice) does not do it full justice.

The first problem with automatically translating it as “repentance” whenever this word shows up in the original language is that the English (French, Spanish, German, etc.) term now carries such enormous cultural and religious baggage that most secular people simply tune it out as “Uh-oh! Here comes a self-righteous Christian to rant about sin and everyone needing to get saved by Jesus!”

The Greek word is much more descriptive and much less compartmentalized. It was perfectly acceptable 2000 years ago in the eastern regions of the Roman Empire where Greek was the universal language (it was Latin in the West) to use the term in a completely non-religious way. For example, you are going somewhere and get lost. You stop to ask directions. The local villager tells you, “Whoa, friend! You’re way off track! You’ve got to turn around (metanoeō)and head back to _______ and take a different route.”

The English word is from penitire, poenitere, via Old (and modern) French (se) repentir (cf. Concise Oxford Dictionary), which was the Latin translation from the Greek New Testament in the late 4th Century by St. Jerome. The emphasis in the Latin is more specifically moralistic and punitive. In the English and Romance-language translations, we are using a sort of derivative which has conceptually robbed us of the interpretive possibilities found in the original Greek New Testament. Latin is the major root language of Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French – and through French has contributed heavily to the evolution of English. Thus the narrow moral sense of metanoia is heavily biased in a secondary transference of meaning.

One level of interpretation can be applied to morality and ethics – taking the wrong road in life, doing bad stuff to other people and deciding to stop and turn over a new leaf. However, the holistic concept is about radically changing the road your life is on, seeing it as a bad one, and making a new start. It is much richer than having a momentary revelation of remorse and regret, making a few apologies and some gestures of recompense and moving on feeling better about yourself.

Real metanoia is not primarily about a religious exercise or experience, although it is profoundly spiritual. It is about restoration, correcting and re-forming as in forming anew, not just revamping something obsolete to make it work better. Metanoia-change is a total life commitment, a radical (axe-to-the-root) turn-about and dedication to set wrongs right, bring justice as far as possible, restore broken things, remake relationships on a new foundation of love, respect, and real equality within the Creator’s intention.

Want to be different? To be a real world-changer? To become a true radical and Outlier? It starts with metanoia, not just religious-formula repentance. Metanoia takes us outside religion, turns us off that old highway of “do the right stuff and God will love you and reward you; do the wrong stuff and you’ll be rejected and sent to hell.”

Metanoia turns us away from the fixation and need to be esteemed and approved and judged as “righteous” by the people by whom we want to be accepted. Instead, we turn off the old road that leads to more servitude and condemnation and needing to be seen and even raised up by our superiors before our peers.

Metanoia turns us directly to Jesus/Yeshua the Messiah, the only one who can bring us to and take us down the true way; He said, “I am the way/road, the truth and the life. You can only come to the Father/learn to know the Creator/ by/through Me.” Every other road, however religiously appealing it may seem, is the wrong road, a road to metanoeō.

In the end, the only Outliership that will amount to anything really new, true and everlasting is one based on metanoia. Here is how Jesus described the paradox of being a big-time Outlier according to our general cultural worldview and being a metanoia Outlier (liberally paraphrased): “The road to destruction is a wide highway which multitudes take. The road to eternal life is a narrow track which few find.”

The most radical, greatest Outlier who ever lived is Jesus. He is the only human being who died but rose from death and is still alive today. Even if He had not done this, He would still rank at the top of the list in terms of his impact on history, culture, and society over the last two thousand years. To conform all He claimed we have His real resurrection. It is both a faith and historical fact.

It is easy to be cynical as we consider the West’s rejection of so much of what its history and cultural and social development have owed to this man. Before the West’s intellectual and socio-cultural engineers could dismantle so much of that heritage, they had to dismantle the main faith that underlies all of that. The originators of this centuries-long campaign knew full well what they were about. It was deliberate, although not orchestrated by any sort of central authority. This is not conspiracy theory. It is documented and documentable, wide-open to verification.

The great underlying mystery is how a relative few anti-Christian radicals, often disingenuously disclaiming their real intentions, could succeed against what appeared to be a deeply rooted, monolithic system called Christendom, a system dominated by various manifestations of its primary social and cultural institution, the Christian Church. It was a process that took centuries. The tale of that deconstruction is a long one which we will not embark on here. Much of it was self-inflicted by the very people holding authority and influence within Christianity.

The seeds of decay were sown early in the history of the West’s emergence as a distinct society. The first major step was a leadership choice to turn off the path of metanoia in order to access the levers of power and centralized social and political control. It was the sin of hubris.

The Ekklesia’s leaders began thinking and believing that the Servant-Messiah who commanded that leaders be servants and practice humility and self-sacrifice would accept the Ekklesia’s (His metanoia community on the road back to a healed relationship with the Father-Creator) stepping into a partnership with the Imperial broad-highway power to hasten the process of cajoling the mass of recalcitrant unbelievers and Christian heretics to join up and “accept the truth”. Having more than a few of the perks of power and prestige as rewards to the hard-working, ambitious, and long-persecuted leaders of the Church didn’t hurt the decision to take the “high” road either.

Thus, the hybrid society called “Christendom” was born. Outwardly, everyone at the top said, “Jesus is Lord” while the top-dogs’ actions declared, “But we’re really in charge and are taking control in His name.” Many symbolic trappings from the non-Christian culture and world were sprinkled with Holy Water and re-consecrated so that the old ways of doing things and preserving distinctions and power-structures could carry on. Even gods and goddesses could be incorporated by granting them a new identity. Many individuals could and still did find the metanoia-road, and even some local institutional expressions of ekklesia found it from time to time. But on the whole, Lord Acton’s dictum, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” proved as true as ever.

Caution to all: It is always easier and simpler to take the religious highway than to live and travel the metanoia road. Religion allows us to develop, deploy, and pick and choose what sorts of practices, techniques and observances to prefer, and to switch them in and out according to rewards received or recognition for good performance achieved. Religion can be plugged into our lives according to time, place, and context as desired. It allows us to shift our allegiances and preferences according to the standards and precepts of impressive personalities and groups which align with our personal tendencies and character. We are speaking of religion here in its particular influences in our daily life (rites, rituals, ceremonies, strictures and prescriptions, religious imperialism in all its guises, etc.), not in its etymological sense of our overall binding worldview.

Metanoia is primarily relational, based on walking a path with and towards Jesus. It includes essential elements of living and staying on the narrow track that leads to life, such as disciplines and practices, being a servant member of ekklesia, and taking one’s place in Creator’s family. It also keeps us alert to discern the siren-song and allure of seeking the trappings of worldly-style outliership, even in its churchly disguises.

Our next episode in this discussion will focus on how Ekklesia has wandered so far off the path of Metanoia, its true calling to Outliership. We will attempt some reflections on what to do about it.

Pax vobiscum! Kyrie eleison!

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Outliers, 2 – Little People

I don’t think I realized that the cost of fame is that it’s open season on every moment of your life. – Julia Roberts

The internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had. – Eric Schmidt

… the little places, where I can more easily be close to God, should be my preference …. Quietness and peace before God are more important than any influence a position may seem to give … – Francis A. Schaeffer, No Little People, 1974, chapter 1.

(Photo image – Yelena Bonner – Quotefancy)

Our three opening citations cover enormous ground, but give insight on the phenomenon of outliers, the present subject of discussion in World.V.You.

Julia Roberts reminds us that stardom and fame make it extremely difficult to live anything approaching a “normal” life. Media and social-media scrutiny to find “stories” to gossip about are unending. Being a “Super-Outlier” puts you on continuous display before all the millions of voyeurs who care to look. We live in a peeping-Tom society because we can. It’s a sort of sneaky compulsion, a “harmless” venial sin we excuse ourselves for indulging in.

Schmidt points out that in the virtual world, anyone can assert and seek just about anything without much accountability, despite the best efforts of public and industry police and regulators to gain some sort of control over the worst elements who are exploiting it for all kinds of malignant purposes. Wannabe and actual negative outliers abound in this “Wild-Wild-West” virtual universe.

Francis Schaeffer, a Christian thinker who wrote well before the Internet took form and computer use was still embryonic in its application to personal uses, offers a perspective that any God/Creator seeker should heed, and all the more if they are hungering and thirsting for recognition and, as he puts it, a position of influence, no matter how modest it may be.

Outliers exist from the humblest to the grandest social settings. Every family has its weird uncle/aunt, its black sheep and wayward son/daughter, its over-achieving acquisitor, its relentless zealot, its hyper-intelligent know-it-all with a chip on her/his shoulder, etc. I’m sure you can put names on these roles right now in your own sphere.

Every level of community has them – the local celebrities whom everyone talks and gossips about, the town troublemakers, the glitzy, trendy set – whether in the local service and social clubs, businesses of any size, churches/religious institutions, political affairs, the cultural influencers who arbitrate what art and literature it’s cool to accept and boost in the area.

You, dear reader, may be one of them.

Then there are the quieter sorts of outliers – people more in tune with the spirit of Schaeffer’s observation. These stand out because they don’t go after the local, or any, version of fame and acclaim. Their priorities are different, and this makes them stand out, “weird”, out of tune with the normal ways of people seeking a voice. The curious, the sceptical, and the cynical mockers find them strangely attractive or repulsive because they are somehow a threat.

Among these idealists, the abilities that lead to outliership are used to walk “the road less traveled”. They do not seek the same sort of recognition most people who want it go after. Idealist outliers choose to keep remote from the mainstream frenzy because of conviction and principle, because their view of the world and its underlying reality is out of step with what the general culture declares is of first importance.

Mostly, power and acquiring it are far down their list of what is really important. It may come to them despite their unconcern for such things, but living in a fashion consistent with their convictions is foremost. To that end they may well choose to forego the pursuit of the wealth, position, and recognition most of our society admires so much. If any of it comes to them, they turn it towards furthering their idealistic goals. (Think Mother Teresa.)

Withdrawing from society altogether is one way to become an outlier. Hermits and recluses still exist, and a few may even become well-known local “characters”. However, short of living a hundred kilometers out in the wilderness with no neighbours except the birds and local fauna, total withdrawal has become a near impossibility.

The life-road based on firm principles and consistently seeking to live by them can be a costly one. Becoming an outlier in this way can lead to just as much outside scrutiny as the road to celebrity and fame which Julia Roberts represents and deliberately chose to withdraw from. The sceptics, critics, and cynics are just as prepared to exploit the failures and inconsistencies of the idealist as those of the deliberate ladder-climber, perhaps even moreso. To the media and other salacious voyeurs who lurk everywhere, it seems more delicious to revel in the fall of the “goody-two-shoes” than the tortured angst of the hoi-polloi. The fall of the pursuers of good and social betterment lets the rest of us off the hook. Then we can all smugly declare, “See! There’s no use in being overzealous about making yourself and the world a better place! Even the saints just fall into sin, and, when they fall, they leave behind a huge mess of disillusionment, broken hopes and shattered dreams!”

However, these humbler, meeker outliers of whom we are speaking now are very often the true world-changers. Most of what leads to peace and hope and joy comes from them. They are almost all “simple folk” who want to raise good kids and do more than fill their lives with glitz and bling and silly pursuits that add little of value to their own or other lives.

It is not the demigods of business, entertainment, politics, and sport who have raised the poor from the slums, ended slavery, fought for workers’ rights, brought in universal healthcare (at least in the nations which have it), fought to end discrimination of every sort, and poured out their blood to defeat the horrors of Nazism, Fascism and other tyrannies. And it will not be the Superstar Outliers who will continue to lead the defense of freedom, liberty, and what is left of morality.

Over the last century, we have been defrauded of much of our heritage. We have been taught that traditional beliefs and values are destructive of our personal freedoms and rights. We have been and are bombarded daily with propaganda about truth being strictly “scientific” and “rational”. We have been instructed that scientific methodology shows us “objectively” that spirituality is largely for chumps and losers when deciding how to create a better tomorrow. Our educational, social, financial, and political institutions have been cajoled and indoctrinated en masse into a worldview where moral values and categories are plastic and entirely transmutable according preference, context and current social needs/wants. Like drugged spectators, we have watched and continue to watch the systematic deconstruction of that heritage of 1500 years which laid the foundations of who and what the West became, and, to a large extent, still is.

We are told that our past and its creations are almost entirely reprehensible, despicable for our oppressions, repressions, persecutions, imperialistic colonialism, and acquisitive greed and exploitation. It is now the established and ensconced ideology in Big Academia to renounce and denounce all of it. Instead, it seems that all the other cultures and heritages of every other origin are superior and, apparently, even innocent of the kinds of terrible crimes against humanity we here in the West have perpetrated on all the other races and peoples of Earth. Lastly, it is we who have devastated this planet’s biome and should pay the price of making all that right.

There is truth in much of what we are accused of. But, there is an enormous paradox in it all, as well as not just a little blind and even deliberate hypocrisy. We are quick to excoriate our own ancestors and look upon their monumental handiwork with dripping disdain. Yet the virulent critics of our life continue to function within and exploit the very structures and institutions created by those same forebears they despise, glad to have the bully-pulpit of learned prestige their foremothers and forefathers earned for them.

And as they paint the West as a terrible blight upon the world, the rest of the world nods in agreement while lusting to adopt and adapt all the West’s major methods and models to surpass the West in its own game and move into the vacuum the West’s self-deconstruction is creating. Racial and ethnic superiority complexes will not disappear from the earth just because the West hates its own manifestations of them. Imperialism and colonialism and ethnic cleansing and genocide have never been the exclusive purview of the West. Honesty about history is as applicable to Asia and Africa as it is to the West.

Somehow, ironically (could it actually be because of the kind of built-in conscience our despised archaic values and morals still saddle us with?), the West has grown an acute case of moral shame and guilt for all its sins, but most of the rest of the world seems not to suffer the same kind of remorse about their equivalent forays into horrific inflictions on their neighbors. Thus, they nod and accuse and point their fingers to push the West’s self-flagellation along while preparing to step in and sweep up the shambles.

Even now, most of the charity and real aid for the world’s most desperate flows generously from the nations once known as Christendom.

Food for thought!

TO BE CONTINUED

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Outliers, 1 – Big-Shots

(Image credit – Pinnacle)

Perhaps ten years ago, I read a very thought-provoking book entitled Outliers, the Story of Success (2008), by Malcolm Cladwell.  The author presented examples across many domains demonstrating how important “outliers” are in virtually every area of natural and human history and experience.

An outlier is an anomaly, an oddball, a misfit, or, as per the Oxford Dictionary “[an] outlying part or member”. In context, an outlier is something or someone situated far from the center, something or someone remote from the norm. The outlier is not excluded from the set or subset of whichever category or group they are identified with, but they “differ” from almost everyone else by a high degree of non-conformity.

With a little reflection, it does not take long to understand that outliers can take many forms, both positive and negative. High achievers of whatever sort are almost always outliers, as are serious criminals on the negative side. Billionaires are, by definition, outliers on the scale of income and net worth, and very probably in business and management acumen. Most entrepreneurs may be talented and inventive, but their endeavours fold within the first few years. Thus they do not achieve the sort of outlier status we are speaking of.

Not so long ago, millionaires would have been placed in the financial outlier category, but given the ballooning worth of property values, stock portfolios, and inflationary pressures, most of our newly minted millionaires would better fit a “high-normal” status, at least here in the capitalist West.

Great villains and great heroes are doubtless outliers. Their courage or audacity exceeds almost everyone else’s and they do what seems impossible to the rest of us. Stars and superstars in the sports and entertainment world are usually outliers in native talent and certainly in achieving recognition of that talent. That being said, many of equal talent may not rise to the top because of factors out of their control, or by preference for a more quiet, stable, less public existence. I have known some incredibly gifted musicians who prefer anonymity.

We could expand almost endlessly on who would qualify as an outlier in any domain we can think of, but today we are considering the rich, famous, notorious, and glamorous.

To be considered a “success” does not necessarily require “outliership”. Many people are successful at what they do, and their success stems from their ability to meet expectations in most of the areas relevant to their chosen path. Outliers far exceed the normal sets of criteria for “success”.

One of the common factors for entering the celebrity outlier category is ambition. Another is determination, and yet another is persistence in the face of frustration and even failure. Edison’s lightbulb only succeeded after 1000 failures. Most great musicians only play flawlessly in their pinnacle performances after tens of thousands of hours of hard work and previous appearances in which they learned to overcome the jitters and faux-pas.

Besides a high degree of innate ability, and perhaps even genius, outliers usually have an aptitude to combine their primary gift with subsidiary abilities. At least a few of these seem to be necessary in rising to “great outlier” status. Wayne Gretzky is an outstanding example of the innate necessary talents plus the persistence required to become “the Great One” in Ice Hockey History. The same could be said of Maradona for football (soccer).  

Opportunity also plays a role in becoming élite in one’s chosen field. Many people of genius and outstanding talent never become well known. Their talents and abilities may well be in the outlier (exceptional) category, but the “breaks” and recognition never come their way, at least during their lifetime. Perhaps they lack some of the subsidiary abilities, or the ambition, that would raise them to the pinnacle. Vincent van Gogh is an example. His artistic genius was crippled by his personal problems during his lifetime. His work is now valued as almost priceless by great art aficionados.

While opportunity can be sought and created (as in a carefully orchestrated campaign), it may also fall across one’s path. “Great ones” are also opportunists who seize the moment to make a breakthrough into the next level. Some outliers arrive in the Himalayan air of extreme outliership seemingly by accident. They had not sought it, had not planned it, and did nothing to chase the recognition and acclaim, but were “discovered” and set upon high by their “fans”, their followers, their disciples, and finally by a broad recognition.

This sort of “fortuitously-born” outlier is much rarer than your “regular” (an oxymoron?) outlier who runs after a big name by exploiting their talent and ability and orchestrating a path to the top.

If someone deliberately sets their aim at achieving high-level outliership, they often recruit or attract helpers to open the way, set up opportunities, plan campaigns, and even create their own legend. Thus, publicity and propaganda can be important tools in becoming one the great outliers of history. Alexander the Great is one such from the ancient world.

There are hundreds of examples of this in today’s celebrity-worshipping culture where professional agents and promoters loom large. There are now many means and variations for getting yourself “out there” for people to know and admire you. This can even be done by adopting the “bad-boy/bad-girl” ploy to gain extra attention. The anti-hero image has become a major “thing” for entertainers, although not-so-much if you just want to live a regular life. A normal-life practitioner of anti-heroism is probably heading for prison.

Who are true Superstars of Outliership in history? Does the momentary éclat of a Rock Band or pulp-fiction author, or a movie starlet, etc., qualify? Who still knows who Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were, outside Hollywood old-time movie buffs? Who still recalls Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, or Janice Joplin outside devotees of old-time Rock’nRoll? Should we put John Grisham [apologies to Grisham fans; I read his books too] alongside Jane Austen in literary annals? And who can ever stand beside Homer, William Shakespeare, Rumi, or Dante Alighieri in the annals of world-class literature? Who can match Michelangelo in art?

While we can recognize the undoubted outliership of some historical rulers such as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon Bonaparte, should they even be mentioned in the same breath as Francis of Assisi or Mother Teresa, let alone Siddhartha Gautama or Jesus of Nazareth? (Napoleon didn’t think so!) Where do we fit the “great monsters” of history – Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Idi Amin, and, maybe now Putin? They are certainly outliers, but more like human Satan figures than anything else.

It really comes down to whom we choose to admit to the pantheon according to which criteria. Our personal choices of whom to admire and emulate go a very long way to betray our real values and worldviews rather than the ones we profess with our mouths.

Whom do we choose to a rank above we lesser mortals? Why have we elevated them on high? As Bob Dylan (a potential all-timer in folk-music history) once wrote and sang, “You Gotta Serve Somebody”. We are hard-wired to look beyond ourselves, to find a higher realm and greater reality than the mundane grind of daily existence. Even the Exalted Outliers discover this about themselves once they “arrive”. The old inner emptiness is unfulfilled. There must be more.

The ancients were more forthright about this business than we are now. They thought about the stories and legends of their great ancestors and heroes, then granted demi-godhood, or maybe even full godhood status if the “great one” was deemed worthy of it.

In contrast, we are downright disingenuous and double-minded about the whole business. Now social media catapults all sorts of aspirants to outliership into a comet-moment that grants them their Andy Warhol 15 minutes of fame/infamy and acclaim/disdain. As with most meteors, their turn in the limelight burns out almost as soon as it appears. Even so, many are still desperate to grasp even this tiny sliver of immortality, only to discover how ephemeral and vain it all is. You got there, were noticed, wowed or appalled a bunch of people for a bit – then what? Your soul is still lost and you still don’t know who you really are.

If they survived into a more contemplative old age or phase of life after their rocket-ride to the top, almost all the Outlier Superstar cohort down through the ages have testified to coming to the end knowing the truth of what Saint Augustine once wrote, “Our hearts, O God, can find no rest till we find our rest in You.”

It is not wrong to be or become an Outlier. After all, “Someone has to do it.” We seem to need saints and great sinners to understand ourselves. Some people end up on the heights despite themselves because others insist on putting them there. The ancients used to call this “Destiny”. We seem to need outliers or, as Cladwell very ably illustrates, we’d still be living in caves and building monuments using thousands of slaves for decades.

Even as we go about the business of life choosing whether to pursue the kind of goals that may take us into celebrity outliership, we must never lose sight of the greater truth that that too is pointing us to what is much greater than ourselves.

Ultimately, what all of us are seeking is immortality, and that comes only from the Ultimate, Almighty Outlier.

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Freedom, 7 – The Ongoing Quest

An important point of freedom is not having to make sacrifices for people who don’t make sacrifices for you.

Sebastien Junger, Freedom. (HarperCollins, 2021), p. 116

While I understand the sentiment expressed by Sebastien Junger above, it has an equally valid flipside: One of the qualities of freedom is freely choosing to make sacrifices for people who don’t, or can’t, make sacrifices for you. As Jesus once said (paraphrasing), “What credit is it to you if you love only those who love you back?”

If we have paid any attention to what we have seen manifested across the world over the last several years of Pandemic restrictions, demonstrations invoking freedom from government control of our personal lives, attempted insurrections in several flagship nations of democracy (e.g., the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Germany, France), and now a terrible war of naked aggression in Europe against an aspiring democratic Ukraine, we may have awakened to the precarious fulcrum on which the whole treasure of freedom is centered.

A few things should have come into focus by this point:

  1. This side of Paradise, there is no such thing as “pure”, “absolute” freedom. Even in Paradise/Heaven, God defines what can and cannot be included and permitted. And if you’re not fond of having God tell you what you’re allowed to do, try the Dragon with the red tights on as a democrat!
  2. Freedom is always relative and counterpoised by the obligations and responsibilities of its possessors towards all others who have equal rights to enjoy its benefits. Asian people seem to have less problem with this point than we “free-wheeling” Western types.
  3. Legal and political freedoms do not equate to economic and social equality or treatment in the warp and woof of life.
  4. No matter how “free” they may be in other respects, everyone is a slave to something: an addiction – even if just “trivial”, like caffeine – their own failings and limitations, and inescapable spiritual brokenness,
  5. Even in the freest society imaginable, human and physical nature circumscribe all freedoms of whatever sort in this world;
  6. Death ends all freedoms and holds everyone in its thrall;
  7. God alone is truly free and independent of all limitations, except those He/She imposes on Him/Herself.

Being the sort of essentially self-absorbed creatures we are, most of us experience heightened awareness of what restricts and constrains us only when someone (government, some group, some oppressive individual) impinges on our personal sphere and puts the screws to what we have learned or decided are our “rights” and comfort zones. Where the boundaries are for this is largely dependent on our worldview and our social environment – what our significant others (family, friends, communities of association), tell us is a violation, what our community informs us are our rights and obligations, despite personal wishes and preferences. Few of us have the desire, will, and strength to set ourselves apart from this context in deciding when to take action to resist impingements.

Simply put, our society and community inform us about what freedom is and when we are gaining or losing it. This alone should dispel the nonsense we hear so often about “you can do anything you want”, or “you can choose to be/become anyone/anything you want”. No one has ever been able to enjoy that kind of liberty. Let us accept this and give up fantasized “freedoms” to create “a new me” independent of psychology, heredity, and biology. Too many have created and attempted to inflict their fantasies on everyone else by guilt and shame about their resistance. In our fragile hold on reality, we confuse the issues and pollute our legal and educational institutions with spurious, destructive, counter-productive, clumsy, absurd, and highly expensive attempts at social-engineering. 

No amount of this, no matter if it is advocated by the most “enlightened” and vociferous elements of Ultra-Progressive ideology, and then legislated in fear or misguided magnanimity, will change the fundamentals of who and what human beings are and are meant to be according the Creator’s design. At some point, regular folks just get worn out by it and will react and reject the denial of Nature itself. If the offence has been strong and long enough, the “deniers” may be so offended and worn out that violence may erupt.

Certainly, people are “free” to live as they choose, describe themselves as they choose, as long as they respect others’ freedom to do likewise and treat them with the same circumspection as they so vehemently and loudly declare they expect to be treated. Certainly, they should not be treated as minorities have so often and wrongly been treated, suffering legal, social, and political ostracism and persecution. But on the other side, it is wrong to reverse the standards of the whole to please a very small part and begin to exclude and offend and persecute those who openly object and hold contrary views. “If you live by the sword, you will die by the sword” – the literal sword, the legal sword, the economic sword, the social-engineering sword. “To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” – sooner or later. This is true in the physical, the emotional, and the spiritual realms. Newton’s Law is not just about Physics.

How then are we to move forward in this crisis of Freedom we as a global society face at this now critical point in the tumultuous 21st Century? Will Freedom convoys and occupations by angry proletarians who have come to the conclusion they are being oppressed and driven out of the few points advantage they feel they have enjoyed restore lost freedoms, or force new ones to be accepted? Is the path forward via massive government programs promising improvements to social benefits and whole new sets of government expenditures to appease the restless masses? Will these change the sense of disentitlement and disenfranchisement of those who see their living standards being swallowed by masses of debt, both old and new – all the while watching the rich grow ever richer and the powerful becoming ever more arrogant as they decreed to the lesser classes, “Trust us! We know just what you need”?

Neither path will resolve the restlessness and sense of encroaching oppression seething within. Not that real exterior injustice and oppression shouldn’t be called out and opposed. But that story is never done – there is always another infraction of rights, always more injustice. The illusion is that some sort of constant social tinkering or economic philandering will fix it. As Jesus once said, “You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have Me.” This is not because He has abandoned us, but because we have abandoned Him, or choose not to listen.

As we pointed out previously in this series, the fundamental problem is the brokenness each one of us carries. This leads everyone, at some point, to act unjustly and abusively. If it becomes habitual, then you have real oppression. It is when the outrage is allowed to explode on a mass scale and take control of the agenda that societies are rocked and nations are thrown into turmoil.

The illusion we live with is that we can engineer a system according to some final set of enlightened principles, such as neo-Marxism or neo-liberal Capitalism, or the popular hybrid form of social democracy married to capitalist ideology in Western societies. None of these will end the incipient us—vs—them way of relating and keep the perpetual underclasses soporifically stable so the “better, right sort” of people who are ordained to lead or just enjoy the just fruits of their labor can get on with having their cake and eating it too.

The illusion is that by human-engendered wisdom we can create Utopia. It is an illusion because there is no final peace unless we are reconciled to the Creator, who made us with a hole in our soul that only He/She can fill. Peace within is reconciliation with the Supreme Person who alone can erase our brokenness which drives us to wage continual war upon one another and upon the creation itself. That primal reconciliation dispels the Big Lie that only I, or at most I and my special group, deserve to be really free. That primal reconciliation leads us to be reconciled to the Creation itself so that we can respect the rights and freedoms of all created things in their own nature and place within the Cosmos.

As we close this set of reflections on this unending topic, here are two thoughts to ponder:

“Our hearts, O God, can find no rest till we find our rest in You.” – Confessions, St. Augustine of Hippo, ca. 410 CE.

“Man is made with a God-shaped vacuum in his soul.” – Blaise Pascal, ca. 1650 CE

May you be ever vigilant in discerning the blind alleys that do not grant freedom, but only a reversal or replacement of oppressions.

May you learn how to protect the righteous, limited freedoms we are given to enjoy in our sojourn on planet earth.

May you find your way to the true freedom which only Yeshua Messiah brings.

And may we all remember that we must love our neighbors (even our ruler neighbors) as ourselves if we claim to be followers of Jesus and children of God,

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Freedom, 6 – The Truth Shall Set You Free

If you hold to my teaching …. you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Jesus of Nazareth, John’s Gospel, Chapter 8, verses 31b, 32

Last time, we concluded that:

  1. All the freedom(s) we can know in our lives is/are partial and temporary;
  2. As good as these may be, real freedom cannot be achieved by self-improvement, self-immolation, group therapy, meditation, self-discipline, religious zealotry, or any similar practices;
  3. To enter the freedom we are created to know and abide in, we must go to the Son-of-God-Son-of-Man.

As quoted above, Jesus says “the truth will set you free”. A little later in this discourse (verse 36), he says “…the Son sets you free…indeed.” Is he contradicting himself?

Not at all! As we can see above, he tells his followers that they will know the truth by “holding to my teaching” and this will set them (and us) free.  But what is finally holding us in bondage? What do we really need to be set free from and to in order to abide (live continually in) true freedom, and not just some temporary feel-good substitute for it?

All liberation implies some form of slavery, bondage, captivity. Is humanity still fundamentally in bondage, even after some great liberation movement, such as Emancipation or a liberating revolution which overthrows some terrible tyrant? Entering into and abiding in the kind of freedom Jesus is referring to is not a just problem of “misunderstanding”, “misinformation”, false teaching, or fake news which can be corrected and eliminated by the right kind of education and social reform. Misunderstanding and misinformation are indeed major problems, but more and “better” education have yet to change the most basic problem behind all forms of bondage. The most basic issue is denial of the truth, that is, of the only truth whose knowing can open the mere possibility  of being set free, made free. This fundamental denial is both self-denial and general, society-wide denial.

As long as we are unwilling to see ourselves as we truly are, we cannot see the truth about our basic condition. Attribute this to evolution or to another origin, but history hands down the same verdict according to what our actions throughout all our history and current events tell us.

We are broken. Our souls and nature are divided; we are at war within ourselves. Call it good versus evil, light versus dark, right versus wrong, the desire to love and protect and nurture versus the lust to dominate, control, hate and destroy what impedes us from taking what we want, having what we see someone else has, and taking pleasure in what we want when we want however we want.

Most everyone is ready to admit that they are not perfect. Everyone readily says, “Sure I mess up; I get it wrong; I don’t always do what I know is right.” We resolve to do better, to turn over a new leaf, make some new resolutions and try harder (New Year’s or birthdays anyone?). And a while later, we, like the proverbial dog, “return to our vomit”.

Sometimes there are exceptions – like the alcoholic or drug addict who “goes straight” and “stays clean”, or the porn addict who, with therapy, stops. Even when we “beat” one of our big problems, we all know that (a) we’re still deeply flawed and broken, or we would never have been enslaved to whatever it was, and (b) we still have a bunch of messy stuff that’s screwing up our lives, our sense of wholeness, and our self-image. One drink can send us back into the pit; one fix can return us to hell.

Our Western, scientific answer to everything is more and better science and education, often applied through engineering a device, a method, a technique to fix the current critical problem. This has been tried repeatedly over the last three and more centuries since the “Scientific Revolution” was really kicked off by Isaac Newton, who provided the “mechanical universe” model by formulating the Laws of Motion and Gravity and, along with Leibnitz, providing the mathematical language – Calculus – to explain and formulate it. Reducing things to mechanics and mechanisms – even in biological systems – has even been tried in the domain of human psychology through behaviorism. The “stimulus-response” “mechanism” does nothing to address the underlying question of autonomous human choice to act destructively or altruistically, even against instinct and logic.

No matter how reductionist we want to be about chemistry and physics and quantum atomics manifesting as evolution in biology, we are still baffled by the stubborn human propensity and inborn need to function as moral and idealistic agents. We have always manifested an innate understanding of what could and should be in the moral side of who and what we are. We are plagued with a compulsion to see ourselves and our fellows, and even the rest of the living ecosystem, in the light of good and bad, right and wrong. In our gut we know that, like King Belshazzar in Babylon, the Invisible Hand writes on our heart’s wall, “Weighed in the balance and found wanting.” (The full story behind this allusion is found in the Biblical Book of Daniel, chapter 5.) Not one of us consistently lives up to the moral and ethical laws written in our own hearts, let alone to those proposed by both the great religious and great philosophical sages over the millennia.

We know that we are somehow broken, marred, off-balance. We “miss the mark” – even the ones we impose on ourselves – and too often that means we constantly hurt others, and perhaps do far worse things than “merely” hurting them.

It is just a step from this internal revelation of our own brokenness to understand that we cannot fix ourselves, and, by corollary, no one else can fix us either – at least no one else who is just like the rest of us.

Yet Jesus says, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” How can he make such an outrageous claim? It’s not about knowing by rote all the possible commandments some Divine Law codifies and then striving with all our might not to break any of them. Or about getting the deepest philosophical insight on morals and ethics the human mind can devise – like Aristotle, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, and John Stuart Mill hypothesized. It’s not even about systematically removing all attachment to persons, places, things, experiences, or feelings so that you can enter “moksha” and achieve “nirvana”, having freed yourself from all karma. It’s about encountering a Person and coming into relationship and communion with “Him”.

And only one person in all of history has ever credibly made the singular and incredible claim to actually be that Person – the one who could and will set you free from the final and most fundamental form of bondage every human who has ever lived (and died) suffers from.

TO BE CONTINUED

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Freedom, 5 – Free Indeed

So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Jesus of Nazareth, Gospel of John, chapter 8, verse 36

The “Son” Jesus refers to in this amazing statement is Jesus himself. He is claiming the authority of God, the One Creator, to set us free. He is saying that the freedom so coveted by multitudes from time immemorial can finally be found only in and through him, the Son of God, the Son of Man. Neither philosophy, theology, the deepest meditation, the most frenzied religious contortions, nor the most zealous self-immolation can bring us true freedom.

In the 21st Century, multitudes in the West seek freedom through personal self-betterment and self-advancement, only to find at last that it still eludes them. All across the world, multitudes seek it by conforming to a thicket of rules and regulations in their cultures and traditions, only to find that, no matter how closely they come to perfecting their practice of those things, they still come short of oneness with God, or knowing unity with and full acceptance by those whose love and solace they seek. And none of these strenuous pursuits result in final reconciliation within ourselves.

Of course, there are some pretty satisfying approximations of freedom here in this world. Deeply loving someone and giving of yourself can bring some measure. But all who have loved deeply know that there is still something unresolved, a hole still empty at the core of the soul. The beloved cannot free you from your internal chains of doubt, shame, and guilt still lurking in the basement of your psyche.

Another much vaunted form of “freedom” in this age is money. Enough of it will release us from fear about day-to-day provision and the wherewithal to get healthcare. And it’s pretty nice to have access to some of those “extras” like a decent holiday or two, a comfortable home, a good vehicle, etc.

All this is still far from the true freedom our souls seek. Money and material security do not free us from the inevitability of undergoing trials and troubles, pain and suffering. As Buddha said, “All life is suffering. All suffering is caused by desire.” “Desire” in this sense does not mean the crass lusting after things or for erotic contact with someone. It is the lifelong striving to be released from being bound by anything to the point that losing it or not attaining can cause deep pain.

In the end, none of any of this can free us from death, the final enemy.

If any of these ways of pursuing freedom were really successful, the rich, the physically and mentally healthy, the powerful and influential, etc., would never be jealous, never continue to covet more and more, never worry about missing out and not measuring up to Mr. or Ms. “X” who has more of whatever they think they are missing enough of. But of course, what is “enough”? There is always more money, another deal, a newer car, a fancier phone, and – when a relationship goes south – a “better” partner waiting out there.

For the more mystical and spiritually minded, there is always a deeper dive into the infinite to be pursued, another session of more severe self-deprivation, another conference to help you feel better, “more connected”, another guru to follow.

Study the biographies of the richest, greatest, most powerful, and most influential in any field of endeavour and you will see that, after a lifetime of seeking, all still had secret (or public) fears, unresolved issues that plagued them, failed relationships and miserable episodes that filled them with regret and remorse, a sense of not being good enough, unsatisfied lusts and even rage if they were sociopathic or psychopathic specimens of broken humanity.

Even the greatest saints demonstrate the universality of human brokenness and incompleteness within themselves. After all, what drove them into the desert for thirty or forty years, or into the hermitage, abandoning all the “normal” sources of comfort and little happinesses and tastes of freedom we can have in this life?

When we take the time to reflect honestly, we too know that we are all still slaves to the inner brokenness in our souls. What sins plague you? What holds you captive? What failures and betrayals haunt you in the night and your most lonely moments?

Great saints may overcome their sinful proclivities to a great degree, but many of them still have and demonstrate unresolved depths of brokenness. This is what drives them to extremes of self-abnegation in quest of supreme spiritual cleansing. They believed this will finally free them from the assaults of the demons which they testify as plaguing them. After more than thirty years of zealous service to Jesus, bringing thousands into the Kingdom of God, even Saint Paul said in his First Letter to his protégé Timothy (1,15), one of his last recorded statements, that he knew one thing to be “worthy of full acceptance, that Jesus Christ came into to world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.”

How could the greatest Evangelist of ancient, and perhaps all times still say such a thing?!

The lesson about this highly elliptical concept of freedom is that, as worthwhile as it is to live and die for, we are incapable of knowing its full meaning, let alone experiencing it, by any philosophical or theological meditation or cogitation. Neither can all the most fanatical self-denial and most desperate “worm theology” (as in “Oh God, I am but an unworthy worm. I am the worst … [you can fill in your own space]”) take us to it.

We must return to what Jesus said about all this to be released from this terrible burden to somehow “make ourselves worthy” of God’s mercy and pity. Somewhere, somehow along the road within just a few generations of His life, redeeming death, and regenerating resurrection, even the best-intentioned disciples started once more trying to make themselves pure and holy and worthy. When Jesus said the Son is the only way to “be free indeed”, he was trying to tell us that we are simply so broken in ourselves that, without him as our source and our center, humans can and will never know or experience freedom – not in any truly complete and healing sense that will last forever, or even in this, or any (if you hold with reincarnation [the Bible is clear that reincarnation is not a thing) lifetime on earth.

So here is the great paradox: by striving for freedom as the great goal with all our might and main, we are really striving to break all bonds of restraint. The quest for freedom without turning to its true Giver reduces us to abject slaves to our basest appetites and instincts. Then we create restraining social rules and customs to check the most pernicious aspects of this brokenness which will always turn us toward chaos. Thus, we must give up some portion of our theoretical right to total freedom in order to be able to enjoy some limited aspects lest we incur the wrath of our fellows and destroy ourselves in the process. For if we act as we might well wish at our worst, society will come against us to terminate all of our freedom, whether by killing us, excluding us, or severely restricting us (as in prison, for example). Even the Mafia has its Code of Omerta. NATO, the EU, and the UN are using sanctions against Russia in this sense at this very moment.

As the ancient Greeks long ago philosophized (Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle all agreed on this), total, perfect freedom cannot exist in any society. The debate then becomes: 1. How much may be safely permitted for the greater good of all? (2) Is this to be decided by the general body of citizens, or by an elite group of superior understanding and wisdom?

Down through the millennia of recorded history, we see both approaches attempted, although it would appear that the elitist solution holds the overall balance of power if we judge by the crude measure of domination over the last 5000 or so years. Democracy, the “rule of the general body of citizens”, however effected, is, in fact, very new, at least with regard to its extensive spread over the last century or so. Before that it showed up in isolated blips. For millennia, it was regarded with great suspicion even by many of the best philosophical and ideological minds of the societies in contact with it.

Let us conclude this episode by recapping:

  1. All the freedom(s) we can know in our lives are partial and temporary;
  2. As good as these may be, real freedom cannot be achieved by self-improvement, self-immolation, group therapy, meditation, self-discipline, or religious zealotry, or any similar practices;
  3. To know and enter the Freedom we are created to know and abide in, we must go to the Son-of-God-Son-of-Man.

Our next post will consider what abiding and true freedom means.

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Freedom, 4

Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains.

Jean Jacques Rousseau, Essay on the Origins of Inequality, 1754

(Photo credit – Flickr)

We usually hear that the West’s democratic tradition is rooted in ancient Greece, and particularly in Athens in its Golden and Silver Ages (the 5th – 4th Centuries BCE). It is intriguing to trace the genesis of this myth among the Enlightenment philosophes and their ingenious rewriting of the historical record to suit their purpose. They (e.g., Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire) propagandized that Christianity was incapable of generating any respect for human rights and freedoms. Rather, Christianity was “superstition and myth” fit only for the feeble-minded, unworthy of the Age of Reason and Science. It was the agent of oppression of ordinary people – especially the “better sort” of ordinary people who were educated enough to challenge Church orthodoxy and social control – keeping them in their allotted place as per God’s ordained order of “the Three Estates” or “Orders” among humanity – the Clergy, the Nobles, the Commoners.

It was to be forgotten that, for well over 1500 years, Christianity had been gradually transforming the West’s culture and soul towards placing all citizens on an equal footing before the law and in society. The Gospel proclaimed every Sunday in Church showed how Jesus treated all with respect and dignity – but especially the least esteemed in ancient (and, mostly, modern) society – women, children, the infirm and disabled, the outcasts, the rejected, and even the prisoners and slaves. The Book of Acts and the Epistles told the same story and even said “For in Christ there is no longer male or female, Jew or Gentile, slave or free.”

This gradual evolution towards effectual equality was based on the idea of every one being made in God’s image. In the Christian faith, all are equally objects of His love and mercy, as well as equally subject to His judgment, regardless of “Estate” (social and economic standing) in this world, or sex (gender, if you prefer) for that matter. But the Enlightenment declared that Reason and Science were ordained to supplant and replace the suppressive theological ideology which subjected human nature to God. Ergo, the centuries from 500-1500 were rebaptized as “the Dark Ages”, when superstition, ignorance, dogmatism, and the Inquisition supposedly ruled. Undeniably, there had been regrettable episodes of zealous fanaticism leading to witch-hunts and massacres of dissidents accused of heresy, but the slow movement continued just the same.

Ample new, meticulous research has shown that the Middle Ages were often, and on the whole, vastly different from the hoary standard story-line. Yet we still find it widely propagated as fact in textbooks and many a narrative uninformed by or deliberately ignoring the true historical facts. There were no “Dark Ages”, as so commonly described. There was a time when learning and knowledge retreated because of barbarians laying waste much of the old Greco-Roman world. But it did not disappear and did not even retreat underground. The new rulers quickly found they needed literate helpers to rule, make law, collect revenue, and keep order. Most of the literate class came from the one agency and institution that emerged still strong and independent from the wreck of the Western Roman Empire – the Catholic Church. Note that “Catholic” meant universal, and did not designate a denomination.

It was Catholicism which gradually softened the harshest edges of the new semi-barbarian kingdoms which emerged. It was Christianity which taught these choleric, volatile rulers to temper their tempers and begin to learn that they owed allegiance to a Greater King who would judge them and their rule.

We do not have time, and this is not the place, to set out the resounding refutation of the “Dark Ages” Enlightenment “old wives’ tale” in any detail. The point is that, even with its sometime blind dogmatism and unfortunate gaps in understanding, Medieval Christendom was already moving towards the open society that the West has become.

The biggest injury to that “Great Leap Forward” towards an open, egalitarian, universalist society (to borrow Mao’s phrase and put it to much better use) was actually the shattering of Christendom. This came via the triple hammer blows of (1) the Black Death and the tremendous socio-economic upheaval it produced [now there was the pandemic of pandemics!], (2) the Reformation followed by the Wars of Religion, and (3) the Enlightenment, which, despite all its protestations to be the Age of the coming of the great light of emancipation from superstition, opened the doors wide to the tsunami called the French Revolution.

That Revolution and its directly emergent military Messiah-figure, Napoleon Bonaparte, the prototype of all secular modern tyrants, were a firestorm which swept all the way across Europe from Madrid to Moscow between 1789 and 1815, leaving at least ten million dead in its wake. The Revolution and its whirlwind Messiah unleashed the full fury of the ideological nuclear force of nationalism into the world.

The cyclone of rampant nationalism would directly and inexorably lead to all the horrors we have known over the last 100 or so years, and of which we are now seeing a pernicious resurgence. As illustrated in our previous post, the dismal record is, conservatively estimated, 200 million dead sacrificed to the gods of virulent nationalism, socio-economic-political totalitarian ideologies (militant Communism and Fascism, in particular), hyper-imperialism, and cutthroat capitalism. So much for the noble Age of Freedom ensuing from the “Death of God”, as Nietzsche so aptly put it. “God is dead and we have killed Him,” is the ultimate presumptive and arrogant cry of triumph of the Philosophe. (God might justly quip in reply, “Contrary to rumor, I am still here. However, Nietzsche is dead, and he killed himself.”)

One is reminded of how, during the Roman Peace of over 200 years (Emperors Augustus to Marcus Aurelius, 27 BCE – 181 CE), the ancient Mediterranean and West European world thought it had outgrown the age of wars, save for those of self-defense against jealous foreign barbarians – the same guys who later took over the shop, as noted above.

Today, we seem no closer to our claim to merit the elusive prize called “Freedom” than our benighted forebears. As we used to say in the Sixties, “One man’s rebel is another’s Freedom Fighter.”

Consider the seminal conflict of US history, the Civil War of 1861-65. Both sides claimed to be fighting for Freedom and Rights. Both claimed that “right” and God were on their side. Abraham Lincoln famously observed in his inimitable fashion, “Both cannot be right, but both may be wrong.” His own much more sober assessment was that God had decreed that that terrible conflict would not end until “the last full measure” had been paid; that “every drop of blood shed by the overseer’s lash” would be paid for by the blood of the men mangled and dead on the battlefields. The total population of the USA in 1861 was 31 million. Over 650 000 American soldiers perished in that war, more than those who died in World Wars One and Two, the Korean War, and Vietnam combined. Another million and a half went home mangled and maimed in body and soul.

Is freedom a by-product of war? In his powerful little book Freedom, Sebastien Junger proposes that, in fact, it is! I do not know that the still struggling African-American minority in the USA would agree that they got true freedom coming out of the Civil War, or even since then.

Or is Freedom something much more subtle, surreal, even spiritual? Is it perhaps an innate, inherent quality one inherits at birth, like a gift from God? Or is it something earned or won by struggle and effort, rooted in much more primal origins, as Junger suggests?

If it is the first – innate and inherent at birth – then it is a universal right, an “inalienable right” bestowed by the Creator, as the authors and signers of the American Declaration of Independence proclaimed in 1776. If it is the second, then not everyone has it or deserves to acquire it or be given it. It becomes a privilege which may be earned, seized by brute force, revoked, and lost. Is the reality somewhere between these two extremes? Is it an innate potential that all must seek, but few will find, and, even then, only through struggle and sacrifice – akin to Jesus’ saying, “Seek and you will find; knock and it shall be opened to you?” If people are unwilling to struggle for it, to truly seek it, can they find it, even if someone attempts to hand it to them? Do they really merit such a priceless gift which, not having struggled to find it within themselves first, they will never really understand and value, let along know how to keep if it is threatened? As Joni Mitchell sang in Big Yellow Taxi, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

Perhaps we can say that everyone merits at least the offer of the gift, the opportunity to seek it and, perchance, to find it. Perhaps it is fair to say that a great many people really don’t want to put in the effort and sacrifices that are required to find it and hold onto it once they have it. The historical record can easily be interpreted to point to this conclusion. Maybe they are only willing to fight for it when it is taken away, or about to be.

Generally, most people seem to want a limited amount of personal freedom to be able to go about their personal lives mostly unhindered. But they prefer to avoid too much personal responsibility lest it become overwhelming. When forced to choose between comfort and security and freedom, most people seem to tend to default to comfort and security, most of the time. That is what we saw with Italy’s Fascism and Germany’s Nazism in the 1930s. Like the frog in the pot, we wake up too late to jump out!

On the whole, for all their vaunted regard for liberating people from the yoke of ignorance and superstition, the classical (late 17th, 18th, and early 19th Century) Enlightenment philosophes did not believe in democracy, except perhaps in a very limited fashion. In Athens, their highly esteemed model, less than one quarter of the population were politically entitled. Athens’ population was about 250 000 in 430 BCE. Half of them were slaves. Half of the non-slaves were unentitled females. That leaves 62 500 male citizens with potential rights. Remove another two thirds who were under-age. We are at 20 000 entitled males. Remove 8000 with insufficient property to qualify to vote and hold office. Athens’ vaunted democracy was in fact a small coterie of 12 000 male citizens – all men!

In fact, the Roman Republic was far more democratic in theory and practice than Athens ever was. It even had a rather effective system of checks and balances built into it at its best. Athens’ excuse for a check on tyranny was ostracism, and this was fairly easy to pervert if a good demagogue manipulated the 12 000 qualified voters. True, in Rome no slaves or women could vote, but among the male citizens, only the very poorest could not vote or, theoretically, at least, be nominated to hold the powerful office of Tribune of the Plebs.

However, the Philosophes vastly preferred enlightened absolute emperors such as Augustus, and most especially Marcus Aurelius, the archetypical Stoic Philosopher-King. Certainly, the Philosophes’ version of democracy, whenever they spoke of it, bore little to no resemblance to that which exists today. In fact, they would have been appalled by the modern social-democratic states of today. Their preferred form of government was “Benevolent Despotism”, and their term for the best of the quasi-absolutist rulers of the time was “Enlightened Despots”. Among them could be found Catherine the Great of Russia, Joseph II of Austria, and Frederick II (the Great) of Prussia (the largest of the German states outside of Austria’s domains). All of the above defaulted to despotism at need, dropping the “enlightened” adjective when necessary to “deal with intransigent elements”. The last King of France before the Revolution, Louis XVI, aspired to join this elite group, but was not accorded the dignity by French Philosophes (Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, d’Alembert, et al.). In January 1793, Poor Louis was simply guillotined by the new set of revolutionary despots who took his place (e.g. Robespierre) with much greater ruthlessness than any monarch had dared before that time. Thirty thousand more aristocrats and suspected close collaborators of the “aristos” rapidly lost their heads in similar fashion, as did even the Queen, Marie-Antoinette of “let them eat cake” fame.

Perhaps the great 18th-C Philosophes (mercifully [for them] dead by 1793) would have pointed out smugly that the revolutionaries had tried out a radical sort of democracy and found it wanting, just as they had predicted it would be. They may well have heartily endorsed the Corsican-turned-French-Emperor, Napoleon, perhaps the greatest proponent of Enlightened Despotism ever, with himself as its ultimate incarnation.

“Liberté! Égalité! Fraternité!” has ever since been the battle cry of modern warriors of freedom, equality, and universal brotherhood. Over the last 225 years, the musket, rifle, pistol, cannon, mortar, howitzer, bayonet, sword, bomb, shell, rocket, and hand grenade (yes, they had all those modern weapons in Napoleon’s time) seem to have been much used in emulation of the little Corsican’s evangelistic strategy.

TO BE CONTINUED

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Freedom, 3

“… a demand for unlimited revenge …. is what Nietzsche says is the very basis for the violence of nihilism.”

George Grant, Time as History. University of Toronto Press, 1995. p. 49.

“What the Messiah has freed us for is freedom! Therefore, stand firm, and don’t let yourselves be tied up again to a yoke of slavery.”

Galatians 5, verse 1, Complete Jewish Bible, trans. David Stern, 1998

For Vladimir Putin in March 2022, unlimited revenge on the West and the nasty world that has laid Mother Russia low since 1991 would be ultimate freedom. In that world, no blame or guilt lies on him or the band of ultra-rich oligarchs who have helped engineer Russia’s economic plight and political isolation. All is the fault of the Western Devil and its corrupt democratic tradition which dares raise the common masses to the level of full and equal citizenship (at least according to constitutional law) with the elites. If he can only get revenge by nihilistic total destruction including even of his own Motherland, he says he is prepared to venture it.

The West does bear some blame in this whole dreadful business on several counts. First, it sells a bogus dream of Utopia to itself and to outsiders wishing they could get in on the great prosperity train. Second, it engineers the game so that it is very hard to actually get in on anything like near-equal terms with the players already at the table. New players are expected to arrive with huge sums ready to ante to even sit in the game.

Beneath the West’s self-indulgent neon exterior, its cornerstone was once upon a time reputed to be Jesus and his first followers, notably Saul of Tarsus, better known as the Apostle Paul. Although the West has largely turned a deaf ear to its deep roots in Christianity, the ideal of freedom we are struggling to recover and renew stems directly from that source. Most Westerners no longer understand much of anything that that original call to freedom was really about-and it certainly wasn’t money or sitting on top of the power heap.

If Enlightenment disciples are miffed by my failure to extoll John Locke, Voltaire, John Stuart Mill, and all the other noted philosophes, sorry to give offence, but Jesus and Paul trump them all when we go to the main taproot of the West’s soul. Once upon a time the West was boldly called “Christendom” in open recognition of this historic fact. Even the esteemed original philosophes of the 17th and 18th Centuries did not ignore their debt to the Nazarene, although their modern disciples tend to conveniently ignore (either deliberately or in actual ignorance of) that fact.

In his letter to the Galatians, before the resounding declaration on freedom quoted above, Saul-Paul had said, “… with the Messiah [Jesus] … there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor freeman, neither male nor female; for in union with the Messiah Yeshua [Jesus], you are all one.” (Chapter 4, verse 27-28) Two thousand years ago, Paul, basing his understanding on the life and teaching of Yeshua/Jesus himself, declared that when you enter the community of Jesus’ family of followers, the major factors that create injustice, inequality, oppression, and all their concomitant evils are eliminated in God’s eyes, and are also meant to be erased lin actual practice here in this world among the ekklesia.

No one will deny that, over the last almost 2000 years, the Christian ekklesia (a word badly translated from Greek into English as “Church” but which really connotes the assembly of all citizens who belong to the united community) has too often failed to live by these most basic principles.  If the Christian ekklesia had substantially succeeded, I venture to say that the world we now live in would not be on the brink of World War Three, and would never have known Numbers One or Two either. But here we are.

The detractors of Christianity are zealous in their denigration of the long, difficult history of the uneasy symbiosis of Church and State in the West, perhaps rightly laying most of the blame at the door of the Church for the eventual divorce. However, secularist decrying of the “hypocrisy” of Church, Christian theology, and weak-willed Christians has grown old, tired, and as hypocritical as we are told the Churchified leadership of bygone ages always were denounced as being.

For the last two hundred years, the secular order, i.e., the “non-religious” social, economic, and political leaders claiming to operate and direct society and culture according the best Enlightenment principles, has held the reins across the West. They may still nod “Goodday, eh” at the Church occasionally in order not to scare too many regular folks off with their impiety. But the kingdom, the power and the glory have been theirs now for long enough to test the fruit of the new King-tree.

So let’s be completely honest about the historical record since 1789 and the French Revolution, the date when this new age of science and reason and ineluctable progress that was proclaimed to be ushered in by getting the Christians out of the way.

The record of war and revolution and mayhem and slaughter has not diminished in the least. In fact, it has been multiplied exponentially. Observe:

  • French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1792-1815 – estimated 5-10 million dead;
  • 19th Century Revolts and Revolutions (1824-30, 1830-1, 1848, 1861-65 [US Civil War], 1871) and wars of national unification (Italy and Germany) – 3-4 million dead
  • Colonial expansionist conquests, massacres, and rivalry wars of the 19th C – 3-5 million dead
  • Pre-World War 1 conflicts in the 20th C – 3 million dead
  • World War 1, 1914-1918 – estimates vary wildly from 20-40 million dead, including famine and starvation directly related to this hecatomb
  • Russian Revolution and later Sovietization – 10 million dead
  • Stalinist purges – Gulag – 20-30 million dead
  • World War 2 – 60-80 million dead (no real way to know given the immensity of scale and unaccounted massacres and slaughters)
  • Korean War – 2-3 million dead
  • Vietnam War – 3-4 million dead
  • Chinese Civil War and Communist purges, Maoist “Cultural Revolution” – 40-60 million dead
  • Khmer Rouge in Cambodia – 1.5 million dead
  • etc., etc.

All the most terrible internecine wars of 1300 years of Christendom from circa 384 CE (when the Roman Empire became officially “Christian”) to the end of the Thirty Years War in Europe in 1648, the last European “War of Religion”, cannot even hold a candle to the appalling record of the last two hundred years since the effectual demise of Christendom and its replacement with government according to illuminati principles (as in lighted up by the great light of scientific, rational truth, not as some sort of secret elite society controlling everything) issuing from Enlightenment standards of elevating human society. Christendom at least faintly attempted to use Christian principles to direct national and international concerns. Today we have Machiavellian Realpolitik in its place, with no residue of honour and mutual recognition of a higher duty before the Maker to blunt the worst instincts in the souls of power-mad power-brokers.

To compare apples with apples, let us take the two darkest chapters in Christendom’s war-waging – the Crusades between 1096 CE and about 1300 CE – and the Wars of Religion between 1530 and 1648.  There is no way to know with any real accuracy how many died in the multiple crusades launched by Medieval Europeans under Christ’s banner with the professed aim of reclaiming the Holy Land (Israel-Palestine) from Islam. It is fashionable to condemn these attacks on the Islamic world as unprovoked.  It is forgotten that Islam seized those lands after conquering them by naked aggression against Christian States. Untold millions died in those Muslim wars of conquest between 634 CE and 1080 CE. The best guestimate is that the Christian drive to retake those lands probably cost another 3-4 million lives over the course of two hundred years.

In the Thirty Years War and other European Wars of Religion following the Protestant Reformation, another 10 million or so died in what amounted to a Western Christian Civil War. If we generously round all this up to 20 million or so Christians massacring one another or Muslims and Jews as heretics over the course of about 1400 years, it does not take a mathematical genius to calculate whether Christendom or Enlightenment Secularism with its toll of around 200 million (10 times as many) in one seventh the time has the greatest bloodlust and blood-guilt.

I am not advocating a return to an old Christendom. I am not excusing crimes against humanity perpetrated by leaders misusing Christ’s name. We do not need more religious judgmentalism and sectarianism. This discussion is not even about Christianity being superior to Enlightenment principles for building a just and compassionate society. I suspect we need both.  It seems that when the two shun and despise each other, we end up in a terrible place. What we are both aiming for, so we say, is rediscovering the real sources of our ideals of freedom, and finding a sure foundation upon which to renew them.

Let us not falsely claim that we can be scientific about this. Let us have the courage to face our history and our real-life experience and find reconciliation and renewal together. Christians at their best have gifted the world with enormous benefits in compassion for the poor, the sick, the infirm, the oppressed, law reforms to care for the helpless and defenseless, education and health-care. The achievements of Christians and the ekklesia in these primary areas of building a real caring, compassionate culture and society far outstrip anything done by secular sources, setting aside direct government intervention. Even that has been largely done at the insistence and inspiration of the Ekklesia and voters inspired by the infinite compassion of Jesus.

But we also need the Enlightenment at its best to temper misbegotten religious zeal and spiritualized fanaticism and hold the Ekklesia and leaders, whether secular or Christian, at all levels and in all walks accountable. The Enlightenment points us to intelligent discovery of truth through God’s gifts of reason and science, based on the Creator’s order in Nature. However, these are crippled when separated from the Creator’s wisdom as to their true nature and purpose.

Stay tuned.

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Freedom, 2

Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose…

Me and Bobby McGee – Janis Joplin

(Photo credit – Outward Bound Canada)

Wilderness canoe-tripping has long been one of my absolute favourite summer-autumn things to do. I have done it almost every summer for 35 years. For me and those who come with me it is and has been one of the most freeing things we know.

Some sorts of head-knowledge are in the skill-set one needs to “succeed” in wilderness tripping – whether that be canoeing, serious back-packing (which I have also done), or some other kind of ‘in-the-deep-end’ wilderness journeying. But in this sort of adventure, the physical and practical skills decidedly outweigh most head-knowledge. And, unless you are a solo-tripper, such a journey is a social and relational adventure as much as it is physically challenging.

Before setting out, some sort of plan is required, even if only a rudimentary one. First thing to determine is “Where”? In other words, a route must be selected and agreed upon. The agreement may be a simple acceptance by the other group members, or an actual discussion of at least some of the details. For example, how much flexibility in changing it once begun will/should there be? How long will the trip be, both in distance and time? Where will the stops be? Is the distance estimated appropriate to the time allotted? How much food will be required? What gear does each member need to bring? Etc.

Once the basic plan is set, assignments need to be allotted to each tripper – who will bring what, how it will all be packed and divided into portageable loads. How will the canoeing partners be decided – who should be with whom, and can this be varied? It’s nice to change partners from day to day to get to know one another better. Sometimes, it might be better for certain pairs to spend more or less time together. In case of need to make important decisions, is someone the designated leader, or will consensus decide?

This potentially wonderfully freeing kind of activity is an allegory of how human beings function in even the smallest and simplest sort of extended social contact. What could happen if you don’t plan and just get a few like-minded people with similar interests together to just set out on a common adventure with each one preparing however he/she thinks appropriate? Even then they will need to agree on a common time and place to meet in order to go together.

An ad-libbed, ad-hoc trip might end up like this. On the chosen day at around the chosen time, Charlie, Pete, Samantha, and Noreen (our intrepid trippers) all show up with whatever they thought they needed for this wonderful idea of a wilderness canoe trip. At the canoe put-in on Lake Letztango, they begin to discover that not everyone even has the basics. Noreen has no paddle. Pete has no PFD (life-vest). Charlie brought two canoes, but only one of them is an actual tripping canoe with significant cargo capacity. No one bothered to acquire an actual map of the route they thought about following – not even an electronic one downloaded to their phone or tablet! As to food, what a hodgepodge, and who even considered that improperly stored food is an open invitation to bears, racoons, and pesky, ubiquitous squirrels to the feast within hours of setting up camp? Oops! Everyone thought the other people were bringing tents! On and on the sad tale goes.

We will leave this group of sad-sack travelers to their consequences. Does freedom have anything to do with all this? When is freedom not freedom? When are rules and limitations actually liberating? And when are they oppressive rather than liberating?

It becomes very quickly clear that for even the most elementary social arrangement to work, there is a careful balancing act that must be worked out. Not enough organization with responsibilities and duties defined, and the slide into chaos and blame-gaming is rapid and will quickly get nasty. Too much organization with overzealous application of controls and rules reduces people to ciphers, stifling their motivation to reach out and help one another. Over time it builds up anger and resentment for being disrespected and made to feel of no account.

The best wilderness experiences happen when people know their roles, are respected as people who can and will fulfill them, and learn how if they need to. Left with enough independence to initiate and even improve things for themselves and others, things become positively fun! There is a spirit of goodwill, happy cooperation, and genuine concern in case of a problem. Problems are met with steady practical solutions created when the need arises.  Sometimes, “stuff happens” even to the most experienced people, but when mutual freedoms within proper boundaries and mutual respect and esteem have been created and sustained within the group, the problems get solved far more smoothly and with far less strain, stress, blaming, and acrimony. Overcoming such things together strengthens the group’s cohesion and mutual respect.

A wilderness canoe-tripping expedition, whether as small as two or as large as ten, has no written rule-book. You can read up about skills and routes to prepare, you can practice canoeing techniques on calm water beforehand, try out your knot-tying and campfire building, and even practice pooping in the bush with no privy, but there is no comprehensive manual or “How-To” book.

Let’s apply our little parable about wilderness tripping to the macro level of running a club, a church, a town, a mega-city, a province or state and even a country. Is there some sort of “manual” for these bigger venues of social management?

Not really. Not even Robert’s Rules of Order or the well-designed Canadian Constitution Act can cover every situation, as helpful as they may be in giving general parameters.  They need to be supplemented by the infinitely fluid river called “History” backed up by a lot of written reflections, traditional ideas and principles, and “Here’s How I/We Did It Here at This Time” type writings (Memoirs, if you prefer). History has a ton of stuff for us to look over and consider, but it cannot tell us once and for all “Here’s what you need to do right now where you are with that bunch of people you’re traveling with.” It can tell us a lot about how our forebears solved many of the same problems we have to deal with – although the River of Time and place create variations that must be taken into account.

One thing we should have learned over the last two or three hundred years is that it is an awfully good idea to lay out a set of basic rules for solving big problems in big communities – both national and international. When you scratch beneath the surface, most of those problems revolve directly around the very issue we find ourselves struggling so mightily with worldwide at this very moment: FREEDOM! This humble set of articles is an attempt to make a small contribution to that very big discussion.

What, if anything, has our parable told us, besides how to avoid having our canoe go disastrously crashing into the first set of rapids it meets?

  • Freedom is not really freedom if there are no rules and responsibilities.
  • Freedom is an illusion if we have no plan, goal, and vision to set out for as a common destination and inspiration.
  • If each one of us just acts “freely”, i.e. autonomously, as “seems good in his/her own eyes” (an expression borrowed from the Biblical Book of Judges) our actual destination is chaos and destructive anarchy. Incidentally Judges is a good read for this period we find ourselves in. Even nature teaches us that laws exist and that they will insist on being respected and obeyed. We defy them at our own peril, and ultimately we defy them upon pain of death. You can whimsically decree that you can now fly or walk on water (without extra mechanical appendages) – until you try it for the first time and discover that you too are subject to the rule of law.
  • All of us, and all things, are subject to the rule of law. Such is the created order, or “Natural Law” in the old parlance. Even despots with a nuclear arsenal are finally subject to the rule of law. The greatest lawgiver of all once said, “If you live by the sword, you will die by the sword.” That’s a primary law in the way of human behaviour and natural consequences.  In the Old West, there was always a faster gunslinger somewhere who would eventually put you into Boot Hill.
  • By willingly cooperating together we can overcome many obstacles, and in fact we enhance one another’s real freedom when we excel in what we are really good at. Doing this and encouraging tripmates to do likewise gains their esteem and respect and empowers them to thrive as well.
  • The more we act arbitrarily and bully others into doing as we insist, the less they are likely to respect us, and the more resentful and angry they will become. Things will get done less and less willingly, and less and less thoroughly, increasing the risk of accident and harm for everyone. Eventually, order will disintegrate and the society will fail.

The slaves will overcome you too, King Louis, Tsar Nicholas, and Mr. Putin. Maybe not today, but count on it!

To Be Continued

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Freedom, 1

Freedom: Personal liberty, non-slavery; civil liberty, independence; liberty of action, right to do; power of self-determination, independence of fate or necessity; participation in privileges of citizenship; unrestricted use…

Concise Oxford Dictionary, 1964

(Map credit: 19FortyFive)

The above dictionary definition about covers what people generally mean, at one time or another, when they speak of the concept of freedom. These days in much of the West the term has become mostly focused on a very personalized notion of “personal liberty …, right to do [as I please, when I please, how I please], independence of fate or necessity … unrestricted use [and too bad if that runs you over]”.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, the fundamental meaning of fighting for freedom is being graphically illustrated for the whole world to see.  This graphic live-streamed horror has put our petty quarrels here in Canada and elsewhere over COVID restrictions and governmental “overreach” into a humiliating display of moral infantility. How far we have fallen in our understanding of the most fundamental notions of living in a “free” society!

Winston Churchill once said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Anyone who has come out of an anarchic free-for-all situation where law and order come down to the whim of the people with the biggest clubs (name your favorite failed state or inner-city “no-go” zone) can appreciate the brutal simplicity of it.

The vulgar fallacy and dreadful lie we in the West have progressively saddled ourselves with are that I am free to choose any outlandish form of acted-out self-discovery, self-expression, self-actualization (choose the moniker that you like to say it!) that suits me and you have no right to be offended or even express your disapproval. If you dare, I’ll sue the tights off you, or drag you before some tribunal that will. At the very least, they`ll humiliate you and make you a social pariah and maybe even put you in prison for “hate-speech”.

Besides actually going to Ukraine to see how real live defenders of freedom behave under real live-fire with thousands dying, how do we spoiled children of democracy regain a real sense of what life in human society and its future is really and truly about, or should be about? Is it really just about glutting my personal appetites to numb the pain of my instinctual sense of living a meaningless life – like the inhabitants of the Capital District in The Hunger Games? We in the West have become “the Capital”, and if we don’t truly wake up soon (and I don’t mean in the illusory sense of the WOKE-Folk, who are one of the prime symptoms of our chimeric mirage of “freedom”), the “Districts” will rise up in revolution.

To try to recover a rudimentary sense of the what democratic “freedom” is, many sources are available. First, I will suggest one very succinct and brilliant article recently published in The Globe and Mail, a prestigious Canadian newspaper. Its author is Justice Beverley McLachlin, now retired, 17th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada (2000-2017). https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-the-ottawa-truck-convoy-has-revealed-the-ugly-side-of-freedom/

Another I recommend is an eminently readable and brief personal account from a very different, non-academic approach: Freedom by Sebastian Junger, published by HarperCollins, 2021. This little book is only 147 pages and a far cry from didactic in the sense of “here are a bunch of theories and notions about freedom you need to learn and understand to pass the test”. Instead, Junger takes you on a walk, literally, across remote parts of the eastern USA, in the company of three like-minded companions who just want to escape the ubiquitous grip of The System and The Man. If you can’t learn something true and real about freedom from this journey (one with feet on the ground and your head cleared of all the BS, getting down to basics again), well – ‘nuff said! If you can’t make some sort of similar pilgrimage, this is a next-best-thing!

Freedom is never an isolated thing. And it is never an absolute thing. Even hermits are not totally free – as the ancient and medieval (and even modern) Christian hermits have said over and over again. Their bodily needs constrain them. Their minds imprison them. No matter where they take refuge, other people keep coming along to bug them and make demands on them. Buddhist monks, Hindu gurus, and Muslim dervishes all say the same thing. How have we in the West somehow bought into a completely delusional notion that freedom is all about me and what I “need” (when the real word is want) and to hell with you? As the Beatles once aptly phrased it “All through the years, I-me-my, I-me-my, I-me-my!” What a lie!

Deep down, you know that all your screaming about your rights and needs, however legitimate, cannot justify your taking what someone else equally needs or wants to appease your ego or sate your undisciplined will and appetites. Let’s be honest, much of this psychodrama is contrived by our own appetites and the delusion that we have some sort of “right” to have them satisfied regardless of the cost to other people.

That is what billionaires will rarely admit. Getting generates more wanting, more lusting. Being spoiled from toddlerhood up generates infantile adults who know only how to scream about freedom and demand it for their most outlandish interpretations of what “happiness” must be for them. As the old African story puts it, the Dog you feed will finally be the Dog who eats you when you run out of food to give it.

Which brings us around to our present World Crisis – notably, as in the bad old age of Colonialism, being generated from the old Imperialist homelands of Europe. The West emerged from there. Now, grown fat and rich and accustomed to be fed by the lesser Districts (returning to the The Hunger Games allegory)to satisfy all its most salacious and vicious appetites, it is facing a rebel mad-man’s will for vengeance and payback for having robbed his Motherland of her rightful place in the sunlit uplands of the elite nations.

God have mercy, and may there arise some farsighted prophets of peace even now in the West and other lands who can steer us out of this Valley of the Shadow of Death (Psalm 23, if you are not familiar with the expression). And may the sobering of a near-death experience wake up the West to its moral slavery and a will to recover the spiritual heritage of the knowledge of real Freedom.

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Fascism, 3

(Photo credit – Wikipedia)

No state currently assumes a Fascist identity by being run by a Fascist or National Socialist (the official name of the Nazi Party in Germany) Party. Nevertheless, there are perhaps as many as a dozen de facto Fascist states in the world in 2022, depending on how rigorously we want to apply our criteria.

First and foremost, there is Putin’s Russia. The brief summer of hope following Gorbachev’s tenure in the crumbling Soviet Union rapidly slid into near anarchy, and was only redeemed by the advent of the Strong Man of charisma, Vladimir Putin, backed by an underworld oligarchy willing to invest enormous amounts to propel him into and keep him in power. 

The invasion of Ukraine now underway is the “great unmasking” on the world stage of Putin Russia as the predatory fascist eagle.  Fascist states in Europe have had an historical fascination with the eagle in all its emblematic forms.  It is the quintessential bird of prey, king of the sky.  Mussolini’s Italy turned to the Roman eagle and the consular “fasces” for symbolism.  Hitler’s Third Reich adopted its own near-Aztec form of the great bird.  Russia has long had a two-headed eagle as a national icon – facing east (Asia) and west (Europe) at the same time.

As noted in a previous post, Fascism is adaptable to the particular milieu in which its proponents operate. It has taken on a distinct Russian tinge by adopting Russia’s historic self-identification as the lords and guardians of all Slavdom. The collapse of the Soviet Empire has never been truly accepted by Mr. Putin and the hardliners who held sway there.  They are on a quest to reassert Panslavism, bit by bit. Hitler’s playbook of making piece by piece claims while disavowing the true agenda of total annexation has so far worked well to lull the materialist and comfort-addicted West into somnolence, just as Hitler knew it would for the Western democracies in the 1930s until it was nearly to late to recover.

Only yesterday did I finally hear a prominent European leader openly call Putin a “Fascist Dictator”.

Let us compare President Putin’s remade Russia with Signor Mussolini’s eight Native Characteristics of Fascism:

  1. Strong nationalism/Sense of special national mission: Ask Ukraine and Russia’s other nervous neighbours. Russia has historically seen itself for centuries as “The Third Rome” and the anointed (imperial) protector (Lord) of all Slavs.
  2. Centralized and exclusive political authority = Putin as a life-term President.  Main method of eliminating tiresome and really challenging opponents – assassination. We are witnessing in live-stream the arrest of masses of Russian opponents of Putin demonstrating their outrage to Russia’s blatant aggression.  Over the years there have been a number of (not-so) mysterious deaths of key opposition leaders since Mr. Putin took over the Kremlin permanently. We are still waiting for his “Fuhrer”-style moniker, though.
  3. Police State, arbitrary justice: those who defy the regimes have little chance of getting off once taken before a kangaroo court. The KGB (of which Putin was once the Director) has re-emerged with new (and greatly feared) initials – the FSB for internal affairs and the GRU for foreign spying.
  4. Centrally controlled economy: There is a translucent façade of Capitalism covering massive corruption and underworld collusion with enormous kickbacks to the government and many top insiders. The West has known about this for decades and done nothing to stop the enormous exportation of robbed state funds to money-laundering bank accounts and property investments. Only with the Ukraine crisis is there talk of freezing these proceeds of massive crime at the expense of the long-suffering Russian people.  Putin is as personally rich as any Tsar ever was, and his henchmen and their families are as rich as any of the old Tsarist princelings and archdukes.
  5. Racism and xenophobia (can be manifested in various ways): once more, ask Russia’s neighbours.  NATO is the Big Bad Wolf, but ask internal dissident religious groups, or independent writers and thinkers, or militants on the LGBTQ2+ spectrum about the scorn and abuse directed their way.
  6. Militarism: the whole world can see this one on massive and horrific display. Even the nuclear sabre is being rattled to intimidate the soft-bellied West.
  7. Persecution and oppression of excluded minorities, however defined: see above, and doubtless more to come.
  8. The elimination of individual rights and constitutional protections of the lives and property of both non-citizens and citizens who forfeit the tolerance of the government for any reason: As noted.

Nominal opposition groups are closely watched. They are allowed to continue on sufferance for show. Elections are completely rigged.

(References – https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/is-putin’s-russia-fascist/

Our second extant case is the People’s Republic of (Red) China, an ally of Putin’s. Still nominally a Communist state, the reality is that China stopped being such an entity thirty years ago.  Instead, it has moved remorselessly into an operating Fascist system, while still seeking to fool the rest of the world and its own people that it can continue to plausibly claim to be a great Socialist “People’s Democracy”. While there is still a tightly run state system of social programs and benefits, Nazi Germany also did all that very well for citizens in good graces with the government.

Key economic sectors are still run by close government supervision and sometimes very heavy direct government funding – just like Mussolini’s “Corporate State” and Nazi Germany’s closely monitored supervision of Germany’s major corporations. But the management and oversight are contracted out to carefully licenced entrepreneurs whose job is to corner markets and channel huge profit-shares back to the State. The parallels to Hitlerian Germany and Il Duce’s Italy are startling.

Chairman-President Xi has become less and less accountable to any controlling body and more and more independent in control and power to decide on his own what will be done and by whom. “Red” China has become more and more like a model Signor Mussolini and Herr Hitler would recognize as kin.

Reference: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/is-china-fascist-state/

Taiwan is on China’s radar, and the course of events in Ukraine will be closely watched to see the extent of the West’s will to resist flagrant aggression with open war.  Taiwan has made it clear that if attacked it will fight.  The West (and Japan, South Korea, and Australia) will be sorely tried when this happens, just as they are now being greatly tested in Europe.

China’s historical national identity is that of the “Middle Kingdom” and the “Kingdom of Heaven” (its Emperors were “Sons of Heaven”) – in Western theological terms, “the elect of God”. More prosaically, China sees itself as the natural overlord of Asia. Over the centuries, China has periodically attempted to assert this assumed sovereign right.  Although overrun by outside barbarians several times, China has always absorbed its conquerors and re-emerged culturally stronger than ever.

Since the Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the only real check on Chinese expansionism has been the presence of the United States in Japan, South Korea, and South-East Asia – notably Taiwan and the Philippines.  With China’s emergence as the #2 World Superpower, some sort of showdown over South-East Asia will come.

China plays a wily long game, counting on the gradual wearying of Western (US) resolve to pay the price to sustain democratic regimes so far from their home shores. The transformation of the Chinese state-run economy and political scene from any real form of Marxism to a unique form of Fascism geared to their culture has been carefully managed to reinforce the nation’s long-term goals of obtaining regional hegemony and global dominance.

Fascism is always a dangerous ideology, remarkably flexible so as to play into the specific environments where its ambitious power-seekers hope to win control.  For this reason, vigilance is required in detecting it for what it is, and for knowing when it is not really there despite wannabe imitators who are just dabbling with particular parts of its appealing racial and supremacist dogmas. Wisdom is found in knowing the major typical characteristics of the system and watching for their coalescing around a charismatic populist demagogue with a tight coterie of fanatical followers who have a talent for stirring up unrest among the disaffected and disenchanted segments of the population, especially when those segments become a major force because of bad and weak government and oppressive circumstances.

To see the patterns, read and study the history of the pre-World War 2 twentieth century.

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Fascism, 2

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government [Plato is one great thinker who thought this – VJM] except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time….”

Sir Winston S. Churchill, 11 November, 1947, speaking at a Remembrance Day ceremony two years after the end of WW2.

(Photo Credit – The Well Project)

If any statesman of the last one hundred years understood something about how democracy, and especially the British model of democracy through a Parliamentary system (are you listening Canada?), must function in order to remain healthy and viable, it was Sir Winston Churchill.  Churchill also won the right to be considered one of the greatest Statesman in world history by inspiring the Allies, under the name of “the United Nations” – a term he coined, by the way – to forge a great international alliance and adopt a winning strategy to bring down the greatest menace to freedom ever faced, the Axis Alliance of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial (Military Fascist) Japan in World War 2 (1939-45).  The three major “Axis” powers, as they called themselves, were the original and greatest “Axis of Evil”.

The farther removed we become from the horrors of war and tyranny faced by our forebears, the easier it is to forget how those times really were and the more possible to whitewash, romanticize, and idealize the great Dictators. History amply demonstrates that forgetting its lessons usually takes about two generations.  War, denounced in its immediate aftermath as horrific and sloganized as “never again”, once more becomes palatable and somehow noble and heroic the farther we get from it, at least to those who love the idea of settling accounts by swift, decisive, and “necessary” violence.

For any who think romanticization of the “great nobility” of heroic deeds of daring-do is passé in our age of instant spectatorship of live-stream murder and mayhem and even real-time massacre, think again.  How do ISIS and crime gangs recruit? Why are military strike-forces always full-up? Why are mercenaries so readily available to para-national super-organizations?

If you have a taste for such reading, and want to see what goes on in a young-man’s head before, during, and after taking up arms even for a truly noble cause, read about young Henry Fleming in The Red Badge of Courage, considered the finest true-to-life war novel about a young recruit, certainly of the 19th Century, and perhaps of all time.

Likewise, it is just as easy to forget the great, risky, temporary sacrifices the free nations made to achieve their victory over the Fascist Dictatorships between 1939 and 1945. That is really not so long ago. For six years Canada and Great Britain, which were in the war from start to finish, sacrificed the most fundamental things of a democracy, rights such as habeas corpus. Many other basic liberties and human rights were also suspended with eyes wide open. They were returned after it was all over.

We truly have little idea of what giving up such basic rights means, Canada’s little blip with “The War Measures Act” in 1970 under PM Pierre Elliot Trudeau (father of our present PM) notwithstanding. As WW2 got under way, there was serious debate about needing to so severely curtail people’s personal liberties, including severely limiting access to the most basic consumer goods considered necessities by most homemakers. To compare the limitations the world has faced over the last two years with those years demonstrates a frightful historical ignorance, as does comparing both our Mssrs. Trudeaus’ “authoritarianism” with what Canadians accepted and got through under Mackenzie-King and the Liberals of those days.

To deem a convergence of difficult factors beyond any one government or combination of governments’ ability to control into a super-sinister global conspiracy to rope us all into socialist conformity like obedient soviet proletarians is a desperately far reach. With our culture’s deep aversion to viewing the times we live in through the intensely clarifying lens of history, we drift into seeing Hitler’s moustache on persons in power who have not one hundredth of that demonic genius’ malevolence.  We are watching live real-life performances of Berchtold Brecht’s Theatre of the Absurd.

None of this does any of us proud.

Friends, hurling anathemas upon the current crop of perceived “agents of the Devil” is not a road to reaching the great majority of “the lost”. Breaking a whole slew of laws and seriously impinging on the rights and liberties of our neighbours is not going to dispose them to listen to your voices, or to lead anyone to believe that this is the way to amend a hobbling and wobbling but still legally functioning and elected democratic government in a nation built on usually sagacious, even if often self-interested compromise.

As Dickens wrote, “These are the [sort of times] that try men’s [human] souls”.  What comes out of us through the wine-press of testing proves more than anything else what we have truly put our trust in.

Free, democratic societies cannot operate without restrictions on the rights and liberties their citizens enjoy. Our World War ancestors knew this and, very largely, accepted it and lived through it. Rights come with equally important responsibilities.  They have limits, such as where they impinge on other people’s equally important rights and liberties.

The Fascists of old knew how to play the game to the hilt. They were intimidation demonstrators par excellence. They were coup d’état opportunistic specialists.  Democracy was what they hated, and its subversion by every means till people were fed up trying was their methodology. That is how Mussolini took Italy with only 30% of popular support.  That is how Hitler wheedled his way into the Chancellery in January 1933 with only 32% of Germany’s popular vote.

The neo-Fascists we see coming out of the closet today are reading from the same hymn-book. Use fear and misinformation to whip up discontent and conviction that the system cannot work, until it really does quit working. While a great many listening in to them are hearing the song they want to hear, they miss the Horst Wessel Liede (the Nazi Party anthem) thrumming in the background.

As the living witnesses to all the terrible things done in World War 2 and the Gulag (and its facsimiles in China and North Korea even today) pass on, it becomes more possible to deny much of the evil and to excuse what the enemies of freedom and democracy did as legitimate efforts to “set things right”.  In Mein Kampf Hitler boldly described what he intended to do and how. He also said flat-out that the basic technique to win the public to your goals was by retelling the Big Lie over and over again, louder and louder. He commissioned the all-time greatest propagandist, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, to drum the message home by every means available. Goebbels took Hitler’s demonically inspired methodology and perfected it. He is still much studied to this day, with adaptations to our latest technological refinements for getting the story out there.

One can admire the undeniable efficiency and straightforward solutions to serious issues achieved by dictatorships. In a lamentable and staggeringly foolish pronouncement, our own present Prime Minister once expressed admiration for Red China’s efficient methods of becoming a leading super-power.

By downplaying or simply denying the dark evil that emerges so quickly and at last destroys everyone’s right to everything, and up-playing the superficial resolution of chronic problems such as unemployment and abject poverty of whole underclasses, admirers of authoritarian rule can plausibly propose to address the sense of disenfranchisement of disillusioned sectors of the population. Ultimately, you just disenfranchise everyone (except the right people who belong to your limited ideological religion) and you (nominally) eliminate inequality! Voilà “National Socialism” – everyone socialized to be the right cog in the right slot of national glory!

Neither the Right nor the Left has a monopoly on undemocratic dehumanization and demonization of its adversaries.  If you are of the Right, the demons-in-human-form are any number of possible undesirables – those blasted Commies/Socialists/Jews/inferior races/immigrants, etc, etc. If you are of the Left, those demons are those Neanderthal throwbacks to the Dark Ages a.k.a. as “Religious Fanatics” (usually Christian here in the West)/pro-Lifers (preferably disparaged as “Anti-Choice”/Creationists (caricaturized as mindless Bible-thumpers who are anti-science/”Climate-Deniers” (a term which is nonsensical, everyone knows we live in a climate of some sort and that, over time, climates change)/ and, the newest one, Anti-Vaxxers – who are supposedly just another version of any of the above, etc., etc.

Screamers and Yellers of both Right and Left are guilty of the same offences and of equally undermining democracy.  Pushed to their logical ends (as Mr. Spock would have it), both roads end up in the darkness of tyranny and slaughter of all who stand in their way. As Spock tells us, “It is illogical to say that an illegal occupation by the forces of the Right is better or worse than an equally illegal occupation by the forces of the Left.”

Even anarchy has its Left and Right. The usual characterization of anarchism is as the most “out-in-left-field” application of Marxism. But, for six years before he took power, Hitler’s Brown-Shirts were masters of creating anarchy as a road to their ultimate goal. Their main street-fighting opponents were the Communist Black-Shirts who savoured the anarchy as much as their foes.

The incipient and thus far rather mild-mannered anarchy invading our streets is not even remotely like a Kropotkin book about the anarchy ideal. All versions of anarchy seen in history operate first by disregard for the law. This is justified by appealing to ”a higher law” (choose your religious or ideological filter for the text) which overrules the “bad law” foisted on the victimized ordinary folks. The anarchic saviours are the agents of the people who know better (the all-but-invisible wire-pullers firing out the propaganda and doing the e-transfers).

Fascism and Communism, like other ideological systems, morph according to the ground they grow in. The Marxist ideal of Communism morphed into Marxism-Leninism in the Soviet Union, then moved into murderous Stalinism – a very long stretch from anything either Marx or Engels had imagined.  In China it became Maoism, which was really a sort of ideological hunchback of Notre-Dame as far as its being Communist.

The original Fascism in Mussolini’s Italy appeared with new shades when adopted in the other European Fascist small-fry such as Spain under Franco, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Croatia, and Bulgaria.  Thus, Fascism can, does, and will present itself with many faces, just as it did “back in (great) grandpa’s day” (my parents’ day), wearing the national colours of its chosen targets, but sporting black and brown when doing its real business.

Failure to look and see and hear and understand bodes very ill for the trembling Western liberal democracies, some of which are under serious strain as we speak.  It would seem that unless there is some significant awakening to the signs of what Churchill called The Gathering Storm (the title of the first volume of his monumental and Nobel Prize-Winning six-volume history of the Second World War), we, like the West of the 1930s Churchill describes with such resonant clarity, may be sleep-walking on top of a Vesuvius which will spew deadly ash and lava from and to both the Right and Left.

TO BE CONTINUED

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Fascism, 1

(Photo credit – Wikipedia)

On January 6, 2021, in our (Canada’s) great southern neighbour, the now notorious “Capitol Riot”, or attempted coup, as many now view it, shook the democratic world.  As is well known, it is currently under investigation in the US Congress and a number of criminal trials.  One of the frequent terms used in connection with those events is “Fascism”. Many upholders of constitutional government have taken the view that the January 6 uprising was an attempted Fascist coup.

Are there Fascist elements at work in the present political scene in America?  Most assuredly.  Are there Fascist elements seeking to make inroads in other Western nations?  Certainly.  Do we have Fascists in Canada?  Of course!  But in every case, let us tread carefully before we assume we are headed for concentration camps!

In most cases, active Fascists will not openly adopt labels that too readily identify that that is who they really are.  It is becoming increasingly clear that many ordinary and well-meaning citizens are sympathetic to elements of Fascist thinking and tactics for gaining influence and even political power.  Nevertheless, I would suggest that most Western nation citizens really know next to nothing about what Fascism actually is in the flesh.

There is a real danger in too readily throwing this inflammatory political term around to label all kinds of disparate movements, groups, and provocative behaviours. There is enough frustration and anger abroad among the populace to create fertile ground for the spread of real Fascism to be a real concern, and many groups and causes have begun to latch on to Fascist-appearing ideological strains and tactics to make themselves heard. Careless, angry language just obscures the truth.

All of this is contributing to the palpable growth of the “Right vs. Left” divide in many countries as large numbers of people, especially among the less-financially secure parts of the population, feel increasingly forgotten, ignored, disenfranchised, and scorned by the actions and neglect of the sitting governments and regulators whom they perceive to be elitist while claiming to have the progressive enlightenment needed to guide (coerce?) everyone into the new society they envision.

The use of loaded language by these leaders in demeaning and minimizing the concerns, feelings, and convictions of the “ordinary folks” they seem to have less and less ability or desire to relate to does nothing to improve this sense of a yawning “great social divide” and downright disenfranchisement.  For example, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pejoratively calling people who disagree with his government “anti-vaccers”, “unpatriotic Canadians” and that their opinions and views are “unacceptable” and “un-Canadian” only pours gasoline on the smouldering fires of anger and resentment.  He regularly alienates a significant segment of the population who often don’t support his party (the Liberals) and agenda. He demeans them as second-class, morally and intellectually inferior citizens.

At the time of this writing Ottawa, the national capital of Canada, which is 30 minutes drive from my home, is experiencing a “Freedom Demonstration” of individuals and groups identifying with disenfranchisement and disentitlement.  The participants are from every region of the country, originally led by truckers who have felt persecuted by certain policies supposedly designed to reduce COVID exposure at their expense. From their perspective, all kinds of other, potentially much more effective measures have been either lifted or never implemented. Many of them subscribe to a conspiratorial suspicion of a hidden agenda being connived at by big Corporations (Pharma, etc.) and deceitful politicians and their regulatory toadies. To their mind, the fact that no representative of the government or regulatory officials has deigned to recognize the legitimacy of their concerns or even speak to them confirms their convictions.  Throughout the two-year COVID crisis, this has remained a constant.

While I do not subscribe to these notions, I believe I understand where they come from.

The demonstrators have effectively subverted their own cause by letting extremist fringe elements take over the demonstrations and dialogue, allowing the manifestation of Swastikas, Confederate flags, and defacing of national monuments and private property.

We need to understand some basics about Fascism before we can sort out what we are really witnessing. We need to quit being run by our emotional responses to the extreme tactics and verbiage of the rival factions saying horrible things about the other side while being totally closed to any kind of discussion.

Standard dictionary definitions of Fascism are not very helpful in determining if we really dealing with a serious return of Fascism.

Real, ideological Fascism is the only major socio-political-economic ideology to emerge in the 20th Century. It was born at the end of the First World War. It flourished in the 1920s but especially the 1930s, which were years of upheaval and tumult ensuing from the calamitous aftermath of “the Great War” (1914-18).  It thrived in countries where the people felt betrayed by what had happened in and as a result of the war. To many at the time, Fascism seemed far more effective in dealing with the terrible economic collapse of the Great Depression and social and political chaos in the Western nations. The only alternative seemed to be Communism, which had been revealed in Russia to have been completely brutal.

The first country to be taken over by Fascism was Italy, in October 1922, when Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Party orchestrated a daring coup.  The Fascists did not represent anything like a majority of the population, but, endorsed by the King and with little coherent opposition to stop his para-military militia from marching on and occupying Rome, “Musso” soon had taken control of the machinery of government. He set about converting Italy from a nominal liberal democracy teetering on the brink of becoming Communist to an authoritarian state with only one authorized political party and movement.

Mussolini’s success inspired other groups and parties to undertake similar coups, some successful, some not so much.  When the 1930s rolled in with the terrible effects of the Great Depression sweeping the world and even further undermining faith in liberal democracy as a system capable of answering the desperate needs of masses of unemployed and poverty-stricken citizens, the Fascist model assumed enormous appeal.  For some years, Italy suffered less than most countries, and the Fascist system seemed to help explain why.  A strong, centralized, nationalistic government led by a single supreme leader (“Il Duce”) did not need to deal with rival political forces to take measures to provide people with basic necessities and launch new assistance and employment programs.

The 1930s saw Fascism move into government in several more European states, such as Romania, Hungary, and Austria.  But its greatest victory was on January 30, 1933 in Deutschland – Germany – with a peculiar brand of Fascist ideology called Nazism (National Socialism).

Here are some generally accepted characteristics of Fascism as it has been seen in history:

  1. Strong nationalism with a sense of the nation’s special mission in the world;
  2. Centralized and exclusive political authority.  Dictatorship is the usual format coupled with a single party State. The Dictator often takes a title other than “President” to denote his/her unique position above all others, e.g. Italy – Il Duce, Germany – Der Führer, Spain – El Caudillo;
  3. Police state: arbitrary “justice”, with regular violations of human rights;
  4. Centrally controlled economy, although still nominally Capitalist and Private Corporate;
  5. Racism and xenophobia (can be manifested in various ways); other forms of discrimination as well – oppression of homosexuals (the LGBTQ+ “spectrum” was not recognized) and repression of women’s rights being among the most flagrant;
  6. Militarism;
  7. Persecution and oppression of excluded minorities, frequently sending them to special facilities (concentration/re-education/labour-penal camps). The Nazi Third Reich also practiced wholesale extermination;
  8. Removal of individual rights and constitutional protections.

Most of these characteristics are found together when Fascism gains control.  Others are subsets of these, such as censorship and tight control of media and education.

The discussion of Fascism current today in the social and mainstream media usually ignores and is largely ignorant of the real, historical experience of Fascism.  This is deplorable when these examples are still within living memory of our oldest citizens, many of whom are survivors of the terror of having lived under real fascist governments and persecution.

It is even worse when the political and academic leadership of nations and major influential institutions so blithely and flippantly trot out and resort to name-calling, using labels such as “neo-Nazi, Fascist, extreme rightist”, or various forms of “—-phobe”, etc., to demonize their opponents who dare question the rationale of controversial decisions and measures, including some taken to silence adversaries and unwelcome opinions.

Personal denigration and demonization of opponents has, historically, been the typical tactic of both extreme right and left when preparing to push for oppressive measures to silence opposition.  We need to remember that the lowest form of “argument” is personal attack on an opponent. Labelling and name-calling really demonstrate the blatant poverty and weakness of the attacker’s case, not its rightness.

Sadly, here in Canada and in much of the West, vicious personal attack has now become the usual way of dismissing opponents who are or, until recently, would have been considered in the moderate middle, and who are voicing objections to views and measures which, in a true democracy, should be subject to free and open debate.   

TO BE CONTINUED

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Difference Makers, 3 – George Brown

One of the least remembered Canadian “Fathers of Confederation” is a man named George Brown.  For English Canadians, the “main man” in the formation of the “Dominion of Canada” – the original name for this enormous country occupying the northern half of Turtle Island – was and remains Sir John A. Macdonald.

Despite a recently diminished esteem, Macdonald remains a fixture in Canadian History.  His reputation has been tarnished under the onslaught of denunciations for the government’s historic abuse, neglect, and disregard for Indigenous rights.  There is certainly more than enough guilt to go round in that sorry tale, and Macdonald deserves his share for his cavalier dismissal of the concerns of the Indigenous peoples and the Métis during the years of his service as Canada’s first Prime Minister.

Before the unification of the original four provinces of British North America into Canada in 1867, Macdonald was not much of a believer in federal union.  He was too concerned with gaining and holding power in the old United Province of Canada.  This was an artificial “shot-gun” marriage of the French province of Lower Canada (Quebec) and the English province of Upper Canada (Ontario).  This Union had a dual purpose of (1) calming the currents of rebellion against the Empire to prevent the two Canadas from rushing into the arms of the Great Republic to the south and (2) assimilating those pertinacious French-Canadians into the ever-expanding British sea as the population grew.

British Governor-General Lord Durham’s scheme half worked, for a time.  By opening the door to limited representative democracy in British North America, he obviated most of the rebellious tendencies, giving opposition Reform groups access to political influence and, eventually, power.  But those stubborn French Canadians learned how to play the game and would simply not become English! 

It was in this environment that Macdonald cut his rather unscrupulous political teeth, learning to wheel and deal and compromise with Upper Canadian (Canada West) and Lower Canadian (Canada East) players of the political game of ever-changing alliances of convenience.  From 1848 on, John A. was almost always an important office-holder no matter what combo held the reins.  Eventually his opportunistic faction demonstrated its flexible principles by calling itself the “Liberal-Conservative Party of Upper Canada”.  Their name indicated their openness to any program that could give them power by adjusting to whatever the majority of voters (propertied males) in Ontario fancied at the moment.  Those standing on a program of strong principles could be readily labelled as fanatics of one stripe or another whose ravings were dangerous to law, order, and good government.

Enter a young Scot named George Brown.  The Browns immigrated to Toronto, Canada West in 1843.  The United Province was three years old.

Brown came with both business and journalistic experience.  He quickly established an unaffiliated Reform newspaper called the Banner.  Its main base was among Presbyterians, but Brown, while remaining a staunch Presbyterian all his life, quickly saw that to have real influence he must set up a secular press organ that could become representative of the wider Reform principles for all of Canada West.  The Toronto Globe was born in 1844.  It survives to this day as the Globe and Mail, one of Canada’s premier news publications, still highly respected.  (How remarkable this is in our age of digital journalism the reader can judge.)

Reform was in Brown’s blood.  His faith principles informed his journalism.  The Globe rapidly outstripped all its competitors in Canada West, and Brown became a man who could not be ignored.  In addition, he was non-partisan in his zeal to hold politicians’ feet to the fire, whether they were “Liberal-Conservative” like Macdonald or nominally Reform, like George Hincks, another prominent Upper Canadian.

Eventually Brown felt compelled to “put his money where his mouth (pen) was” and run for office.  He won on his second attempt in 1854.  He was Independent Reform, but the Reformers gradually turned to him for inspiration and leadership.

Meanwhile, bad blood on a personal level had grown up between Macdonald and Brown when Brown had uncovered corruption and abuse at work in the Kingston Penitentiary, which was in Macdonald’s constituency.  The warden and his son were Macdonald’s supporters and friends and were convicted.  Macdonald attempted to have this quashed and denounced Brown for falsifying evidence.  An independent inquiry vindicated Brown’s investigation.  Macdonald attempted to have Brown censured in the legislature for falsifying the inquiry’s findings.  When Brown produced irrefutable documentary proof, Macdonald was completely humiliated.  The grudge would endure long. 

To Macdonald, Brown was “a covenanting old gentleman” (although Brown was younger than he) whom fun had forgotten, while Brown regularly and publicly denounced Macdonald as a man without scruple or principle.

For Macdonald, politics was his life and his legal practice a sideshow he spent little time on.  For Brown, his zeal and passion were all for making Canada, his adopted home, a better place according to his understanding of bringing Biblical principles to bear on law, society and government.

In that respect, he stood squarely in line with the legacy of William Wilberforce, whom we discussed in a previous post.  Brown took the plight of refugee slaves arriving in Canada to heart.  As his success grew, he used his new-found wealth to develop a settlement for these new arrivals.  He set up schools and businesses to employ them.  The objective was to enable them to live as free, independent citizens of Canada.  The effort was noble, but had only moderate success before Brown could no longer support it due to financial troubles.

Brown always stood against injustice and discrimination, as he understood it.  His causes were many, and he took them up with the pen and the wallet.  He had his blind spots, and perhaps the biggest one was his antipathy for what he termed “French-Canadianism”, which he twinned with “Papism”.  To understand this, without in any way agreeing with his notions, we need to recall that Protestant-Catholic hostility was still pretty hot back then.  In Canada, it did not take violent form, but it had a strong influence in politics and society.  As we reach the apogee of this story’s trajectory, this needs to be borne in mind.

All the main players on the stage of Canadian unification in the period leading up to and beyond 1867 were part of this dynamic.  French-Canadian politicians were Roman Catholic.  Almost all Anglo-Canadians were Protestant, mostly Presbyterian or Anglican.  There were some Irish Catholics in play too, for example the ex-Fenian Thomas Darcy McGee from Montreal.

It is spring, 1864.  After a two-year absence from the political scene Brown has returned to Parliament, which is sitting in Quebec City.  He has quickly been chosen leader of the “Pure Grits” – the Reformers who have taken up the new program of Federal Union for Canada.  It is the alternative proposal (Brown’s and the Globe’s)to the perpetually stalemated United Province where nothing ever gets done because of rival interests for Canada East and West always blocking one another. 

Through the Globe and now in Parliament, Brown has been relentlessly flogging three propositions as the only way forward: (1) representation by population, (2) Federal Government with each province having its own Assembly for its own affairs and a federal government for joint affairs, and (3) expansion of Canada into Rupert’s Land, the vast domain of the Hudson’s Bay Company stretching across the West to British Columbia. 

For Macdonald, these propositions are theoretical pipe-dreams, but even John A. is beginning to see that the old system is paralyzed.

The newly-elected Parliament has a shaky administration led by Macdonald for Canada West and Taché for Canada East.  Brown proposes a committee to study the idea of Federal Union.  Miraculously, against Macdonald’s opposition, it is approved.  Brown drafts all the leaders of all the parties into it.  Five weeks later, its report is almost unanimously in favour.  Macdonald’s is one of only three dissenting voices.

Just after the report is submitted, the shaky coalition collapses.  It looks like another futile election will produce nothing new.  Canada will go on spinning its wheels unless something amazing happens, but this seems impossible given the entrenched interests and obvious animosities of the parties and leaders.  Time is pressing to forestall American expansionism as the Civil War winds down.

Alone in his hotel room, Brown prays.  He has an epiphany.  He later relates it as a flash of insight and inspiration which does not originate from his own will.  It was “Providence” – an old-fashioned euphemism for God intervening.

That evening in mid-June 1864, George senses that a once-in-a-lifetime moment has come.  It is time to set aside personal hostility and old grudges for the greater good, for the country, for the future of all British North America.  He doesn’t call together advisors whom he knows will try to argue him out of his conviction.  He calls in a member of Macdonald’s party he respects and asks him to tell Mr. Macdonald that he wants to offer him a way forward.  He tells him he must bring M. Cartier of Canada East into it from the get-go to make it work.  Brown already knows, respects, and likes Cartier, contrary to his supposed firm dislike of French Catholics.  Cartier likes Brown.  Thet became fast friends for life.  Throughout the sleepless night, the messages go back and forth until the two rivals finally meet and agree to work together.  They exchange their first handshake in fifteen years.

In “The Great Coalition” of 1864, Brown stakes his whole prestige and career on forming an alliance with his nemesis and working under his Premiership in order to break the impasse and change the constitution of Canada to a Federal State.

At the time, this incredible act was labelled “miraculous”, “incredible”, and even “heroic”.  Some members of the House were in tears when it was announced with the effect of a lightning bolt.  The huzzahs and applause were thunderous!  “It was pandemonium!” said one report.  One diminutive French-Canadian member rushed across the floor of the House in tears and leapt onto the huge, stately figure of Brown (well over six feet) to hug him and kiss him on both cheeks! 

The new Canadian government soon learned that three Atlantic provinces were to meet in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, in September for a very similar purpose – to form a Maritime Federation.  The Canadians invited themselves.  At Charlottetown, a union of all the British North American provinces was proposed and accepted in principle.  A second conference in Quebec in October hammered out many details.  Brown played a masterful role in laying out the financial background of how it could all work.

In 1867, four provinces initiate the new nation.  In 1870, it becomes five.  In 1871, it becomes six.  In 1873 it becomes seven.  In 1905, two more make the nation nine provinces.  In 1949, Newfoundland joins to make it ten.

Once committed to the great project he had long remained so sceptical about, John A. Macdonald spear-headed it very ably and overcame all the obstacles.  He deservedly became its first Prime Minister.  He and a host of other “Fathers” were knighted by Queen Victoria in 1867.

George Brown retired from politics in 1867, his task done.  He was shamefully left off the list of new knights.  He has largely been forgotten.  But it is fair to say that without his momentous, inspired and daring move (his party could have disowned him as a traitor rather than follow him), Confederation would have been long delayed and perhaps would never have occurred.  The Stars and Stripes might have been flying across the West and much else right now.

George Brown of the Globe remains one of the key difference-makers in Canadian history.  Besides laying the cornerstone of Federal Union, Brown left an enormous legacy in journalism which endures to this day.  He also founded the Liberal Party of Canada, which governs Canada right now and has ruled Canada for 90 of the 154 ½ years since July 1, 1867.

Further reading:

Marquis, Vincent.  A Truly Loyal Subject: an Account of the Life of George Brown and the

Founding of Canada.  Copyright: 1997, 2006, 2017, 2020.  Available through Amazon in print and Kindle e-book editions.

For other sources, both primary and secondary, consult the lists at the back of A Truly Loyal Subject

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Truth and Reconciliation

Canada is a strange country these days, even going by the “weirder and weirder” contortions most Western nations perform to “correct” their history in our revisionist mania in the recording and (re)writing of our history.  Before the last 70 years, the Roman formula for recording history was followed for centuries all across Europe and its offspring across Terra Gaia.  This formula stated quite simply, “History is written by the victors,” like a corollary to another of their pithy adages, “To the victors go the spoils.”

Sympathy for the losers?  Certainly not!  Victims’ rights?  Victims have no rights; they lost!  They can submit or die.  As one of the great Roman historians sardonically expressed his final assessment of the genocide of the Carthaginians, “They [we] created a desert and called it peace.”

The typical 21st-Century perspective on Euro-imperialism and colonialism is that the Europeans were (and largely remain) evil and guilty of enormous crimes all across the world.  We anachronistically judge our Euro ancestors for not having known better, as we now do, than to use their 300-year-long global military and economic hegemony to subdue most of the rest of the world’s population to their empires.  Those Euro conquerors called themselves “Christian states”.  Their imperial and colonial conquests were patently violent and totally contrary to the dictates of Jesus’ teaching about compassion and love.  By rights, they should have had the wisdom and will to act contrary to the thrust of history’s imperial ideology from the time of Sargon 1 of Akkad to Wilhelm II of Germany. 

“The white man’s burden” to civilize the world according to the mixture of Christian and Enlightenment ideology the 19th Century imperial European states had concocted was a delusional rationalization to cover blatant exploitation.  Sadly, thousands of utterly sincere missionaries aided and abetted in the effort.  By the grace of Providence, some good even crept into some of what happened.

A thousand “if only” scenarios raise their heads.  Passing to the Great Beyond, many of those imperialist ancestors may well have stood quaking before Jesus in great repentance and bitter remorse for failing so miserably to represent Him and His Kingdom and inflicting untold misery on vast multitudes of people they had taken little account of as also being fully and equally made in His image and called to be His sisters and brothers.  Fortunately, He is merciful and all-wise.  “There but for the grace of God…” as the saying goes.

In our new enlightenment about the sins of our forefathers and foremothers, we accept our (as the children and heirs of their actions) guilt and shame.  We profess the need and duty to somehow compensate the descendants of the victims, somehow find a road to reconciliation.  Here in Canada this means most especially finding resolution with our indigenous peoples while not forgetting the descendants of Africans transported as slaves from their homes.

We cannot undo what was done.  A million ongoing acknowledgements of Canadian governments (federal, provincial, municipal, and even ecclesiastical) and private entities and individuals that we are on unceded indigenous territory will not be enough.  Countless billions of dollars of compensation cannot restore what was taken, stolen, wrecked and ruined by both deliberate and unheeding seizures, removals, kidnappings of children to assimilate them, and occupations of lands once promised in perpetuity.  Some lands can probably be at least partially restored, but far too much is simply not restorable – having become the sites of major cities and towns, or having been ravaged beyond repair by industrial and commercial exploitation.

And enormous swaths of territory have been overrun and occupied by “settlers” and their descendants who now regard these lands as their home.  To dispossess these millions is unthinkable and undoable.

Vocabulary is a two-edged sword.  It is certainly offensive to our indigenous brothers and sisters to continue to call them “Indians” (although some of them still call themselves that in conversations among themselves, or with more trusted non-indigenous friends, as I have seen firsthand among my own indigenous friends).  No one of any discernment would call Métis “half-breeds” any more.  Neither is “Eskimo” an acceptable term for Inuit (although some Inuit still call themselves that!)  Such terms are rightfully banished from proper communication. 

On the other side, I do not find the term “Settler” to refer to “everyone else” now living on Turtle Island (an indigenous name for North America) at all helpful.  If “Indian” is a loaded pejorative on the one side, “Settler” is equally loaded and pejorative on the other.  I am not a settler.  My ancestors came to Canada over 350 years ago.  I too am now “indigenous” to Canada, although I will not use that term out of respect for my First Nations neighbours.

“Neighbours”.  As a wise local Algonquin Elder says, we will go much farther in accepting and being reconciled to one another as neighbours now, rather than continuing to perpetuate the old wounds with unnecessarily divisive language.

This is also deep spiritual wisdom.  It accords with both Indigenous and Christian spirituality.  We are all children of the Great Spirit, wherever we were born and our ancestors came from.  It is as true for the newest immigrant as for the aboriginal person whose first ancestors crossed from Asia to Turtle Island ten, twenty, or thirty thousand years ago – also as immigrants, even if very long ago.  To recognize one another as neighbours is the language of respect and equality, not of division and animosity.  Neighbours can have their differences, but they have to learn to get along and live together.

Being a neighbour means having an ongoing relationship with mutually recognized rights, privileges, duties, and obligations.  It means communicating and negotiating, setting out parameters by mutual agreement.  It means resolving conflicts without resorting to violence, deceit, aggression, intimidation, or exploitation – on both sides.  Not all the aggression, violence, and intimidation in recent years has been from the “Settlers”.  Justification of it through calling on the old wrongs of history is no better or higher than, let’s say, a “Settler” reverting to the old Roman principles referred to at the beginning of this discussion.  As Jesus said with universal application to all the children of the Great Spirit, “Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword.”

Two hundred or so years ago, our “settler” ancestors lost sight of all that, although these kinds of notions had not been entirely absent when Canada was New France and Acadia.

It is well past the time for us to begin to truly remember how to learn to live together.  Reconciliation is many-sided.  It includes at least the following aspects:

  1. Reconciliation in our own hearts and minds with our own part in the wrongs of the past and the present;
  2. Reconciliation of Indigenous with one another for wrongs done to one another, and a real desire to make amends as can be done;
  3. Reconciliation of Euro neighbours with one another for wrongs done to one another here in Turtle Island;
  4. Reconciliation of Euro-neighbours with more recent arrivals whom they have wronged in a variety of ways;
  5. Reconciliation of Indigenous and Euro-people first by accepting one another as neighbours and then as partners in caring for Turtle Island;
  6. Inclusion of all other neighbours in #5.

Perhaps #6 appears as if it should be part of #5, but the most recently arrived neighbours do not carry the guilt and shame of the earlier Euro-immigrants.  That is why they are separated.

There is very much more about this subject that has been said and will be said than these few comments.  The interested reader can seek out a rapidly growing body of Canadian input of all kinds from a wide variety of reputable sources – academic, institutional, judicial, governmental, ecclesiastical, Indigenous.

The greatest wish we can have for this process of reconciliation is that it will bring true Shalom[i] to the northern half of Turtle Island now called Canada.


[i] Shalom is a Hebrew word usually translated as “peace”.  It means a great deal more – as the kind of peace coming from God in His intention for all things being set in order according to his Good Will.  As in the Christmas story “Peace on earth to people of good will” – Shalom on earth…

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Difference Makers, 2: The Greatest Englishman of the 19th Century

If asked who the greatest citizen of your homeland is or was for a given century or period, how would you pick such a person?  Would you automatically exclude some people on the basis of gender, political affiliation, or religious affiliation, for example?  Would certain sorts of life-time achievements place some individuals at the head of your list of candidates?  Would such indicative achievements be in politics, social and economic reform, generation of wealth and economic growth, or artistic and entertainment inspiration?

I suspect that few Englishmen alive today, let alone over the last century, would (have) pick(ed) the person selected by the leading figures of British society and life at the end of the nineteenth century for greatest English/British person of their century.  It is likely that many 21st Century British would barely recognize his name, let alone why he was so honoured, both at the time of his death in 1833 and why he was still so remembered and honoured half a century and more later.  Here in Canada and elsewhere in the West, outside of some narrow circles this man’s recognition factor would be close to zero.  We have made ourselves abysmally parochial despite our ready access to vast quantities of (mis)information which is 99+% of no consequence in making better people of ourselves.

Here is my question for you: “Have you ever heard of William Wilberforce?”  If so, I commend your historical knowledge.  Next question: “What do you know about his legacy and why he was once and still is considered by some to be the greatest Englishman/British citizen of his time and possible ever?”  Greater than Sir Winston Churchill, recognized as the greatest statesman in the world during the 20th Century?  Greater than revered Queen Victoria, his contemporary for a short time?  Greater than Queen Elizabeth II, our reigning monarch and current “Good Queen Bess”, and the longest reigning monarch in British history?  There are no lack of potential “Great Ones” to put on the candidates’ list.

After all the votes are in, it would most likely come down to Wilberforce and Churchill.  It would be a tight race.  Both of them had an impact far beyond the British Isles, as well as one that has far outlasted their lifetimes. 

Churchill himself called Wilberforce a much greater man than he, and perhaps the greatest Parliamentarian and finest Parliamentary orator in British history.  As vain as he could be at times, Churchill did not think he should even be on the same podium with Wilberforce.  Other great orators of Wilberforce’s own time, including men such as Burke and Fox and the inimitable William Pitt himself, conceded the honours to Wilberforce, who was called “the man with the golden tongue” by his peers.  Even his numerous enemies were spellbound by his “golden tongue and angelic voice”.  Coming from Churchill, the incarnation of the British bulldog spirit and last truly great master of the spoken English word, naming Wilberforce as his Master in the House [of Commons] is high praise indeed.

Historically literate people around the world are likely to know that Wilberforce played some role in ending African slavery globally, and more specifically the African slave trade in the British Empire and, by extension, around the world.  If you know that, you are half-way there.

The second half of his legacy is, to most of us, more obscure if not entirely unknown.  To understand it, you would need to look pretty closely at British society (and, by extension, the society of Britain’s vast empire) in about 1790 and then look as closely again a hundred years later.  Most of us would rather yawn, but, even superficially, the changes would be (and indeed were) staggering.

The observations we are looking for do not concern Britain’s status as a world super-power or economic prowess.  From end to end of those hundred years, Britain was the acknowledged world super-power and a financial and economic powerhouse.  What we are really looking for is a sea-change, a paradigm shift, in society itself – its general tenor and temperament.  The other notable point is that the United Kingdom was the only major European nation not to undergo violent socio-political revolution or upheaval during all that tumultuous period.  By comparison, France, Britain’s traditional main competitor until Germany knocked it off the pedestal in 1870-71, underwent violent upheavals and governmental and social mayhem in 1789-1815, 1830, 1848-53, and 1870-71.  Germany was not a united nation until 1871, and only became so through three aggressive wars.  Ditto for Italy, 1849-70.

Halévy, a prominent French historian of the 19th Century, fascinated and puzzled by this phenomenon, set out to determine why.  After meticulous research and minute analysis, he boiled it down to the great good fortune of the British to forge a moral and ethical revolution coupled with a gradual social and political revolution that forestalled many of the worst grievances of the underclasses.  He attributed much of the inspiration and leadership for this extraordinary and singular development to a group of British reformers known as the Clapham Sect, whose acknowledged founder and leader was William Wilberforce.  Their foes acidly mocked them as “the Saints” and dubbed them a hypocritical “set of Evangelical fanatics” supposedly in the pocket of the up-and-coming nouveau-riche industrialists and financiers.

As to that charge, there has never been any credible evidence to substantiate it.  Some of them, Wilberforce among them, were wealthy, and a few very wealthy.  But, to a man (and woman) they were what was termed in those days “liberal to a fault” with their money.  Wilberforce never gave away less than half his annual income, and in his bachelor years, his charity sometimes hit the 80-90% bracket.  His best friend and far wealthier Henry Thornton imitated his example. Their profligate generosity was imitated by most of the others.

“The Saints” denied that they were any kind of “sect”.  They accepted with humour the title “Saints”, knowing full well their own and the others’ numerous faults.  As to saintliness, they worked very hard to find and do what they believed to be God’s will.  They were not above being angry and failing to act equitably at times.  But they were also not above asking forgiveness and publicly admitting their wrongs. 

They remained within the Anglican Communion, with a few exceptions who were mostly Quakers.  All were anti-slavery and committed to reforming British society and civil life from the ground up.  This meant raising the poor and oppressed out of the worst aspects of their desperate circumstances.  Thus, their program was two-fold. 

Many of them were more heavily involved with the slavery issue because it remained the most publicly visible part of their mission through four decades of constant campaigning.  But all were committed to the general goal and vision of transforming British society from “base and brutish” to one where normal life was carried on with courtesy and an understanding of and considerable commitment to what moral living entails.

It would be a very long tale to recount how such a lofty goal could be approached, let alone, by and large, achieved to a point far beyond any level the numerous scoffers (like the vituperous William Cobbett) ever conceived could happen.  We speak of the 19th Century as “Victorian” in tone and tenor, in Britain and its Empire, and even, to some extent, in the USA and some European states.  Extending a degree of “righteousness” to civil life across the Empire was already a huge achievement.  The Empire encompassed one quarter of the world and its population.

We who enjoy the benefits of liberal democratic and parliamentary government today largely take it for granted.  The expectation that morality should play an important part in public and private life is a gift of this quiet revolution.  (Sadly, this expectation is now eroding rapidly.)  The “Saints” set their sights on changing the expectations of what being a statesman should mean.  They eventually successfully moved the bar of acceptable behaviour among “men of state” and “gentlemen” from forming rival cliques of unscrupulous opportunists to one of becoming people of personal integrity and probity.  Political life changed from a road to gain advantage for oneself and others willing to “scratch one another’s backs” in the game to an ideal of “public service for the general welfare of the commonwealth”.

The whole notion of “being a proper gentleman” which we find in the literature of the era (from Jane Austen to Charles Dickens, where it was often mocked) emerged from the campaign of Wilberforce and the Saints, supported by King George III and Sir William Pitt, Jr.  This quiet “revolution in manners”, as Wilberforce described it, was waged relentlessly for thirty years by targeted legislation, by Royal Proclamation regarding the unabashed licentiousness of the nobility bringing shame upon all those purporting to lead the nation and teach the underclasses to respect “their betters”, and by educational reform and innovation, including the beginnings of publicly funded education.  Wilberforce reinforced this campaign with one of the all-time best-selling English books ever.  Its shortened title is A Practical View.  It appeared in 1797 and was an immediate surprise sell-out.  It remained a best-seller into the mid-19th Century as a sort of manual on how to live, think, and work as a Christian gentleman.

 Even the Church of England came within the reform purview.  Numbers of the Lords-Bishops were brought into the campaign to create a clergy that was not just time-serving and living by patronage (Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice anyone?), but truly living as examples and conscientiously pastoring their parishes.  Absentee holding of benefices was abolished.

Even as Wilberforce aged and retired, the next generation of committed reformers took up the torch to finish the job against slavery and further political and social reforms, often against serious opposition.  (Wilberforce had written in A Practical View that it was the duty of a Christian politician to further social reform.)  Wilberforce had never endorsed the notion of “equalizing” society, but the forces he unleashed and ideas he inspired naturally crossed the boundaries to aim at the full liberation of the labouring classes from the shackles of poverty, debt-slavery, oppressive social laws, and disenfranchisement.  Many of the earliest Labour leaders were back-door disciples of the principles first expounded by the Claphamites, applying them to the generalization of full rights for all males and, eventually, women.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert played a part in reinforcing rather than creating the impetus already well under way to remake the face and reform the soul of the United Kingdom.

The one who broke the dam was William Wilberforce, greatest Englishman of the 19th Century.

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Difference Makers, 1: a Beautiful, Humble Life

(Photo/Video credit – YouTube)

In December, 1920, in a small town in Quebec, Canada, Napoléon Trotier and Rose-Anna Gauthier had their first child, a daughter.  They named her Denise.  She was the oldest of fourteen children who were born into the family, twelve of whom survived into adulthood. 

Such a numerous progeny was large, if not too unusual, even in the very Roman-Catholic Québec of those years.  Church teaching extolled having many children as a duty to God, and in Québec, the only thoroughly French-speaking and heavily Catholic province of Canada, the culture’s defenders and ideologues preached la revanche du berceau (the revenge of the cradle) as the antidote to the heavy British immigration into the Dominion.

Girls were expected to grow up to be faithful mothers and wives, in their turn making good the next generation’s commitment to keep the flame of faith and la culture canadienne burning brightly.  There were not many other paths open to them.  Anything else was secondary and to be let go once a husband was found.

As the eldest Trotier girl, Denise learned to do her part in the home, to help with the chores and caring for her increasingly numerous younger siblings.  She went to school and did well and found solace in the teachings of the Faith there and at church.  Saying her prayers at home was not a chore to her, and neither was going to mass, taking the sacraments, or observing the feast-days.

As she became a young woman, the expectation grew that she would find her way out of the house as soon as practical.  That meant either finding a job, perhaps in a store or some other business, or becoming a teacher of young children, and finally getting married. Nursing was another possibility, but most hospitals were Church-operated in the Quebec of the 1930s.  That meant that the nurses were usually nuns, members of one of the Nursing Orders.  So too with teaching in the Catholic schools.  Nuns were preferred, because they would not marry and leave their jobs, which almost invariably happened with young “non-religious” (as in not belonging to an order of nuns) women.

At sixteen years of age, Denise could legally leave home to be on her own, or get a job and bring the money to help support the family.  With the Depression making life hard, she was expected to do so.  She faced a difficult decision.

At sixteen, marriage and establishing her own family held no immediate appeal, even if some her friends went that route so early in life.  She had spent her whole life thus far experiencing the hard lot of that condition.  She had never had time for romance, nor any inclination to any particular boy.  She had no illusions about where that led.

In those days, the religious life was preached as a higher calling, and those who “had a vocation” were placed in an exalted position, at least according to the social priorities of the Roman Catholic population of the day, and even moreso in Quebec.  Since her youngest years, she had loved the Church and felt the mystery of the spiritual life it pointed to.  She wanted to know Jesus and experience more of His love and God’s presence. 

Every Roman-Catholic French-Canadian family hoped at least one child would enter the religious life.  Such an event lent them significant social prestige and might incline God to bless them extra.  Nevertheless, her parents (especially her father) were not overjoyed when she informed them of her desire to enter the order of Les Soeurs Missionnaires du Christ-Roi (the Missionary Sisters of Christ the King).  They knew of her predilection in that direction, but Napoléon had hoped it would be delayed till later while she worked in a paid occupation for a few years.

Denise had visited the Order’s convent in Québec City in 1936.  She was accepted to begin her novitiate that year.  She devoted herself to Christ and learned to know His love in her life.  She was instructed beyond her Secondary education and given training for putting that love into practice through charitable outreach work, as the Order’s name signified.  She learned to play piano and organ, to read music and understand musical theory.  She had a beautiful voice and was encouraged to play and sing in services, then to become a teacher of music.  Her contributions were valued and she trained many others.  Her humble heart and evident love for God began to touch many.

Canada entered World War 2 on Sept. 10, 1939.  Les Soeurs du Christ-Roi were not a cloistered Order shut off from the world.  Many of them were trained to become nursing sisters, so as to better meet the needs of those most immediately affected by the devastation of the war.  Nursing outreach became one of their principal missions.  Sister Denise added nursing to her musical and teaching skills.

The war formally ended on Sept. 2, 1945 with the signing of the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay aboard the USS Missouri.    The American occupation regime under General Douglas MacArthur reopened Japan to Western influence.  MacArthur gave Japan a liberal-democratic, Parliamentary democracy with guarantees of religious and civil liberty.

Soeur Denise was sent to Japan as a nurse to help meet some of the worst medical and physical conditions in southern Japan, where there was a significant Christian and Roman Catholic population.  The needs of these people were desperate, as they had long been persecuted and oppressed by the Imperial regime as being suspected of disloyalty to the emperor, who had been considered a living god until MacArthur decreed an end to any such pretentions.  Over the centuries since the 1500s when Catholic missionaries had made rapid inroads into Japan, hundreds, perhaps thousands, had been martyred.  Christians had been relegated to only the most menial positions in Japanese society.

Arriving in 1947, Soeur Denise and the group she came with were first given a year-long immersion crash course in Japanese and navigating Japanese culture, then sent to a variety of assignments.  The teachers were Japanese Christians as well as doctors and nurses.  Soeur Denise learned quickly and emerged from her training fluent in Japanese, which she can still speak to this day.  She also saw first-hand the terrible devastation American bombing had wrought and the dreadful poverty and social disruption the war had cost.

Her first assignment was to a remote leper colony deep in southern Honshu, the main island.  Her polyvalent training and fluency in Japanese made her able to work well in that remote context.  She served there for twenty years.  She not only learned how to care for lepers, but was part of opening and teaching in schools there for the children of the lepers.  Her teaching and musical skills later took her elsewhere in Japan.

Few things were harder than watching the wasting away of a human life as the bodies of the disease’s victims literally disintegrated.  Medications and supplies were in short supply for a long time.  Gradually, as the sufferers died and the disease was contained, the leper communities were scaled back and eventually closed.

Soeur Denise returned to Canada a number of times over her long service as a missionary nurse and teacher in Japan.  On such visits, she renewed her contacts with family and did activities to encourage support for the mission.  On one such visit, she deeply impressed the young woman of twelve who became my life-partner.  Ever afterwards, my spouse has seen her aunt as a model of God’s love alive in the world.  I soon learned to see her the same way.  Soeur Denise returned to Canada for good after nearly forty years “in the field”.  

She is now over 101 years old, still very alert and full of light and life and love.  She is not one to make much of what she did for God.  She gives all the credit to Jesus, saying it was all through the love of “le bon Jésus” as she calls her Saviour with deep personal affection.

It is rare to meet someone who, immediately and without any self-awareness that she has this affect, so clearly exudes the light of God’s presence and the gentleness and sweetness of the love of Jesus, to whom she is utterly devoted.  When she speaks of Him, it is as one speaks of the most intimate relationship possible, yet there is absolutely nothing erotic at all involved.  It has struck me as one of the purest examples of the living Spirit of Jesus in someone’s life I have ever encountered.  It has been the same every time I have been blessed to spend time in her presence.

There is no doubt that Soeur Denise has touched many ordinary people for the better during more than a century of life.  I am very blessed to have been one of them. 

For more understanding: http://www.missionnairescr.org/

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The Ghosts of Christmas, 2

“Without Jesus, there is no Christmas.  It’s some other celebration, but it isn’t Christmas…. in the name of false respect for those who are not Christian, Christmas is being stripped of its true nature.”

Pope Francis, Dec. 27, 2017

(Photo credit: harmony-hill.org)

Imagine, as a first-generation Palestinian Jewish disciple of Yeshua in the First Century CE, being sent to India.  You are the Apostle Thomas (“Doubting Thomas” Didymus – the Twin).  Imagine the total newness and perplexity of such a mission, having to learn multiple unknown languages (the gift of tongues would be so useful!) and adjusting to a very alien culture, totally foreign to his own.  Imagine being alone (or perhaps with a few trusted companions, like the Apostle Paul travelled) in the midst of all that.

For the early disciples, things were much more difficult than anything we face here in the post-Christian West where the name of Jesus still has significant recognition.  The feelings of hopelessness and helplessness many western believers have are the result of centuries of holding a privileged position in society and a preponderance of cultural influence for over a millennium.  Now that is largely gone and we don’t know how to cope.  We’ve forgotten how to begin again.

The truth is that the only doors that have closed to Western Christians are those they have closed themselves.  No laws in Europe (perhaps Russia is an exception for Protestants and Catholics), Canada, or the USA have yet been made restricting Christians from accessing any profession, pursuing any career they choose, or engaging in any social activity or program.  Our courts and constitutions still guarantee freedom of conscience (religion), expression (speech), and mobility (the right to go and live anywhere within our borders without restriction).  There are some hindrances in some areas, such as belonging to some organizations or the ability to publicly express some views, but this is not persecution.  Not even all Christians agree on certain contentious issues.

Real oppression and persecution look like what happened to the Christians under Rome before Constantine, or what we see today in China and North Korea, and some Islamic countries. 

Real persecution looks like what happened to Jews and, to a much lesser degree, Christians in Nazi Germany after January 30, 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor.   Jews were barred from public life, from many professions and occupations, from economic life, and from citizenship.  These measures were ramped up over several years as the Nazis tested the waters of public response.  Eventually, persecution and oppression warped into full-blown mass extermination.

The Nazis went after many other groups too – Communists, Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, and eventually any other political organization but their own.  Trade Unions were abolished early on.  The Nazis created a State Protestant Church called the German Christians. 

The mass of Christian adherents stood meekly by in fear or, in many cases, silent consent as the other groups were brought under the hammer.  As Confessing Church Pastor Martin Niemöller put it:

“First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. 

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.   

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.                       

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Christians have always faced the choice to conform, to fit in to the prevailing culture and ethos, or to accept that belonging to Christ’s family, His ekklesia – the community and assembly of those called out of “the world” to be witnesses to God’s establishment of a new and different kind of Kingdom in the very midst of the Kosmos (the whole existing system of the broken creation) – means having different goals, different values, and a fundamentally different mission.  The Christians of the West have been immersed for long generations in a system that sought somehow to marry the new with the old.  Most believers sought to continue to fully enjoy and benefit from the comforts and pleasures of the system that declares “Caesar is Lord” while having the guarantee of God’s acceptance and His promise of eternal salvation from declaring that “Jesus is Lord”. 

I suspect that this mindset still very largely applies to the vast majority of Jesus-followers in the West.  Most of us never even think about it as we carry on our daily lives.

After all, historically most of our leaders have modelled this flawed and compromised model, and this told ordinary folks that they could too.  This regime was called “Christendom”.  Formally, Christ was recognized as “King of kings and Lord of lords” through doctrine and ceremonial while the religious, political, social, and economic leaders carried on business as usual, applying for God’s pardon after doing what they wanted or believed they were compelled to do.

Power is quite possibly the most potent intoxicant and addictive experience most people ever taste.  Even in small doses, it is deadly.  Basic physical drives (thirst, hunger, sex, need for shelter) always return once sated, but excesses stemming from them can be tamed by determined self-control and self-discipline.  They are straight-up kinds of things and not subtle.  Power is a far more serpentine force, subtly disguised in all sorts of devious permutations.  It lurks as a potential motive in almost all human interactions and relationships and lies beneath almost every conflict at every level of social intercourse, from family, to commerce, to government.  Even churches find themselves with often bitter internal politics, almost always based on disputes over control of who does what.

It is therefore no surprise at all to find the temptation of power very quickly raising its venomous serpent’s head from the very first moment of history in the Garden of Eden.  It landed even among Jesus’ most intimate group of first disciples.  Even there, when He was still physically walking among them, we find observations such as “As they walked along the road, they fell into arguing among themselves about who among them was the greatest.”  On their last long walk to Jerusalem before Jesus was crucified, James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, sidled up to Jesus to apply for the two best seats at the table – on His right and left hands – at the great Feast celebrating the inauguration of Messiah’s rulership over the whole world.  The others voiced their indignance in no uncertain terms!

Yeshua continually rebukes the disciples (and via them, us) for their (our) obsession with gaining greater position and recognition – greater power! – in the coming Kingdom of God.  He is sometimes very direct and sometimes more subtle.  He says that to be great in God’s Kingdom requires being the servant of all.  He says that rather than seeking to lord it over one another and outsiders and imitating the “rulers of this age”, we must have the same attitude and posture as a little child.  He tells us that “the first shall be last and the last shall be first”.  Finally, the day before he dies, he strips down to his undergarments and does the work of a slave, going to each of them with a basin of water and a towel to wash and dry their dirty feet.  He had to shame them to wake them up!  I suspect that we need the same wake-up call!

Jesus knew full well that his followers would still fail repeatedly at servant-leadership.  He knows that we still fail miserably at it most of the time.  The allure of power, the allure of Caesarian salvation through worldly political, military, and economic control and manipulation, is the most basic of all humanity’s hamartia (the Greek word usually translated as “sin”, which means “missing the mark, not measuring up”).  It was the original siren-song hissed by Satan to Eve and Adam (who stood by and listened but said nothing): “[If you eat that fruit] you most certainly won’t die!  You will become like God Himself [get ultimate power if you taste of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil].”

Given all this, the whole 1600-year misadventure of Christendom, from 312 CE (Constantine’s Edict of Milan) to 1914 CE (the outbreak of World War One) is no surprise.  It was an enormous blunder of monumental proportion, but no surprise. 

The Apostles still quarrelled even as they went out to carry out “the Great Commission” after Jesus’ ascension in or around the year 33-34 CE.  Peter quarreled with the elders in Jerusalem after he visited Cornelius’ (totally Gentile) household in Caesarea and launched the Gospel among the Gentiles.  Paul had a huge public spat with Peter in Antioch as Peter backtracked on what he had done in Caesarea.  Paul rebuked Barnabas over Barnabas’ nephew Mark’s abandonment of their mission in Galatia.  They parted ways for years thereafter.  Paul had innumerable difficulties with jealous rivals as he did his work among the new Gentile congregations.  The Corinthian church was torn apart by ugly factional quarrels over which of the various leaders was greatest.

Christians in Canada and the USA today have much to be thankful for!  To waste our time and energy lamenting the decline of Christmas and the Church’s influence totally misses the real point.  Seeking to regain lost power and prestige in politics and social agendas is also chasing a phantom, a “ghost of Christmas past”.  Such quests are doomed to fail.  It is good to know history and learn from it, but folly to try to recover it and repeat it.  This scheme failed all through 1600 years of Christendom. Today it remains a ghost-trail in seeking how the Kingdom of Jesus will come just as it was all through those many centuries.

The priority is and always has been, “The Kingdom of God is at hand/right here/among you now!  Metanoeite – (Turn around!  Repent!) and believe (trust in) the good news!”  Live as if it’s true now, today, with all the impact that will have in how you do life each day.

“If you seek to save your life [live it the way the “present age” says leads to success} you will lose it.  But if you lose [give] your life for My sake, you will find [really discover] it.”

Yeshua/Jesus.
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The Ghosts of Christmas, 1 (with Apologies to Charles Dickens)

(Photo credit: cinemafaith.com)

I love what Christmas represents at its best.  I confess to nostalgia at this time of year, but not just nostalgia about when times were simpler and Christmas was still really and recognizably about the birth of Jesus Christ and all he means in Bethlehem two thousand plus years ago. 

Since Samuel de Champlain founded the city of Quebec in 1608, Canada has been a land of many immigrants and continual cultural change.  Originally, this principally meant a mixing of three streams – the original aboriginal stream, the French settler stream, and the British settler mixture of English, Scottish, and Irish dating from 1763 (much earlier in Newfoundland and 1713 in the Maritimes).  All these streams are still immensely important in understanding who Canadians are and how Canada became what it is.

Since the early 1900s there has been a vast influx of many other ethnicities.  Until the 1970s and 1980s, the major contributories to this fourth stream were mostly of European origin.  There has always been a trickle of others along the way, but since roughly 1980 the non-European factor has become a great tide.

To turn away from and try to stem that tide would be folly.  Nor would I or most “Old Canadians” wish to.  It would also be to deny a vital, enriching part of who and what we now are and are becoming. 

For the most part, our First Nations graciously and generously received the early settlers from France and made room for them.  The coming of the English after the Seven Years War of 1756-63 (La Conquête to French-Canadians) radically changed the whole dynamic. 

Whenever possible, New France had largely dealt with the indigenous as both partners and allies.  The French sent missionaries and established schools and hospitals from which the indigenous were invited to benefit.  Things were not perfect, but there was a level of mutual respect.  Even the enemy Haudenosaunee (Iroquois to the Europeans) mostly knew what was what with the Canadiens habitants and the officers of New France.  Eventually, they made peace based on mutual acceptance and earned respect.

Following the bitter British Imperial Civil War known as the American Revolution (1775-83) came the arrival of a major influx of American-British refugees known in our history as “the Loyalists”.  Unfortunately, the arrogance and presumption of these settlers and their descendants too often repaid indigenous (and Canadien when it came to commerce and business) kindness and generosity with disdain, theft, usurpation, duplicity, and exploitation. This is not to whitewash abuses of the indigenous committed in Quebec as the spirit of assimilation began to set in there too. Today, the national and provincial governments, along with some of the worst offending institutions, are only now beginning to ‘fess up and make some serious moves to try to heal the terrible wounds and scars on the national soul.

The culture of Canada is no longer rooted in a formal Christian identity inherited from the European nations.  One symptom of this is an accelerating shift away from the ethos of an at least nominally Christ-centred Christmas season.  This is in no way the “fault” of the “Fourth Wave” of non-Euro ethnicities who have come and continue to come with all their own traditions. 

It is not a denial of the richness of this new cultural input to mourn the neglect and what strikes “Old Canadians” such as yours truly as a deliberate abandonment of the Christian heritage of this much-blessed nation.  I repeat: the neglect is not the fault of immigrants.  In fact, it is not even their desire on the basis of some sort of right to equality. 

It is a choice of the Euro-element to turn away from and shame its own ancient heritage in favour of a more “progressive”, secular one based on pseudo-Enlightenment values.  There is an assumption by the elite movers and shakers now ensconced in the seats of greatest cultural and educational power that ditching the Judeo-Christian ethos that so greatly influenced the original “Dominion of Canada” founded in 1867 has been essential to a complete makeover of Canada’s national identity.  That elite believes that their agenda must still be militantly pursued as an unfinished task as long as any of the old culture’s vestiges cling to the national psyche.  The open animosity to specifically Christian institutions and heritage contributions and the rewriting of our legal traditions and history to exclude them as of any importance blatantly demonstrate this.

The general population is likely little concerned about this culture-shift and the militant secularization and redefinition of Canada it signals.  Even most still-professing Christians have, like the proverbial frog in the pot, grown accustomed to this trend, and seldom discuss the issue, let alone what might be done to counter it.  It seems to them as inevitable and perhaps, somehow, for the best, or at least God’s will. 

At any rate, Christ has virtually disappeared or been consciously erased from both the public and domestic life of this country.  Strangely, the country’s national motto is still unchanged and remains inscribed over the main entrance of our Parliament Building, at least for the moment.  It reads: “He [the Messiah] shall have dominion from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.” (Psalm 72, verse 8) To the Fathers of Confederation in 1867, this declared (in their still Christianized interpretation) God’s dominion from the Atlantic to the Pacific (and later the Artic) Oceans, and “the river” was the St. Lawrence – the highway into the very heart of the country.  The English version of the national anthem still has the line “God keep our land” – with allowance that “God” can mean whatever you like.  (The French version is unchanged from its original lyrics written in the late 19th Century, and it is blatantly religious!)

The post-Christian cultural revolution in the West I have been describing in its Canadian context is the same which has swept Europe, the United States, and Western outliers such as Australia and New Zealand.  Many of the European states have a barely breathing remembrance of Christendom, despite the appearance of oddities such as political parties calling themselves “Christian Democrats”.  Churches are largely museums and cultural artefacts, even those still kept open for religious functions among the remnant of Christians.  Such ceremonies are seen as living lessons in sociology and anthropology by their State benefactors.

In the USA, desperate manifestations such as the Far-Right’s mixture of radicalized Evangelicalism with demagogic populism only further prove how far things have gone.  The mixing of Christ’s name with very unchristian elements of demeaning sexism (anti-women’s rights ideologies), racism, and fear-driven exclusivism sometimes crossing the boundary into outright hatred betray the Christianity such demagogues and mega-Church leaders claim to champion.  People claiming to be motivated by love of Christ in fact exchange their allegiance to the Prince of Peace and Redeemer of all humanity for that of an imagined national identity which supposedly is rooted in God’s choice of that nation as His last best word as “the new Chosen People” who are destined to shine His light or the “light of liberty” to the rest of the world!

Last time I checked the Book of Books, there was already a Chosen People and they have not been replaced by any other.

Which brings us to the Ghosts of Christmas.  Mr. Dickens’ wonderful Christmas story, A Christmas Carol, named three ghosts (spirits) of Christmas – past, present, and future. 

First, I understand the futility of seeking to resurrect some past “Spirit of Christmas” as I like to remember it from my childhood and youth. 

Second, I will not pretend to have fully and clearly delineated the Spirit of Christmas Present, although I believe my observations above are largely just. 

As to the Spirit of Christmas future here in the West, and particularly in Canada, I see two possible paths.  The first is that the last whisps of the birth of the Christ-child fade into the category of myth as the radical cultural revisers hope it will.  What Christmas would signify would be massively insipid, cloying sentiment about being nice and kind and inclusive for at least a few days in the year, with a portion of romanticized surrealism about the ability of the human leopard to save itself by overcoming the innumerable spots of its general selfish behaviour and its cruelty and unconcern for the well-being of almost everyone else.

Hmm… come to think of it, we have pretty much reached that juncture now.  Watch some of the usual entertainment products for this time of year as per Hallmark and Netflix, et al.

It is not wrong to watch “nice” shows and listen to the continual rehashing of Santa, Frosty, White Christmas, Silver Bells, etc. etc. as the “usual suspect” Christmas songs are pumped out in the temples of commerce and mind-numbing emissions across our media.  It’s as if we expect to manufacture the appropriate Christmas spirit by shear volume of repetition without mentioning the name of the One the word CHRISTmas points to.  As an old friend put it so well some years ago, “We live with what we permit.”

The second possible Christmas future is a miracle that begins with the followers of Jesus.  I imagine this remnant as having their eyes opened and hearts quickened to break the spell of the fable about their powerlessness to do anything of any effect in our modern Western Babylon. 

Questions abound: How can this happen?  What would it require?  What would it cost?  How would it change lives?  What would it mean for relationships – personal, social, financial, and political?

More to come. 

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Little Things Make Big Things

“The Devil’s in the details.”

– Popular saying.

“For want of a nail, a shoe was lost.

For want of a shoe, a horse was lost.

For want of a horse, a rider was lost.

For want of a rider, a battle was lost.

For want of a battle, a kingdom was lost.”

Old proverb

Sub-atomic particles beget atomic particles; atomic particles beget atoms; atoms beget molecules; molecules beget elements; elements beget substances, substances beget organic material, which beget organisms, which beget living things.  So we are taught and given to reduce reality.

The progression from micro to macro seems universal.  Anything great can be reduced to its most basic parts by the expenditure of energy, but only energy directed and controlled could produce anything organized to begin with.  The mystery is why it should; what makes anything take that direction in a universe that functions as a quantum infinity?

The tiniest missing factor would leave it all dead and cold – but it is not.  What is defies all odds.  All the science and math we can concoct says it should not be, but here it is.  Here we are.

When we bring it into the realm of the living, we find an incredibly improbable development – DNA.  The universal Code of Life, the key to everything that moves and lives and reproduces itself and eventually becomes a conscious being even capable of knowing itself and its own existence.  By themselves, its molecules have no power or magic, but linked to one another in endless varieties and combinations they create almost endless variations of amazing and wondrous living organisms, and even intelligent beings.

Yet, take any molecule out of it and you destroy the power of the whole.  Take any molecule on its own, and it is a dead, static thing.  Take any atom from the molecule, and it destroys the element.  Take a particle from the atom, and the atom is gone, or perhaps made something else.

Universal Principle: all big things are an assembly of innumerable little things.

All great things are the product of a myriad of small things.

From galaxies to protozoa this holds true. 

In human affairs, it is no different. 

The king is nothing without the masses of peasants and subjects.

The dictator is nothing without the masses of adherents and zombified followers.

The mega-billionaire is nothing without the poor workers in their hundreds of thousands doing the work (s)he profits from.

And a human being does not exist without the union of a single sperm cell with a single egg cell. 

None of this explains any of the mystery of why it all is in the first place, and why the great ALL is brought into being by the seemingly random outcomes of illimitable coincidences.

And yet here we are.

We remain anchored to the conviction that it appears to have a meaning and purpose, despite all our fancy footwork and brain-work to reduce it to the Book of Ecclesiastes saying, “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless.”

For it to have a meaning, do I have to know it all, to see it all, to understand it all?

You think it has a meaning because everyone is searching for it, so it is universal among us self-aware beings to innately know it is meaningful and we are built to discover what it means. 

Maybe it’s enough for me to find that meaning in love – love of special people, things, places – a sense of belonging and bonding to create something together – even if it’s only among us and for the lifetimes we share.  Every generation seeks that and does that.

But what if that is really a small part, an atom or molecule, of the great story of meaning that is bound up in the great Whole, what we are meant to portray – the Story of Love and Bonding and Creating?

The Ultimate Story.  The Story of Meaning.  The Story bound up in warp and woof to the One, the Originator who once upon a time spoke, saying, “Let there BE. . .”

And it all came to be.

But then it went a-wandering and lost its way – like we so often feel about it all in our souls, that we got lost somewhere along the way.

That we need to be found and brought home, home to the center where it all began.

Home to where the First Speaker is, to where the First Lover calls for the Lost to come back.

Here we are.  If we have ears, let us hear.  The Voice is still calling, still yearning for the Lost, us, and all the errant bits and pieces, atoms and molecules, to turn around and come back where love and hearth and home abide for all and always.

This season we call Christmas echoes our yearning.  It still carries the call of the Voice.  It answers our sense of having lost the deepest and most precious part of who and what we are meant to be.  In the form of a newborn-baby in a none-too-tidy stable manger, the smallest and least form of humanity that could be used to challenge our idols of greatness, power, and significance, the Voice and very being of the One reaches down to say, “Come home!  I love you and I miss you terribly!”

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This Jesus Business

I know men, and I tell you Jesus Christ was not a man.

Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires and the gods of other religions. That resemblance does not exist.

There is between Christianity and other religions the distance of infinity.

Jesus Christ alone founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men will die for Him.

Alexander, Cæsar, Charlemagne and myself founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon sheer force. Jesus Christ alone founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men will die for Him. In every other existence but that of Christ how many imperfections!

Napoleon Bonaparte

(Photo credit – Pinterest)

Hands down, the most controversial person who has ever lived is Yeshua ben-Yosef of Natzeret.  If that name is not familiar, he is better known as Jesus of Nazareth, or Jesus Christ.

 In the 21st Century, I would guess that fewer people than ever, over the last few centuries at least, would even think to nominate Jesus as “the most controversial person who has ever lived”.  This is a sure sign of how far the West has slipped its historical and traditional moorings since 1950.

In a German biography of Adolf Hitler (Hitler by Joachim C. Fest, 1973), the author immediately nominates the infamous dead “Fuhrer” as the most controversial and perhaps most impactful person, certainly in German, and, by implication in his manner of presenting his case, in modern if not all history!  He does not conclude that this makes Hitler “great”, but certainly immensely important and extraordinarily singular.  However, as he develops his case, it is clear that the author struggles greatly with avoiding actually calling Hitler “great”, although there is no difficulty in saying he is among the most controversial people of all time.

It is notable that Napoleon, another candidate for historical greatness at least as worthy as Hitler for consideration, did not deign to put himself anywhere on the same plane as the man from Galilee in ancient Israel.

For several centuries, Germany was the leading Christian intellectual nation in the world.  How is it possible, especially in the West, and even moreso in Germany, to supplant the greatest religious founder and leader of all history with a supremely evil tyrant who, instead of seeking to save humanity from itself and all its worst instincts, sought to enslave it and purge it of all the people who did no measure up to his warped version of the “Ubermensch”?

We have reached the point where, for many, Jesus is a sort of fairy-tale, a nostalgic memory of fantasies that used to haunt our less enlightened ancestors with tales of Utopia and a God of infinite love and goodness reaching out to offer us all paradise in the hereafter.  Grown wise and mature, we have either outgrown such things now or learned (as we suppose) that other religious claims are equally valid, or invalid, or perhaps merely all equally fanciful and irrelevant or downright destructive.

Perhaps a greater puzzle is how, in the last hundred years, the major world civilization called the “West”, which once claimed him as its greatest model and inspiration and even its god, could so massively turn its back on him to the point of a majority becoming largely indifferent to him, although perhaps still finding a few nice things to say about him.

Today, large numbers of even reasonably well-educated people (at least “well-educated in the 21st Century sense of having some competence in selective narrow fields of knowledge and skills qualifying them to do certain particular technical tasks in order to make a decent living) even question his actual historical existence.  It is astonishing to more and more often hear ridiculous but seriously believed statements among college and university students, and even some professors, that Jesus Christ is a mythical or, at best, a legendary character who never really lived, or whom we know nothing historically accurate about.  When offered real historical documentary evidence, the response is a shrug about that being made up after the fact.  “What fact, if you don’t believe he actually lived?” begets another shrug and mockery about charlatans seeking to deceive people to enrich themselves.

When told that there are ample reliable sources found among the enemies of the early Christians outside the Bible (which the mockers have almost never read and may never have even seen or encountered in all their years of education, despite its foundational role in Western civilization for two thousand years), this begets another shrug, or perhaps a very mild, “Oh.  I never knew/heard about that before.”  But there is no intent or interest in becoming better informed.

There is no doubt that the West is post-Christian.  It also professes to be non-religious, secular.  But, as this blog has discussed before, being “non-religious” is both an illusion and impossible for humans in the true, etymological sense of what “religion” means – that which binds/ties everything together.  People and cultures all function by “worldview” – a foundational set of faith-statements, a belief system, however intentionally or unintentionally cobbled together.  Call that another name if you prefer, but, it functions as the religion of that person or civilization.

As to Jesus, the mass of 21st-Century Westerners now stands indifferent, agnostic.  A minority still seriously hold him as a special person somehow directing us to God.  Another minority are downright hostile to him because he engendered the institution they most despise – the Church.  The mass moves through life as if who or what he is/was doesn’t matter anymore.

Lost in the cacophony of our age is any idea of the legacy of Jesus which, willing or not, weighs more heavily in the West’s soul than all of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Genghis Khan and any other monsters or genuine “greats” we could add to the list all combined together.

Jesus remains.  We cannot avoid him.  He will not go away.

Ironically, as the West turns its enlightened back to him, multitudes in the “non-Christian” world are flocking to him – even in Dar al-Islam, even in the murky depths of Red China and North Korea, and even more in the masses of the downtrodden of Africa and Latin America.

Why?  What do these masses of the underclasses see in him that we of the rich and self-sufficient Western uber-class cannot or choose to no longer see?  Jesus identified most profoundly with the weak, the poor, the oppressed, the down-trodden, the forgotten, those of no account.  He challenged the mighty and powerful of the elites of whatever sort.  The oppressed and hopeless and least esteemed are still those that flock to him, just as it was two thousand years ago.  And, just as it was two thousand years ago, the rich and “wise” despise him, mock him, and seek to kill him/get rid of him.

He is and never has been a respecter of persons, or rank, or ordained order, or of prescribed theologies and ideologies slotting everyone and everything into pre-ordained roles, classes, and status.  His actions and language towards all such were and are not just challenging, but downright revolutionary and inflammatory.  Paradoxically, he never called for violence in facing the persecutors.

He called for the overthrow of all the wrong and injustice by Love!  But such a love as exceeds any innate human capacity to exhibit or sustain on our own strength for any appreciable length of time.  He pledged himself as the one who could impart the power to love in such a way, for he pledged himself to be among us as God himself dwelling among us.

Such language sounds not just outlandish, but insane, at least to most people, even in our believe-whatever-claim-whatever, neo Tower-of-Babel world.

This is far more revolutionary than Hitler’s call to hate and destroy in Mein Kampf.  It is far more revolutionary than anything in Marx’s and Engels’ A Communist Manifesto.  If is beyond the idea of ending suffering by extinguishing desire, or losing oneself in the great personal extinction of Brahman.

This Jesus business is much more serious than any call to save Gaia from our human depredations, as important as that is.  For, without the kind of heart-change and internal paradigm shift Jesus called for and still calls for, humans cannot fully overcome the internal drive to manipulate, dominate, and exploit one another and the rest of the creation which our capacity to reign, rule, control, and change bestows upon us.

The Jesus call invites an end to all the angst about “finding my true self” and “discovering my true identity” by trying on various letters of the alphabet or other symbolic or even real signs and gestures to differentiate myself as a sort of personal, distinctive mini-god in my own version of the universe.

Jesus said – and did! – more controversial things than anyone else ever did or will. Most controversial of all were his claims to resolve all the conflicts in and through himself by calling you and me to find our final and primal identification in and through him!

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Bullies, 2 – The Jesus Treatment

(Photo credit: Got Questions)

I grew up in a time and place when bullying was just a part of regular life.  That didn’t make it right or OK.  It was just a fact.  It still is, despite all the good intentions, laudable efforts, and zero-tolerance policies.

For me, living in a “tough” neighbourhood exacerbated the presence and activities of bullies.  I have always have been small in stature, and, when it came to school, I was very early labelled as one of the smart kids.  While this was positive in some respects, it made me a target for the bully-types who resented and even hated “sucks” and “TPs” (Teacher’s Pets).  The last ingredient that fed into my target worthiness was that I came from a religious family. 

For some years at school, I had the protection of a tough and respected big brother.  In my last years of elementary school, big bro had gone to High School and I had to learn to hold my own.  “Fight or Flight” was front and center when confrontations happened.  Regardless of my pint-size, flight was rarely the choice I made.  Normally, sooner or later, the fight would have to happen anyway.

Two things happened: (1) I learned, with some helpful lessons from big brother and a friend who showed me a few self-defensive Judo moves, that I actually could fight.  (2) I learned that most bullies don’t like to be confronted by someone willing to call them out – especially when they’re not backed up by an admiring clique.  I didn’t fight often, but I never lost when I did.  “Reputation” set in and they left me alone.  At age 13 I beat the worst bully in the school, a 16-year-old who had been to reform school, in a very public fight in the school yard.  Thereafter, pint-size and all, and unknown to me, I became a lone alpha, a sort of rogue element.  I had no clique and wanted none, just a few good friends who, like me, just wanted to be left alone.

Contrary to those “bad old days” of the early and mid-sixties, it is not only bullying which is now frowned upon, but, in our inimitable ultra-progressive fashion, anyone who resorts to violence for any reason, even self-defense, must become a project for reform, a misguided soul.  Thus, self-defense is just another form of violence to be lumped in with the bully aggressor’s. 

The wisdom of this day says that the victim should not retaliate or adopt a combat defence, but go to the authorities and report the bully.  The bully/bullies are to be pitied at least as much as the victims.  Rehabilitation is the primary goal for both, regardless of the issue of justice.  Hopefully (and I share the hope), the bully can be redeemed and kept out of the dreadful land of prison, which, it is widely recognized, is too often really just Crime University.  However, victims need to give up the right of self-defense and rely on the protection of the authorities, of the big-brother State rather than the family or local community.  Unfortunately, the State authorities are rarely on site when the aggression occurs, so victims almost always just have to take their lumps, and occasionally much worse.  Learning by experience, most of them never report their woes for fear of reprisal.

God is all for rehabilitation and redemption.  While I am all for rehabilitation and redemption, I also understand the redemptive value of a good left jab and a solid right hook, or a surprise judo chop or flip when the situation requires it.  Sometimes the only language bullies finally understand is the one that answers them more strongly in their own dialect and perhaps gives them serious pause for reflection about where their path is taking them.   Admittedly, there is the danger of the escalating scale of retaliations, but that most often comes in group contexts.

Victims can always choose to grovel and plead with the bullies.  Many do.  The problem is that that response only leads to escalating episodes of the bullying wherein the bully needs to up the ante to get any thrill out of making the hapless victim grovel.  Once again, the victim is highly unlikely to resort to the progressive playbook of running to the authorities to get protection and have the bullies brought into the light for rehabilitation. More often, they run to hide and avoid rather than “squeal”.

Back in the ‘hood of my day, we understood that, in dealing with the bullies, the authorities were mostly useless to change much until something really serious happened.  Until that serious thing happened, we were better off learning to fend for ourselves.  Some accepted the groveling posture and gave in to being used and manipulated.  Some, like me, decided to “take up arms to resist the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” as Shakespeare once put it.  If you could pull it off, even moderately well, it often meant being left alone, especially if you had a few like-minded companions who would help you now and then.  I was fortunate enough to find such “a few good men”. We called ourselves “the Non-Gang” and refused to participate in anything untoward but watching one another’s backs. The local Bike-Gang President thought this was so original and “clean” that he ordered his toughs and enforcers to leave us strictly alone.

There is one more method.  It has been dubbed the “turn the other cheek” strategy.  Contrary to first impressions, it is not groveling.  Most everyone alive thinks it belongs in idealist la-la land.  Neither is it the same as run-to-the-authorities-and-hope-for-best.

I was once targeted by a new kid in the ‘hood who decided that, to be recognized and accepted, he needed to pick a fight with me because I had an established “reputation”.  I had never met this kid till a couple of weeks before the incident now to be described. 

He stopped me on the way home from school late one spring afternoon and proceeded to do all he could to provoke me into fighting.  I refused.  He insulted me and called me nasty names, and pushed me and taunted me.  I still refused.  He slapped me in the face.  I looked him straight in the eye and I told him I was not afraid of him, despite what he might think, but that I had no quarrel or grudge with him and felt no need to fight him to prove anything.  With a final insulting gesture, he shook his fist in my face, then wheeled and left, calling me more nasty names.  He declared that the next time I saw him he’d punch my face in whether I’d fight him or not.

We had had an audience for this display.  Those who knew me were incredulous of my out-of-character behaviour.  “Why didn’t you fight him?” said one.  “You could beat him with one hand tied behind your back.”

I replied, ‘I probably could, but I have no reason to.”

“Sure you do!  He insulted you and slapped you.”

“You won’t understand, but I’ve been thinking about what Jesus said.”

There were several looks of amazement.  “Jesus?  What’s he got to do with it?”

“Remember when he said, “If your enemy slaps you on one cheek, then turn the other for him to slap too”?  That’s what I was doing.”

They were speechless.  As I moved on with the shocked close friend with whom I had been walking, I explained to him that I was trying to be a better Christian.

Jesus seems to ignore our current wisdom about “how to deal with bullies”.  Jesus’ way seems to say that, on the one hand, you don’t stand up to them with force, and on the other he leaves out running to the authorities for protection.  Neither does he recommend or condone groveling. 

I suppose I could have groveled or said I’d report the kid to the school principal, but that was not how I was built. I was taught at home never to grovel. That was not how we resolved things.  At the time, having decided to actually try putting that particular verse of the New Testament into practice, I felt like a fool in a shark-tank. 

Fear had not blocked me from fighting, but momentary conviction.  I had resolved to try an experiment in doing something radical which Jesus had taught and seeing how it turned out.  In fact, I’d been thinking about it for quite some time before this event happened.  When the kid accosted me, it immediately entered my mind that this was the time to put it into practice.

For several weeks after, I suffered acutely from doubt about my conviction as having been secretly motivated by fear.  I hoped I wouldn’t meet the kid in the street to have this business renewed.  I also knew that my friends had talked about it and I wondered if they now secretly despised me, but no one accused me of fear and no bullies resurfaced to try to renew the effort to turn me into a victim.

Then one Saturday I was walking home from visiting s friend and I saw the new kid coming towards me.  I decided not to avoid him.  I resolved that if he tried to pick a fight this time, the experiment had failed and I would give him a hiding he would not forget.  To my surprise, as he drew near, he broke into a wide smile and came up to me in a most friendly fashion.  He then proceeded to apologize for his previous provocation and asked if I would forgive him.  I answered, “Of course!  What changed your mind?”

He looked sheepish, “Well, some of the guys around here told me how stupid I’d been in trying to pick a fight with you and said I had no idea how lucky I was not to got my butt kicked.  So, I just want to ask if we can be friends, OK?”  He offered his hand, and I shook it, saying, “No hard feelings, OK?”

“For sure!” he said.  “And if you ever need someone to back you up, just come and ask, OK?”  

We both went about our business.  We remained on friendly terms thereafter.

Obviously, any lessons that are found here are not universal truths.  Situations vary, and so will the necessary answers and actions, depending on the context and characters involved.

“Back in the day”, when the odds were too uneven, I was not beneath running.  I was fast and elusive enough to escape. Even now I prefer to avoid bullies.  Back then, when the odds were reasonably even, I usually confronted them.  After all, it would come to that sooner or later.  Confrontation usually meant calling a bluff, but it might, on occasion, mean actually resorting to battle.  On the occasion described above, I found that the Jesus method resulted in short-term anguish that later turned into long-term gain. 

I never won the 16-year-old’s friendship by humiliating him in public.  Some bullies will wait for another chance when they have back-up to even the score.  On that note, months later this guy threatened me with a switch-blade, but he had a more sensible friend with him who talked him out of using it on me by tugging him away and telling him, “It’s not worth it,” whatever “it” might be.

From some people, taking a stand won their respect and even admiration, but not friendship.  Looking back on it, I can see that some of those people were now afraid of me and what I might do to them.  But I had no desire at all to cross the line from victim to being a bully myself.

The Jesus way, was, overall, the most difficult one, but the one that changed something destructive into something positive and even downright good – not just for me and my new friend, but for my other friends who eventually saw and understood what had happened.

I am very far from a “saint”.  But one time back then, something amazing happened because of a saying of Jesus being planted in my heart, and a resolve and strength I didn’t know I could carry through on actually working out for me.

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Elephant Hunting

(Photo credit: Dreamstime)

Elephants are among the world’s most fascinating creatures.  Regardless of where they are born, most children will recognize their pictures from toddlerhood on.  As the largest of living land animals (5-7 tons in weight full-grown), they impress everyone by their immense size, strength, and power.  They are also quite intelligent.  Their memories are proverbial.  They have a powerful sense of community among themselves and cooperate in family and clan groups lifelong. 

Elephants mate for life and mourn their dead.  They have poor eyesight, but, as their appendages suggest, they have an incredibly delicate sense of smell and acutely good hearing.  Despite their great size, there are quite crafty and can move in almost complete silence, even becoming all but invisible to predators (humans mainly) in their chosen terrain.  They have been known to become the hunters themselves rather than remain the hunted when sufficiently provoked.

As a child, one of the books which most impressed me was written by an English big-game hunter and guide whose name I cannot recall.  The book described his adventures in Africa and India in pre-World-One days when such activities and subjects were not despised as they are now.  One of the tales in that book concerned a large bull elephant which had gone rogue after his family and clan had been totally killed off by poachers and trophy-hunters.  This male was reputedly legendary for his wiliness and hatred of hunters of every description.  He had killed a number of them, rather than falling victim to them. He had become a menace to the local populace, wreaking havoc upon their villages.

The local governor asked for a professional big-game hunter to be sent to deal with the beast.  Enter the renowned British hunter.

The beast had a limp which could be seen by a heavier print of its left front foot, and a broken left tusk.  It bore the scars of many battles, with other elephants, big cats, and human predators. Following the distinctive track, the hunter and his gun-bearer had no difficulty seeing where it had gone into its forest lair on one of the well-used elephant trails. 

Elephants can blend into forest almost seamlessly, camouflaged by their grey-brown colour and the propensity to mistake their legs for tree-trunks when glimpsed through the foliage.  Suddenly, the rogue surged upon them bellowing and in full battle-array.  The hunter fired both barrels of his .577 calibre gun.  The elephant was still coming.  Blinded by rage, it headed for his bearer.  The hunter managed to scramble up a large tree, adrenalin carrying him quickly aloft among its huge limbs.

The unfortunate native was caught in the elephant’s line of sight.  The elephant knocked him down, then picked up his limp form in its trunk and began slamming him against the nearest tree-trunk.  It then slammed him to the ground and sat on the now dead man, grinding his body into the earth till there was little but bloody pulp left.  The bull then found the hunter’s scent and came to the base of his tree of refuge.  He began pushing on it with all his might.  Fortunately for the hunter, the tree was of such size and solid roots that the massive beast’s best efforts were of no avail.  The wounded elephant brooded at the base of the tree till the next morning, then made off. The hunter survived to tell the tale.

Only poachers now hunt elephants, unless a local cull is necessary.  The great beasts are protected.  African elephants are symbolic of so much that has changed and is threatened in the 21st Century.  Like so many things, it is a question whether they can survive anywhere but in protected areas and zoological parks. 

Let us apply the lesson to two of our society’s rogue “elephants”, both in and outside the room. Presently, it seems the rogue elephant everyone wants to slay is climate change.  it is now “out” so no longer hidden in plain sight.

This is the beast the climate activist hunters have set most clearly in their sights.  We are told and lectured and cajoled constantly of its ravages, past, present, and future.  But almost all activists are still missing the more massive rogue elephant hiding in plain sight among the great trees of our global village’s habitat.

Elephants only charge when forced out into the open.  It is hard to charge inside the forest. Out in the open is also when we see them most clearly, no longer so well camouflaged by their great ability to hide or blend into the gullies and wadis of the veldt.  But the signs of this even more treacherous rogue are everywhere, in all nations, regardless of their technological prowess and economic sophistication.

Its huge trail markers can be found in mountainous landfills and enormous floating islands in the ocean.  All creatures great and small, from bacteria to whales, ingest this dung, willy-nilly, invisibly, despite best efforts avoid it.  There is very little indication that real efforts are being considered to hunt down this beast, despite all the fine rhetoric about protecting and preserving and reversing the destruction of Gaia’s environment.

One of the most insidious and silent footprints of the more deadly rogue is found, at this moment, among the wealthiest tribes on the planet.  It is the rapidly growing infertility among the hunters, who have almost completely missed the track of the rogue.  If the hunters cease to propagate, as the rapid decline of their birth-rates suggest they will, the first rogue will die a natural death – at least as far as its being driven mad by the human elements of its destructiveness – the notorious artificial human carbon footprint.

Perhaps the reader of my parable has now deduced that the Great Rogue is the universal sterilization of the human race (and many other species) by the (not-so) slow poison of plasticization.  As the present major narrative puts low value on human reproduction, its seems more important to chase the decoy rogue of climate change, which no one is really sure we can slay no matter how big the weapon we fire at it.

“Climate-deniers” are much ridiculed and despised, but the truth is that greatest “climate truth-tellers”, cannot or will not see and confess that (1) climate change is a fact on earth regardless of the presence of humans, and all the geological and climatological evidence demonstrates this has been so for billions of years, (2) the worst offender nations and individuals on the human side are not interested or willing to do anything about it, (3) the agenda is as much about punishment and retribution upon the wealthy nations and their frivolous denizens who still have a conscience that can be manipulated, and (4) the anointed enlightened can continue to enjoy most of the perks of being on top of the heap while the rest bear the burden and the cost of doing the marginal best they can be made to do, while achieving little real result on climate change for all the enormous energy and cost expended.  All the screaming, marching, ranting, and yelling will not change any of this.

Meanwhile, the Great Rogue continues to roam freely, barely irritated by the pop-guns aimed at it.  Soon, geologically speaking, the hunters will extinguish themselves as they cease having little-uns anyway.

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Bullies, 1

(Photo credit: Resilient Educator)

Every school board in Canada, public or private, has a well-defined policy regarding bullies and bullying.  Whether written in English, French, or one of the indigenous languages, they all say pretty much the same thing.  They all declare a no-tolerance approach (so far so good), and an “everyone is equal in every way” ideology that must be actively affirmed.

Here in Canada, those who dare to quarrel with such fine principles, regardless of their reasons, are quickly shamed and shouted down.  So much for open democratic discourse.  (Hmm – isn’t shouting down people you disagree with and don’t like a form of, ahem, bullying!!)

Perhaps one might still propose that the concept of full equality in everything does not hold up scientifically.  For example, we cannot simply decree that someone who is four-foot ten is physically equal to the giant who is seven feet tall, or other heights in between.  But that does not justify declaring the seven-footer a bully because he is so imposing in size that even upon entering a room some people feel intimidated.  For that matter, some midgets might so label the 4-10er if they are only 3ft.-8 inches.

What about the gap between the genius with an IQ of 180 and the less intellectually gifted person with an IQ of eighty?  Can we realistically legislate equality in school evaluations and in prospects for certain sorts of careers and activities?  Or, am I discriminated against and oppressed because, no matter how much I practice and strive to master the piano, I will never play a fraction as well as Glenn Gould?  Not being a genius financier or entrepreneur, how can I possibly claim equality of outcomes in wealth with Musk or Buffet or Bezos as my right?  

The craze to assert total equality regardless of the limitations of how the real-world works is delusional, regardless of how much regulation and legislation the ideological visionaries insist upon.  They themselves demonstrate the principle of innate inequality, being the elite of rationality and scientific social engineering by which they deem themselves qualified to enlighten the rest of us by their superior training, intellect, and insight and, dare we say, greater opportunity (often stemming from an inside track within their own specialized circles).

However, there is no doubt that true bullying should not be tolerated and everyone must be recognized as equally human and worthy of respect and equal treatment under the law.  As long as the law is not – as Clarence Darrow so eloquently put it a century ago “an ass”.

We must ask what truly constitutes bullying or should be encompassed in redressing the actual oppressive and unjust kinds of inequality which exist.  It does nothing to resolve such issues to say, in progressive “Woke”-speak, that the bully is barely if at all really responsible for his/her propensity to torment the victim.  It is similar to the line that criminals are first victims before they are criminals and so must not be victimized by punitive laws and penalties for their socially unacceptable misdeeds and predatory behaviours.  Following that track, the school bully is a victim him-herself before ever entering full-blown bullyhood.  After all, they have been socialized into bullyhood rather than having chosen it. 

The narrative says, “Perhaps the parents bare no blame either, or, if so, little.  For they too are victims of their own parents (etc. ad infinitum) and of the uncouth and unenlightened vestiges of the “old days” when intolerance and prejudice and racism were so openly manifested.  Everyone unfortunate enough to be born “back then” (whenever that was) is/was strongly inclined to be insensitive, judgmental (because of the old-time religion still afflicting the masses in those days), rough, and definitely more susceptible to become a bully.” (But there is no reciprocal judgmentalism in categorizing the laggards in fully accepting the latest and best forms of progressivism as “Neanderthals” and “Nazis” and “Fascists”?)

The pejorative use of “back then” and “back in the day” points to the (bad old) times when the Church still mattered, religion still had a toe-hold in the schools, and the Bible still got quoted as a source of helpful insight and even moral instruction.  It was still actually read by a large minority of the population, and many of its stories were at least vaguely familiar to a large segment of the Canadian (and Western) populace.

Assuredly, “back then” there was indeed racism lurking in the corner and sometimes staring you in the face.  Assuredly, there were still a lot of inequities and injustices in many aspects of the social, economic, and political life of Canadian and Western civilization.  Even now, for all our trying to escape this cycle, we still seem to harbor the same sort of issues lurking in our own corners.  But, circularly reasoned, “that must be because we are still victims of the eternal regression of wrongful parenting and superstitious indoctrination.”

Does anyone else hear Hamlet’s mutter to himself about Ophelia, “Methinks the lady doth protest too much” – to be at all convinced by this very unhelpful narrative?

The post-war WW2 evolution of Canada and the West has seen huge strides forward from many of the worst aspects of such inequities, (inequity is a much more useful term than inequality, by the way), but there is still doubtless much yet to do.  We have had fifty years of cumulative effort to undo many of the targeted wrongs and dig up their roots in order to remake many facets of our culture and society.  We have opened the doors to all kinds of corrective legislation and consequent programs to insert unheard of and novel rights into our constitutional and legal framework.  We have never seen so much guilt and shaming and accusing.  But we are still bound by our chains.

It is morally incumbent on us to do our best to right historic wrongs, unmask genuine malice and racism, and provide protection and redress to oppressed minorities and threatened individuals suffering from genuine persecution, torment, and intimidation.  What there is an issue with is the almost complete denial of individual choice and responsibility of the individuals and groups concerned.  At bottom, that means all of us.  For we have all bought into the “I’m not responsible” ideology wherein “the Devil made me do it” as Flip Wilson used to so comically say (except that 60% of us apparently no longer believe in the Devil).  One of the outcomes of that is a denial of the ability of the victims to do anything for themselves to confront the bullies because only the almighty state and its authorized agents can save them.  In fact, if you dare to stand up to a bully and pull it off, you may yourself even end up standing trial or facing a punitive tribunal.

I do not mean to ignore the sense of complete powerlessness and even of terror which often paralyses the victims of oppression when they are face to face with their oppressors.  That too is reality.  But that terror does not preclude or deny the victim’s possibility of acting on their own behalf to confront, expose, or, if possible, escape the bully.  Obviously, many victims have no opportunity or power to actively confront their bully and escape their situation; but many who could make such a choice choose to remain where they are from fear, denial, wishful thinking about some miraculous turn-around, or plain old bad advice from some trusted source.

At the macro level, it is completely unhelpful to automatically label groups in Western culture and society oppressors, intimidators, bullies, and abusers of others.  Recent extreme declarations such as “All whites/Euro-settler-descendants are automatically racists and oppressors whether they believe it or not, whether they have ever acted that way or not” serve no purpose but to heap guilt and shame on everyone.  This is really reverse-racism, no better than the white supremacists saying “all _______ are born _______ (insert your adjective of choice)”. Eventually, people just go deaf to this kind of hyperbole.

Euro-Canadians (“Settlers” in our current lingo regarding Canada’s indigenous issues) and Christians both stand out as the great historic bully-villains in the now received narrative in Canadian cultural life.  There is no denying the abuses and wrongs committed over several centuries by Europeans against other ethnicities.  Since Europeans and their almost wholly white descendants also happened to claim to be Christians in overwhelming majority, it is only natural to couple the two in the progressive narrative (ironically, also usually framed by Euro-settler descendants who now know better and can therefore mostly excuse themselves from the guilt and shame since they know better).

We shall continue to explore how all this connects to the issue of “Bullies” in our next instalment.

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Loving the World

“The world is going to hell in a handbasket!”

Popular saying

Heard that lately?  It’s a common refrain.  Apparently, climate change is going to wipe out most of the world we humans are used to over the next few decades.

Or perhaps the Super-Powers will finally bluff and bluster themselves into some terrible corner where to back down means such humiliation that the unthinkable becomes the probable.

If you’re of an apocalyptic persuasion, the end of the world is nigh, and the wheels of destruction are inexorably moving us to the verge of the abyss.  For some religious types, this may even be a back-door good thing.  After all, the rain of fire-and-brimstone ends with the return of the King of kings to bring final judgement upon the unrepentant and vindication and elevation to the righteous and redeemed.

I confess I am what some people would label a “religious” Christian.  I still actually go to church and read the Bible pretty regularly.  However, contrary to the typical stereotype of people like me which prevails among the “secular” majority in Canada and the West in general, I do not hate this world or yearn for the final fiery finale which seems to have been prophesied as looming over our heads since Yeshua took His physical leave of earth almost two thousand years ago.

On the contrary, I love this planet, this incredible world, and this amazing thing we call life in which we, the living, are enmeshed according to the Creator’s unfathomable wisdom, design, and intention.  I make no pretense to having a theology adequate to explain this illimitable universe and the depths of all its intricacy.  It is all so far above and beyond any human conception and ability to comprehend that I must perforce keep any effort to know anything to within quite humble and limited bounds.

What do I think I know?  There is a Creator.  The Creator is an eternal, unbounded Being (except insofar as He/She chooses to bound Him-Herself).  The Creator has acted and revealed Him-Herself as a Personal Being, as a relating Being, infinite yet choosing to relate directly to the finite – us and the created realm.  Person-to-person.  The Creator’s signature and stamp and brush-strokes are clear and distinctive in everything – every snowflake, every plant, every rock, every star, every planet, every individual entity from the least to the greatest.

And greatest mystery of all, the Creator chose to become an actual, living, breathing human being – two thousand years ago – to live here on this planet among ordinary folks like you and me, to share our sorrow, to know our pain, to heal our brokenness – or at least offer us the way to healing.  To give us a clear choice and possibility to return to the One from whom we had turned away, and may still turn away.

There was a beginning; there will be an end.

But there is also a NOW!  There is a call to be and to become, to accept or reject.  As some verses in the New Testament (and the Psalms) put it, “Today is the day of salvation.  Today is the acceptable time.  Do not put aside the call to return to Him-Her till tomorrow, for you do not know that you have tomorrow.  That is presumption.  Grace is here now, today.  The Creator’s hand is extended to us today.  Every new day while you breathe is “today”, a day when the Voice goes forth to us through all the works of His-Her hands.”

When I walk among the trees, down a path, over a field, through a garden; when I stand on a mountain- or hill-side, when I feel the gentle summer breeze and the cold snap of the winter wind on my face, when I plunge into the rushing water of the river or the rolling waves of the sea, when I gaze enrapt into the eyes of a newborn, or those of the one I specially love, when I stand awestruck under the starlit vault of the heavens, everywhere and in everything, from the least blade of grass to the most awesome, lofty white pine back of my home, from the weary face of the commuter on the bus to the happiest child with the best surprise in her hands, I see the Creator! (The Holy Spirit in both the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible is feminine, if you didn’t know!) 

Unwrap the grave-bindings imprisoning your souls and behold all the awesome wonders He-She has wrought.  Set aside your right to be offended by the quirky turns of phrase and jerky behaviours of those who make you uncomfortable. 

Look at the world of wonder that is everywhere around us all the time – even in the deepest ocean depths and hottest sands of Death Valley.  Read Psalm 139 to (re)meet the One with whom we have to do.  Even if you are not “a religious type” you cannot avoid that One.  He-She sees you all the time, everywhere, and knows everything about you, from first to last.  You are not alive by accident, whatever the laws of chance and natural selection may seem to say about it.

The call goes out every day and every second of every day.  As Psalm 19 (paraphrased) puts it, “Each day pours out speech, and each night transmits knowledge, without words, beyond words.”

Blaise Pascal once said, “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing about.”  He was a brilliant scientist and mathematician few could outthink and outreason.  But he knew that no amount of reason and science could fill the void in the human heart.  He also said that the human heart was created with a God-shaped vacuum.  Only God can fill the emptiness at the core of each of our beings.  If we will not fill it by entering a personal communion with the One who made us for Him-Herself, the vacuum will still demand to be filled.  But nothing but the life of the Creator taken into oneself can bring it true peace, the “peace that surpasses all understanding” even in the midst of pain, sorrow, turmoil, and heartbreak.

The one who came to bring us that peace was the One the Creator sent two thousand years ago and who came to his first followers when they were utterly shattered and told them, “Peace be with you!” and breathed that peace into them.

That is when our eyes really begin to see the wonders of this world, its real beauties, its radiant testimony.  It is not gone, but we have gone blind and driven it afar off with our devastations and exploitations, both of the planet of one another. 

Even so, the light shines, the sun rises, the rain falls on the just and unjust, and will continue to do so until the Creator finally tells the Risen One, “It is enough.  Go back and reclaim Your own.”

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666 and all that, 6 – Conclusion

(Photo credit – One Mile at a Time)

How can the Christian world ever shed the broken model of the Imperial Church?  For 1700 years the siren-song of worldly power has lured prelates and zealots to the Circean Shore (see Homer’s Odyssey if you’re not sure what that is) of using the power of the sword and state to drag the unwilling into a phantom of the Kingdom of the Prince of Peace. 

It started with the Roman Caesars’ call to the pre-Schism Catholic clergy to bolster the Roman state in return for building it cathedrals and episcopal palaces, and granting extensive lands and benefactions.  After Rome fell, the various new kings discovered they also desperately needed the Church’s ministrations to help them rule and organize their fractious realms.

In the high Middle Ages Pope Innocent III (of ultra-ironic name and fame) claimed that the “Vicar of Christ on Earth” (a.k.a., himself, the Pope) had the power to anoint, even appoint, and dethrone monarchs of all ranks of power.  Popes called on princes to bring fire, sword and anathemas down upon Muslims and infidels of all sorts.  They authorized Inquisitors to flush out, hunt down, and eliminate dissidents, heretics, witches (sic.), and rogues of every description to force them to recant (under terrible torture) and all too often be consigned to the flames even after repenting as an example to any who might dare to question the anointed guardians of the Sacred Mysteries.  Sometimes even the greatest saints stood on the brink of condemnation. Too often they ended up bitterly disillusioned with the co-opting of their message and example to be channeled back into paths more readily manipulated by the ecclesiastical bureaucracy and office-holders.

During the Reformation, Master Reformers like Luther kept the old lie alive as they called on the princes to wipe out Anabaptists like wild dogs, root out and crush Jews as Christ-killers, and bring the wrath of God down upon the Harlot Papists. 

We will leave that tormented (and far from complete) record there.  

The great illusion is that somehow the old imperialist ways can be married to the Gospel of the Prince of Peace as “Christendom” and produce the Kingdom of God. In the New Testament that Kingdom is described as “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit”, the “peaceable Kingdom” where justice and mercy kiss each other and oppression and violence are banished for ever. The early Christian witness to their persecutors was “see how they love one another” not how they condemn and slaughter one another, let alone the unbelieving pagan masses.

Still, the light of hope has never departed.  Messiah has ever found little lights to fan into flame with new hope and to fulfill the call to go out into all the world and heal the sick, comfort the afflicted, teach and lift up the downtrodden, and defend the defenseless – even if it means going to die with them as Christ died with the criminals on his right and left hands and suffered the penalty of death for all who are alienated from their Maker.  Most of Christ’s light-bearers and truest witnesses are anonymous and unknown, even today, and as they ever have been.  Some come to wider notice and stand out so starkly that even the most brilliant high-flyers and loftiest and power-robe bedecked Church-leaders are made to see their own arrogant bankruptcy.  These humble ones no one can ignore come like Francis of Assisi or Mother Teresa.  Most have gladly died unrecognized. Many have been women, ignored and erased from notice by men who declared them out of place and outside God’s proper order.

An imperialist church seems primarily to be a Western phenomenon.  African Christians, as those in the Arab world, and those in hostile places like the People’s Republic of China, have never known this phenomenon of the church openly partnering in the molding of society alongside government in order to gain and hold onto the reins of power.  It is in the West, and perhaps now especially in the USA, that the allure of holding the levers of power for Christians still lingers.

In the West the general populace also most resists the claims of Christians to speak truth about the Creator and His desire to bring the Good News of peace and goodwill to all humanity regardless of gender, colour, language, tradition, and socio-political class.  For it is from the once “Christian” West that the most terrible offences against these very benchmarks in the quest of equality and equity have issued, or so it is commonly claimed and widely believed.

The paradox is that it is also from the much-maligned former leading nations of “Christendom” that all the greatest steps in progress towards actually achieving meaningful advances in these very things have issued.  It is from these same nations that the forward movement in snapping the chains of oppression against women, racialized oppressed peoples, and downtrodden impoverished classes has come.  It is from the West that modern medicine and science have emerged to alleviate so much suffering.

The Capitalist West did not invent oppression and slavery and exploiting the poor.   Crushing peasants, serfs, and labourers and keeping them in their “assigned places” has been universal to almost every culture in recorded history.  Slavery in its many guises has been found in every society ever discovered, from primitive to most civilized.  The impetus to actually end it has flowed almost exclusively from the Christian heritage of the West.

Rather than recoiling from hopelessness at the retreat of its influence (as Western Christians tend to lament), the Church (as the united community of followers of Jesus) needs to rejoice in its apparent powerlessness and impoverishment.  We need to wholeheartedly renounce all the old imperialist ways and to take up the enormous challenges of doing the things that our Founder and Master called us to do from the very beginning. 

Let us take to heart that taking up the sword leads only to dying by the sword; seeking power by the “world’s” (the usual broken human methods) means only leads to corruption and destruction because they violate the Master’s criteria of successfully advancing His Kingdom.  To be great in His Kingdom is primarily “being the servants of all” and shaming the captors and oppressors by standing up to them and showing what real freedom looks like, unshackled by the delusions of grandeur based on showy exhibitions of glitzy one-upmanship based on money and position in the socio-political hierarchy.

It is the deep paradox of simplicity defying complexity. Yet if is so deep it defies the nimblest scientific and economic calculations.

As we conclude this extended meditation, let us return briefly to the enigma of Revelation, that last trumpet-blast of the Bible.  The picture it ends with is of the New Jerusalem in the New Heavens and New Earth, the renewed and redeemed Kingdom of God brought in by the triumphant return of Yeshua Messiah – Jesus Christ.  In that book He appears as both the Slain Lamb who redeemed the world and the Lion of Judah who will judge all the nations, setting right all wrongs and ending all sin and rebellion against the Creator.

Some find the book too gory and bloody to accept as a legitimate picture of the Loving God’s final word.  Yet our culture’s narrative does not quibble about a tremendously violent beginning called the Big Bang.  “Yes, but no one was alive to die yet,” they reply.  And that is true as far as it goes.  But what ensued – billions of years of evolution with death upon death upon death until now – untold quantities of death so that we might live.  “Yes, but that’s just Nature’s way (with nature as a personified stand-in for God). It’s completely impersonal and without malice.”  But somehow it gives all the appearance of intentionality and has led to personality and individuality.

The paradox is that if it is all random and apparently impersonal (yet somehow intentional), it is OK.  But if there is a Creator who made things happen and gave us life, the whole thing is unjust and wicked.  Especially because, according to that narrative, the Creator dares to pronounce that some of His/Her creatures can and will live forever because they have accepted an offer to reconcile with Him/Her and join His/Her family.

On the one side, everything will cease to exist, forever, and everyone who has ever lived and will live dies and stays dead forever – but that is not evil because it is mere impersonal (?) Nature, although it appears personal and individual everywhere you look…

The alternative narrative says a Personal Creator has left His/Her signature everywhere and on everything and in everyone. He/She offers eternal life to anyone who chooses to accept it by coming into relationship with Him/Her through His/Her chosen representative Redeemer.  But since masses of people want no part of Him/Her and that offer, He/She is unloving and wicked for not adopting them all and saving them all anyway, dragging them into something they reject and abhor with no respect for their personal right to choose their own destiny.  So in the case God is condemned for not being a tyrant and oppressor and not respecting your rights.  Sounds like having your cake and eating too…  In philosophical terms for the logical hair-splitters out there, this is a basic logical fallacy, a tautology along the “Gotcha both ways and either way, buddy!”

The message of Revelation is that we have a choice to come into reconciliation with the Creator; that the way of power, riches, exploitation, abuse and all that have no place or role or position in the Creator’s order.  They are human contrivances that enslave us to dark powers personified as things like the Great Dragon and a lot of smaller versions of the Dragon. 

In the end, all these things will be wiped out by the Creator.

In the meantime, we have a choice to take the old Imperial Highway – like the ancient “King’s Highway” that ran from Egypt to Mesopotamia and like the remorseless Roman roads built primarily to facilitate the expeditious passage of Rome’s irresistible juggernaut from one end of its dominion to the other.  Or we have the choice to take the King of Heaven’s highway down through the Valley of the Shadow of Death (death to all the delusions and illusions the other road offers) and out and up into the brilliant light of the Resurrection City of the Creator’s full purpose for us and all His/Her creation.

Maranatha!   

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Mountain-tops and Dark Vales

(Photo credit – Lanark County Tourism)

I make no claim to be a mountain-climber.  I am more of a mountain-hiker – someone who has backpacked and hiked through a considerable variety of mountainous and hilly terrain since I was a young man.  These include the Canadian and American Rockies, the Pacific Coast Mountains and Cascades, the Alps, Mount Sinai in Egypt, the Appalachians and Laurentians in Eastern North America, and a variety of smaller heights elsewhere.  Some of the best are even close to home, such as Blueberry Mountain at this time of year with its sweeping panorama of orange and red and yellow and gold foliage stretching over at least two hundred square kilometers.

I am not laying claim to some sort of special status.  I’m just saying that, upon reflecting, I was actually quite surprised at the various places I’ve been, things I’ve done, and experiences I’ve had over seven decades of an all-too-brief and quickly passing lifetime.

God-willing, I may yet get to put a few more pips on my life-map, and even another hilltop or two.  I certainly hope so and have more on my bucket-list as long as my knees and other physical attributes hold out. 

For me, going up a mountain has always been as much about the trip up as the reward of the stupendous view from the top.  There are some peaks I would never consider attempting – Mount Everest, for example.  Or the Matterhorn, or Mount Logan, Canada’s highest mountain. 

I understand the tremendous allure of doing something above and beyond what the rest of the crowd have done.  It’s one way some gain the fifteen minutes of fame Andy Warhol talked about back in the 1960s.  But if the main goal of doing all that excruciating work and subjecting your body to often significantly life-shortening strain is to get some sort of recognition and public acclaim, a sort of flash of the next-best-thing to immortality with your name marked down as one of a select few who ever did A, B, or C, well, maybe you need to re-examine your perspective on what we are in this world for when there are simply so many other aims and goals we can choose to pursue. 

The thing about getting “up there” with all its thrill of “making it to the top” is that you discover when you get there that, even with all that amazing landscape or seascape spread out before you, the ground you are standing on is usually pretty barren.  It is very rarely a very propitious place to build a home and put down roots.  The paucity and special adaptation of any vegetation and resident critters to the generally inhospitable environment at the world’s rooftop graphically illustrates this truth.  After taking appropriate time to absorb the vast splendour down below and all around, and to bask in the thrill of having made a climb a relative few have made, it dawns on you that what goes up must come down.

Few if any humans can live on a mountain-top for any appreciable period of time.  The air above ten thousand feet is pretty thin, although some groups have been able to do it if there is enough plateau or valley terrain to allow them to glean or produce enough to survive on.  But even they do not live on the peaks.  Even they have to come down from them to get home where they can actually live and enjoy life from day to day.

There is a bit of a parable here, one of those succinct little stories based on real-life experience that illustrates a deeper, inner, even spiritual side of reality.

Think about any mountain-top or peak experience or achievement your have ever had.  Maybe it was finally breaking through in your career or chosen role in life and getting the recognition and reward you longed for and felt you justly deserved.  Maybe it was winning the heart of “the One” and believing your “live-happily-ever-after” dream was coming true.  Maybe it was winning a big competition, or the big championship, the gold medal, the highest individual honour in the that thing you are really passionate about!  Maybe it was an heroic act that wowed the people all around and astonished even yourself in the doing – and still does when you think back on it.  Maybe it was the “eureka” moment of your conversion to God when you decided to live to honour the Creator.

There have probably been several such moments.  How incredible, precious, even sublime it seemed then, and can still seem even now in its reflected glow down through the years.  Some have been higher and more intense than others.  Some you realize were one-off for all time and could never be recaptured. 

I have known people who have never gotten over some such moment or moments.  It’s like the tremendous rush a drug-addict gets on the first hit of cocaine or meth or opioids.  They are hooked on the high and run after it constantly.

There is nothing wrong about wanting to feel good and seeking a special sense of fulfillment, but life is lived mostly in the mundane, among ordinary people doing ordinary things.  An orgasm is a great thing in its time and place, but we cannot live in continual yearning for the rush and continual regret of what has been.

In doing that, we become blind and insensible to the beauty and wonder that lies just outside the door.  We also miss what lies inside the door as we discover each other and learn to enjoy what lies within as much as what lies without.  Inner space is as wondrous as outer space.

Continually lusting after the misty mountain-top splendour leaves us paralysed down in the valleys of life, especially when, as inevitably we must, we encounter Death Valley.  As Psalm 23, written 3000 years ago by one of the great poets and composers of antiquity, puts it, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” 

The poet has a secret for getting through the worst times, and it isn’t desperately trying to scramble up the steep slopes of darkness closing him in.  He knows he cannot escape the ordeal.  He must walk through, but not alone.  For he has learned that the key to everything in life is in recognizing and accepting that he is not just a heroic individual standing alone against a host of foes or fighting his way to the top of the heap by his own strength and valour.  He stands on and in a real, living relationship with his Creator.

In several of his Poem-Songs, of which we still have about seventy-five, this great writer, who was also a person of decisive action when the time called for it, describes this intimate relationship, based on total acceptance that he has not been made just to pursue his own appetites and purposes, but to submit to a greater purpose and calling, one he is discovering as he lives life from day to day and year to year.

We have other information about this extraordinary man in other parts of the Book we call the Bible.  He was far from perfect, and made many mistakes.  Some were real doozies which cost him, his family, and even his nation very dear.

He was no better, and sometimes definitely worse, at least in certain actions, than most of the rest of us.  But he gives us a vivid and true picture about Mountain-tops and dark valleys, things we all experience as we reach the heights and sink into the depths as we explore the adventure of life.

In case you haven’t heard of the Poet-Composer to whom I refer, his name is David and he rose to the heights of power as a shepherd-boy who became the King of ancient Israel.  He won everlasting fame as a teen-ager by single-handedly slaying a real-life giant named Goliath.  As to the rest of his story, including some real dismal valleys, I leave you to explore it in the Biblical record of the Books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles.

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666 and all that, 5 – The Imperial Church, 2

As long as the Christians faced—or feared—persecution by the Roman authorities…the book of Revelation provided consolation for their present sufferings, real or imagined, and the promise of a bloody revenge in the end-times.  But the contempt for imperial Rome that suffuses the book of Revelation was rendered suddenly and wholly obsolete when the Emperor Constantine (ca. 280-337) embraced Christianity in the early fourth century…. the Christian church was elevated from a marginalized and criminalized sect into the favored and protected faith of the imperial family, and, eventually, a kind of shadow government whose reach extended throughout the Roman Empire…. the condemnation of imperial Rome in the book of Revelation no longer made sense.  Indeed, the Christian church now styled itself as “the Church Militant and Triumphant.”

Jonathan Kirsch, A History of the End of the World.  (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006), p. 108

(Photo credit Wikipedia Pope Gregory 1)

The conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine to Christianity (traditionally dated in 312 CE) was indeed one of the most revolutionary events of history, ancient or modern.  Within a generation, the once hounded and persecuted Christian minority within the Roman world went from underdog to top dog.  As that world fractured and withered on the vine, the Church became more and more the one truly cohesive social force within the Roman state, and increasingly a political power supplementing and sometimes even replacing the broken ligaments of the imperial administration.  Bishops became as powerful as governors in some instances.  As Kirsch puts it — “a kind of shadow government”.

When Constantinople became the primary imperial capital, the Bishop of Rome began to exercise an increasingly assertive role of overall leader of the Christian world, thus providing a counter-point to the distant Emperor for the Christians of the Western Empire, as long as it continued.  When the Western Empire died with a whimper in 476 CE, the Pope still stood in Christianity’s western regions as the symbol of Roman leadership, although no longer in the political sphere.

From that point on the divergence of the East and West of the old Roman world in culture, faith, and politics became sharper and sharper as the centuries passed.  We cannot rehash the whole tale here.  Plenty of accounts—short or lengthy—are available to the curious.  What is of interest in our reflection is how the Church was henceforth haunted by the memory and the nostalgia of its first 200 years even as it became anchored in its imperial identity.

Henceforth the Christian Church suffered from a dual personality, an inner tension between those who longed for and strove to recover the early days of innocence and total devotion to the true King, Jesus the Messiah, whose Kingdom is “not of this world” (or this age), and those who adopted a posture of “realism”, employing methods and models long used in human affairs for exercising power and influence and gaining control of the social and political agenda.  Increasing economic power followed, sometimes through huge donations and bequests of the rich and powerful seeking to buy “fire insurance” as death raised its spectral head in their path.

The resultant tension and sometimes open conflict between the two personalities inevitably resulted in a pendulum of guilty attempts by the “realists” to find ways of appeasing and even accommodating the prophetic elements confronting them with their sell-outs and compromises, punctuated by occasional outright repressions and persecutions of the fanatics, who were usually officially excommunicated as heretics before force was called out to either bring them to heel or eliminate them altogether.

The earliest of these brutal episodes was the infamous Donatist suppression in the fifth century CE.  In that case, there was abuse and guilt enough to go round on both sides.  The interested reader is invited to consult any competent history of the Church, such as Kenneth Scott Latourette’s.

The tension was quite visible well before that, when the first hermits appeared and became best known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers.  Yes, Mothers too!  There were thousands of women who also adopted withdrawal from the world and its affairs.  [i]  The hermits and desert communities of disciples gave rise to the whole monastic movement, which was born out of the need to provide, for those wanting and needing it, a release from the increasingly compromised and syncretised lifestyle of the now “official” religion of the Empire.

Another clear signal of a growing hybridization was the adoption of an elevated view of the Church’s leaders from that of “servants” to “Clergy” – an elite class of persons called out and set apart to lead and direct from a position set above the rest of the believing congregation.  It is significant that the chief proponents of this kind of elitism were people like Ignatius of Antioch, Cyprian of Carthage, and Pope Gregory 1 (the “Great”), bishops recommending the veneration of bishops especially, but presbyters (local congregational leaders, or elders) as well.

All these changes, along with the early adoption of liturgy to formulize ceremonies and practices along with the selected “ministers” for these, created the “Church” as an institution sharing many of the same characteristics and ceremonial of the Jewish priesthood and even some pagan garb and titles.  When the priests of Jupiter in Rome ceased to carry the title “Pontifex Maximus” (greatest High Priest or ‘bridge-maker’ [between humans and the gods] the Bishop of Rome quickly lay claim to it as appropriate for the leading “Patriarch” (a Greek word meaning ‘father-ruler’) of the Christian world.  By that point the leading Bishops (Greek episkopoi) of the Church had adopted that title as appropriate for the highest-ranking prelates in a few of the great metropolitan centers (e.g., Rome, Alexandria, Ephesus, Corinth).  Not all “Metropolitans” were equal either.  Eventually it boiled down to a supreme rivalry between the Patriarch of Rome (affectionately styled ‘Papa’ – Daddy, now rendered ‘Pope’ in English, ‘Pape’ in French, but still “Papa” in Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese) by the Roman populace, and the Johnny-come-lately upstart Patriarch of Constantinople who only gained that dignity because of his close connection to the Emperor, now based in that city on the frontier between Europe and Asia.

Thus we see that by the end of the Fourth Century CE, the Imperial Church had emerged full-blooded, while the original sense of Jesus calling His followers apart to follow a different path was far from lost among millions of his followers who looked with alarm on this heavy-footed march into full-blown political and social involvement of the most injurious kind for a movement supposed to lead people into the peaceable and love-based Kingdom of God rather than a holy-water-sprinkled repurposing of “Caesar-is-Lord” (even of the Church) as per the Roman (morphing into Byzantine by that point) model.

TO BE CONTINUED


[i]  The very important and significant role of women in the early Church has been mostly buried since the 5th Century.  It is a tale which men have too often refused to admit took place and that their counterparts of those generations actively sought to suppress. 

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666 and all that, 4 – The Imperial Church, 1

Above all, the Book of Revelation has always been used as a kind of codebook to discover the hidden meanings behind the great events and personages of history—war and revolution, kings and conquerors, pandemic and natural disaster.  And the words and phrases of Revelation, its stock figures and scenes, have recycled and repurposed artists and poets, preachers and propagandists—all in the service of some religious or political or cultural agenda.  The conquest of Jerusalem by medieval crusaders, the Bonfire of the Vanites [1492-4] in Florence during the Renaissance, the naming of the newly discovered Americas as the New World, and the thousand-year Reich promised by Adolf Hitler are all examples of the unlikely and unsettling ways that the book of Revelation has resonated through history.  Even today, end-of- the-world fears and fantasies are peddled by Hollywood moviemakers and best-selling novelists, hard-preaching televangelists and presidential hopefuls.

Jonathan Kirsch, A History of the End of the World.  (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006), pp.3-4.

(Photo credit – Alamy)

Professor Kirsch has given only a very short list of examples of how Revelation has been (ab)used by fanatics, zealots, and cynical manipulators to justify their own wickedness as Divine will.  From Augustine of Hippo (early 5th Century) calling for the Emperor’s wrath on the Donatists to the Inquisition to some of the US’s farthest Right in the last few decades, the refrain has been the same.

The sincerity of someone’s belief in their own rationalization for taking on the role of God’s avenging angel to bring judgment on apostates and infidels does not reduce their delusion or the downright wickedness of their deeds.  All the more if those deeds were done in full knowledge of their ability to inflame others to do their dastardly work in the name of Christ.

It is the shame of the Church (the Universal Church of Jesus, not any particular denomination) to have sanctioned and participated in some of the bloodiest and most reprehensible deeds of history by invoking the glorious King of Kings as their Commander in launching aggressive and murderous war.  As Kirsch notes, even Hitler used that angle to deceive, or at least salve the consciences of, millions of German Christians as he went about “cleansing the earth” of the unworthy in order to inaugurate his own version of the millennium.

Fanatics are not peculiar to Christianity.  We have seen them in action within other religions with the same manifestations of justifying heinous and diabolical actions in the name of their god(s).  We have seen them in action in atheistic socio-political ideologies with fury that at least equals and often exceeds that of religious zealots.  When Christians slide into that yawning abyss it is a fundamental betrayal of everything their Master taught and exemplified.  Only the deepest (self-) deception about who Yeshua is, why he came, and what he did can move those calling themselves his disciples to behave like the Devil himself.

Which brings us to what I call the “Imperial Church”.

The Church (Greek – ekklesia – the assembly of the people, of the citizens, of the community) is the institutionalized form of the community that Yeshua left behind him when he left this world, promising to return someday to renew it from top to bottom.  Meantime he instructed his disciples and followers to go into all the world and teach and demonstrate what the Kingdom of God should be like in action, not just in a theology about judgment and punishment of sin (human failure to turn back to the Creator and to treat one another and His creation as they should).

In the Bible there are plenty of metaphors and images of what that Kingdom is and what it should look like when put into place and lived in action in the here and now, not just in some future age when Yeshua will return to actually rule as the final King.  Jesus once told his disciples that they should be “in the world, but not of it”, that they should not seek to rule and dominate “like the rulers of the nations do” – by fear, coercion, manipulation, oppression, and violent force to bring compliance or face annihilation.  He told his followers, “If you want to be great in God’s Kingdom, be the servant of all…. Wash one another’s feet.”

“Aye, and there’s the rub,” as Shakespeare would say.  The Yeshua way is a lot harder than gathering a powerful army, marching into some place, ordering everyone to believe or face the alternative of, at best, being a slave or lower-class menial serving the elite, or, at worst, death and destruction.  The Yeshua way is feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, caring for the poor and destitute and downtrodden, lifting up the oppressed and bringing them hope, and even offering mercy and the opportunity to repent and change to the most depraved and criminal.

The truth about the Yeshua way is that it takes a long time to bring about change in human hearts and society itself.  And you still have to always contend with the rebels, the recalcitrant, and the plain old incorrigibly wicked who still want to use and abuse and control and dominate others.

In an ideal word where people were really inherently good rather than broken and selfish and prone to take advantage of others for self enhancement and personal gratification, we could bring in the Kingdom of the Messiah by lived example and persuasion.  According to all the evidence available in history, psychology, sociology, and anthropology, we find ourselves in a world where humans do not naturally (perhaps with some odd exceptions) treat one another nicely and fairly with any constancy.  Even the best of us fall into patterns of behaviour that put ourselves in the place of the Creator at the core of our being.

Which is why we need one another’s help; which is why we needed (and need) the Creator to take a direct hand in showing us the way out, and giving us a changed heart.  Which is why the Creator sent the embodiment of all that in an actual living human being – Yeshua of Natzeret – two thousand years ago.

We will not engage here in the debate about whether what Christians traditionally believe about Yeshua-Jesus is true.  The purpose of this reflection is to consider what those who profess to follow him and to desire the coming of his Kingdom in this realm of time and space have made of his legacy.  That legacy was entrusted to a community, not merely to individuals to figure and live out on their own.  Yeshua called that community his ekklesia – see the definition above – more like a great extended family acknowledging God, the Creator, as its Father-King, and the members as sons and daughters, sisters and brothers.

For about 250 years after Yeshua bodily left the earth, the Ekklesia more or less remained true to the intent of its Founder.  But things were often hard.  Most of the family lived inside the Roman Empire, and the Roman authorities were capricious in their treatment of them.  Some Emperors ignored them as relatively harmless idealists suffering from delusions of mystic grandeur.  Some decided they were a threat to the social and even political order of the Empire and sporadically persecuted them.  Some local governors sometimes took it upon themselves to use force and coercion against these dissidents who claimed there is a heavenly King even above the Emperor and discouraged their sons and brothers from serving in the Roman military and government.

The numbers of the family grew into the millions over the generations, and finally the Roman State decided to destroy this insidious social infection.  Massive persecutions broke out in the Third Century.  Tens of thousands of Christians were killed.  Tens of thousands more recanted, at least publicly.  Tens of thousands more went underground, but carried on – and the numbers continued to grow.

A crisis was at hand.  It seemed that one side or the other must give way in the great contest of Caesar versus Jesus Christ (Messiah Yeshua).

TO BE CONTINUED

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666 and all that, 3

Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword. – Yeshua/Jesus in Mattthew 26:52

God’s Kingdom, you see, isn’t about food and drink, but about justice, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. – The Apostle Paul to the Romans, chapter 14, verse 17.

The large majority of American white Evangelicals have adopted a particular brand of militant, militaristic, and America-is-God’s-chosen-land centered “gospel”.  In their view, the message of peace and reconciliation so loudly and clearly proclaimed by Jesus and the early Christians is relegated to the sidelines as a sort of wimp-out only fit for acceptance after the Second Coming when Jeus will destroy all the infidels and mete out hell-fire justice on all unbelievers.

This thinly disguised, racialized and military form of “gospel” has seized control of the dialogue in the “good-ole-USA” and driven the socio-economic divisions between the haves and have-nots in that great nation deeper and deeper.  Despite the heroic “we’ve got to save the country from the Beast (whatever the latest appearance of that may be)” rhetoric, it is a gross distortion of the spirit of everything Jesus exemplified and taught.  It uses very select excised Bible references to create a pseudo-Jesus transformed from the Redeemer, the Reconciler, and the Prince of Peace to the ultimate warrior and avenging angel.  

Interestingly, the deepest roots of this dark ideology are in the Deep South, the states that once formed the slavery-based Confederate States of America and launched the Civil War, which very nearly destroyed the United States.  The current ideology does not, of course, promote old-style slavery, but preaches the need for virile white evangelical manhood to stand up strong and keep the wrong sort of people from running the USA.  From these roots, southern-style colonial enclaves of “Jesus the ultimate Manly-man and Warrior” ideologues have established camps in other key areas, such as Colorado Springs.  This baptized and thinly spiritualized socio-political ideology appeals most deeply to white working class and middle-class people feeling threatened by the rise of egalitarianism and the progressive movement’s quest for recognizing in fact and not mere words the full equality of women, Afro-Americans, and other long-sublimated ethnic groups.

To legitimize this “Church-militant” stance, a crusade is always essential.  Causes against which to take up the battle for the national soul and throw down the social gauntlet may shift as needed.  First there was Communism in the Cold War, along with its many leftist disguises, such as disarmament.  That old bogeyman still lurks in the closet to be pulled out whenever the Left moves into power and espouses radical changes ranging from social medicine to gay rights (and all the latest addenda to that original social revolutionary sex-wedge).  Terrorism is another and Islam is its most virulent form, making Muslims a choice target.  Family values and issues are always a great rallying point, as is abortion. 

Even fellow Christians of the more moderate and liberal strains can be good foils to mobilize the troops.  After all, the clear-eyed warrior must push out those who compromise and even betray the “true Gospel”.  This “gospel” somehow seems to be found only in America and only among the right kind of passionate disciples who stand on a particular set of principles regarding Biblical inerrancy and exclusive male leadership and headship, especially as regards the family and the Church.

What has all or any of this to do with 666, the Apocalypse (Revelation), and Eschatology?  It is essential to hold to the imminence of Christ’s return in order to stimulate the necessary zeal and garner the necessary funds to keep all the machinery of evangelical empire and socio-political culture strong enough to heavily influence the power-brokers and decision-makers in Washington and the states which form the core of this power-bloc.  Fanning the hope of Christ’s imminent return creates urgency, and the threat of the latest iteration of 666 and the Beast makes that more real, and justifies the massive propaganda machine that has been erected and underpins this huge bloc.

To expose all of this is far beyond the scope of this blog and its blogger.  What is of enormous concern here is that this whole worldview permeates the lives and lifestyles of between 80-100 million Americans, the massive majority of whom are white Evangelicals who have adopted a triumphalist, ultra-nationalist ideology disguised as “true Christianity”.  Its chief promoters are no doubt fanatically convinced that they are the exclusive elite who truly understand and must lead the rest, even at times by subterfuge and outright manipulation of the truth, if necessary. 

It matters little how often such distortions and manipulations are exposed for what they are.  It matters little how often the preachers of purity and righteousness and strong family values are caught out in flagrant scandals that totally discredit what they proclaim themselves the champions of.  The other leaders then provide covers and excuses and half-truth justifications, or offer some token of reprimand, but then declare that the truths are still true and the cause is still pure and just.

The narrative declares that America is still the only real hope of the world, the home of freedom and the true light among the nations.  Despite whatever seems to contradict this, the USA still has its sacred mission, appointed and anointed by the Lord Jesus Himself, built on the faith of the Founding Fathers as the City on the Hill in the New World.

There is no mistaking that at times America has been an agent of enormous good in the world, and still has the potential to be so again.  But it has also produced another image and persona of itself that puts it out of line with anything the true Gospel of Jesus Christ could be as a genuine reflection of the Master who willingly died on Golgotha at the hands of the ancient world’s greatest Superpower and the instigation of the ancient world’s most God-fearing religious establishment.

What the US brand of ultra-Evangelicalism most resembles historically is the fanatical Crusaders who believed that killing those who refused to accept Christ or opposed the preaching of His message was both just and essential if His Kingdom is ever to be brought into the world.  There is none of the humility and self-understanding of being a fallible sinner who might even betray the Master that we find in the Apostles or the Apostolic and Post-Apostolic Fathers and Mothers of the ancient Church.  There is no hint of the first believers who “turned the whole world upside down” and shook the foundations of the Empire itself by turning the other cheek, turning back to be crucified with his people, as Peter did, or heading to Rome to face the Emperor himself even if it meant death, as Paul did.  There is no hint of “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you and persecute you, and so you will prove yourselves to be the children of your Heavenly Father”.

Instead we see a militant, militarized, triumphalist pseudo-Gospel ready to wage war on all evil-doers (as identified by the rabble-rousers naming the latest incarnation of anti-Christ) and changing the Jewish Rabbi Messiah into a westernized Terrible King of vengeance bringing the wrath of God on all sinners because the time for soft-hearted mercy has passed.  In the world of America’s iteration of Evangelicalism, “true Christian men” must stand up and man-up and take up arms to defend their wives (who need to submit and accept what hubby says as God’s will) and protect their children.

It is perhaps not too far-fetched to say that in all this what we are witnessing is a national cult, and a genuine 21st-Century heresy.

(Suggested reading for the dubious, the curious, or the furious: Jesus and John Wayne, How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, by Kristin Kobes du Mez, 2020)

TO BE CONTINUED

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666 and all that, 2

You see, the royal appearing of the Son of Man [Jesus’ own term for himself] will be like the lightning that comes from the east and flashes across to the west.  Where the carcass is, there the vultures will gather.

Jesus – Gospel of Matthew, chapter 24, verses 27-8

(Photo credit – Jesus film project)

When faced with the kaleidoscopic symbolism found in the Biblical Book of Revelation, many readers of the New Testament throw up their hands and decide to ignore it.  It is among the least read books of the Christian Scriptures, although among the most written about in the last half century or so.  Those who favour it believe that it holds the secret to understanding “the Last Days” or “End Times” and deciphering when the “Great Tribulation” will begin and what that will look and be like.

For instance, certain verses in the book suggest that that terrible last age will last seven years and be characterized by the coming into global rule of “the Beast”, seconded by the great “False Prophet”, his main henchman.  Behind the Beastly throne stands the Great Dragon, Satan, whose spirit the Beast incarnates and whose word the False Prophet speaks with deadly authority.

One popular school of interpretation among Conservative Evangelicals includes the Pre-Millennial “Great Rapture”.  This particular approach to the overture of the Great Tribulation (and, by extension, Revelation) is largely rooted in a brand of North American (and especially United States) Evangelicalism mostly held by whites.  There it has taken deep cultural root, while many Evangelicals of “colour” find it a largely racist, militarist, nationalist stream that contributes to their own continuing exclusion from the mainstream of American society.  Unfortunately, there is rather good reason for their perception.  The early genesis of this peculiar form of eschatology is found among some eccentric sects of extreme mid-19th Century English Brethren (Darbyites and Millerites) and offshoots, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses. 

It is rather concerning that the presently favoured (North American) Evangelical doctrine about the “End Times” was born among such origins.  It crossed into more mainstream and “respectable” Evangelical avenues largely thanks to Schofield’s innovation of Dispensationalism.  This took root in the Pentecostal Movement, and later in the charismatic prophetic strand of American Evangelicalism, and now in a generalized way across many denominational lines.

The Pre-Millennial Rapture perspective was thus unknown until less than two hundred years ago.  The ancient Christians knew nothing of it.  In current use some verses of the Apostolic writings are interpreted to say that it was the original teaching of the Apostles and what Jesus meant in a few of His Apocalyptic sayings, but for 1800 years the greatest interpreters of the Scriptures said nothing about this understanding of how the End Times would play out.

Sadly, many of those who hold most steadfastly to this special understanding of Eschatology (the study of the last or final things) seem unprepared and unwilling to consider very powerful arguments that place the accuracy of this whole scheme into serious doubt.

For instance, in the first part of this series we noted that seven is one of those especially important numbers in The apocalypse.  Throughout the rest of the Scriptures, its primary meaning is “complete, whole, full, perfect” and not primarily, although it may be that sometimes, a mathematical quantity.  Tribulation means “great trouble”.  Anyone who lives past the age of seven knows that trouble and even great trouble is not and cannot be limited to a seven-year window.  And such is true in history too.  The primary meaning is not seven literal years, but the fullness of time till “the age of the Gentiles is done” as Jesus put it in talking of the destruction and desecration of Jerusalem.

Yeshua (Jesus) said “In this world/age/time/life, you will have tribulation/great trouble.  But take comfort, for I have overcome the world (the brokenness of the creation and the pains of our existence).”  Seven stands for something quintessential and “full-up” with regard to many things in other references.  To insist that in this single instance it must be a literal time so it fits with a certain modern way of interpreting the most symbolic and allegorical of all Biblical books does not do it justice and even distorts it.  The real point is that very great trouble is always to be expected in this age before it ends with the coming of the “Son of Man”.  Jesus warned, “If the Son of Man had not returned, no one would be left,” and “When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith in the world?”  That is a perennial existential question.

The “prophesied time” has already been much longer than seven years.  There has already been unimaginable tribulation in many places over the last two thousand or so years since the Ascension of Christ.  Ask the tens of thousands who died in the Roman persecutions under some of the most horrific tortures ever devised.  Or the millions who have died in “religious wars”, or under Nazi, Soviet, Chinese Communist, and Islamist persecutions.  It is the filling up, the finishing that is being emphasized, not the specific number of days, weeks, months, and years that we need to be counting down.

In describing the signs (in The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 24, verses 27 and following)that will accompany or precede his Second Coming Jesus says:

You see, the royal appearing of the Son of Man [Jesus’ own term for himself] will be like the lightning that comes from the east and flashes across to the west.  Where the carcass is, there the vultures will gather.

Vultures gather where dead bodies lie.  The Son of Man comes and is coming and is to be looked for at all times, and all the more in the times of great trouble when the bodies pile up.

Straightway… after the suffering that those days will bring, “The sun will turn to darkness, and the moon won’t give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will shake.”

We are not being told that the universe will cease following the laws of physics here.  We are being told in Apocalyptic language to expect the most extreme forms of evil and spiritual darkness to break through.  It will seem as though all of existence is crashing down.  There may well be physical phenomena at play creating the blocking of light.  In God’s order, the physical and spiritual are one reality, not two.  The heavenly bodies also speak of “the spiritual powers of wickedness in heavenly places” (Ephesians chapter 6:10 and following) which battle against the coming of the Kingdom of God with all their might and main.

And the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven; then all the tribes of the earth will mourn.  They will see ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven’ with power and great glory.  He will send his messengers [angels] with a great trumpet-blast, and they will collect his chosen ones from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other….

Nobody knows what day or time this will happen…

In His own time, the Messiah will break through and come (again) to deal with the rebellion and chaos of satanic lawlessness, but trying to lay it all out in a modern schemata is a diversion.  Moderns (even modern Western Christians, who are people of their own time) want to calculate it all like we calculate an engineering problem, but we cannot box God or His plans in no matter how minutely we dissect the verses that tantalize us.  It is our modern rationalism that drives us to do what the ancients knew better than to attempt.  It is actually weak faith, not strong faith (trust) that drives us to this kind of obsession.

The royal appearing of the Son of Man will be like the days of Noah.  What does that mean?  Well, in those days, before the flood, they were eating and drinking, they were getting married and giving children in marriage, right up to the day when Noah went into the ark.  They didn’t know about it until the flood came and swept them all away.  That’s what it’ll be like at the royal appearing of the Son of Man.

This is transparently not about being snatched out of peril, but being swept up in it because of rejecting the way out (salvation) God has provided.

On that day there will two people working in the field.  One will be taken; the other will be left.  There will be two women grinding corn in the mill.  One will be taken; the other will be left.

In this illustration, Yeshua was speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem, not the Great Rapture at the End of Days.  The whole description is of a terrible siege as per the Roman Army’s masterly way of taking strong cities and fortresses.  It is also what happened in the fields around Jerusalem when Titus’s juggernaut descended on that area to lay siege to Israel’s great city.

So keep alert!  You don’t know what day your master will come.  But bear this in mind: if the householder had known what time of night the burglar was going to come, he would have stayed awake and wouldn’t have let his house get broken into.  So you must be ready!  The Son of Man is coming at a time you don’t expect.  (The Kingdom New Testament, a Contemporary Translation)

We think the “burglar” in this little parable is the bad-guy and the householder is the good-guy, but the whole context turns that on its head.  The “householder” is the strong-man (as he is called in a parallel passage) who invaded the house and usurped the property of the rightful owner.  It is the Satan who has done this to the beautiful world God created.  The “burglar” is the rightful owner coming back to claim his own.  That is why Jesus says “he will come like a thief in the night”.

It is time we started seeing our time more clearly by shedding some distorted lenses we have fallen into using for the last two centuries or more.  It is time to also begin to see the lamentable condition of the Master’s House partly caused by distortions of reality we have adopted in the name of the Kingdom of God since ancient times.

TO BE CONTINUED

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666 and all that, 1

“This calls for wisdom.  Anyone with a good head on their shoulders should work out the monster’s number, because it’s the number of a human being.  Its number is Six Hundred and Sixty-Six.”

Revelation 13:18 – The Kingdom New Testament, a Contemporary Translation

(Photo – Nero. Credit: History.com)

For 1900 years, the number 666 has spooked Dooms-Day prognosticators.  It has been much used in horror movies, fantasy, and science-fiction.  We find it in religious sensationalism and prophetic predictions.  It is strewn across centuries of literature and dire warnings of the coming of the Final Judgment.[i]

It is the Apocalyptic Number of “the Great Beast”.  For those who first heard it used two millennia ago, it was code for the mad Roman Emperor Nero.  Then he died.  Then he was rumored to have come back to life, like the head wounded unto death but returned to life in the final book of the New Testament, Revelation, also called “the Apocalypse of St. John”.

To many and perhaps most readers who try to fathom that mysterious scroll, it comes across as a fantastic sounding and seemingly confusing set of visions (confusing to us two thousand years later) full of sevens within sevens, wheels within wheels, conspiracies within conspiracies, and mysteries within mysteries.  Six Hundred and Sixty-Six was also the “Mark of the Beast” stamped on the hand or the forehead, or both, of those who would give in and become the servants and slaves of the Beast.  This last book of the Bible has given limitless scope to fertile and fervent imaginations, both for those who revere the Bible and those who see it simply as a fascinating source of imagery and fantasy.

There is no doubt that the Apocalypse (a Greek word that means “unveiling” or “revealing” – thus the translation “Revelation”) is a fascinating book, even to those who do not adhere to Christianity or the Bible.  It is actually an especially powerful example of a certain genre of ancient literature known as the “apocalyptic”.  The ancient Jews were especially prone to produce such works in the Second and First Centuries BCE, with some carryover into the First Century CE.  There were even some non-Jewish apocalyptic works.

John, the author of Revelation, is firmly anchored in the apocalyptic tradition, although quite unique within it as well.  Unlike most other apocalyptic writers, John (usually believed to have been Jesus’ “beloved Disciple”, the Apostle John) is actually crystal clear in the central message of his story (and yes, he does tell a story – a very powerful one).  Many other such works are rife with mysterious obscurities and veiled meanings only the special initiates (Gnostics) can fathom.  John’s basic purpose and story are totally transparent when you get past a few primary keys that open the locks to the combinations of sevens and other numbers – such as the “Four Horseman of the Apocalypse”, references to three and a half “times”, and the use of triple six.

The book and its story are obviously not a literal history of the times and culture of the late First Century CE, but they are full of recognizable allusions to that time and its major cultural features, just as other Biblical books are the products of their time and set within the culture of their periods.  Revelation is set in the form of an extended letter to seven particular late First Century Christian congregations in the Roman Province of Asia (now west-Central Turkey).  That is an important contextual point.

This series will not rehash and reinterpret all the Book’s very complex structure and imagery.  The intention is to set out a few major points which will provide us with a basis to deal with some of our own time’s and culture’s critical issues.  Despite the temporal difference of almost two thousand years, there are remarkable parallels which we may do well to consider as we work our way through the turmoil of our own years of great and rapid change.

First, a point about numbers and numerology.  There are many numbers in Revelation.  They almost never mean an empirical, scientific, mathematical quantity.  They are representative of other notions and ideas which bridge the visible, sensory Cosmos in which we mostly, consciously experience reality and the spiritual but just as real side of reality.

Two numbers in Revelation stand out above all others – 666 and various groups of seven.  In ancient Biblical numerology (the study of the symbolic use and meaning of numbers), six is the number of humans, “Man”, the human race (see opening citation).  Why?  Humanity was the apex of all creation, created last on the sixth and last day of creation.  In contrast, seven is God’s number, as well as the number of completion, wholeness, finality.  God rested after the creation on the Seventh Day, consecrating and declaring it holy – set apart for Him.  There are not seven days of creation, but six, for seven is the “Sabbath” – the Day set aside for rest, renewal, regeneration.  “And God rested on the seventh day.” (Book of Genesis 1)  It is the number of completion, maturation, perfect work.  God named it His own day.  On it humans were to turn to their Creator and be renewed, stopping all their work and striving.

If seven first of all refers to God’s finished, perfect, good work of creation, what is it with all the sevens of judgment and destruction in Revelation?  That is complicated.  It has to do with all the wickedness and rebellion and destruction of the Creation against the Creator – most especially by humans, egged on and bamboozled by the “Great Serpent” – the beguiler and deceiver, the “Great Dragon” we meet in the twelfth chapter of the book.  Judgment is primarily the failure to enter the Sabbath rest of the Creator, to take the extended hand of God and draw closer to the Creator.  That rejection entails abusing and exploiting the creation for our own purposes rather than what we and they have been created for.  The creation then becomes broken, twisted, contorted and full of pain and thrashing about in futility.  The sevens of judgment are all about what that looks like in various guises.  Over the millennia, this brokenness has accumulated and become an exponentially inflated mountain to the point that we have become capable of physically wiping out the great gift of life God made to us on Planet Earth.  Revelation talks about the filling up of the vials and cups of “the wrath of God”.  When the cup is overflowing, there is nowhere for all the putrid corruption to go but out, flowing down over the Earth and polluting everything. 

In the Bible, several examples are given to illustrate this outcome.  The two most terrible are: first, Noah’s Flood, and second, Sodom and Gomorrah.  Yeshua-Jesus refers to both in his comments about “the last days” – the days of coming judgment.  This makes these examples worth paying attention to as severe warnings to us in our time.

There is something of a conspiracy craze afoot these days, especially here in the West.  Conspiracy is a fascinating term.  If you’ve never noticed, it shares the same root meaning as “piracy”.  The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines “Conspire – [to] Combine privily [secretly] for unlawful purpose, esp. treason, murder, sedition; [to] plot, devise [to ruin, attack].”  A conspiracy is the act of conspiring.  Piracy is the continual action of conspiracy to seize and take and even destroy whatever the pirate conspires to take for himself.

From the Biblical perspective, conspiring has been going on since the beginning of human history.  Most criminal activity is born of conspiracy.  Humans have been plotting and planning in all kinds of ways and at all times to undercut, usurp, and exploit the creation for their own goals and purposes rather than bringing it into its most perfect expression as God’s wonderful work and gift to us and all its participant creatures. 

In the Bible, there is a rebel counter-force named as “the Satan” – the adversary and accuser.  This power is portrayed as “the Serpent”.  The Serpent is a particular serpentine being, not a characterization of all snakes.  He/it is so subtle and deceptive that he is able to fool the most intelligent humans, hiding in plain sight.  Yeshua once described the goal of this anti-God force thus: “The Satan [usually identified as an actual personal being(s)] comes only to kill, steal, and destroy” and “is the father [inventor, originator] of lies.”

But humans are also “serpentine” on their own, not requiring the “Accuser’s” assistance to conceive and execute malignant schemes and behaviours.  The Serpent is only too glad to stimulate and spur those innate human tendencies into full activation.

The coming together of the Cosmic “evil one” and the human propensity to seek our own aggrandizement at the expense of everyone and everything else typically and periodically produce especially monstrous eruptions that leave the whole world reeling and the human race lying in a shambles.  Shifting the blame, we point the finger at God as if the Deity is responsible for allowing us to behave demonically rather than exercising His omnipotence to prevent such horrors.  The Accuser laughs all the while from behind the Oz-Curtain, and we fool ourselves that we are justified because God doesn’t just cut evil out of our hearts and kill the most monstrous perpetrators.

This series will follow some of the threads that emerge from this perspective and compare them to various episodes of history as well as aspects of our conspiracy-mad current global and Western culture.

I invite readers to consider their own ideas about these phenomena and to comment with their own observations.  I also invite interested readers to read chapters 12 and 13 of the New Testament Book of Revelation as a reference point.  Of course the more complete context is the whole Book of Revelation or Apocalypse, and not only two chapters.


[i] Belief in judgment of life by the gods or some supernatural beings (ancestors) after death has existed for many millennia.  The Final Judgment is not just a Christian doctrine about the Creator coming to judge everyone who has ever lived and assign them to Heaven or Hell, salvation or perdition.  In some version, It has existed from time immemorial in earlier religious teachings, including polytheistic systems and other major World Religions, such as Judaism (which gave it to Christianity) and Islam.  Hinduism has its twist on it, and the notion that wickedness will ultimately be dealt with by the supernatural forces of good extends far into the remotest reaches of antiquity.

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Faith and Hope –  Assurance and Conviction 9 – Conclusion  – Hope and Assurance, 2

While there is life, there is hope. – Marcus Tullius Cicero

A ship should not ride on a single anchor, or a life on a single hope. – Epictetus

When hope is taken away from a people moral degeneration follows swiftly after. – Pearl S. Buck

A great Hope fell

You heard no noise

The Ruin was within.

– Emily Dickinson

So, now, faith, hope and love remain, these three; and of them, love is the greatest. – Paul of Tarsus, the Apostle Paul.

(Photo credit – Wikipedia)

Life without hope is the slide into despair.  Anyone who has lost hope for any length of time has discovered that road.  Whether small or great, millions feel it.  Winston Churchill called it “the black dog”.  Abraham Lincoln confessed to times of deep despondency during his Presidency, particularly after the death of his youngest son.

The devastating disappointments and betrayals of life drive people into emotional dark depths where they find themselves in the pit of despair.  Occasionally it can be turned around by a momentous event or revelation of why there is reason to hope.  Churchill’s refuge of hope was his wife’s rock-solid faith in him and his deep faith in his sense of a Providential calling to play some great role in the world.  Knowing large swaths of the Bible by heart and many passages of classic literature gave him deep reserves to call upon.  He typifies Epictetus’ wise dictum that we need more than one anchor to get through life’s roller-coaster.

Cicero, Epictetus, and Paul were Roman-era thinkers of very different backgrounds.  Buck and Dickinson are great writers of the 20th Century.

Cicero, one of the great orators of all time, was also one of Rome’s truly original philosophers.  He believed in the essential benevolence of the Creator.  While observing and performing the public forms of Rome’s polytheistic religion, he personally believed that there was really but one great God.  He held that this Creator was fundamentally benevolent in creating a good world and giving us life in the first place when He had no obligation to do so.  Life is thus a declaration of hope that there is goodness in the world even in the midst of evil.  When death came to him by a vengeful Caesar Augustus’ assassins, he met it in keeping with his convictions.

Epictetus was a second century CE Stoic philosopher much admired by his contemporaries.  He inspired Rome’s unique philosopher-Emperor, Marcus Aurelius (d. 181 CE), whose Meditations are much read to this day.  The Stoics were not optimists, but strongly believed in a created order in which one must find and live by one’s calling and do one’s duty within that calling.  One must do as much good as possible for the greatest number and obviate as much as evil as possible. 

Stoics believed that since suffering and death are inevitable, it is one’s allotment to live well, suffer well when that time comes, and die well in the end, offering example and inspiration to those who follow.  They also believed in one Creator presiding over all, although not opposing the observance of polytheistic religious conventions for the sake of maintaining public unity and order.  The “Good Emperors”, from Trajan (98-117 CE) to Marcus Aurelius (161-181 CE), presided over the the second half of the Roman Empire’s “Golden Age” of the Pax Romana (Roman Peace).  They were Stoics.  Under them, the persecution of Christians was sporadic and largely confined to specific localities.  Marcus Aurelius found any form of persecution distasteful and inconsistent with his philosophy, but, as a Stoic with a higher duty to the Divinely sanctioned Empire, felt compelled to restrain the growth of this counter-culture which contradicted the Order of the world that Rome embodied.  For him, hate played no role;  it was nothing personal.

Marcus Aurelius’s successors proved to be far more interested in enjoying their power and playing god than being philosophical.  Buck’s comment (see above) about moral degeneracy resulting from the removal of hope had been seen previously under the worst of the early Emperors (notably Caligula and Nero) before the Antonines (Aurelius being the last of them).  It truly came to light during the next centuries when Rome drifted into constant internal and external strife.  Since then over the last 1800 years, societies everywhere in the world have played true to Buck’s observation.  By many appearances, the West of the 21st Century is acting out its own version of this drama.

Dickinson’s poignant lines tell us that the worst form of death is the ruin of the soul. Inevitable physical death is not the worst fate.  It does not at all mean the internal ruin of the person.  Moral ruin within is really a far worse death, for it renders life itself futile, meaningless.  To die well with hope that life means something and one’s own life has meant something takes away some of its sting.

Which brings us to Saul of Tarsus, better known as the Apostle Paul.  His statement is immortal.  It is among the most oft-quoted in history, even among those who know and care next to nothing about the Bible, from which it is taken.

Paul marries three of the great, “Divine” virtues that transcend worthy lesser ones such as honesty and valour.  It is hard to segment virtues in some sort of hierarchy, for the “greater” and “lesser” are really quite interdependent, giving life to one another.  But the “Higher” virtues are perhaps more readily linked to the core of how we are made in the image of God, at least in Christian theology.  One does not need relationship with God to understand the value of honesty and integrity, or even courage, for example.  It is even possible to find some degree of faith, hope, and love outside of consciously striving for relationship with the Maker.

But Paul’s point is about how such virtues can only be truly fulfilled and lived in their highest and best expression in relationship to the One who completes all faith aspirations, fulfills all hopes, and perfects love.  Over and over again, we have referenced the essential hopelessness of a vision of the Universe as an accidental congruence of totally improbable events for which we can provide no reason.  Lately we are seeing quite respected and respectable scientists admitting that the Cosmos not only superficially appears to have come into being as a result some intentional design, but consistently has behaved that way since its very first instant.

And this brings us back to hope.  Evidence says more and more convincingly (allowing us to live with conviction) that there is a true and real design inherent in the very fabric of all that is.  Denying it harder and harder will not make it go away.

We are now closing the circle that began, in the Enlightenment mythology of the emergence of modern science, with Galileo being persecuted and silenced by the willfully blind and ignorant dogmatists of the Catholic Church’s established hierarchy.  It is now the hardline dogmatic rationalists to refuse to see what the evidence more and more clearly declares about the probable existence of a Personal Designer. There is a diminishing number of real active scientists who say “it does not move”, while the scientific “heretics” are coming out of the woodwork and no longer whispering, but saying more and more boldly, “And yet it moves.”[1]

Why is all this hopeful?  Because when we have gone as far as reason can take us, we find there is much more to learn and experience beyond that boundary.  We can begin to accept the testimony of humans from all of our history that there is a Maker, there is a Creator who has put us here for a reason – to know and relate to Him/Her and to discover that wonder and majesty of all that He/She has made.  And within that incredible outpouring of His/Her glory, we discover who and what we are and have always been intended to be and become.

All human existence testifies to the incredible power of love to inspire, to move us to great things.  Behind all that is, is the Power of an infinite Person, not an abstract principle, calling us to know and be known in relationship to Him/Her, and through the One who is, to know and be known by one another.

And out of this understanding comes that which we began this series with – Trust-Faith.  For knowing the Maker, the Creator who is really and truly there, and even incredibly here and near (as close as your jugular vein in the graphic phrase of the Quran), grants us a real ground to hope, to love, and to trust.

As we conclude this series, let us reflect for a moment on why Saul-Paul said “the greatest of these” (the three paramount virtues – faith, hope, and love) is love.”  It goes back to what the Creator has done out of sheer love, without any obligation to any other.  The Maker of all that is needed nothing or anyone.  Out of sheer selfless love, He/She chose to make a universe where His/Her love could be given out without limit, like a super-explosion (Big Bang anyone?), and freely offered to creatures made in His/Her own image, who could choose to love back and love one another and manifest the nature of the Maker in themselves.

That, essentially, is the Judeo-Christian story which for most of two millennia anchored the West and gave it reason and even enabled it to produce some pretty amazing advances in shedding some of the worst aspects of what happens to people without that kind of faith, hope, and love. 

We will finish this series with an allusion to a very old story from Christian tradition.

It is said that, in the early 60s of the First Century CE, after many adventures, the Apostle Peter had made his way to Rome.  When 60-70% of Rome burned in the great fire of 64 AD, the mad Emperor Nero blamed it on the Christians in order to deflect the blame the populace was laying on him.  A terrible persecution of Christians broke out and thousands were being put to death in a series of great spectacles to divert the outraged populace.

The Christians of Rome urged Peter to leave the city to escape so that he might continue to minister and witness to Jesus elsewhere.  Peter headed south along the Via Appia, Rome’s equivalent to the I-95 in the eastern US or Highway 401 in Canada.  Somewhere along the way, the resurrected Jesus met him.  Jesus was walking towards the city. 

Shocked and trembling, Peter asked him, “Quo vadis, Domine? – Where are you going, Lord?”

Jesus replied, “I am going to Rome to be crucified again with my people, for you have abandoned them.”

Struck to the heart and weeping, Peter went to his knees and repented.  Jesus comforted and reassured him that He would be there with him.  Peter got up and hurried back.  Soon after he was arrested and crucified, having brought great comfort and renewed faith to the condemned.  The Apostle asked his killers to be crucified upside down because, “I am not worthy to die in the same way as my Lord.”

This very likely true story illustrates all that we have been trying to say about faith, hope, and love – and the assurance and conviction that give the strength to live by what one says about believing and acting.  The source of Peter’s trust in Jesus was a living personal relationship rooted in experience of his Lord’s love for him and for the people he too loved.  The source of Peter’s hope was this personal love and experience in seeing that this was the real deal, and that he would not be abandoned and proven deluded.  Conviction was part and parcel of it all.  Trusting what his Lord had promised, Peter fully committed himself to die well. His conviction was based on what he knew already and what he had good reason to believe would be fulfilled in the future according to his Lord’s promises.

The Christian story is not about “pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by”.  A future wonderful renewed world and an afterlife of bliss is all well and good, but the life we have today is to be lived in trust and hope that even now, we have good and sufficient reason to know we will have the strength to be a light in a dark world, even when that means figurative and literal crucifixion.

If you are not a follower of Jesus, you have no less need for that kind of trust and hope to make it through the inevitable trials life will bring you.

Pax vobiscum.


[1] I am referring the (in)famous trial of Galileo before the Inquisition in the 1640s, when Galileo, under threat of being burned as heretic, recanted his statements that the planets moved around the sun and the whole universe is in motion, and that the earth is not the center of the Universe.

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Faith and Hope,  Assurance and Conviction, 8 – Hope and Assurance, 1

(Photo credit: Biography.com)

In 2021 the Ultra-Left term themselves “the Woke”.  Apparently they have entered a state of New Enlightenment that is wiping out the old one inspired by the likes of David Hume, John Locke, Voltaire, and Rousseau.  A great many more names could be added to that honoured list, but the point is that, according to the Woke, all these old-school scientific and logical thinkers suffered from two major faults: first, they were all European, white males, and secondly, they had all been much too exposed to Christianity, even if they largely repudiated its institutional forms and most of its basic tenets.

It is true that Western society of the fourteen hundred years or so prior to our own much more liberated 21st– Century version failed to grant women their rights and proper and due place as the equals of men in politics, economics, and society.  It is true that for centuries it condoned slavery and belief in its own racial superiority.

For forty or fifty years a growing trend among the Western intelligentsia has been to eviscerate itself with conspicuous self-flagellation and deep shame over these failures.  Its abnegation of the foundational long-cherished adherence to reason, sound evidence, and scientific inquiry has rendered it a shadow of its former formidable force for finding truth.  Instead it has made itself a penitent lapdog of the boundlessly expanding Woke agenda, doing curious mental gymnastics to cover its self-inflicted abject spiritual and intellectual poverty. 

On the other hand, there is no avoiding historical Christendom’s dismal failure to live by the early Christian statement that “in Christ there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free” as the Apostle Paul put it in his letter to the Christian congregations of Galatia, a province of the ancient Roman Empire in what is now Turkey.  Neither is there any use in denying the successor First Enlightenment society’s equally dismal failure on the same account.  This guilty dual failure is the fodder the Ultra Left uses to induce the West’s self-loathing, screaming that it must all be torn down.  The Woke have only an agenda of destruction and offer nothing but nihilism in return, in flaming fulfillment of Nietzsche’s so-clairvoyant prophecy of 150 years ago.

Despite all the despair and hate-screaming, there is still a light shining.  Even today, 2000 years after he made it, the Apostle Paul’s statement is a beacon of hope in a dark world, a truly revolutionary statement, totally unlike the Ultra-Left’s pseudo-progressive nihilistic radicalism.  Despite the self-flagellating oddity of the West’s admission of guilt, it is paradoxically out of the much-maligned West that all these much needed calls for reform and equalization of injustices and rights have come.  The silence among all the other extant civilizations and cultures has been, on the whole and through many centuries, deafening.

On the surface, such a statement would seem to smack of yet more “racial” superiority – unless it is actually true.  However, as per the Woke’s screamology, even truth is racist if it has a “Eurocentric” origin.  But truth has nothing whatsoever to do with race or skin-color, which is after all nothing but melanin pigmentation.  By declaring truth we are not absolving the failures or excusing the perpetrators of crimes and abuses.  The West’s failures and crimes are just the “best” (or least) of a bad bunch.

We do not time or space here to produce the voluminous documentary and anecdotal evidence which substantiate that the West has been more progressive in its views and treatment of women and minorities over the last millennium and a half.  However, the evidence is real and abundant for anyone willing to find it and take an impartial look at it.

Of course there are some very dark places and times and backslidings in the progressive (in the true sense of that word) movement of the West to achieve something approaching greater equality of the sexes.  Incidentally, sexual equality is a different from “gender” equality, which has become the new cause of causes since “gender” was co-opted to refer to any and every choice of sexual behaviour.

In fact, the very emergence of the modern movement towards equalities and rights of all kinds emerged from the West, and no other culture, despite historians’ and anthropologists’ valiant efforts to offer spot-sightings and hints of these things elsewhere in the other major cultures and civilizations extant over the last two millennia.  By itself, the West’s pre-eminence in this by is infuriating back-door evidence of the truth of the claim.

Christendom’s emergence is not contemporaneous with Christianity’s appearance as a rising faith in the 3rd and 4th Centuries CE.  “Christendom” was a post-Charlemagne (ca 800 CE) idea.  For beginners, we find that Western womanhood in the last 1500 years has generally lived with a greater measure of consideration and respect, and even inclusion in society’s affairs at large, than her counterparts in other civilizations.  No doubt, this statement will displease some readers, but it is demonstrable historical fact.

When it comes to hope and assurance, the rights of women are the flagship of all human equality rights.  That is why Paul, that oft-maligned, supposed misogynist who apparently warped the ancient Church’s mindset to exclude and subjugate women, put women’s full and true equality at the head of his short list of the kinds of equality Mashiach Yeshua (Jesus Christ) opened to any who will come into his “Kingdom of God”.  This Kingdom was conceived as and offered more like a great extended family than any sort of “Kingdom” that has existed or exists in human governance in the records of history.

It is a declaration of real and true equality of men and women being made “in the image of God”.  Both have a full and equal part in manifesting and experiencing that “imageness” here and now as well as in the final consummation to come.  The physicality of sex is very real and is the source of begetting children and co-heirs for and in God’s Kingdom.  That is why this equality tops the three fundamental kinds of equality the Kingdom ushers in.

But what of the other two fundamental equalities: “Jew vs. Greek” and “slave vs. free”?

When Paul refers to “Jew and Greek”, he is speaking of all being fully equal before God and in His family, regardless of ethnicity, “race” (skin color and any other physically distinguishing characteristics one might choose to select as some sign of superiority), language, or culture.  None of this matters to the Creator or should to anyone claiming to truly seek Him/Her and follow His/Her ways. 

Finally, Paul designates the true and full equality of both “slave and free” within the Creator’s Kingdom.  This addresses all differences of social class and economic standing, both things which count for so much today – as they always have in “the present age”, the human Cosmos as we find it operating outside the Creator’s Kingdom.

Why is this triple declaration so powerful, so revolutionary, and full of hope?  Why did its first emergence “turn the world upside down”, as was noted by those who witnessed and feared its coming into their midst within the first thirty years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Yeshua-Jesus?

It simply challenged (and challenges) every means of creating division and preference humanity has ever devised or fallen into because of our broken “imageness” – our fundamental deviation from the design and purpose of the Creator.  It still challenges all of the same things, no matter how they have manifested themselves over the centuries and still do today.  Same-old, same-old.  “There is nothing new under the sun” – except the startling, dazzling coming of the Sent One, who came to lay the axe to the root and declare the true Revolution, the only Revolution that offers true hope and a real end to all our woes.

We will finish today with an ancient one-word Aramaic prayer – “Maranatha!”  If you are curious, look it up.

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Faith and Hope:  Assurance and Conviction, 7 – The Smell of Blood

As far as I can make out in reading scientific treatments of the question of origins written for ordinary folks, the farthest the cosmologists can reach back is about 14-15 billion years to the Big Bang.  Whether and why there was anything before that to “Bang” is, for the present and foreseeable future, enshrouded in mystery.  Some evolutionary astro-physicists prefer to leave any hint of an uncreated Creative Power or Being which, or who, is not somehow the pre-Bang stuff of the universe itself, out of consideration.  This decision is an article of faith, a theological statement based on no evidence.  All that can be seen is that, from what looks awfully like everything coming out of nothing and nowhere, the original stuff of the Cosmos suddenly just was and at the very instant it was, it exploded with a violence and heat beyond any semblance of calculation.

Moving fourteen billion years forward, the Palaeontologists and Evolutionary Biologists tell us that 3-4 million years ago the first hominids appeared, walking upright and using their growing intelligence and hand-ingenuity to manipulate the environment.  Once more we meet mystery.  Why did these creatures appear in the first place?  It is part of the larger question of why life appeared, and how apparently chaotic combinations of atoms and sub-atomic particles could, would, and should formulate anything orderly, let alone life-bearing.  In other words, why did what, by all the odds, should have remained fundamental chaos begin to organize itself?

The scientifically unsophisticated are carefully instructed that someday science can and will be able to penetrate these great mysteries.  However, an rapidly increasing number of more forthright scientists do not dogmatically restate Stephen Hawking’s position on God that “we do not have need of that hypothesis”.  Instead, they gingerly use the word “God” now and again, without attaching a specific description of who or what God may be.  The tentative and usually unspoken admission is that the why of it all is beyond science to answer.  Even in the specifically scientific realm of why just the right sort of particles should appear in just the right proportions and just the right kind of combinations in defiance of all laws of probability is also a deep mystery, for it presents all the appearance of design and intentionality.

The particle researchers and Cosmologists admit the appearance of intentionality even at the origins of things, as if the “universe” or “Cosmos” somehow “knew” to go in a direction leading to increasingly complex organization and, finally, at least in some places, that most complex of developments – living things, with the most amazing of those being, as far as we can tell, humanity.

Nevertheless, believers in the Creator who follow ancient revelation are still seen as simpletons, fanatics, or irrelevant relics. Meanwhile, the new faith propounded over the last two hundred years, has entrenched itself against all challenge in a fashion every bit as founded on dogma as any creed proclaimed by any Council or Synod of Church or Temple, or any mullah or ayatollah.

The point we have been hammering is that at ground level faith is implicit trust in basic beliefs put into practice.  Ideologies and “secular”, god-denying worldviews (and materialistic Scientism, aggressive atheism, and militant progressivism are undeniable worldviews which now dominate our education systems and academic establishment) are every bit as dogmatic as any religion their proponents abhor, and at least as intolerant as any sect of Christianity has been.  “The proof is in the pudding,” or, as Yeshua said, “You will know them by their fruits.  You won’t get thorns from a fig tree and you can’t get figs from a thorn-bush.”  (I am liberally paraphrasing, but remaining faithful to all the sense of his aphorisms about such things as discerning the truth about things and people.)  In that last two hundred years, there have been 100-200 million corpses to illustrate the innate fanaticism of militant secular ideologies.

Here in Canada, it is facile and frequent to hear the denunciation of the apparent evil and hypocrisy of the rapidly eroding Judeo-Christian foundation and heritage of the West.  The more quickly we shed it the better, it would seem.  Then we will be free of all the vestiges of that cloying sanctimoniousness about the superiority of European civilization, largely rooted in that reprehensible Christian claim to be the one truth all need.  We must celebrate every aspect of the new diversity without judging any of it, however implicitly.  It would seem that “judgment” comes in almost every form of “euro-derivation”, even in the foundations of our mathematics and science itself.

Talk about having your cake and eating it too!  We are told on the “traditional” left that reason, logic, and science are the true way to enlightenment, then on the even farther left that that kind of thinking is also implicitly racist because it emerged from the West.  Anything tainted by the West (the European heritage of Canada), was, a few generations removed, Christian and founded on the Christian perspective of a personal God who made the universe according to definite design and is maintained in being by principles of order and function so delicately balanced that any slight change would have meant, and will mean, chaos and extinction.  But apparently we should disregard all that: (a) because it came out of the West and is therefore by definition racist and thus evil, and (b) because, having emerged from the West it is, by association, and however obliquely, rooted in Judeo-Christianity.

It would seem that the old progressives are now a prime target of the new radical ultra-progressives.  The new progressives have set their sights on the extinction of all vestiges of the old Christian consensus, and, secondarily, of its derivate, the scientific Enlightenment heritage.

If you find yourself a bit at a loss as to what this is even about, a look at what is being propounded in faculties of education and written into major curriculum revisions all across the West will quickly enlighten you.  Peruse the blatant ideological agenda of many of the trendy new faculties and programs of study on offer in our higher institutes of learning – even those still clinging to some vestiges of their old Christian founding principles.  Survey what major publishers are putting out – and what they are not offering anymore.  Watch the collections still available in your local libraries – and see what you can no longer find, at least very readily.  Watch how the news is reported and what is not reported.  For example, when was the last time you saw anything about the killing of hundreds of Christians because they are Christians every week across the globe? 

All these things are faith-inspired and faith-motivated, conviction-inspired and conviction motivated.  That is so self-evident, and we have belaboured it now so much for weeks, that we need spend no more time on it. 

What we still need to discuss are the aspects of hope and assurance, without which conviction and faith are desperate posturing akin to Ophelia’s declarations of her undying love for Hamlet. The desperation and tone have the opposite effect of causing us to doubt its sincerity.  Violence and vehemence are too often a betraying cover-up for the inadmissible but intuitively understood truth that the Emperor is wearing no clothes, no matter how often we admire their splendor.

The naked Emperor is exactly what the new ultra-radical left vividly portrays in all their screaming denunciation and shouting-down of their much more composed and rational opponents and targets.

As Jordan Petersen has brilliantly deconstructed this fanaticism, and as Friedrich Nietzsche so amazingly predicted 140 years ago, it all boils down to childishly murderous temper tantrums about rights to everything and responsibility for nothing.  It is all about what Nietzsche, the greatest modern philosopher, called “The Will to Power”.

Very strangely, the old enemies of Scientific Rationalism and Judeo-Christian fundamentalism (and not Fundamentalism) about basic truths may very soon find themselves allied in a desperate effort to save what is left of the West’s best heritage from what Arnold Toynbee dubbed the Internal Barbarians, who are far more dangerous than any assemblage of external tribes and circling vultures smelling blood in the sand.

TO BE CONTINUED

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Faith and Hope:  Assurance and Conviction, 6

… this thing we all know, this thought, this mind, cannot in fact be really alien to the nature of the universe.  Or, putting it the other way round, the nature of the universe cannot be really alien to Reason.  We find that matter always obeys the same laws which our logic obeys.  When logic says a thing must be so, Nature always agrees.  No one can suppose that this can be due to a happy coincidence.  A great many people think that it is due to the fact that Nature produced the mind.  But on the assumption that Nature is herself mindless this provides no explanation.  To be the result of a series of mindless events is one thing: to be a kind of plan or true account of the laws according to which those mindless events happened is quite another.

C.S. Lewis, in “De Futilitate”, Christian Reflections, The Collected Works of C.S. Lewis, (New York: Inspirational Pre

For every thinking human, faith is a given.  One of the first (and almost always unarticulated and assumed) articles of human faith is that, somehow, thinking relates to reality.  Even fantastic and magical thinking starts from what is known, from what has been thought of as the “real” universe which exists, in order to create an alternative.  Even in magic and fantasy there is some acceptance of the processes of basic logic –actions beget reactions, what is done and left undone produces consequences.

In our previous discussion in this series, we related that all approaches to reality are essentially religious, in the original sense of interpreting what exists through a system of concepts which ties it all, or at least most of it, back together (Latin religio)so as to be able to function in the universe as we find it.  Science is not “religious” in the popular sense of delimiting how to approach whatever God, gods, or spiritual powers may exist, but it is inevitably, etymologically religious in imposing a system of constructs, principles, and methodologies through which to understand what our senses and reason discern about reality.

The same can be said of socio-economic- political ideologies claiming to be objective and secular.  They may deny or ignore God, but they are inevitably religious.  In fact, no system of human thought (philosophy in its widest sense) is without theology, for all take a position on whether there is a God, and, if the existence of some form of Deity is acceptable, how to relate to such (a) being(s).  Agnosticism, the “I don’t know about God” approach, is just lazy atheism because it says “God may exist, but I choose to ignore Him/Her/It as irrelevant” (to me, at any rate), which is really passive atheism.

We always return to the core issue of faith, which we have described as trust in its most practical manifestation.  As we have said, faith without trust in what is (or is said to be) believed is not faith, but a sterile intellectual position.  The Christian Scriptures describe such “faith” as sterile, dead, empty of real meaning and content.  Real trust means acting on the basis of that trust.  Science and post-modern philosophy function on trust in human reason.  For post-modernism this is a self-inflicted contradiction, because post-modernism assumes the fallibility of all positions except, of course, its own basic premise that all thought is fundamentally personal interpretation, which allows all opinions and views equal validity.  Of that absurd position, more another time.

Science and rational thought of every variety, whether Occidental or Oriental, must trust the efficacy of human Reason, the ability of logic and rational thinking to truly relate to what is, not what might be, if only things would or could just work differently.  So we speak of scientific laws, experiential proofs, systematic exploration until we uncover the secrets of the universe – from its tiniest to its most gigantic aspects, including the very function of human reason itself.  There is enormous faith involved in the power of the human mind to uncover all the most hidden mysteries of existence and its meaning, if not now, then in the future, for as long as the species homo sapiens sapiens will exist.

In our opening citation, C.S. Lewis, a great thinker of the mid-twentieth century, discussed the amazing phenomenon of human logic and thinking with great insight.  He also deconstructed the fallacy that it could spontaneously emerge from the sort of universe posited by so much of modern and post-modern science and then be able to understand all the “how, when, why, what” with any hope of trusting it could make valid conclusions about such huge questions.  As he said:

No one can suppose that this can be due to a happy coincidence.  A great many people think that it is due to the fact that Nature produced the mind.  But on the assumption that Nature is herself mindless this provides no explanation.

Consider the essential post-modern posit that all thinking is first and foremost personal and subjective and that therefore no absolutes can be found, and perhaps none exist to be found.  This statement is blatantly absolute, exposing the fallacy of post-modernism at its root.  The element of truth in it is that we humans, as self-aware individual persons, must by nature think personally.  Thus there is always an element of subjectivity in all we experience, observe, discern, and, however tentatively, conclude.  So far we can agree.

The conclusion that there is therefore no real discernible truth or absolute anyone can discover or experience manifestly does not follow.  Yet the West has bought into this self-destructive hoax to the point of denying most of its inherited wisdom hard-gleaned from millennia of human discernment.  Why?  Because of unresolved historical issues which have left a bitter legacy.

Our ancestors made many mistakes, and some were among the most terrible and destructive kind based on the fanatical profession of absolutes about the nature of reality and our identity as humans within that reality.  There is no excusing any of those dreadful misdeeds and their misappropriation of higher principles to act in the most fearful fashion against dissenters and deniers of the prevailing interpretations of truth. 

What came after as the replacement of religious truth with secular wisdom and the power of Reason and Science to set us all free began with solemn affirmations of Tolerance and Respect for all.  It eventually precipitated its own apocalypse which outdid anything ever done previously (Gulag and its Chinese Communist equivalent anyone?  Holocaust anyone?  Killing Fields anyone?  ISIS and Jihadism anyone?)

Humans do not function as merely and simply biological machinery.  All our history and experience from all the history we have any clue about declare that we have ever held to the Cosmos being an awesome and awe-full place which shouts that it was and is created by an operative will according to a design.  The will and design are demonstrated by what is, what is in evidence, in actual existence all around us, inside and out, in all things and everywhere all the time.  And it all points to Something higher and greater than we – in fact, Someone much more than Something.

What shall we do, then?  Blame the Designer for designing us as flawed beings who can choose to be stupid, to think and act selfishly?  Shall we say that the Creator had no business creating an open-ended Cosmos because that means we can make bad choices and suffer for them – both our own and those of our fellow creatures?  Shall we say that it is unjust that we are subject to the processes unleashed by all the magnificent powers and processes this Cosmos includes?  Shall we rant and rave against His/Her sadism in not protecting us against the sometimes wild destructiveness  of the processes of Nature, large and small?

Shall we proclaim how unkind and ungenerous this Divine Immensity is in not empowering us to understand all the aspects of His/Her own intentions and thoughts and designs as if we could encompass all this in our finite mind?

It is a lot to ask us to trust such a Being who cannot or won’t show Him-Herself to us.

TO BE CONTINUED

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The Parable of the Three Birds

© Vincent J. Marquis, 2021

(I offer this little story as a change of pace from the usual fare in this blog.)

Once upon a time, Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Vulture, and Mrs. Crow met around a grizzly bear’s carcass.  The bear had simply died of old age.  Mrs. Eagle ate her fill and set aside some large portions at her feet to take back to her nest for her young.  Then Mrs. Vulture did the same, and finally Mrs. Crow had her turn.  At last, all were satisfied.

Mrs. Crow was a very curious bird, and, setting down a choice piece meant for her nestlings, she turned to ask the eagle, “I mean no disrespect, Mrs. Eagle, but why are you still sitting there observing me and not returning to your nest to feed your eaglets?”

“There is no rush,” replied Mrs. Eagle.  “My mate is there with them and will remain till I get back.  They are in no danger.  Only humans sometimes bother us by climbing our cliffs or trees to steal our eggs.  Some of them like to hunt us for our feathers from time to time as well.  I can never understand why they do this, though, as they do not eat either our eggs or us, nor can they use feathers to fly.  But we really don’t have many dealings with those earth-bound creatures on two legs.  We keep our distance from them as much as possible and try to attract their attention as little as possible.  But they are a curious people and there are always a few who try to interfere with our lives.”

The lively black bird with the twinkling eyes looked at the eagle, thinking to herself, ‘How large and powerful and majestic she is.  I would like to be that big and powerful.  And how high she flies – so high she can see almost the whole world in a sweep.’  Then she turned to Mrs. Vulture and asked, “And you, Mrs. Vulture, do you not have nestlings to return to feed, yet you have remained while I have eaten.”

Mrs. Vulture was not the most astute of the three, so her answers were simple.  She replied, “I always watch where the eagles are, as they always point to food.  My eyesight is almost as good as Mrs. Eagle’s, and my sense of smell is even better.  But she is the better flyer and she sees farther.  I am not a hunter, so I can only wait for a kill someone else makes before I can eat.”

Mrs. Crow was the smallest but the smartest, although she would never say so aloud with Mrs. Eagle, at least.  But Mrs, Eagle was very observant.  She saw much but said little, and waited to consider before she spoke.  She addressed Mrs. Crow.  “Mrs. Crow, I have often seen you and many of your tribe around carcasses.  And I have observed that you are not above stealing the eggs and young of other tribes.  Yet I find you here alone today.  Where is your tribe?  Are you not the scout sent to find the food today?”

The black bird with the twinkling eye hopped onto a convenient branch so she could look Mrs. Eagle more equally in the eye.  “You are very observant, Mrs. Eagle, and are reputed to be wise.  My tribe is not far, and I have only to call them.  But you and Mrs. Vulture are still here, and courtesy says we must wait our proper turn.  Am I mistaken, Mrs. Vulture, in saying that there are also usually others of your tribe who come when you find a carcass?”

Mrs. Vulture answered, “No you are not mistaken.  That is so, but as we are much larger than you, we do not call the whole tribe when we find food.  Each of us must eat much more than would fill your belly, so if there are too many of us, there is not enough for anyone.  So we watch one another, and those who can see and smell a kill go down to it, or follow the one who finds it.  And those who are not there and cannot see or smell or follow must find their own food somewhere else.”

“Very interesting,” observed the crow.  “But do you not also hunt sometimes?  You have the size and strength to do so.”

“We are not a fierce tribe like the eagles,” said the vulture, “but we follow animals we sense are injured or sick and likely to die soon.  If we become a large group circling and waiting, some of us who are more daring may go down and begin to feed even before the creature dies.  I suppose that might be considered hunting of a sort.”

Mrs. Eagle scanned the vicinity and, grasping the portions for her nestlings in her beak, she leapt into the air with a great beating of her wings.  She began to ascend, searching for the updraft she knew was there.  A dead grizzly bear was not her family’s usual bill of fare, but the fishing had not been good of late, so she took what she could get.  She noticed more vultures circling down towards the carcass.  She would tell her mate where it was, and if he came the other birds would move off till he had eaten his fill.  Being the King and Queen of bird-kind had its perks, after all.

Mrs. Crow decided it was time to feed her young and let the rest of her murder in on her find.  If she delayed any longer she risked a severe reprimand from the murder elders.  She also saw the careful approach of more vultures, but crows and vultures rarely quarrelled.  They could share a large carcass, as long as the crows respected the claims of the larger birds.  She remarked to Mrs. Vulture, “You are about to have company from others of your tribe.  You did well to come early.  I am calling in my friends as well.  I will stand watch for them while they feed, since I have already fed myself.”  She took her portions for her nestlings and departed.

Which tribe are you?

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Faith and Hope:  Assurance and Conviction, 5

… when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” – Yeshua in the Good News of Luke, The New Testament.

…the battlefronts … are myriad, and … terribly complicated … all tangled up in the historical allegiances and cultural traditions and political interests … the plight of the unborn.  Problems of poverty and housing.  Issues of nationalism and militarism.  Of war and peace.  Of racism.  Of sexism.  Of ageism.  Of consumerism.  Of environmentalism … But I would encourage us all to struggle with these issues in the light of the principle of a consistent life ethic …. We seek out ways the most expressive of the love of God and love of neighbor.

Richard J. Foster, Streams of Living Water.  (Harper SanFrancisco, 1998), p. 175

In 2021, we still face the issues Richard Foster listed in Streams of Living Water in 1998, plus a few more.  The pandemic has graphically illustrated that human civilizations have largely melded and we face a massive global crisis that encompasses all societies and all economies.  Life on Planet earth itself is facing a turning point.

Never have we needed faith, hope, and love (charity as it used to be called) more, and it seems too often that it has rarely been in shorter supply.  Unless we relearn to look in different places and with different eyes than “the usual suspects”.

Masses wonder what there is to really to trust in now.  Will science fulfill the oft-recited litany of broken and ever-amended promises we have been told  keep trusting in?  Will reason and good-will prevail over renewed nationalism and militarism, solve the widening chasm of wealth-distribution and the spiralling crisis of affordable housing?  Will rebooting our economies by a new wave of consumerism be somehow married to the almost point-of-no-return environmental crisis to magically solve both at the same time? 

Everyone with a modicum of observational acumen and common-sense knows the whole system is broken and in need of a radical (as in down to the root) reset.  But fear is threatening to drive out hope and faith – as it so often has.

This brings us to Yeshua/Jesus’ enigmatic question, “When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the earth?”  Despite everything laid at the charge of his followers and the churches, Jesus is still a much admired figure.  Some see him as the ultimate “good person”, a well-meaning idealist who talked about seeing the world and one another with a different heart and set of eyes rooted in the way the Creator intended us to be.  If you take away the Creator, was he just platitudinously saying that we can just boil it all down, Beatles-and-Hippy-style, to “All you need is love?”  If so, poor well-meaning but naive Jesus went the way of all deluded idealists.  He ran into the stone-wall of the “Establishment”, who decided such fanatics must be removed before they stir up too much trouble.

That is how the Jesus story is often told these days, at least in the public realm when his name crops up despite all attempts to keep it out.

If that is who he was and what he was all about, it’s incredible that such a simple, harmless, loving fellow just preaching love and acceptance could be so misunderstood.  How could such a meek and gentle soul end up being crucified?  After all, he was just naive in believing that he could recruit a band of counter-cultural rebels and begin to infiltrate the culture of force and oppression and exploitation to change it gradually from the roots up.  Couldn’t the authorities have just let his whole ridiculous “Kingdom of God” movement peter out on its own, as such things always do over time?  Why so drastic a solution as killing him, and then, a few years later, going after those hapless and harmless disciples of his?

As Shakespeare said, “Aye, there’s the rub.”  The problem with this prevalent, popular, secularized version of the Jesus story is that bears little to no resemblance to any of the actual and plentiful historical evidence.  It is a complete, whole-wool fabrication created to bamboozle the historically uneducated into dismissing Yeshua/Jesus, and his movement (of which the Christian churches are the outcome, warts and all) as at best now irrelevant, and, at worst, a conspiracy to manipulate, coerce, and control the gullible.

Trust-faith is always a personal affair, a decision made by individuals based on particular reasons that make a convincing case to the decider.  Such is conviction.  Assurance is a strong confidence that our conviction and trust is well-founded, having weighed the evidence from different perspectives, including the possibility that we may just be wrong in our conclusion, but that that is quite unlikely.  Hope is what flows from this combination for hope looks to the future with new eyes, new understanding, new possibilities and vistas founded on trust-faith, and the conviction and assurance that ground it and give it depth.

Although humans still live in distinct cultures with strong elements of what used to be much more differentiated civilizations, we are moving into an amalgamation and blending such that we can begin to speak of a global culture and civilization. 

Not everyone is pleased with this.  How do we bring so many belief systems together?  How do we overcome suspicion and fear of what “they” are inserting into “our” culture and way of life?  How do we learn to deal with so many disparate concepts of what we are here for?  How do learn to live together in an increasingly interwoven world and society?  How do we overcome the prejudice of racism and all other sorts of animosity flowing from so many sources?  How do we learn not to think, speak, and act from an “us vs. them” mindset?

We return to the central questions of “Who am I?  Where am I?  What’s wrong with the world and with us?  How do we set the wrong right?”  (See also Middleton and Walsh, The Transforming Vision, from which these four essential questions are lifted and slightly modified.)

Can all the proposed answers to these questions be equal?  Is everyone’s preferred way of expressing their own identity based on their answers equally valid?  Is there any best faith-trust answer to the questions.  As to “what’s wrong” we have a pretty good idea about a lot of that.  Foster’s list with a few additions is about as good a list as any.

Does trust in a Creator have any place in finding our way through and out of our crisis?

It is useless to propose another long-drawn-out debate or some sort of symposium on whether God/the Creator and or some sort of supernatural realm exists.  Intellectual argument has not satisfactorily settles this issue in that last “X” number of millennia, and it will not now either.  Many of the best intellects in history have tried their hand at devising an airtight proof for or against the existence of God.

And the secondary discussion that has occupied so much academic (and even personal) energy is: “If a Creator were to exist, would that be a Person or a sort of anonymous Supreme Being/Power/Energy that originated it all but does not manifest any active presence since then?”

To any reader who has followed this blog at all, you know by now that my position is that there is a Creator and that the Creator is a real Person.

Doesn’t millennia of human experience and testimony, apart from speculative intellectual activity, have anything of value to tell us?  Doesn’t personal testimony weigh at all in what is perhaps the most critical issue of our, and every age of human history?

It is not critical only for humans either.  For we now know beyond a doubt that human powers of creation and destruction are decisively changing the face and climate and the very life-sustaining fabric of Planet Earth, the only planet we absolutely know engenders and sustains life of even the most delicate kind.  If we and so much of our planet’s life are to continue to survive, let along thrive, it is critical that we, the human agents, unify to stop and reverse our terrible rape of the great gift we have been given by the Creator.

And to do that, we need to come together in trust-faith, conviction, assurance, and hope.

TO BE CONTINUED 

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Faith and Hope:  Assurance and Conviction, 4

Reason, Observation, and Experience—the Holy Trinity of Science.

-Robert G. Ingersoll

Science has made us gods even before we are worthy of being men.

-Jean Rostand

Life does not consist mainly—or even largely—of facts and happenings.

It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever blowing through one’s mind.

-Mark Twain

Citations in Metaphors Be with You by Dr. Mardy Grothe.  (HaperCollins, 2016), pp. 352, 398.

Science serves humanity well in its proper place. 

But as a Supreme Deity, it becomes a monster because it is made in its creator’s image.  Humans created Science which, despite the best of intentions of its secular apostles, has become a religious ideology based on Ingersoll’s Holy Trinity of Reason, Observation, and Experience.  Science moves under its own impetus to reveal all and do all that can be done as proof of humanity’s mastery over reality, over the Cosmos.

Which brings us to Rostand’s piercing insight. 

Science unleashed from its proper moorings recalls the ancient tale of the Garden of Eden.  The tempter, Satan, the Adversary and personification of rebellion against the Creator, slithered up to Eve, the Mother of all living, and said, “Did Adonai (Hebrew meaning “my Lord” instead of saying God’s holy personal name) really say you are not to eat of any tree in the garden?”  The Adversary knew full well that the humans could eat of every tree in the garden except one.  The whole point was to turn their minds away from all that they had to the one thing they were told not to seek.

Eve was hooked and she answered with an expanded interpretation of what God had actually said, “We may eat from the fruit of the trees of the garden, but from the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden God said, ‘You are neither to eat from it nor touch it, or you will die.”

In the original statement, Adonai had said to Eve’s spouse, “Red” (which is what the name Adam indicates), “You may freely eat from every tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  You are not to eat from it because on the day that you eat from it, it will become certain that you will die.”  Not instant death, like a fast-acting poison, but slow deterioration till the body, which was made to live forever in its primal state, gradually breaks down from the destructive effects of continued rebellion and rejection of how the Creator meant things to work.

Incidentally, Adam was there the whole time and overheard the whole transaction.  Like many males of the species, he chose to cop out and passively stand by, letting his woman take the risk and blame if it all went south—the whole time having privately thought about doing the very same thing himself.

Interpreters of this story have found all sorts of reasons to reject it outright or change it into something less straightforward than what it says.  It has been allegorized since well before the time of Yeshua (Jesus), and ever since by theologians.  More recently, and with very shaky foundation, it has been considered a reworking of old Babylonian tales.  Its great antiquity cannot be doubted, even if its historicity may be and has been relegated to mythology by modern scholarship. 

Myths are now understood to have some root in history and experience.  They are attempts to make sense of aspects of human experience and species memory that lie far back in both our origins and our consciousness or, as Freud put it, our “unconscious mind”.  Carl Jung described such things as “archetypes” – the visualized, articulated symbols of primary, elemental parts of who and what we are.

There is great mystery in our self-awareness.  It is inseparable from our knowledge of the very real existence of both good and evil, right and wrong, justice and injustice, selfishness and selflessness—all side by side in each of us, all vying for pre-eminence in our thinking, feeling, and acting.  A famous Biblical verse refers to it this way, “We are fearfully and wonderfully made”.  We are woven together inextricably as a mysterious being which intuitively knows itself both as a self and as a creature of the Creator, whom we cannot escape no matter where we flee and how hard we try.  (To get the full picture, read Psalm 139 in the Hebrew Scriptures, usually called the “Old Testament” by Christians.)

It is a curious thing to observe the contortions human intellect performs in avoiding the Creator in order to come up with plausible reasons for the universal human sense of basic moral truths and ideas about justice and good and evil.  All sorts of evolutionary scenarios are proposed, and none answer in anything like a truly fulfilling fashion.  It is a matter of faith that somehow some great sociologist or evolutionary psychologist or anthropologist will finally close that circle and lay to rest the old “Created in God’s image” fable.

For the simplest, cleanest, most obvious solution is that there is a Supreme Being, a Creator, and a Personal One at that, who has left His/Her signature in and on everything that He/She fashioned.  The problem of God will not go away, no matter how hard we strive to block it and reject it (or rather, Him/Her).

But that question cannot be resolved by Science (the secular atheistic ideology, as explained above) or science (the methodology of discovery and investigation of the Cosmos).  Science as methodology is a tool open to anyone regardless of their ideology or theology.  Science as an ideological position is really a religion without the Creator.  The god within is Humanity as the supreme arbiter.

Faith is the decision to trust.  As with Eve and Adam, our personified primal ancestors, we always have the choice to trust in the Creator who has signed His/Her work everywhere, or in human ability to refashion the Cosmos, the reality of existence as we find it, according to our evolving wisdom and understanding.

It cannot be denied that religions of all kinds—monotheist, polytheist, Deist, pantheist, animist, and whatever other variations of these there may be—have served too often as agents of the unscrupulous and powerful, justifications for oppression, coercion, control, and even genocide.  Godless ideologies have done no better.  As we have seen, they are but reworkings of the religious imperative which is native to humanity.

We cannot help ourselves.  We must strive to understand, to know, to delve into the secrets of existence, and even of our own drive to seek, to search, to know.  It is a compulsion we see at work from Day One of an infant’s life outside the womb, and it is increasingly clear that this drive is present even very early in foetal development prior to birth.

This makes nonsense of the old fable of the “recapitulation” of evolution in the womb  as we behold the marvel of a child being woven in that most secret, sacred place within a mother.

Anyone gazing at the absolute awesomeness of the Cosmos, from its tiniest bits in the microcosm to its most stupendous manifestations in the macrocosm, knows intuitively that it is not an accident.  Our willful blindness to all this is human hubris lusting to throw off the boundaries set upon us as creatures, no matter how amazing and remarkable we may be among all creatures.

Ockham’s Razor has long been seen as a stroke of logical genius in philosophy.  It says that  the simplest explanation for any problem, mystery, or conundrum that accounts for the most known facts and disposes of most of the objections is not only the best explanation, but in all likelihood the true one.  Ockham’s formulation remains the most elegant and most serviceable ever devised for understanding almost anything, inasmuch as human logic can understand.

Mark Twain was not a Theist.  He classified himself as a realist when he said, “Life does not consist mainly—or even largely—of facts and happenings.  It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever blowing through one’s mind.”  He was describing the inner life, how we experience it.  And all of us seek to make sense, to bring order to the “storm of thoughts…blowing through one’s mind.”

In the heat of doing, we may not immediately be processing, but in the moments, in the intervals, in the “in-betweens”, we turn to the innate impulse to understand, to know the “who, what, why, how” of it all.  If we have driven away the Maker and all desire to know and relate to Him/Her, we drift to whatever else will take His/Her place.  In thought-storm we inevitably seek a port.

We hunger for truth, we must trust in something.  Like Ophelia in Shakespeare’s masterpiece Hamlet, we “protest too much” – about our autonomy, our independence, our absolute right to determine for ourselves just who and what we are, even if that means changing that from one day to the next.  And underneath it all we are hollow, empty, adrift in an accidental Cosmos which has no essential reason for being there at all.

Which is how we arrive at our post-modern world and society.

TO BE CONTINUED

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Faith and Hope:  Assurance and Conviction, 3

 We are so constituted that we believe the most incredible things; and, once they are engraved upon the memory, woe to him who would endeavor to erase them.

Johann Wofgang von Goethe

Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.

William James

(Photo credit Alamy – The Goddess Reason enthroned by the French Revolutionaries in Paris)

Everyone lives by faith, by trust.  We cannot avoid it.  To live without trust in anything or anyone is despair.  That is why the early secular existentialists conceded that, without God in the picture, humans must still choose something to trust in, to have faith in, in order to give their personal existence enough meaning to keep on living.  (See William James above.)

That is why Nietzsche, the icon of modern philosophy, resolved that, having killed God, we must have the will to assume the godhead ourselves and raise the human race to the pinnacle of wherever evolution may take us.  If we cannot do that, we do not deserve anything more than the fate of the dinosaurs.[1]

As Goethe observed “we are so constituted that we believe…”  Because we have no choice in the matter of believing in something, when nothing reasonable and probable (at least to our way of thinking) presents itself, we will, inevitably, choose “the most incredible things.”  The more outrageous something is at first blush, the harder we have to work to convince ourselves to believe it.  Paradoxically, once we have done that hard work, “once they are engraved upon the memory, woe to him who would endeavour to erase them”.

Hence the unshakeable conviction in the most bizarre ideas of what the USA was about to apocalyptically become of the wannabe saviours of the Great Republic in January 2021.  Hence the ineradicable fables of Holocaust deniers, or of those who say the Lunar landings were all staged, and on and on.  Evidence to the contrary be damned – no matter how mountainous!  “My mind is made up; don’t confuse me with the facts!”

There is more than a small element of fable and fantasy added when the truth-brigades from the other side of the spectrum lump in all those who hold to trust in the Creator and the Christian Story with the outer-limit fringe.  This lumping in even goes as far as saying that, because so many of the conspiracy-addicts seem to come out of fervent religious sects, it must be due to the essentially lunatic nature of religious (and especially Christian) faith in the first place.

Circa 200 CE, the ancient Christian theologian and apologist Tertullian once told the Roman opponents of Christianity: “It is by all means to be believed, because  it is absurd.”  This oft-quoted pithy paradox is almost always taken out of context and fired at Christians as evidence of the absurdity of their faith.  Tertullian was actually side-wise referencing the Apostle Paul’s declaration to some early Greek disciples about how God’s apparent foolishness puts all human-based wisdom and expectations of how reality works to shame.  (See Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapters 1 and 2 in the New Testament.) 

Tertullian’s point was that relying on forms of wisdom which exclude the Creator as the final source of truth maroon the seeker in the empty desert of forever chasing new propositions, forever seeking another savant with the next level of understanding, and forever discovering yet another dead-end road with no food for the empty heart and soul.  A very fair-minded man, Tertullian criticized Christian deviants as vehemently as he took apart the nonsense the secularists of his day spouted against Jesus and his followers.

In the 21st Century West it is a given that science and faith are incompatible and are even at war with each other, at least in public discourse (or lack thereof).  Science purports to be the search for truth and understanding rigorously pursued according to certain “objective” criteria.  The only reason this has been turned into a “war” with faith is that it is not admitted that science requires great faith and that all faith has a foundation that is not primarily “scientific”.  That is the paradox at the core of science. 

Setting up the rules to exclude certain categories of knowledge, experience, and findings a priori proclaims a rigged game which allows the rule-makers to declare the forbidden forms of evidence and conclusions based upon them “out of bounds”.  It is a case of the pot calling the kettle “black” (in a non-racial sense).  True that the Christian Church(es) used to treat secularists in a similar way – as the famous case of Galileo illustrates as we are repeatedly reminded.  But we now find the scientific establishment meting out the same treatment to thinkers and scholars who dare deviate from its established doctrines, especially when it comes to the kind of explanation for any phenomenon science cannot account for.

The assumption in such cases is strictly one of faith according to the dogma of science that someday reason and “science” (a sort of super-entity now possessing a kind of supernatural ability to someday explain what is cannot presently explain) will reveal and explain all.  This smacks far more of theology than of evidence-based conclusions.  “Science” in this way has attained a religious status, a sort of personified stand-in for the ultimate power of human rationality and ingenuity.  We are well on our way to a trinity here.  Science sits on the throne, or perhaps it is Reason.  Like the Father and the Son in Christian doctrine, but supposedly emptied of the mystique and the mystical.

Yet they have betrayed themselves.  The doctrines are there, the dogma is in place, the first two powers or forces of this Secularized Trinity sit on their thrones.  We are just lacking the parallel to the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity.  Where to look?  If the Holy Spirit in the Christian Trinity is the personal power of God in action, then the Holy Spirit of Science is the personal power of the Human Mind.

And there we have it – the religion of science made in the image of the dethroned, defrocked, demoted ideology, theology, and worldview of its great rival which has apparently been defeated once and for all!  Father Science depends on the incarnation of the Son Reason, which operates in power through the Holy Spirit Human Mind!  An astonishing and unwitting reversal and doubtless unintentional imitation! 

“Imitation is the highest form of flattery,” as the saying goes.

But perhaps there is something far more subtle and deep at work here than mere coincidence, or even unacknowledged imitation.  Perhaps it is rooted in the very fabric of reality itself, the signature of the Creator manifesting itself even in the creature’s attempt to wipe the knowledge of the Creator from human consciousness. 

Ultimately, the creature cannot deny its own nature, especially the human creature which, it has been said since time beyond memory, is made in the image of the Creator for the express purpose of personifying and signifying the will and presence of the Creator in the very warp and woof of His/Her manifest handiwork.  For the signature of the Creator is in every part of the creation, in every being, in every star, in every atom.

The efforts of the human species to deny, efface, and erase this Presence in order to take the Creator’s place and be unaccountable except to itself cannot wipe out that intended purpose no matter what we do – including creating the ultimate “non-religious” paradigm.  When we boil it down to its essence and uncover its deepest inner workings, it betrays itself as one more manifestation of who and what we really are and it only points us back to the One who made us to be in relation to Him/Her.

TO BE CONTINUED


[1] Incidentally, dinosaurs still exist.  They have been right in our faces since humans appeared on earth.  The current iteration just doesn’t reach the same size as their ancient predecessors, and are in far less variety.  We call them reptiles.  Some of them, like crocodiles and alligators and turtles and monitor lizards, are virtually unchanged from their remote ancestors.  This picture does not fit the narrative our modern scientific faith propounds.

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Faith and Hope: Assurance and Conviction, 2 – The Great Divide

“I’m telling you the truth: if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed [a very small seed], you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Yeshua/Jesus, in Luke 17:20, The Kingdom New Testament, a Contemporary Translation

(Preface: Please note that the following is not a discussion about institutionalized, formal, organized religion, but about the universality of religious thinking.)

At its most basic level, faith is trust.  Faith is deciding to trust that something is true because you trust the source of the information, or the results of the observations and experiments that provide the evidence for whatever you are accepting as truth.

In the first part of this series, we observed that everyone, no matter their stance regarding God and religion, lives by faith.  The popular mind, propagandized by secular persuasion about science not being a faith-based enterprise, has largely relegated faith to the realm of spirituality and personal relationships while not admitting or understanding science’s utter dependence on trusting that the road to truth is via the empirical scientific method .

Scientists and scholars of all stripes, from antiquity to the present, have always operated as much by faith as any fervent religious believer.  The honest and forthright ones know it and acknowledge it.  Science and engineering are as much faith-based as spiritual and relational activities are.  They believe that their faith is in “the facts” derived by the more or less application of the scientific method.  But it is really far more in the trust that “the method” will provide the necessary facts, the evidence that there trust is not misplaced, even when the facts are not actually there – at least not just yet.

The etymological meaning of “religion” is “the thing or system which ties or holds things together” – Latin religio: re = once more, legio= to bind, to tie – ergo, to rebind, to tie together.  Some people hold things together by reaching out to God or gods or a supernatural side of things.  They put their trust in the existence of such a side of reality, a side which is normally invisible and insensible – not normally evident to our physical senses.  Some people decide that without such sensory evidence they can only put their trust in what they can perceive via their senses, without recourse to any form of supernatural existence.  There is an assumption that there cannot be any “real” evidence for an incorporeal side to reality.  In both cases, these are equally “religious” decisions and positions which direct the living of life.  They are both fundamental positions about the nature of reality and what can be trusted.  In short, they are equally faith-based positions.  And, despite the declarations of the dominant Western paradigm that the spiritual side cannot be trusted any more to determine truth, the proponents of that worldview are every bit as religious and faith-motivated as the believers in a God and a “super”-natural element of reality.  (“Super” just means above and beyond – again from Latin.)

It is the old story of who gets to decide the meaning of words and inject, indeed impose, their meaning and worldview on the culture and the popular mind.  The secular Enlightenment campaign which began in the mid-18th Century with the agenda to take control of the West’s social and cultural narrative has thoroughly taken over almost all of the West’s knowledge and education establishment, and thus has been diligently redefining the meaning of words to even further push “religious” faith to the fringes.  There the gullible theists can be ignored and even ridiculed with impunity – and sometimes even sanctioned when they offend the new sensibilities too greatly.

But, whether labelled as religious or not, everything we do in life is based on faith, on trust, on conviction that we know enough truth to be assured that we are taking the right path to find meaning and make some sense of a reality which just keeps exponentially expanding in complexity.  We operate on faith in even the most mundane activities.  We just don’t think about it.  If I’m a God-believer, I trust that He/She will continue to will the universe (and me) to exist and keep operating in an orderly way.  If I’m a thorough atheist, I still trust that whatever forces and serendipitous circumstances produced this fantastic and totally improbable outcome of marvelous existence that we experience will keep on rolling along for another 50 billion years or so.  In both cases, experience says these are reasonable, even scientific conclusions.

The great malaise of our time is rooted at least to some degree in the oft-professed conviction that everybody can invent their own reality and that all choices are equal in value.  Why then are we not all equally happily creating and living in our own private Gardens of Eden?  Why is there so much outside interference in arriving in our personally constructed versions of Paradise?

The answer is shockingly simple and obvious, but most unwelcome and barely mentionable in our present intellectual, spiritual, and social whirlpool of “You can’t tell me my version of truth is not as good as yours.”  Science fiction and fantasy and quantum multiverse theory aside, there are not infinite realities out there.  As far as we can know and experience, there is but the one within which we live and move and have our being.  I can fantasize all I want tonight, and even dream wild dreams, but tomorrow I will wake (God-willing) to continue in the same life and reality I know today.

I betray my own “religion” – not just my public “religion” (as in the Latin sense of what helps tie things together for me), but my personal religion – in the simple everyday things and attitudes I manifest as I do normal things more than in any of the high-falutin’ philosophies, ideologies, or theologies I may spout.  Atheists and agnostics and sceptics are as equally faith-driven as any disciple of Yeshua, Moses, Muhammad, or Buddha.  Paradoxically, we all live our faith both publicly and privately.  What I say and do in public is one side of my life and may or may not be consistent with my private faith.  Frequently, we are prone to profess some things for public consumption while privately holding divergent and even quite contradictory views in our heart of hearts.  Will the real Mr./Mrs./Ms. Smith please stand up?  How can I tell what I really believe?

Jesus gave some pithy principles for discerning the mountains of bovine excrement we are being fed and feeding ourselves in the great denigration of “Religion” and faith: “Nobody can serve two masters.  Otherwise, they will either hate the first and love the second, or be devoted to the first and despise the second.   You can’t serve both God and wealth.” (Gospel of Matthew, 6:24)  Bob Dylan once wrote and sang it as, “You’re gonna serve somebody.”  Jesus added, “By their fruits you will know/recognize them” – i.e., what people do says a lot more about who they are and what they really trust in than their affirmations and declarations, both in public and in private.

Our malaise is the disconnect created by the evidence that “it just ain’t so” that we can and must discover our own special version of truth.  We are told over and over that we can “actualize” and discover our true selves and thus reach our full potential to “be all that we can be” and arrive, ipso-facto, in our own personal “kingdom of god” (with me as that god/goddess) here and now.  We are all entitled to everything.  It is a matter of faith. 

It is also all patently impossible.  “Wishing just don’t make it so.”  Instead, we have created a Frankenstein monster which is beginning to destroy its creators.

The need for faith has never been greater, but the proposition that we can choose any sort of goal and ambition to aim at and any vehicle to achieve them has never been so flagrantly false.  All choices are not equal, all belief systems are not valid – at least not in terms of outcome or synchrony with the way things really are.  You are entitled to choose just about any road, but you are not entitled to force everyone else to accept such choices as beneficial to the general commonwealth, or even consistent with the evidence of history and science.  Just because I have the ability and may want to make fantastic choices that fly in the face of being “normal” and “healthy” in any common sense does not entitle me to impose such choices on everyone else as having to accept those choices as normal and healthy.

In most cases your private world is not my business.  But when it begins to exert harm around you which brings suffering and destruction to others, it is no longer merely private.

Your faith matters.  What you choose to trust in matters.  The thing you put at the top of that pyramid of values and beliefs is in fact your god.  If that is your success, status, prestige, power, wealth, and pleasure, you are your own god.  This comes out even more forcefully when you insist on redefining even human and general nature to conform to your personal system of faith and belief.  That is indeed a claim to divine power.

Will this sustain you when you stand at, or lie on your last bed, on the edge of the great divide? At that moment, just about everyone starkly realizes that the personally formed god you have believed in, the personal version of faith you have trusted, is about to die as it meets the One Who Is in the Great Beyond. 

The West is in moral, spiritual, and a deepening social and cultural crisis.  As the world’s global cultural engine over the last two hundred years, it has dragged the whole world into the maelstrom of its Mr. Toad Wild Ride which shows no end in sight.

Te morituri salutant!” said the gladiators as they stood before the Emperor in the arenas of ancient Rome.  At the end of the battle will the One Emperor’s thumb be up or down?

TO BE CONTINUED 

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Faith and Hope, Assurance and Conviction, 1

Apologies to readers for the following deluge of alternate definitions of the same term before we get into the meat of this exploration of what we variously understand by “faith”.

Hebrews 11:1 – The New Testament

“Estin de pistis elpizomenon hupostasis, pragmatōn elegchos ou bleposmenōn.”

(Original Greek transliterated to Latin alphabet)

Variously translated:

Now faith is the evidence of things hoped for, the substance of things not seen.  (KJV – King James Version)

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  (New American Standard Bible)

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  (New International Version)

What then is faith?  It is what gives assurance to our hopes; it is what gives us conviction about things we can’t see.  (Kingdom New Testament)

Trusting is being confident of what we hope for, convinced about things we do not see.  

(The Complete Jewish Bible)

Avoir la foi, c’est être sûr de ce que  l’on espère, c’est être convaincu de la réalité de ce que l’on ne voit pas.  (La Bible en français courant)

 Tener fe es tener la plena seguridad de recibir lo que se espera; es estar convencidos de la realidad de cosas que no venemos.  (Spanish – El Nuevo Testamento, Versión Popular)

 Faith, n. Reliance, trust, in; belief founded on authority… belief in religious doctrines, esp. such as affects character & conduct, spiritual apprehension of divine truth apart from proof…

(The Concise Oxford Dictionary, 1964)

Here in the West in the 21st Century of the Common Era it is fashionable and comfortable to set people with religious faith (most especially Christians) aside as deluded and probably unreasonable and fanatical.  As “evidence” and “substance” of this statement, let the Western reader consider the way religious subjects are either avoided altogether in the public forum, or appear there only as news reports of yet more demonstrations of the negative effects of religious fanaticism. 

This seems most prevalent in the way Christianity and its most dedicated adherents are frequently portrayed in comparison to those of other religious persuasions.

For example, a popular new show from one of the major Internet entertainment producers is exclusively concerned with rather outrageous sects of Christianity.  While not aimed overtly at discrediting all churches or Christian belief, it provides virtually no information about “normal” Christian faith or its core story and normal practice. What will the titillated viewer conclude by implication?  It takes no great insight to see the insinuation about all serious Christians filtering into the subconscious worldview of followers of such stuff, however accurate it may be about what it reports.

A generation or two ago, it might have been correct to say that there was still enough residual knowledge and understanding of what is still the West’s most adhered to religious segment (Christianity) that educational, documentary, and entertainment producers did not owe their consumers any broader contextual framework when publishing their material, as long as they avoided defamation.  Even then, the entertainment industry could take refuge behind artistic licence as to why their “art” might not reflect objective facts.  However, the new show referred to above presents itself as documentary, highlighting abnormal and extreme forms of religious behaviour practiced by groups identifying themselves as Christian. 

Whether what is presented is true or not is not the issue.  It is about the choice of what to expose.  Christianity is an easy target.  One has great difficulty thinking the same sort of “objective report” would be ventured on deviant segments of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, or Judaism, although perhaps there in light of the latent and sometimes still blatant anti-Semitism of large segments of the population.  Tolerance and political correctness have their preferred vectors too.  The dormant abortion debate is conspicuously absent in Canadian (and most Western) society in this respect, even in private conversation at this juncture.

One of the most pernicious myths propagated in our current educational and popular culture equates Christianity in particular with being the source of virtually every form of injustice and inequality which civil rights advocates and civil liberties innovators drum and drub into the public forum and drag into tribunals to seek inclusion under the Constitution.  In Canadian education curricula and materials produced to support them, the Church and churches and Christian leaders and states-persons who participated actively and effectively in many of the early phases of our history, and even in modern movements for equality and fairness, are rapidly shunted to the side lest we look and see too closely the critical roles and influence they had in so much of what has become Canada as we know it.  If we have to spend time speaking about them and their impact, the motivation and vision of such people is secularized and sanitized to fit the post-modern narrative.

But Christians and other religiously inspired activists and workers are not the only ones operating on the basis of faith, “conviction of things not seen”, and “assurance of things hoped for”.  In truth, everyone who sets out to achieve something in life operates from the very same set of starting points.  It is only, and quintessentially, human.  It is innate to homo sapiens sapiens to believe there is something greater than just “I, me, me, my” as John Lennon lyrically put it in 1968.

Theists, atheists, agnostics, polytheists, Deists, monists, pantheists – it matters not.  We are bred to believe, not just to exist.  We are made and formed to trust that there is meaning behind the blind-seeming, ineluctable powers and forces enveloping us in the time-space continuum, or the quantum-chance continuum if you prefer.

The early secular existentialists despairingly conceded that, if there is no inherent meaning behind existence, the individual has to choose one in order not to just die in despair.  Sadly, their distortion of Kierkegaard’s original Christian existentialism in which the seeker must choose to trust God did not alleviate the creeping despair that was already deeply infecting the soul of the West.  The assault of the Enlightenment on history and culture, seeking its liberation from all taint of religious infection, strongly abetted by Darwinism, ran amok into the pseudo-science of Social Darwinism in all its dark permutations.  It still holds us in its thrall.  It has still not freed its servants from the bedrock of human nature to seek and find a reason to believe in something/someone greater.

The bravest and most honest thinker and philosopher of the Enlightenment’s trajectory was and remains Friedrich Nietzsche.  Nietzsche has been considered a mad genius by some, but his own crystal clear and brutally honest analysis of the ultimate meaning of the Enlightenment’s century-long assault on God, Christianity, and all the working of that faith in the West’s fabric was that humans must still have a greater reason and purpose than mere existence.

“God is dead and we have killed him,” he proclaimed.  But we still need a central purpose and meaning greater than and beyond ourselves.  We have chosen evolution as the core story, but evolution in and of itself cannot fill the void at the core of our being.  We must have the strength of will to admit this and choose to make our own meaning, because the ultimate end of the evolution-story is extinction.  Humans are made to rise above these limitations – at least for a time until the final laws of physics and chemistry close everything down.  Someone, a select breed of superior individuals, must lead humanity into the next phase of evolution and step into the void left by God.  It takes the “Will to Power” to do this, and the Man of Destiny will show the way.

And so we arrive at the Superman and the Super-race, and eugenics, and Hitlerism and Fascism and the great Socialist Utopia and the horrors of the World Wars and the Personality Cults of the Man of Steel (Stalin), of Mao, of Pol Pot, of the Kim Dynasty in North Korea, of our own current quest for the perfect child and the quiet elimination of inferior breeding results via abortion and euthanasia and the practices first put into mass effect in Nazi Germany. 

We now find ourselves watching and even condoning these crimes against humanity reasserting themselves in our own quieter, more scientific and apparently compassionate-based re-adoption of Nietzschean notions.  “A little bit here, a little bit there,” quiet amendments to law and constitution in small steps, and once more we find the acceptance of those ideas of “life not worthy of life” and “life not worth the living” – not just individuals choosing this for themselves, but panels of professional compassion-arbiters making the recommendations and even the decisions for the lesser sorts and their less enlightened families and loved ones.

All this is no less faith-based and ideological and even religious than the now-eclipsed Christian consensus it has pushed aside.  The new slaughter of the innocents is of a magnitude King Herod or even Genghis Khan could never have fathomed.  Hitler and Stalin would appreciate the slick subtlety of it all.

Jesus once said, “Man (humanity) cannot live on bread [physical sustenance] alone, but [we also need] by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God.”  And when we are, when we have chosen to be, deaf to God and even deny the Creator’s very being, we speak our own deified, and too-frequently demonic, wisdom to take the Deity’s place.  This comes at the cost of all the good and worthy things we once learned and, however imperfectly, put at the core of who and what we were in the West.

TO BE CONTINUED

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Optics, 2

(This is a repost from 2018 on Blogger.com.)

In things to be seen at once, much variety makes confusion, another vice of beauty. In things that are not seen at once, and have no respect one to another, great variety is commendable, provided this variety transgress not the rules of optics and geometry.

Christopher Wren
Read more at https://www.brainyquote.com/topics/optics-quotes

In the West of the 21st C, we have reached the conclusion that if there is a God, He/She/It is not to be feared.  Somehow, although the Divinity and Messiahship of Jesus are no longer taken seriously, his life and message of love has erased the whole idea of a God/Creator/Supreme being who also needs to be feared.  Somehow, the claims about Himself and His life made by the man Jesus who died willingly on a Roman cross for ‘sin’ have been transmuted into the mere miserable and almost futile martyrdom of a pure and good soul.  

What Jesus said about coming so that ‘sin might be forgiven’ and reconciliation made between God and man has been spun as ‘God, if He/She/It exists, forgives sin no matter what, regardless of whether I make any effort to relate to Him, control any of my selfish, self-serving urges, or do nothing about putting others’ needs before my own.’  Any negative spin on anyone’s choices implying accountability for what we do is intolerant and intolerable.

There is indeed some powerful ‘optical irony’ in this.  Here on earth, possibly the most frequently recited prayer in the world, and certainly in the West, tells us to pray, “Thy (God’s, our Heavenly Father’s) will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” 

However, for the most part most of us most of the time live and act and think as if we don’t give a rat’s a– for God’s will being done on earth, let alone in Heaven.  Deep down we really think that this God whom we implore will never care a whit whether we do or don’t attempt to ‘do His will’.  

After all, who really knows what that means?  Surely in my unique individuality, need and quest to find myself and release my complete uniqueness there is no universal criteria for understanding what ‘doing God’s will’ might actually consist of.  God, as all-loving (the one characteristic almost universally ascribed to the Deity), must be incapable of rejecting or condemning anything we do.  And His perfect love must eliminate any requirement on my part to reciprocate.  Therefore, ‘doing God’s will’ simply means ‘doing my will’ after all.

But what was the origin of this quasi-universal prayer?  What did the phrase “On earth as it is in heaven” designate and imply to Jesus and those who first heard him respond to their request, “Teach us to pray.”  (Matthew 6:9ff, and Luke 11:1ff)

The first thing is the context.  Jesus lived the prayer he taught; he modelled it in action, not just tossing out a philosophically nice and pious idea.  He told them to live as if they meant what they said, to live just the way he had shown them.  He never said or intimated that it didn’t matter what they did because of God’s all-tolerating and all-inclusive love (‘agape’ is the actual Greek word in the New Testament).

“On earth as it is in heaven.”  In Jesus’ heart and mind, in his ‘worldview’, if it may be permitted to use this anachronistic term here, earth and heaven are not separate realms, kind of like a ‘before and after’, life and the ‘after-life’.  God is present and active in both.  He has a will for both – but there is really no separation.  His will is definitely being done ‘in Heaven’, wherever and whatever that may look like.  Heaven, in its simplest terms, is just the place of being always in God’s presence, 24/7 (although the concept of time is not really relevant to it), 100%.  Not only being in God’s presence, but wanting to be in His presence, enjoying being in God’s presence – 24/7, 100%.

I suspect that most of us right now would be pretty uncomfortable in a powerful manifestation of God’s presence.  The evidence of history (unless you a priori rule out the possibility that there is a God who can and does act in history, and so disqualify a priori any sources that describe how He has acted in history, and therefore still can if He were to so chose) is that when God or even a messenger from God shows up, just about everyone is overwhelmed.  In the words of some who testify to such experiences, they tend to grovel or tremble or try to hide or fall on the knees or faces in awe and fear – yes fear!  As Isaiah said when he ‘saw the LORD’ – “Woe to me, for I am a man of unclean lips.”  Paraphrased, he was saying “I am dirty with sin through and through.”

Sin, that awkward, unspeakable subject which psychologists tell us is ‘not helpful’ because it ends up in a ‘guilt complex’.  Let’s be kinder and gentler and say ‘failures and weaknesses,’ which bypass the notion of moral responsibility.

If the Isaiah type vision is a little too ‘heavenly’ to handle and therefore more like a myth or legend (as such occurrences as miracles are usually classified), in the next section we will come solidly down to earth with a very earthy fellow called Peter.

Optics, 4

I love Peter; I can relate to him in so many ways.  Continually putting his foot in his mouth, but sometimes just nailing it so well.  Full of bravado but then wimping out in the clutch – except when he was incredibly brave and heroic, as he was at times, including as he ended his days in Rome.  So much like us in so many ways. 

When he first gets to know Jesus, he takes Him out fishing (at Jesus’ request, mind you).  Natural enough for a fisherman to do with a new friend. 

Jesus tells Peter to put his net back in the lake (the Sea of Galilee) after he had fished all night and caught nothing.  The right time for fishing is past; it’s mid-day and the fish are not biting, don’t you see?  “But since you insist, Jesus, well OK,” Peter says, mentally qualifying (‘If it will get you off my back.’) 

As a practiced Avoider (which I can also relate to as a fellow one), Peter doesn’t like confrontation if he can avoid it.  The net is rapidly filled to bursting with nice big fish.  The catch is so huge that Peter has to call his partners James and John to come and fill their boat too.  He is amazed and overjoyed.  Then it dawns on Peter; this guy Jesus in his boat is not just a cool new rabbi who has come to Capernaum recently and seems to have a knack for healing people, somehow.  Just what is an up-and-coming rabbi doing in Capernaum anyway?  Shouldn’t he be down in Jerusalem to recruit religious types and make waves?  Peter turns to look at Him now, standing there in his boat, all wet and smelling of fish from helping haul in the fish He had told him he would catch after all. 

Forgive me if I read details into this story that aren’t there in any of the Gospels, but think about it.  Jesus is a carpenter, a tradesman like Peter, a man accustomed to hard physical work.  Later scholarly and airy Gnostic speculation about Jesus’ mysterious ‘gap years’ between ages twelve and thirty aside, He is not an abstract philosopher or ivory-tower teacher with soft hands and flabby muscles who just spouts out stuff and expects others to say, “Wow, you are so smart, Jesus!”  The first disciples didn’t need to speculate about or describe those years because Jesus’ previous life was not a mystery at all.  The real mystery was how they had not seen Him for who He really was before.  He seemed so, well, normal – except in His degree of wisdom, service, spiritual devotion, caring and integrity.

He is a man acquainted with life in all its nitty-gritty messiness.  He grew up in a large family in a small community, with all that that means in relationships and local gossip and petty rivalries.  He apprenticed with Joseph, his earthly father and learned a solid trade, as all rabbis of that age did.  He built things.  He observed the world and people.  He understood and absorbed the Scripture warp and woof.

He knew about grief and loss.  His grandparents had died.  His father had died recently (at least that is the consensus of commentators).  There would have been others He cared for who had passed as well.  He felt the wrongness of death deep in His bones, and the brokenness of man and the Cosmos in the core of His being.

His family didn’t understand Him.  His brothers made fun of Him and mocked Him (see John 6).  Can you imagine growing up with a perfect older brother as your role model and having to live up to that?  You would resent it to.  Mom and Dad always reminding you, “Why can’t you just be more like your older brother?”  It would have been hard for His sisters too, because what young man would want to marry into that family, having to measure up to that standard?

Even His mother will later try to come and talk Him into going home and acting more reasonably, no doubt for the sake of family peace.  Jesus had made them pariahs in Nazareth and the region.

But at the moment of our story Peter, there in that boat, senses something amazing and incredible about this man whose reputation is rapidly growing.  Trades people get around, and perhaps they had met or seen one another when Jesus might have come to work on some project or other in Capernaum and perhaps on Sabbath in the synagogue.  Have you ever wondered why Jesus made His early base at Capernaum?  He already knew people there.  According to tradition, the family of Zebedee was related to His mother.

However, this day is like they had never met before, even if they had.  Peter the Avoider has been unmasked and feels spiritually exposed and doesn’t want to face this guy who sees right through him.

Suddenly Peter has one of his wonderful moments of crystal clarity.  (We all have a few of those in our lives.)  This man Jesus standing there so close to him is a truly holy man, a truly godly man.  He has never really seen Him before.  He is not like those showy wannabe holy people who dress up in fancy-fringed prayer duds and pray aloud and loudly in public to put on a show and try to tell people how to live and point out all the sins they commit.  (Check out Jesus’ excoriating criticism of this type in Matthew 23.)  This guy, Jesus, is none of that; He simply is holy and godly and doesn’t have to say anything about it.

The other side of Peter’s moment of crystal clarity in the boat is a realization that for all that Jesus is, he, Simon bar-Jonah, is not.  He is not holy; he is not godly.  But he is in the presence of someone who inspires awe in him, someone unique, unlike anyone he has ever met or likely ever will meet again.  He senses, unable to express it, that somehow God is present in the boat with him.

Trembling with fear, undone, Peter goes to his knees.  His eyes are full of tears, and all he can say in a shaky voice is, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”  Like me, like us, Peter would rather avoid having to face his true self.  He can’t run away, so he asks this terrifyingly real guy in front of him to go away and leave him alone.  Change is too hard!

“I am a sinful man” will only years later change to “Your will be done on earth as in heaven.”  What Simon-Peter knows intuitively at this irrevocable turning point in his life is that he cannot stand under the piercing gaze of this strange man named Yeshua (Jesus is the Anglicized Greek [Iesous] version – remember?), let alone stand in God’s presence.  (He doesn’t know yet that it’s the same thing.)  This man can see right into his soul, read his heart.  No hiding.  Simon knows that Jesus sees all his unclean, lustful thoughts, unkind words, angry responses, resentments and jealousies.  If this Jesus would just go away, maybe over time he could just slip back into his usually pretty comfortable life.

Instead, Jesus puts his strong, calloused, carpenter’s hand, a strong

hard-working man’s hand like Peter’s, on Peter’s shoulder.  He gives him a manly shoulder squeeze, and smiles with warm affection for this big, bluff, genuine fellow whose heart He sees right into.  “Don’t be afraid, Simon,” He says.  (Simon is Peter’s actual given name; Jesus has not yet called him ‘Peter’.)  “Follow me, and I will make you a fisher of men.”  I see Jesus smiling broadly at Simon, using gentle humour to allay his fear.

So here is our generations’ paramount Optical Illusion: that all that other stuff we are constantly bombarded with and that we talked about earlier is what really matters and what life is really about. 

Optical Reality: as the Apostle Paul, who also knew a thing or two about what we have been calling optics, put it (in my very liberal paraphrase and expansion), “But I now consider all those old things that used to matter s–t compared to the awesomeness of knowing Jesus our Lord [and doing His/God’s will here on earth while I’m still alive to do it].”  (Philippians 3:8)  The actual Greek word Paul used has been politely translated for the sake of our delicate optical and auditory piety, but we now understand that it was actually a street-language term for excrement.  Sorry if this offends your sensibilities, but evidently Paul did not care a (s)crap about the optics of the thing!  Or about the ‘spin’ his hearers and readers would put on it!  You realize that the Apostles’ letters (“epistles” is our fancy Biblical name for them) were read aloud to the whole church in those days.  How shocking would it be if you heard that ‘s-word’ read aloud in your church some Sunday?

That, Biblically speaking, is the final word on our post-modern obsession with the popular pursuit of all the stuff encompassed by what we have been calling 21st C cultural ‘optics’.

May peace be unto you as you shed the optical illusions of our time.  May the joy of being set free by the clear vision of Truth fill your souls.

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Optics, 1

“Optics – the scientific study of sight and the behaviour of light”  

The Canadian Compact Oxford Dictionary, 2002. 

(This is a repost from a 2018 post in Blogger.com)

(Photo: Author’s original)

In daily parlance, Optics refers to the way things look or appear, the way we look or appear to others.  Politicians, celebrities, organizations and even ordinary individuals are obsessed with their image, with the optics of how others perceive them.  Our mass and social media are obsessed with the latest ‘look’ decided on by the super-models, superstars, heroes and anti-heroes of the moment.  We tweet and post our latest selfie and mini-mega moments in the belief that the world needs to know how we look today, how great our kids are doing, how well our newest adventure is turning out moment by moment.

Elementary school students suffer acute anxiety about whether their peers will accept them based on their clothes, their ‘stuff’, and any number of ‘coolness markers.’  By High School, the whole domain of social and self image can be an obsession invading every aspect of teen life: having the right brand of cell-phone, tablet, watch and other gadgetry, the right pants, tops, sweaters, hair-styles, tattoos, FB friends, and twitter followers.  The risk of failure in the optics competition is shame, social mockery, and ‘loserism’.   Being a ‘loser’ breeds depression and low self-esteem like an epidemic.  Never has the toll of childhood and adolescent anxiety, depression and loneliness been so high.

We are probably the vainest culture that has ever existed.  All our public figures are primarily concerned with their images in order to gain or maintain or increase their following and popularity.  They and their parties employ professional ‘handlers’, ‘spin-doctors’, and image-makers to make sure they always ‘appear to best advantage’ as they announce anything and everything in just the right setting with just the right wording and approving audience.  In any contest of optics versus substance we know always know which will win out.

Since the Nixon-Kennedy Presidential Campaign of 1960 initiated the TV debate phenom as an essential part of any self-respecting election, it has been clear that how the candidate appears to the viewer and how (s)he sounds is at least as important as the substance of what (s)he says.  

Tired and worn out regimes can plausibly rebound to win despite all their scandals and miscues if they can successfully ‘rebrand themselves’ in the eyes and ears of the public, and simultaneously make the ‘other guy’ look ‘out-of-date’ and even retrograde (‘non-progressive’ ) or anti- the latest trendy cause, even when the truth is otherwise. 

We have bred a society with little long-term memory or taste for the real discipline of actually learning anything in depth, let alone practicing self-discipline and self-control in order to achieve a truly worthy long-term goal.  Tellingly, the few exceptions appear to be professional athletes and entertainment heroes – exceptions who actually prove the rule!  Their achievements make them role models to those seeking similar goals of wealth and fame. 

The Biblical Book of Ecclesiastes says that “There is nothing new under the sun”.  Rulers and regimes come and go, but the roots of human nature are the same as they have ever been for as far back as we have any evidence in history.  Ancient kings (and the occasional queen) and emperors worried how they looked and what their legacy would look like.  In Shelley’s poem ‘Ozymandias’ a forgotten pharaoh invites the future gazer upon his stupendous statue to “Look upon me and despair.”  We might take the unintended advice of this gigantic, faceless and now historically forgotten titan of the past.  You may be a titan today, but you will be forgotten tomorrow along with almost all the other deluded self-obsessed optics-spinners who have ever lived.  In the end, substance wins over appearance and witty sound-bites in the historical sweepstakes.

 ‘Pharaoh X’ meant that anyone in the future should despair of ever equalling his greatness, opticized by his monumental statue.  The irony is that the things our society most admires and aspires to – wealth, beauty and glamour, fame (or notoriety, its reverse), power – become exactly what Solomon said – vanity – when we near our end.  Solomon, who certainly could speak from personal experience, said, “It’s all vanity and chasing after the wind.”

Solomon certainly concerned himself with the optics of his reign and engaged in supreme power-image-making – vast treasuries, huge chariot depots and impressive garrison cities, his own magnificent palace, the “House of Cedar” in Jerusalem, the incredibly opulent and gilded Temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem, his accumulation of a harem of one thousand beautiful women (many of them hostages to keep the powerful of the region in line), meant to impress all the kingdoms round-about with his power and influence.  His father David had beaten all the neighbours into submission, and to keep them there Solomon exacted onerous tribute in gold and kind.

Today, Solomon is one of the minute minority of people who have ever lived whom history has not forgotten.  Almost all of us alive today will not qualify for this minority, including most of the popular trend-setters and image-makers of this age, despite the delusion we all have about our own importance. 

For all his worldly ‘success’, as Solomon neared the moment of facing his Maker, he came to the conclusion that everything he had built, accumulated, tried, learned and distilled as wisdom in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes was empty.  A thousand wives – how much sex does it take to satisfy?  In his euphemistically charming metaphor, eventually “the almond tree no longer flowers.” 

Gold, silver, jewels, and precious things beyond counting and measuring – how much is enough?  When is the addiction to wealth and power filled up?  In his own comparison – “the eye is never filled with seeing or the ear with hearing; the ocean is never filled no matter how much water flows into it.”

He had tried and looked into ‘everything that is done under the sun’.  He wrote Proverbs and Ecclesiastes as advice to his son, if we believe the introductions to these works.  He had many sons but it is reasonable to think he meant Rehoboam who succeeded him.  That son quickly forgot everything his father might have told him.  But that is another story.

Shedding all the glitzy glamour and optics of absolute imperial power, Solomon boiled it all down as follows.  I summarize and paraphrase brutally here: “Fear God and prepare to give an answer for the deeds done in the body.  Be satisfied each day with the simple things being fulfilled – enough food, adequate clothing and shelter, a happy home.  Be happy with the spouse of your youth.  Work hard and honour the God who gave you life.  Be moderate in all your habits – neither giving way to greed or jealousy of those who have more, nor bitterness at what you do not have.  If you live as if today is your last day and rejoice that you have this day, you will not fear the day when God calls you back to Himself.  If you live as if only what you want matters and do not take care of others or have concern for their well-being, you will live in fear of losing what you have and in so doing commit injustice.  Then you should indeed fear the day of your death when you must answer to God for ‘the deeds done in the body.”

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The Third Way, 60 – Walking the Walk

“…. humanists, having no god, must put something at the center, and it is inevitably society, government, or the state …. the Judeo-Christian consensus … has weakened and all but disappeared, [along] with the lack of vision even from a pragmatic perspective, let alone principle ….”

Francis A. Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto, in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, Volume 5, a Christian View of the West.  (Crossway Books, Wheaton Illinois, 1982), p. 482

            Francis Schaeffer was an American Presbyterian minister, philosopher, evangelist and apologist who, for thirty-five years after World War 2, lived and worked in Europe, based in Switzerland.  He and his wife Edith founded L’Abri Fellowship in Chesières, Switzerland 1955.  Schaeffer died in 1984, but his thought and work has continued to exercise a profound influence on the thousands who met him and listened to and studied under him, as well as the millions who have read his books.  Few Christian thinkers through the last two millennia have created such a well-articulated and carefully thought-out and practiced view of both humanity and the cosmos.

In the summer of 1979 at Swiss L’Abri (there are other locations) my partner and I met and talked with the Schaeffers for a time almost daily as we worked at their chalet and in their garden.  His works and thought continue to exercise a profound influence on me.  Like all men, he was faulted, but he never betrayed his primary commitments to Yeshua, to Edith, to his family.  He strove to live what he taught, and to a large extent succeeded.

Schaeffer was not apolitical, but he was not partisan political either.  Politics is an inevitable concomitant of living in society, and, with few exceptions, humans cannot avoid living in society.  Even such exceptions almost always find society (other humans they attract) coming to them even as they attempt to escape it.  The story of Anthony of Egypt (250-356 CE) graphically illustrates this. 

Anthony sought to live as a hermit in the Egyptian desert in order to escape the corruption and distractions of the big city (Alexandria, Egypt) and to live a “pure life” dedicated to knowing God.  People heard about this radical holy man and began to come to him.  After twenty years of trying to be a hermit, he rather found himself a “Father” to a growing community of hundreds of God-seekers.  Despite himself he founded a community that focused on union with God first.  In 311, at the height of a terrible persecution, he was sent by his Lord back to the city to bring warning and to preach repentance to a corrupt and tumultuous populace and administration which threatened to kill him for his trouble. He hoped to be gifted with martyrdom, but was not.  Instead he brought conviction and hope to the suffering Christians and confusion to the Emperor’s agents.  There is much more to Anthony’s story, but the reader can find the details elsewhere.

With respect to the Christian aspiration to a Third Way, the most common mistake is in identifying a particular set of ideological posits and positions as where peacemakers and searchers after justice and true equity must commit themselves.  Taking up a party cause and socio-economic ideology has never led to the real objective of the Christ’s Third Way, which is the birthing of “the Kingdom of Heaven” on earth.

Schaeffer advocated civil disobedience, even at the risk of persecution and imprisonment.  He stood in a long line of Christian disciples from Peter and John the Apostles telling the Judean Sanhedrin “Judge for yourselves if we should obey God or you” (my paraphrase) when they had been arrested and told not to mention the name of Yeshua or teach anything about him among the people.  That line travels through time across twenty centuries down to Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Nazi Germany and the tens of thousands of anonymous martyrs in the Soviet Bloc and even China and North Korea right now.  Nor must we forget the quiet efforts to bring hope and freedom to love and speak truth of Christians in Islamic societies where they have a death sentence fatwa hanging over their heads which anyone can carry out and be immune to punishment.  More thousands have been put to death there.

But the Third Way is not primarily about civil disobedience to unjust governments.  It is about pointing to and working towards a different way of doing life in the here and now, a way that puts a premium on compassion and empathy and real, practical efforts to stand with the victims of injustice and oppression and neglect and denial of the most basic elements of human dignity.  It is about being Christ’s “body” even in the middle of whatever version of “this age/cosmos” prevails at the moment wherever the scorn for the Creator and the callous treatment of those made in His/Her image is reducing God’s human children to mere animals or tools to be used to enhance the power, wealth, prestige and personal glory of whichever set of haters and oppressors holds power at the moment.

It is about showing another way among the community of those who name the name of Yeshua/Jesus as Lord, about practicing the principles of His Kingdom among themselves and trying to bring some of that influence into expression in the larger society and culture.

Because that has been the calling and mission of the disciples of Yeshua/Jesus since he commissioned his ekklesia – the assembly of the people called to follow him and live as God’s children in the midst of what Jesus called “a wicked generation” – the koinonia, the community of love and compassion He meant for His disciples to become and be, has never been, was never meant to be, a closed, secret society.  It was never meant to be merely another human-created institution interested in gaining political and economic power and compelling everyone to go along with its agenda.

That agenda is quite simple – bringing the Kingdom of God into real manifestation here on earth.  But, as ever with flawed humans being the agents, great transgressions were committed and brought (and bring) great discredit to all Yeshua’s followers.  Those who hear the talk about all the wonderful ideals of the coming Kingdom are justified in holding Christians accountable for acting just like the usual human authorities. 

Historically, it is no surprise that the failures and excesses of the official leaders of Christianity here in the West, where they gained great political, social, and economic power, should have led to the present situation.  The loss of the power and influence of the Church (churches) is lamented by many Christians, but too often as a sort of political and social deprivation rather than as it should be – a repentance for having fallen into the perpetual temptation to take the road to compulsory control using the levers of position and coercion.  The reduction of the Church’s power and influence and its being shunted to the periphery would be better seen as an opportunity to do a reset and a return to first love, a true repentance, rather than as a trumpet call to take up political weapons to try to restore something that would better have been left aside in the first place.

Much more has been better said on all this by many down through the centuries and the last two millennia.  For two thousand years, the Lord’s Prayer has warned us and continues to warn us about taking the wrong path.  Its priorities are explicit and crystal clear: “Creator’s Kingdom, come!  Creator’s will, be done!  On earth as in heavenly realms.”  The original is as much an imperative as a plea.  It is a command, a mandate. 

But the practical side is also crystalline: “Give us today our daily bread” – a request that we receive what we need (not want, lust after, crave to get) materially in the here and now.  This is for two purposes – first so that we can carry on with the business  of bringing God’s Kingdom into this age for as long as we are here, and second so that we can meet the needs of others who do not have enough and so show them the real love of their Creator.

This amazing masterpiece of prayer, which is the format for all prayer and relationship with our Maker, ends with “And do not lead us into (“lead” is not the best translation of the Greek word –more like do not let us fall into) temptation, but deliver us from evil (again, the Greek is better rendered as the evil one).”

It is an indivisible unity which we too often treat as separate pieces, compartmentalized to suit our own purposes.  The greatest temptation for each of us, for leaders, and for the ekklesia as a body is to take up the apparently easiest and most direct path to “bringing in the Kingdom”.  The temptation, the allure, is to outpolitick the politicos and cleverly dominate the social molders of “this age” who hold the reins (and reigns) of power and control.  It is the song of Odysseus’s Sirens luring us onto the rocks of shipwreck.

We will give the last word in this series to Yeshua.  Shimon (Peter), the prospective leader off the ekklesia after Jesus, took out a sword and used it in an attempt to stop the arresters who had come to take Jesus to be crucified.  Yeshua sharply reprimanded him, “Enough of that!  If you live by the sword, you die by the sword!”

Shalom!