The Third Way, 28: The Allure of Rome, Part 8 – Wycliffe and Chaucer

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A good man was ther of religioun,

And was a povre Persoun of a toun;

But riche he was of holy thoght and werk.

He was also a lerned man, a clerk,

That Cristes gospel trewly wolde preche;

His parisshens devoutly wolde he teche.

Benign he was, and wonder diligent,

And in adversitee ful pacient …

Geoffrey Chaucer is the best-known English poet of the Middle Ages.  His lifetime also happens to span the period of tremendous turmoil we were considering in the previous post to this one.  He and most of those he served at England’s court as a secretary and bureaucrat survived the ravages of the Plague, while witnessing the early stages of the Hundred Years War.  He was an early Renaissance man, and helped English finally emerge as the dominant language of government and society in England.  He made himself a master of it and did much to fashion it into the flexible, powerful communication tool it has become.  He played a role in making it “respectable” for educated people to use it every day at court and in official business because, despite being a great linguist in his own right, he preferred it over the ‘superior’ tongues of Latin, Italian, and French, all of which he knew and spoke with facility.

Chaucer was a contemporary with another great scholar and force of that age, John Wycliffe (1320-1384).  There is no evidence the two ever met, but it is certainly not impossible, and is even probable.  Wycliffe was a chaplain to King Edward III for some years in the early 1370s and Chaucer was frequently at court.  Wycliffe was also a master of Latin and certainly knew French.  He was a professor at Oxford University, and for a time was considered the leading light among its faculty and quite popular with students.  His work would have enormous impact on Western culture and society over the next two centuries at least.  In his way, he contributed perhaps even more to the emergence of the modern world than Chaucer, although he is now mostly a footnote in religious and cultural studies. 

Chaucer was religious in a conventional way, as was required of those moving in the upper echelons of late Medieval society.  He would not ‘rock the boat’—although his unfinished ‘magnum opus’, The Canterbury Tales, raised many of the really important issues facing the culture of that time.  He had already published other, well-received works.  The Tales were only published posthumously, whereas Wycliffe’s work went very public during his lifetime and shook the very foundations of English society. 

It would have been extremely interesting to have listened to these two converse about the problems of their age, especially of society and church.  They had a common link which could have made that happen: they both enjoyed the patronage and protection of John of Gaunt (Gaunt being Ghent in Belgium), the ‘black sheep’ of the royal family.  Gaunt was also known as the Black Prince, and was the fourth son of King Edward III.

Wycliffe sought what we have been calling ‘The Third Way’.  He diligently studied the New Testament, assessing the whole ecclesiastical and social system of the time as aberrant from Christ’s true Kingdom.  He lamented the alienation and estrangement of the humble folk from the sacramentalism which seemed most suited to hold the populace bound in submission to the clergy and their lordly allies as they used their hard-won and meagre wealth and offering little solace and practical support in return.  He became more and more convinced that the paradigm of Christendom had to change and that it represented very little of what Jesus had taught by example and word. 

After all, Jesus had not gone to the religious establishment of his day to initiate the Kingdom of God.  From the day of his birth he had lived, ministered, and died among the humble, the outcasts, the downtrodden, the hopeless, those scorned and rejected by the rich and powerful.  From the first, the worldly powers, in the person of Herod the great, had sought Jesus’ death. 

Wycliffe agonized about how to bring Jesus back to the common mass of people of his time and country.  The whole sacral system depended on everyone meekly accepting their God-ordained lot as serf, free holder, landless labourer, apprentice, etc., while turning to the Church to ensure access to God’s mercy and grace for the hereafter.  The priest and prelate were the instruments dispensing this mercy and grace via the sacraments and sacramentals, the intermediaries ordained to advocate with the great Judge. 

Wycliffe concluded that the Good News had to be taken directly to the people, just as Jesus and the disciples had done.  He determined that Jesus had eliminated the need for a special class of intermediaries when he died on the cross as the ultimate, final sacrifice for sin and alienation from God.  The true and final authority in God’s family was his Word, not a Pope or set of “Princes of the Church” who mocked God with their scandalous lives and opulent lifestyle supported by the poor and hard-working faithful.  God the merciful and loving is everywhere and does not need a special ‘holy place’ to meet his people.  The people themselves are his temple and his body.  The people had to be able to hear and even read the story for themselves, ending their dependence on half- and even un- educated priests who cared little if at all for their temporal welfare, let alone their fate in eternity.

Wycliffe’s predecessor at Oxford, William Ockham  (1280-1349), had shared many of the same views about the Papacy and the Church.  He had been condemned as a heretic in 1326 and excommunicated.  Similarly, the dissidents in the 12th and 13th Centuries in France and Italy, the Waldensees and Humiliati, had already been much persecuted and killed for holding many of the same views and their stubborn remnants were still hunted. Thus Wycliffe fully understood his eventual probable fate.

Wycliffe was too outspoken, and for this he was ejected from his teaching post at Oxford and his royal appointment as a chaplain.  He was confined to his parish of Lutterworth where it was hoped he would fade into obscurity.  But he did not.  Many of his students and hearers followed him.  He began a great project of re-evangelization of England, knowing his time was limited and he could look forward to ultimate condemnation and probable execution.  His enthusiastic disciples agreed to help him to translate the Bible into English, make multiple manuscript copies, and then take it to the humble folk in their villages and towns.

Wycliffe was condemned as a heretic in 1384, six years after the western Great Schism of two rival Popes began.  John of Gaunt was politically forced to withdraw his protection.  The priest of Lutterworth was to be arrested, but he inconveniently died before they could get to him.

The sheen of Rome’s appeal was much tarnished in those years.  Kings, Princes, and Emperors all resisted and resented the imperial Papacy and ultimately refused to accept its claims to final authority in things temporal as well as spiritual.  But the allure of absolute spiritual sovereignty still carried great weight.  There was still the call to unity in Christendom, at least in theory and doctrinal and ritual conformity. 

If, as Scripture says, there is “one God, one faith, one baptism, one Lord and Father of all” then to threaten the unity of Christendom by questioning the Church’s central authority to define “God, faith, baptism (who is in and who is not)” was to threaten the very community under the Lord and Father of all who had created the Church and given it the final authority over spiritual things, including matters of salvation and how to achieve it.   But that was the very nub of all the disputes that were brewing. Was the Church under an absolutist spiritual monarch the true Church as Jesus and the Apostles had first created it, the church of God’s family?  Or was it an aberrant, corrupt hybrid, as more and more were beginning to suspect and question?  Was the whole office of “Pope” and “Vicar of Christ on earth” a human usurpation in the old pagan Roman spirit rather than the Holy Spirit’s way of guiding those seeking to know and worship the Creator “in spirit and in truth,” as Jesus had put it?

TO BE CONTINUED

The Third Way, 27: The Allure of Rome, Part 7 – Black Death

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“I AM WHO I AM; I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE; tell them that I AM has sent you.” Yahweh-Adonai to Moses, Exodus 3: 14.

The scholars were awake.  The artists were awake.  New-old knowledge and truth was beginning to bring excitement and hope to the longing lands of the West in the early decades of the 14th Century.

Then came the horrendous Black Death (1347-51), coupled with the calamity of the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) engulfing the western Kingdoms of France and England.  A war on that scale and of that duration could not but greatly impact the neighbouring states as it ran its course. Tentacles reached into Spain and Portugal, Italy, the Lowlands, and the Empire.  The Plague devastated all of Europe, North Africa, and western Asia in a few brief years.  We forget that it had already snuffed out millions in Central and Eastern Asia in the late 13th and early 14th Centuries.

Surely it must be the Apocalypse!  And on top of all this there was the festering Papal schism, the Pope in Rome versus the Pope in Avignon, in the Western Church.  It seemed a fitting retribution for provoking the yawning divide between eastern and western Christendom in the Great Schism of 1054.  Christendom seemed reduced to a shadow, a shattered community, and the dual and then triple Papacy’s claims to spiritual leadership a mockery.  The secular leaders ignored the plight of their suffering peoples and the spiritual leaders squabbled, blamed, and anathematized one another.  Who really cared for the poor survivors of the sweeping devastation unleashed by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?  Even the dedicated caregivers perished along with those they cared for.  Best to flee and hope you could somehow escape God’s wrath.  Even God seemed to have turned his back and declared that the edifice of Christendom should be torn down to the foundations.

Now, almost eight centuries after these horrific multiple whammies, which historians and other analysts estimate to have wiped out between a quarter and third of Europe’s total population of perhaps eighty million between 1347 and 1351, we have mostly forgotten this even occurred.  We imagine the calamity of World War 2 to have been the worst event in human history, but it pales in proportion to this period of woe.  The devastating Spanish flu of 1918-19, the last real pandemic in recent history, pales in perspective despite its estimated global death toll of sixty million.  The plague did not tear or bomb down structures, but it left whole towns and regions deserted, ghost-like vestiges that the wilderness swallowed in a few decades.

Losing twenty to twenty-seven million of eighty million meant economic and social chaos for entire countries.  In comparison, the Soviet Union lost 22 million out of 160 million in WW2.  Germany lost 6 million out of 80 million.  Only the Jewish loss of 6 million out of a world population of about 12 million (9 million in Europe) is comparable, but the Jewish population was dispersed among many nations rather than concentrated[i].  (This is not meant to minimize the Holocaust or any nation’s national loss in WW2 in any way.)

If God had seen fit to unleash such wrath on Christendom, gross spiritual and moral bankruptcy must be the cause.  Had not Francis of Assisi and other reformers been sent to prophetically warn and call the faithful to repentance?  And had their call not been ignored or reduced to a token by those who should have heard and led the way back to the Creator and his order for creation and humanity?  Who could have faith in leaders who spent their time seeking power and reward in this world, living as if the poverty of Christ had been completely irrelevant to his whole message?

Repentance seemed in order, and, with families and communities destroyed, crowds of penitents took to wandering and preaching judgment and repentance, punishing themselves in pleas for Divine mercy.  Others refugees resorted to pillage and banditry, as local authority disintegrated and resources were scarce.  Besides, who was to stop them (except when God’s judgment finally caught up)?  In areas where the devastation had somehow been lesser, a semblance of order was reasserted by local lords or towns, and the lords used their men-at-arms to chase the outlaws and vagabonds off to easier pickings, as did the town magistrates by recruiting town militias of upstanding citizens.

What was to be gleaned from the catastrophe once it became clear that the end of the age had not come, but that God had granted a new reprieve?  As with all disasters, the responses were of two kinds: (1) to see the hand of God and the need to reform life both collectively and personally, (2) to decide that the Creator, if He/She is there at all, is not the benevolent, merciful being they had been told about, but either a capricious fiend or an indifferent tyrant.  If the first, change and renewal would have to come from the people, for the leadership were mired in their sin and showed no signs of turning from it.  If the second, then it would be best to begin to enjoy what there is to enjoy in this world and not waste time on appeasing an unappeasable or indifferent Creator.

At any rate, how was it possible to return to what had been before, to reassert the old bonds of fealty and order and duty of each of the three Orders (Estates, as the French called them)—clergy, nobility, commoners?  Nobles and clergy may have suffered somewhat less by being able to isolate themselves more effectively when the plague had passed through their region, but all had been severely affected.  Serfs found their masters dead, vassals found their liege lords gone, or lords had lost those who were supposed to support their rule and receive their fealty.  Many had lost most and even all those they cared about in the world.  Serfs abandoned their lands and wandered to find more generous situations, or went to the towns to live as free townspeople.  Old records were burned or became irrelevant. Labour was scarce and money was to be made.  Men-at-arms went to find more favourable lords or ran off to become freebooters.  New lords asserted themselves by taking control of areas left without a lord, then offering fealty to whichever superior liege would give the best terms.  Towns gained greater autonomy in return for direct loyalty to the sovereign, thus gaining independence from feudal obligations in return for taxes and militia during war.

But where was hope to be found?  Was life just short and brutal with no more significance than finding the maximum comfort and least pain in its brief span?  Few openly questioned that there was a Creator-God, but if there was, how was He/She to be related to?  The Church had lost much of its moral authority and its leaders offered no answers except more of the same old rituals and dogmas, or the idea of being more diligent in piety and abnegation.  Certainly, there were movements in that direction, and new devotions and strivings, but there were huge questions still hanging: Why?  What must be done? 

There were voices suggesting God must be sought apart from and beyond these things, or that the Gospel (and therefore Jesus, the Lord) had in fact had been betrayed by the selfish elite. He must now be rediscovered and made real once more.   There was also an awakening to the challenge of new knowledge and ancient wisdom.  Were we to continue to deny the goodness of the creation we find all around us?  Were we not made to appreciate it and discover God’s love within it?  In this, the ancient sages had much to tell.  If the Golden Age’s sages and example were to be taken seriously, it might help find a way forward.

Like a tremendous earthquake, The Black Death sent aftershocks.  For example, more localized outbreaks brought more horror to London and southern England in 1368.  The people found the Church unable to answer, but surely God must stay his hand in answer to all the prayers, entreaties, flagellation, repentance in sackcloth, pilgrimages, and works of charity which the survivors proliferated.  The quarrels among rival Popes and prelates and the political manipulation by Kings and Emperor of these rivals only bespoke the complete bankruptcy of hoping for renewal from on high.  It would have to come from the grassroots, and, it seemed, it would need to be more assertive about the evils at play than Francis’ inspired and admirable way through submission to authority while preaching self-denial and the Gospel of poverty.  It would also have to surpass Thomas’ intellectual spirituality in accessibility, using simpler means to communicate the Gospel truth in a way everyone could receive.

TO BE CONTINUED


[i]  In the 1930s, Poland and the Soviet Union had the largest Jewish populations, and the three million Polish Jews were almost wiped out by the Nazis.  This represented about 10% of Poland’s pre-war population, a very significant number.  Soviet Jewry lost about 1½ million, accounting for about 1% of the Soviet population, and 7% of all Soviet war deaths.

The Third Way, 22: The Allure of Rome, Part 3

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“… no matter the vigilance of any ethnarchy, it cannot withstand the siren song of the larger society that encompasses it.”

Thomas Cahill, The Desire of the Everlasting Hills, the World before and after Jesus.  The Hinges of History, Volume III, (Doubleday, 1999), Kindle Edition, Location 480.

During more than five centuries, for many millions who never saw the imperial metropolis, Rome was the siren singing the song that bewitched (or oppressed) a quarter of the world’s population.  More than 1500 years later, the song still echoes around the world.  Its lyrics were sung in Latin and Greek.  These two imperial languages have infiltrated every significant society in our world via English, French, or the other languages of the European colonizers.  The vocabularies of the Western tongues are replete with Latin and Greek derived words and terms, sometimes imported unaltered: sine que non, pro tempe, ad lib., extempore, rigor mortis, et cetera (etc.), halitosis, archetype, pantheon, -etc., etc., etc.  Modern medicine developed first in Greek, and was absorbed by Latin.  It has retained much of the original vocabulary in anatomy, diagnosis, etc

The well-known and respected historian of Western Civilization, Thomas Cahill (The Hinges of History is his multi-volume magnum opus for the layman and well worth reading), quoted above, also points out that a language is not solely and simply a means of verbal communication:

“Languages bring values with them, and one cannot learn a language without making one’s own things the civilization that developed the language considers important …. the Greeks had their own powerful words and phrases which, once learned, gave the speaker a specifically Greek outlook …. Similarly, common English words and phrases adopted nowadays throughout the world give even simple people, living in cultures bound by non-Western myths, access to such values as progress, democracy, technology, and capitalism, even if one should see these values through the eyes of inflexible traditionalists: as contempt for traditions of authority and discipline and love of chaos and of self at the expense of the common good).”

(Cahill, ibid., Location 306)

Languages are imbued with the worldviews of those who developed them, encapsulating the common factors underlying the culture and society whose principle tools of communication they are.  As such, they are spiritual vehicles; they carry the soul, the ethos (a Greek word we have simply imported) of a people, a tribe, a clan, a nation.  The West drank so deeply at the Greco-Roman well for so long that the European civilization that succeeded Rome is still steeped in a Greco-Roman worldview. 

There have assuredly been other major influences as well—the Judeo-Christian and Germanic contributions being most significant.  But when these three cultural tributaries of the Western Amazon merged over time during the Middle Ages (in itself, a loaded ideological term entirely dependent on the idealization of the Greco-Roman “Golden Age”), unquestionably the one which ended up “winning” the merger was the Greco-Roman stream. 

Part of Rome’s genius was adoption and adaptation—the ability to absorb and assimilate all comers, repurposing them to serve Rome’s dominant vision as the great civilizer of the world, the great unifier giving everyone equal access to the same gods and guiding principles.  The Emperor was the supreme symbol, the creator and maintainer of this unity—the “Saviour of mankind”, the “Son of God” (Jupiter, Zeus, Amon-Ra, Baal, whichever high deity was relevant to the people in question).  Every subject and citizen of the Empire owed their final allegiance to the Emperor as the incarnation of Rome’s “genius”, or “Spirit-Guide”.  

If we change the vocabulary and eliminate the divinities, this has a very modern sound and feel to it.  Louis XIV declared to the French in the 1670s, “L’état, c’est moi. (I am the state.)”  In the early years of the 19th Century Napoleon declared that he was the embodiment of all the true values of the New Revolutionary France—liberty, equality, brotherhood–with himself as the God-appointed guardian of France and its people (and, via France, Europe, which he had been divinely commissioned to liberate).  Hitler said, “I am Germany, and Germany is I,” and he said repeatedly that “Providence” had led and guided him to fulfill his ‘sacred mission’ to purify the Master Race first, and then the world.  Stalin and Mao made closely parallel declarations regarding Russia (the Soviet Union) and China  as the lights of the emerging socialist utopia. They engineered even more horrendous slaughters of their subject peoples than Hitler did of most of the peoples of Europe combined. 

Until early modern times, European monarchs claimed “the divine right of Kings” as the basis of their rule.  God and the state were joined at the hip, and to challenge the anointed order was to engage in treason, lèse-majesté, and perhaps even heresy or blasphemy.  (In many Islamic countries, blasphemy is still a crime and punishable by death, and blasphemy is considered anything that puts into question Muhammad’s word or character, as well as anything raising an issue with Allah’s revelation in the Quran.)

The spirits of Rome did not simply vanish when Odoacer the Ostrogoth said there was no longer a Western Roman Emperor in 476 CE.  The spiritual principalities and authorities that stood behind Rome had already been presciently transferring and insinuating themselves into what would emerge as the Empire’s real successor. This was no longer a temporal empire held up by military might, intimidation, and coercion.  Rather, it was the newly rising spiritual power it chose to migrate to—the Catholic Church.  This was a much more subtle but perhaps effective method of entrenching itself in the hearts and minds of humanity—especially those of the West.  Reintroduction into the cruder methods of temporal sovereignty could come later.

Cultures and societies cannot “live by bread alone.”  They have a soul.  The Bible speaks of these powers and influences as actual spiritual entities—“the Prince of Persia” which opposed the angel sent to answer Daniel’s prayer, for example (Daniel 10:13).  The Apostle Paul speaks of “rulers, authorities, principalities, powers, spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly realms,” operating behind the facade of visible powers (Ephesians 6:12 is one reference to this).  When Jesus spoke with Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, he told him, “You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above.”

Judaism and Christianity are not alone in suggesting the presence of spiritual powers behind and within governments, societies, and regimes.  We scientific, sceptical moderns are now averse to using this kind of “woo-woo” language, but the reality of mysterious collective psyches and group dynamics remains.  The great psychiatrist Carl Jung postulated “unconscious collective [viz. hereditary] memory” to explain it.  Sensitive, attentive people frequently pick up such “vibes”.  We talk of “school spirit, team spirit, national/army/corporate morale” (a fancy word to describe the same essential dynamic at a group level).  Many people (including this writer) have personally experienced the phenomenon of sensing “the spirit in a place/person/home/group”—describing it as “positive, joyful, happy, peaceful, tense, explosive, angry, dark, etc.”  Migraines aside, people who see auras often diagnose these operative spirits with uncanny accuracy.

Rome bequeathed its operant, dominant spirits to the West: its sense of “divine mission” to civilize and bring equality and ‘liberation’ (subjugation to its superior system) to the ‘barbarians’, the lust for power, for control, for wealth, for cultural hegemony.  We see all of this abundantly displayed in the history of the West both in the actions and programmes of its governments and its long- and one-time most dominant cultural, social, and spiritual institution, the Roman Catholic Church.  Neither has it been absent from the Protestant and Orthodox branches of Christianity.

That is not to say that other imperialisms have not done likewise at different times in other locations—China and the Islamic Caliphates for example—or seek to do so today .  But the modern/post-modern era has been characterized by the rise to dominance of Rome’s successor civilization, that of the West.  Even if the West now defines itself as secular and Post-Christian, it is demonstrably neo-Roman.  In fact, it is now more Romanesque (Roman-like) than at any time since 476 CE. 

The parallels to the late Empire are uncanny, our cynical, blasé, jaded spirit and dependency on greater and greater displays of wealth poured out to entertain, divert, and amuse our increasingly disillusioned populace, for example.  Our art and cultural refinements and tastes are more and more dystopian and apocalyptic and less and less subtle and ‘refined’, just as the cultural producers and products of the third to fifth centuries CE of Rome had become mere tawdry imitators and imitations of the greats of the past. 

Like the late Roman regime of those last centuries, our governments tax heavily and almost crushingly in order to finance the increasing demands of a less resilient and more demanding populace.  As in those days, debt piles up with no end or prospect of ever repaying in sight, and the balance of payments slides ever more into the negative in favour external suppliers of the special luxury products which have become ‘necessities’ while we become less and less able or willingly to provide for our own real necessities.  Our money is more and more devalued and less and less based on the real economy.  The military sucks up huge outlays in order to protect a fading hegemony and keep the ‘barbarians’ outside the frontiers, while multitudes on the outside clamour to move in and get a piece of the lucrative and much easier to access pie which they see on the inside.  (The late Empire’s greatest cry of terror was, “The Goths are coming!”)

Like the later Emperors, our rulers have no solutions or even a clue as to how to manage an increasingly desperate global outlook.  Governments are made and unmade by the unscrupulous manipulation of popular will by elites seeking to gain some advantage over their rivals.  Back then, changes were made by coup and assassination of one faction against another.  Today, a degraded and increasingly discredited and highly manipulated ‘democratic process’ is the main instrument, although cruder methods are not entirely out of the question. 

In any case, during the late Empire, it was Rome’s ponderously ubiquitous and heavy-handed bureaucracy and judiciary which really ran things.  The ruling cadres were more and more oblivious to the real needs and cries of the mass of the population who watched the old foundations which once gave stability to life and dreams of fair opportunity for all sliding into impotency.  For Rome, credible moral leadership had all but vanished, and it was anything goes in the theatres and arenas—even the most outrageous displays were not only tolerated but lauded as great cultural examples and performances.  The most outstanding charioteers, athletes, and gladiators fascinated and enthralled the diversion-seeking populace.

Do we not recognize ourselves in this mirror?  Subtract our glitzy technology and the trappings of our wobbling democracy, and we are staring at a society that acts and smells and, on the inside, looks like our twin.  (If it looks like duck …) Just a tad upside down here and there.  Our elites mock Christianity and religion in general as outmoded superstition that has afflicted our consciences with false guilt while trumpeting the real guilt of religious genocide, of which, as the enlightened, the elites are not guilty.

Jesus once excoriated the Pharisees of his day for outwardly extolling the prophets while whitewashing their tombs–thus unconsciously demonstrating that they actually approved their murders by their own ancestors. Today’s secular rights legalists often “whitewash” or conveniently forget the misdeeds of their own logical ancestors–Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and, yes, even Mussolini and Hitler. Religion (Christianity above all) can now be discarded, or at least ignored because only the superstitious, unwashed masses insist on hanging on to some of its vestigial appurtenances.  The ancient elites up to the late Fourth Century CE also mocked the bothersome pretentions of Christian activists as outrageous and a drain on the empire’s moral, social, and military strength.

Sooner or later, the spirits (authorities, powers, principalities) that overshadow and characterize a place, a people, a group, a corporation, a union, a political party, and even a nation will flagrantly manifest themselves.  Jesus used to say, “Let those who have eyes see; those who have ears, let them hear!”  The ancient is now the modern—Rome reprise.

TO BE CONTINUED

The Third Way, 21: The Allure of Rome, Part 2

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“[Virgil’s Aeneid and the legendary tales of early Rome] tell us something about how the Romans saw themselves: war-like by nature, as descendants of the god of war [Mars]; empowered with the strength and cunning of the wolf who nursed their founders [referring to the legend of the orphan twins, Romulus and Remus, being nursed and raised by a she-wolf]; and established by desperate men who successfully fought everyone around them for survival.  Many Romans believed that just as it was the fate of the Greeks to bring culture to the world, it was the fate of the Romans to bring order [ordo] to the world …. the Romans from a very early period believed they were destined to rule.  They believed that they were better suited by nature and ability for rule than were other peoples.  And they believed that the gods had selected them for this task.  Perhaps this way of looking at the world underlay their actions somewhat like the concepts of “manifest destiny” and the assumed superiority of Europeans underlay the movement westward by European immigrants in nineteenth century United States.”

James S. Jeffers, The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era, Exploring the Background of Early Christianity, (IVP Academic, 1999), pp. 295-6.

The Creator is never far removed from the creation.  We go through life most of the time like sleep-walkers, barely aware of the amazing nature of the cosmos and of how the Creator has made us.  This does not annul the glory of what envelops us and which we share as the sole beings who, as far as we know, actually can perceive and gain some understanding of it and experience it.

Although we are made to reflect the Maker’s glory within the creation, our lust after petty godhood has made us blind and deaf.  We see this played out in plain sight and hearing every day in the way we react to hindrances, frustrations, and impediments to our progress towards whatever ambitions or fancies we have currently placed before us.  We grumble and complain about how such-and-such and so-and-so has blocked us and infringed upon our rights.  We denounce those who encroach on our comfort and challenge our “territory.”  After all, as ‘gods’ we are born to rule, aren’t we?  The only problem is all those other people who think they are gods too!

We are trapped in this conundrum whether conscious of it or not.  Most of the time, we don’t think about, we just feel it.  It is the resting, normal position of the rebel whose rebellion is so ingrained that it is now unconscious, subconscious—until something brings it to the surface, like a direct claim and challenge to recognize that there is a Creator who alone is God, which means I am not and I must give up my throne.  Or perhaps another petty god is more powerful or well-positioned than I, and I must defer to him/her.

While all the great religions do not perceive the Creator and creation in quite the same way, all, in one way or another, recognize the fundamental flaw in human nature.  We are internally broken, finding as much wickedness lurking in our souls as goodness.  If we were to release it, it would consume us, and sometimes the only reason we don’t is that we fear being caught and held to account.  We are bound to fail to fully keep whatever good laws we establish (we are not speaking of disobeying wicked laws), even those we privately make for ourselves to rule ourselves.  No one (except Jesus, some would say) has ever succeeded in living perfectly by what his/her own conscience tells him/her.  Even Buddha abandoned his young wife and child, and he must have known deep down that this was a rather callous thing to do.  Even Muhammad ordered massacres, and he must have known deep down that this was hardly what a God of true compassion and mercy would command.  Even Moses lashed out in anger.  Even Abraham lied about his wife to save his own skin.  David was a murderer and adulterer. 

The great religions attempt to resolve our brokenness differently.  Hinduism explains that our true nature is as errant aspects of the One Reality, the “World Soul (Brahman),” to which we must return and into which we must be reabsorbed, forsaking individuality to achieve nirvana, the bliss of total rest within the all-consciousness without struggle.  Buddhism describes this quest as “non-existence,” similar to the Hindu idea but with no real consciousness adhering to any shadow of the illusion of self.

The three monotheistic faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, do not see humanity as parts of the One seeking reintegration through a very long cycle of life, death, and rebirth, but as beings created to honour and serve God within the creation.  The ‘orthodox’ view within these three is that humans rebelled and continue to rebel, and the Creator has sought to offer restoration of the broken relationship.  They differ in how this is to be done and what role is assigned to humans in the restoration.  Is it by exemplarily obeying rules and performing rituals, or by accepting God’s mercy and appealing to the Creator’s gracious offer of renewal through a chosen Saviour and Redeemer?  Or perhaps a combination of the two—grace and obedience?

We do not have time or space to examine these approaches and their nuances in depth in this post.  That may be for another time.  We are considering the West’s continuing, strange fascination with Rome, the longest-lived and most successful empire in Western history and perhaps in world history.  Like all human endeavours and achievements, no matter how great, it eventually failed.  But its longevity and “glory” still carry a dim lustre and a sense of nostalgia and wonder.  The West cannot escape Rome’s still potent cultural, historical, and spiritual legacy.  Neither can it escape its spell.

For those who admire manifest power, Rome presents a model and a standard: “If only I/we could create something that could equal what they did!”  For those who long for a united world that brings everyone into order and unity with common values and symbols and similar ideals and goals, Rome’s success continually fascinates and puzzles anthropologists, sociologists, historians, psychologists, philosophers, political scientists, and even some politicians who manage to have a sense of history.  For admirerers of military prowess and martial glory at its pinnacle, Rome offers endless material for study.  Rome’s political and martial prowess was not the story of a one-off genius such as Alexander or Napoleon shooting like a comet across the heavens of history.  It was a system honed to perfection, granting the most perfect instrument yet devised which leaders of talent and ability used to rise to the summit of power and fame.  Julius Caesar did not create the Roman genius for government or the unbeatable fighting machine of the Roman army; he used and honed them to further his own rise to power. Afterward, they functioned more or less well regardless of the frequent stupidity emanating from the throne. Rome’s aura often kept its enemies at bay even when its armies were wavering or engaged in slaughtering one another in civil wars.

What is the mystique of Rome; what lies behind it?  Deep beneath what we see played out we find a hunger that longs for a final answer.  It is a spiritual thing—the quest for the last best realm that will endure and bring true, lasting, unbreakable peace and harmony into the life of humanity, giving everyone a fair shake, a fair chance to be the best they can possibly be.  It is more than a hunger, it is the most basic need all—to know who and what we really are and are really made for.  We know it cannot be found in our endless wars and destructive, competitive behaviour—our addiction to assert ourselves above others which brings only more of the same in return as we seek to “get even, get back.”

The Orientals say we must finally quell this hunger as illusion, drive it out by emptying ourselves of self and ceasing to identify ourselves primarily as individuals, ultimately denying any individual personhood and slipping into the anonymous bliss of nirvana.  That is what the Bhagavad Gita is really about; that is what the Upanishads reveal; that is what Buddha’s Three Baskets disclose, in a somewhat different way.  That is what underlies yoga at its heart, and Zen.

Jesus said that it was all about entering “the Kingdom of God,” and this was the core of his teaching.  He spoke of losing our lives in order to find them.  He spoke of taking up one’s cross to follow him and not doing things the old way, the imperial way, the way of pursuing the glories of “this age.” 

When he taught and exampled what he meant, he was speaking of the way of Rome on the one hand and of compromised religion on the other, both ways of glory achieved at the expense of others, in all the ways that this is done—by economic, social, military, political, cultural, and even religious manipulation and brinkmanship.  In the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of the Creator, there is no room for any of this.  All of these methods are the “way of the flesh,” the way of our brokenness and rebellion against how the Maker originally made us and what He/She originally made us to be and do.  They are all ways of serving ourselves first, of maintaining and asserting our ‘right’ to be little gods.

TO BE CONTINUED

The Third Way, 20: The Allure of Rome, Part 1

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The saga of Rome has never lost its allure.  It remains seared in our collective memory.   Even in the 21st Century, when history is so little valued, almost everyone in the West knows the names of Julius Caesar, Cleopatra (although not a Roman, she was intimately connected to him), mad Emperor Nero, and Constantine.  Only Classics students now study the great Greek and Roman literature, but the tale of Imperial Rome remains with us like a talisman.  Travelers to Europe find impressive reminders of Rome’s one-time glory from Great Britain to North Africa, and from Armenia to the coasts of Portugal.  The Mediterranean (Middle Earth) Sea was once “Mare Nostrum” (Our Sea) on Roman maps.

The Roman Catholic Church kept the legend and memory of Imperial Rome alive by locating its headquarters in “the Eternal City.”  The Pope co-opted the old Roman title “Pontifex Maximus” (literally, “Greatest Bridge Maker”), a pagan title for Rome’s High Priest of the cult of Jupiter, Rome’s supreme god.  The core of the Roman Catholic Church’s administrative apparatus is an adaptation of the late Roman Empire’s imperial administration.  During the Middle Ages, what Roman emperors had once claimed as the supreme authority on earth as divinely appointed “saviours” and “sons of Jupiter,” the “Supreme Pontiffs” reclaimed as the “Vicars of Christ on earth”—a sort of Regency status that supposedly gave them authority to enthrone and dethrone even the most powerful secular rulers of Christendom.

Less than a century after the Western Empire’s collapse, the East Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Justinian sent his best general and finest troops to attempt to recover the lost western provinces.  General Belisarius made a valiant and almost superhuman attempt, restoring Italy, North Africa, and most of Spain to allegiance to ‘Rome’ (really Byzantium with its capital at Constantinople).  But disease, famine, and war in the East with Persia sapped Byzantine strength and most of Byzantium’s Western reconquests were eroded by local resistance and by the massive Muslim invasion in the 7th and 8th Centuries.

Rome is still a popular subject for dramatic films and TV series.  Conquerors since the collapse of the Western Empire have dreamed of recreating the Roman hegemony in some form ever since.  Perhaps the most successful of these was the Frankish King, Charlemagne, who took a Latin name (Carolus Magnus ) and title (Imperator) to legitimize his great ambition to be recognized by the Byzantine (“East Roman”) Emperor and the Pope as the first restored “Emperor of the West” since Romulus Augustulus. That boy-emperor’s reign ended with a whimper of ignominy in 476CE at the decree of the Ostrogoth “King of Italy,” Odoacer.  Charlemagne gained what he sought, but his personal charisma and aura of anointed power proved immune to transfer to his heirs.

Part of Charlemagne’s legacy was a rump “Holy Roman Empire” which lasted, on paper at least, until Napoleon simply abolished it in 1806 after crushing the Austrians, whose Hapsburg rulers had generally worn the largely empty title of Holy Roman Emperor since the late Middle Ages.  Napoleon mockingly said, “I am the only Emperor that the West needs.”  The other half of Charlemagne’s legacy was more permanent—France, Napoleon’s actual base of operations.

Here is a short list of Caesar wannabes—Napoleon, already mentioned (although he fancied Alexander the Great above Caesar), Mussolini (who boasted of returning Italy to her ancient glory and remaking the Mediterranean into ‘Mare Nostrum’), and Hitler, who claimed Caesar as an ‘Aryan’ and said the Third Reich would last a thousand years and surpass the glory of Rome in extent, achievement, and legacy.

Why does the mystique and aura of Rome continue to fascinate 1500+ years later?  The answer lies in human nature.  Human beings are created “with eternity in their hearts,” as the Biblical Book of Ecclesiastes puts it.  This hunger for eternity is rooted in the hunger for relationship with our Creator, who made us to know and love Him/Her and to be loved by Him/Her.  We are made in the Creator’s image, made to reflect the Maker’s nature within and to the creation.  We too are makers, creators, formers.  We hunger for ‘glory,’ to know and be known to one another and by one another.  We are made in such a way that humans must have love and relationship if we are to thrive and become all we can be, each one in his/her own unique way.

‘Glory’ (gloria in Latin) is the manifestation of the nobility and worthiness of the one(s) who possess it.  We are all made to possess it because we are all made to be like our Maker, whose glory is manifest in all created things.  For some, achieving ‘glory’ becomes an obsession, and, once it is achieved, it frequently becomes an addiction.  Seeking ‘glory’ for oneself is rooted in our addiction to being our own gods, because all our ‘glory’ is really borrowed from the Creator who manifests Him-/Her-self in all His/Her works, but most completely and specially in us, the human race which the Creator placed on Earth to be His/Her stewards and caretakers.  Humanity’s true glory is in direct proportion to the fulfilment of our actual created purpose.

Having usurped the Creator’s mandate in order to express our own ‘glory’ and greatness in preference to the Maker’s, we are driven to prove our worth and nobility.  Most of us are satisfied to get some minor portion of it during our lives, but some are driven by personality, character, and life-influences to pursue it insatiably.  Hence Alexander, Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Hitler, etc.  Hence the relentless quest for ever more success in their respective fields of business tycoons and seekers of fame and renown (and even notoriety) of all stripes.

Sometimes we give other names to this hunger for glory through extraordinary achievements: ambition, honour, recognition, and renown.  We are created with a hunger to achieve some token of worth, but first and foremost to pursue and achieve knowledge of the Creator and the Creator’s works.  Within that order, we then properly ‘share’ in His/Her reflected glory and win honour and recognition, but without hubris.  This is the picture of Moses descending Mount Sinai after forty days of face-to-face audience with God. 

Seeking the right kind of glory is not evil.  It is natural.  What is evil and ‘unnatural’ is the perversion of these things into idolatry, addiction to adulation, and obsession with dominating others in order to prove one’s worth.  This kind of perverted glory-hunting results in actions that disregard the inherent worth, honour, and nobility of others.  The extreme manifestation of this perversion of ‘glory’ is the oppression, suppression, and wilful slaughter we see in the wake of history’s greatest ‘glory-hunters’.

Which brings us back to the West’s (and even the world’s) continuing and sometimes great fascination with Rome and its legacy.  There are noble things in this legacy.  Roman law and jurisprudence is the foundation of much of the West’s legal system.  Rome absorbed and transmitted most of what we have of the best of ancient thought, art, and literature.  Rome’s engineering prowess was unmatched and a model for all that followed.  The Roman military machine was a marvel for over half a millennium and still gives lessons to students of war in military academies.  Roman government and administration is still studied and sometimes even imitated, despite its weakness at the top because of its susceptibility to the whims of too often misguided imperial potentates.

It is Rome’s claim to ‘immortal glory’ (the ‘Eternal City’, the ‘City chosen by the gods’) that signals Rome’s spiritual dimension.  The allure of the ascent to divinity beckons us.  Roman emperors were usually deified upon death—a precedent set immediately after Julius Caesar’s assassination.  Rome was not a secular state.  It always had an official religion and invoked the favour, blessing, and protection of ‘the gods’ and, after Constantine, of the ‘the Christian God.’

We now fancy ourselves living in a ‘secular age’ which gives no preference to God or any set of gods.  But, despite our official secularism and domi,nant worldview of atheistic materialism (among our social and cultural gurus at least), the truth is that we humans are spiritual beings as much as we are physical beings.  Even in business and corporate institutions, in social associations and clubs, we speak of the ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ of the entity.  Nations and states also have a governing ethos, a soul, or ‘spirit,’ at work beneath the symbols and external manifestations.  For instance, we speak of the ‘democratic spirit’ in the West, or of the ‘evil powers’ at work in some regimes.

We may well believe that we are speaking only figuratively when we use such metaphors, but, if we are perceptive and honest, all of us have a sense of what spirit is at work in many situations.  Back in the 1960s and ‘70s we talked about ‘vibes’.  For those who have traveled to some degree, you definitely feel the essential spirit of a location and even a country when you arrive there and reside there for even a few days.  That is why religions use terms like ‘the spirit of holiness,’ ‘the spirit of righteousness,’ ‘the spirit of lawlessness,’ ‘the spirit of iniquity’ in speaking of perceiving the ‘reality behind the reality’—what we perceive on the surface versus what is truly operative inside and beneath.

Rome had an operative spirit which claimed universal dominion for its sovereignty and divine status as “Saviour, Lord, Son of God (Jupiter)” for its reigning Emperor.  Rome claimed divine anointing as the chosen instrument of the gods to civilize and unite all the races.  At its peak, Rome’s dominion encompassed a quarter of the world’s population, giving some plausibility to its claims, at least in the eyes of Roman citizens.

Rome incarnated a direct claim by humans to establish an eternal kingdom on earth by right of conquest and coercive power.  Local gods could bow and be absorbed into Rome’s in order to survive, or be annihilated like those of the Carthaginians and Druidic Celts.  The Jews and Christians challenged Rome’s nature at its root.  Both paid a massive price in millions of lives for continuing to seek and honour the true Creator.

TO BE CONTINUED

The Third Way, 19: Titanic

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In the “The Third Way” series, we have been seeking a moral and spiritual way forward for the deeply troubled global civilization of the 21st Century.  The world can no longer be treated as a set of loosely connected cultures and societies.  We are all in the same boat, one which unfortunately most closely resembles the Titanic.

When the Titanic sailed to its doom in April 1912, it was an unwitting time capsule.  Its passengers and crew were from all classes and backgrounds—the mega-rich to the dirt-poor seeking a new life in a new land.  Their accommodations and the ship’s physical division into segregated class areas reflected the huge disparities within society.  So did the crew.  The ship itself embodied all the latest and best that technology, engineering, and scientific advancement could then offer—especially to those who could afford it. 

As we look at the people aboard the great vessel, we find ourselves looking in the mirror.  After all, it is only two less than average lifetimes ago.  Then, as now, the rich were not all bad and greedy people and the poor were not all nice and kind people.  Most of the passengers and crew believed in God, at least nominally, but, like us, most of them had little time or use for the Creator, except to “Dial 9-1-1” in an emergency, as most of them were soon to do.

A great deal has been researched, discovered, written and speculated about why that icon of human progress went to its doom with so much needless loss of life.  Mostly, it boils down to pride, hubris, stubbornness, selfishness, neglect, and human error.  Then, as now in a crisis, some stepped forward with acts of selfless heroism and bravery while others revealed the worst about themselves, mastered by their fear or their sense of entitlement regardless of the needs of others, and their over-inflated (and downright wicked) belief in their own indispensability and petty godhood.  Crises have a way of swiftly clarifying what is really on the inside.

Now, aboard a global Titanic, we are full of our own “I, me, me, my” ideology, with all the rampant entitlementism possible to conceive.  Even so, multitudes have a dawning sense that a great glacier drifts towards collision in the current.  Heedlessly, the elite-class tycoons still control and manipulate everyone for their own profit and greed while they urge our “Captain Smiths” to push on at “full-speed ahead” in enabling the economy to achieve new levels of magnitude.  The middle-tier passengers just want to be left in peace to enjoy life comfortably, while the steerage classwant a little recognition and a “fairer piece of the pie.”

 In the current in which our ship is caught up, the angry, recriminatory, name-calling, blame-attributing, self-aggrandizing and self-justifying ethos is toxic.  With a smidgen of ‘sense and sensibility,’ it should be clear that the promises of a great golden age of general peace and prosperity based on fair treatment and justice for all, inspired by the great achievements of science, technology, and the benevolence of generous leaders is hollow.  Two things mitigate against it: our militant selfishness, and the accompanying rampant pillaging of Earth’s resource base with its concomitant contamination of its (our) environment.  We do not need more of the same old; we need a new heart and mind.  We need a revolution of the soul and spirit, what the Bible calls a heart transplant – a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone.

“The Third Way” begins with some straightforward ideas: the recognition that there is a Creator; that the Creator is a personal Being we usually call God; that the Creator made us as reflections of Him/Her-self; that we are stewards and trustees of the creation we find ourselves in, particularly here on Planet Earth; that we are made for relationship with our Creator, and that the Creator’s primary (but far from sole) manifest personality trait is abounding, passionate love for all the He/She has made. 

But He/She will not wait forever for us to turn the ship.  The iceberg is still there in our path.  Turning to the Creator with more than tokenism will take our focus of ourselves and begin to change our minds about exploitation of the creation and others around us.  It may yet teach us enough humility to humble ourselves before Him/Her.  It may give our rudder enough of a nudge to avoid the fate of the Titanic.

Secondarily, we must admit the inadequacy of our crippling cultural and social paradigms based on defective worldviews.  In this respect, the two major old rivals in the West remain in place: (1.) an inadequate version of syncretistic Christianity often named “Christendom” and (2.) the Enlightenment’s atheistic “scientific materialism.”  Neither of these will do any longer.  On the one hand, Christianity must break free from its obsession with (re)gaining power and control— bowing to what the Apostle Paul called the “god of this age.”  On the other hand, scientists and Scientism must resign their hubris and find a new paradigm that does not a priori decree, “Thou shalt have no other god before me.”  When they look into the marvels of creation, they must remove their wilful blindness and see the eyes and hear the voice of the Creator looking and shouting back, like the Whos in Whoville, “We are here! We are here! We are here!” (Dr. Suess, Horton Hears a Who).

What would “The Third Way” look like in practice?  I would not presume to more than suggest a few characteristics. The Creator’s Spirit will guide us in the way as we humbly search it out.  I strongly believe that, as we humbly and sincerely go seeking the Creator, we will find Him/Her.  I fervently trust that true-hearted seekers will not end up finding and adhering to a counterfeit.  Anything that leads away from peace, love, mercy, and compassion is not from the heart of the Creator.  Anything that excludes any person or persons based on ethnicity, age, gender, or any other of the hateful forms of discrimination practiced so often in the name of God and religion (or “scientific” or other “racial purity”) is not the Way of the Creator.  Religion can also be a hindrance to truly seeking the Creator, although it may serve if the seeker’s heart is turned aright.  After all, God is not limited to abiding by our human expectations of discovering Him-/Her-self according to our pre-defined dogmas when we come seeking Him/Her “in spirit and in truth,” as Jesus once put it.

There is no conclusion to a quest such as this.  It is integral to the journey of life, and, ready or not, believing or not, each of us will meet our Creator sooner or later.  Personally, I would rather it be before my body “gives up the ghost.”  It makes more sense to do something about getting acquainted with this Someone before I “step over” and rudely discover that He/She has been there the whole time waiting for me, but I have arrogantly and presumptuously chosen to ignore or even deny that there is “any such Person.”

Not that the meeting won’t be a surprise and shock (I trust in a positive sense) in any case.  I am sure that even the best hypotheses, philosophies, and theologies are but pale shadows of the Reality they so inadequately attempt to categorize and classify.  That is why died-in-the-wool dogmatism and rage-engendering, foaming, murderous fanaticism are so wrong.  The fanaticism of “superior understanding” is quieter but just as deadly in the long run.  Fanatics assume we can put the Maker in a box (or pretend He/She doesn’t exist to hold anyone to account) to suit our own utterly arrogant (and sinful) fixations and deluded self-justifications. 

The personal Name the Creator gives Him-/Her-self in the Jewish and Christian Bible is “I am Who I am/I will be Whom I will be”.  This is light-years from our modern conceit of “God will be for me what I want and I will take Him/Her/It on my own terms.”  To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, ‘God is not a tame Being’ – (“Aslan is not a tame lion.”)

We have become so full of ourselves that we think we can make God into whatever we like or need at the moment and owe Him/Her homage only to the degree we need to persuade Him/Her to meet our needs.  I suspect that the Creator of the Universe, Multiverse, or whatever version of creation we may choose to fancy is not impressed by the pretensions of beings of microscopic proportions in relation to His/Her creation and Him-/Her-self.

My personal conviction is that the Christian story and worldview is most compatible with the nature of reality and the evidence of science and human experience.  The sad fact is that, in our present social and cultural climate, it has become almost impossible to communicate meaningfully about these supremely important questions.  Rather than dialogue, many run away from them and ignore them. 

Almost every issue is now polarized into questions of “individual freedoms and rights” that are in fact an entirely self-centered, strident insistence to hold any opinion, even the most outrageous and offensive, without having to defend it in any rational way.  It is, in reality, the running amok of the desire to be accountable to no one and to avoid responsibility for anything not centered on oneself (and often not even that).  It is our addiction to personal godhood, self-actualization, and total validation of anything I choose to do and be.  And the consequences of this delusion of total self-importance and self-absorption are extremely self-destructive, and incidentally highly damaging to society at large.  It is “b–l-s—t”  that my personal choices concern no one but myself. Ask the people closest to you how true that is! Ask youself when they make those kinds of “personal choices.”

Evolutionary mythology is irrelevant to the two main constants of discernible history: 1. that we humans are inextricably rooted in Planet Earth in our physical nature and in relationship with the Creator in our spiritual nature; 2. that as far back as we can see into the past, the records tell us that human nature has not changed in any fundamental respect.  We are no more “advanced” in any meaningful way than our genus homo progenitors of as many generations ago as we can find evidence for and imagine behind that.

Shalom and Pax tibi till your next visit, dear reader.

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The Third Way, 17: The Galileo Conundrum

“God is as near as your jugular vein.” The Quran

“Kiss the Son [God’s anointed One], lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way …” Psalm 2:12a

God is close and personal.  The Creator is not an anonymous ‘Force’ as per Star Wars, or an impersonal Super-Intellect as per the Deist formulation of some Enlightenment philosophes.  The whole creation points to the Creator’s personhood and personality.  His/Her incredibly imaginative and wondrously creative fingerprints are everywhere, as is His/Her presence and continuing intimate relationship with all that has been called into being.  Every bird and flower and insect, as well as every mammalian, amphibian, and reptilian individual of every species breathes and sings and shines out, “God made me unique and beautiful.”

The macro-evolutionists now strongly purport that the universe’s primal energies somehow have an ‘instinct’ to self-organize and cohere into ultimate self-awareness.  Yet for centuries we have been told the diametric opposite by their predecessors and even still by some current professors, to whit: the basic stuff of the universe is inanimate, undifferentiated, pure energy in its most basic form.  Hawking’s declaration of having no need of the ‘God hypothesis’ (still echoed by many other materialist dogmatists) to the contrary, his peers now endow the basic substance of the Cosmos with incarnational, self-affirming properties.  This is theology and philosophy, not science.  It is having your cake and eating it too, but not allowing it to suggest God.  We have been told over and over by these same guardians of ‘scientific doctrine,’ that Science and God are mutually exclusive.  If you want to be a credible scientist, ‘Thou shalt not bow to the Creator.’

Shades of dithering Hamlet in science!  Despite the abundant appeals of Lady Science to Prince Reason’s authority (or is it the other way around?), there are increasing numbers of courtiers across all the disciplines (although biologists and geologists seem most resistant) who are finding the inconsistency difficult to sustain.  Quietly, they are moving towards Galileo’s murmurs of, “And yet it moves.”  

Galileo was humiliated and silenced by the scientific reactionaries of his time (some, but not all, of whom happened to be theologians) after being condemned as a heretic and told to exile himself to a mountain retreat and refrain from publicly teaching or publishing for the rest of his life.  But he never retracted his basic observations that the earth orbits the sun while the moon orbits the earth and all the heavenly bodies are in motion at the same time.

The new reactionaries are the guardians of the tabernacle of the Enlightenment’s old-style “pure” science which reduces everything to mechanism operating according to laws and principles (even if they are now semantically demoted to mere “very strong probabilities”).  Their operative paradigms must not be challenged, especially when they may hint at something which was declared anathema 200-300 years ago.  Those found in ‘flagrante delicto’ backsliding towards the heresy of Design in creation are edging uncomfortably close to the views of the earliest modern scientists that the endeavour of science is to discover God and understand His ways through the ‘Book of Creation.’  Such retrogressors are rapidly shunted to the sidelines of academe’s backwaters where they can do the least harm if their expertise and credentials are too brilliant to completely efface.

There are indeed laws and principles involved in the study and understanding of creation (nature, if you prefer).  The Creator made it to work consistently, and made His/Her incarnated bridge-beings (you and me) to see and understand, at least to some degree, how it works.  The Creator is not capricious to the extent of just randomly changing the rules so that we can never make sense of what He/She has made and done and is still making and doing.  While change is a constant, there is order within change—which is incidentally what evolutionists have claimed since Darwin.  But the object of Darwin and those who enthusiastically leapt to adapt his paradigm was to get God out of the way of ‘progress’ once and for all. It is not as if the constancy of change or even natural selection at the micro level was unknown before Darwin reformulated it for the macro level minus God.  Aristotle, the greatest proto-scientist of antiquity, commented on it extensively, also saying the gods were not involved in any discernible way. 

The fog of misapprehension is in our senses, which have been enormously hobbled by the almost complete denial of one of their most essential number.  We are like grazing horses with head-hoods on who can see only the grass in front of their feet.  That hooded sense does not reside in the well-known five, but in what has usually been called the “spiritual nature.”  But as any notion of a spiritual nature has been relegated to the despised  province of “religion, superstition, and ignorant priest-craft,” by the Enlightened elite of the later 17th through present Centuries, it has been banned from social, political, economic, and scientific discourse, along with the Church, that supreme bastion of the Dark Ages.

Ancient wisdom has long known that, “Humanity cannot live on bread alone.”  Humans are not mere physical beings, but are the bridge between the ineffable and the “effable.”  Being made to be the bridge, they are made able to ‘sense’ it, to apprehend its presence, to feel it and, sometimes, even to ‘see’ and ‘hear’ it.  As the cliché says, “There is a lot more than meets the eye.”

This principle is true even within the ‘normal’ universe which our five physically rooted senses allow us to study via observation, reason, and logic.  By using our reasoning and that wonderful innate faculty of insatiable curiosity (another sense?) giving birth to technology, we have deduced that there are vast sensory ranges beyond our normal capacity to perceive: many more colours and sounds and types of energy, and on and on.  We can see and hear and smell and taste no more than a fraction of what is actually ‘out there.’  Some creatures see far more colours and nuances than we do, and others hear far beyond what our modest aural equipment allows.

Yet we arrogantly insist that no other orders of being beyond our ability to perceive can exist except as myth and legend or manipulative and power-motivated religious deception.  The inconsistency and arrogance involved in denying what until recent centuries has been considered a universal human experience and perception from remotest antiquity is breathtaking.

I am not advocating a return to superstition or a descent into credulous acceptance of anything ‘paranormal’ or ‘supernatural.’  I don’t doubt that many phenomena so classified may have analysable characteristics and even physical properties and measurable energies which we have so far not been able to capture.  But running away from mystery in fear and dogmatic rejection because we do not yet (or, as is far more likely, no longer) understand what we are and how these unaccountable phenomena occur within an orthodox, accepted framework will not make them go away or prevent myriads of people echoing Galileo’s “and yet it moves.”  And denying that there most probably are and always will be scientifically unsolvable mysteries about being and meaning will not make them disappear either, or offer any resolution to hungry hearts and famished souls.

The abundantly evident result of science’s procedural denial and dogmatically closed practice is that we have created a famine for real soul-food. Masses of people worldwide are attempting to fill the hunger with psychological, emotional, and spiritual junk-food—candy and fast-food for the mind, heart, and soul.  After all, that is what the adulation and demi-godhood of sports and entertainment celebrities is.  That is what the elevation of billionaire ‘success-gurus’ and political idols to super-hero status is.  Yet at every step we see that, as persons and in their personal lives, many, if not most, of our Herculean demi-gods are really quite unworthy of the elevation and esteem they are given.  That is why so many with empty lives seek reprieve in pleasure and the short-term pain-relief and long-term suicide of addictions of every kind, from substance abuse to pornography, to food and drink, to extreme thrill-seeking, to virtual-reality and fantasy.

We need stress relief and relaxation, but we have turned these basic needs into the main pursuits of life after we provide for our basic needs through work and endeavour.  As we look into the mirror and glimpse our thirsty souls behind the weary eyes looking back at us at the end of the day or the week, we perceive for a few moments how enmeshed we are in the dirty nitty-gritty, with no ultimate purpose in sight.  Even as we gaze a billion light years into the universe and marvel at its incredible size and paradoxical and irreducible complexity, we find an empty shell.  After all, it is nothing but an accident, another cosmic burp among endless cosmic burps, which this time in the ever-repeating cycle regurgitated this one-off “indigestible bit of pork-pie” as Scrooge put it.  And that in turn reduces you and me to accidental cosmic mini-burps.

Unless … there really is a Creator who, ‘once upon a time’ before there was anything except Him/Her, however that was/is/will be, decided to speak this whole incredible kaleidoscope and symphony into existence, for reasons that only He/She can ever fully know or understand. We need to begin to humbly puzzle out a little about our Creator being as close as our jugular vein and what “kissing the Son” may signify. We need to stay where we are and begin searching, not run away because we are addicted to being our own gods.