ancient v. modern worldview

mike17.jpg

[Image: Michael the Archangels battling the demonic hosts].

In an earlier post (here) I mentioned this idea that reading The Gospels one thing that clearly comes through (as well as studying the rest of Greco-Roman and Near Eastern texts) is that things like miraculous healings, exorcisms, and the like were commonly accepted. Period. The ancients knew metaphor and symbol and used them freely, but these were not metaphoric.

Following my read on Charles Taylor, we now live in a disenchanted world–North Atlanticists as he calls “us” (those of us whom that label applies to). Disenchanted was Max Weber’s phrase for modernity. There is no common belief in woodland spirits, magic, the descending and ascending of gods, angels, and humans along a chain reaching up to an actual heaven located in a cosmology that meant up in the sky.

Such a world, Taylor says is immanental. (Which is why a post-metaphysical spirituality, following Bonhoeffer among others, has to argue for transcendence within the universe as Ground/Eros-Mover from Within. Not Prime Mover from Without).

So what to do with that discrepancy? After the jump, a catalog of the possible different ways forward, religious and secular.

The New (and old frankly) Atheist move is to therefore equate the religion (and its truth value) with its cosmology/worldview, thereby arguing for an “End to Faith.”

There is the fundamentalist Christian move which in holds that Jesus really did exorcise people. The evangelical tradition tries to rationally prove how this could be possible–usually with some very “creative” logic. Showing yet again that fundamentalism is a purely modernist enterprise.

The Thomas Jefferson-Liberal Christian move of turning Jesus into a Philosopher/Sage figure, thereby cutting out all so-called “supernatural” elements from the Gospels. Nice for a philosophy or social club, but not much to build on for a religious movement.

There is the liberal Christian metaphor (“de-mythologized”) view which is to equate demons with inner conflict of the mind say. Or a secular/scientific/psychotherapeudic rationalized interpretation that somehow Jesus was tapping into some transference or placebo-like effect to cure people.

There is the Bible/Gospels as literature school, which has much to commend it to it. In this view, it’s a story, the elements of opposition, characterization, demonic powers and the like are part of the story, worthy of study and contemplation. Not to minimize that trend, but there is something to the point that such a way usually is not what people mean by a religion or revelation.

There is the post-liberal school of Christian theology (similar though to though different than the literature one) which simply takes these stories as they are. They are common texts, which tell their story quite straightforwardly. The post-liberal move however does not take seriously enough how wide the gap between the ancient and disenchanted worldviews are. Even taking the texts “as they are”, as they would so, is still for us symbolic. It is not the same as the initial readers.

A mystical interpretation would read the demons as those forces which fight back against those who meditate/pray and seriously undertake the path of the higher states of consciousness. They do exist. Any legitimate practitioner will tell you about them, about how at times they do feel like “outside” forces at war with the desire for attentiveness, heartfulness, awakening.

I always shy away from preaching on these passages bc I never know exactly what to do with them. Particularly in a church culture where we immediately want everything preached to have some obvious “practical” interpretation/meaning for our lives. Of course I’m not saying preaching shouldn’t actually address the issues of people’s lives–no argument there–but sometimes preaching I think should be a state-shift. Should simply open eyes and hearts to a wider sense, if even for a few fleeting moments. That part of us that wants the message to hit home is useful, but can also be the monkey-mind and its need for security/information and control.

To add confusion to the mix, there is of course actual “paranormal” phenomena that occur in the world–I believe so anyway, e.g. Tibetan monks raising their body temperatures through focused concentration (called tummo). There is also a lot of hucksterism, magical animist and mythical fundamentalist sub-rational nonsense, as well, but very rarely there may be actual such realities. [I think in the future it will be shown to be capacities that are tapped into not “spooky” in any fashion].

But the paranormal explanation is not a very helpful one with regard to the Gospel texts; they are not intended that way, whatever may or may not have been the case with Jesus of Nazareth.  In other words, even if Jesus did use some tummo-like power to heal, it would have been interpreted (given the worldview at the time) in a mythic way as depicted in the Gospel texts–and wider texts, e.g. Apollonius of Tyana.  In other other words, natch.

I say all that because I’m not really happy with any of those hermeneutical ways. But there it is nevertheless.

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Published in: on January 4, 2008 at 12:01 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I love this! “Of course I’m not saying preaching shouldn’t actually address the issues of people’s lives–no argument there–but sometimes preaching I think should be a state-shift. Should simply open eyes and hearts to a wider sense, if even for a few fleeting moments.”

    I think this is why Paul encouraged Ephesus and the Colossians to sing, make music and frankly pursue the artistic/creative side of Christ and God. Without it (The creative side) sermons and messages hit a closed heart/ like a clanging noisy , annoying gong.

    Art and music do something that words cant- I saw your picture on your page… and couldnt resist reading the post. Nice job!

  2. John,

    Thanks for the comment. Good point, very good point. Wasn’t thinking of art and music, but that is another deep way to help evoke the mystery of the Divine. And one you are right that has some way that words do not. Both communicate, but very very differently.

    Peace. Blessings.

    Chris


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