Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Bribe for All Seasons

Mutually Incompatible Philosophies:
Why They Seldom Resolve.

"You must not wrest judgment; you must not respect persons nor accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous" (Dueteronomy 16:19).

This essay has nothing to do with bribes of money or material nor of literal extortion. My thesis proposes that social forces can function in almost the same ways as do literal material bribes.

It is a biblical principle: Bribes blind the mind of the wise. He does not say, "A bribe blinds the minds of foolish people." No, no, it is wise people. Extortion turns wise people into fools (Ecclesiastes 7:7).

Wherever there exists competition for position or power, or even a desire for acceptance with those who are highly positioned and powerful, there exists a kind of extortion and bribery to conform. Many examples could be provided--political, religious, social, academic, intellectual and scientific. Church organizations, the neighborhood gangs, or the corporate ladder are all subject to this hazard. Competing intellectual ideologies of all kinds are fueled by it. Current clothing styles worn by celebs bribe high school students to conform and the celebs themselves are bribed by the hunger for success.

The "bribe" may consist of a lucrative job or a political advantage. It can also be social advantage such as belonging to the "in" crowd. Even the children's playground can be ruled by the bribe of social acceptance. The big man on campus, whether in Congress, or Harvard, or kindergarten--if they weild social influence--can blind the eyes of the persons influenced. They are intellectually forced to join a political party, or to take their first puff of a cigarette or disclose a secret to the most popular five year old.

The prospect of tenure can bribe a professor to promote the party line. The prospect of becoming a cardinal can bribe the bishop, or an offer of a church pulpit can bribe a Protestant to accept the doctrinal distinctives of a mother organization. The prospect of marriage can bribe the maiden into compromise. Herd mentality creates a bribe which sends young warriors into conflicts which might be good or might be very, very bad.

If someone has written books, or given lectures on a position and then is confronted with challenging information, the bribe of social peer acceptance by the various social structures surrounding them looms to force "hang on to the party line" whether it is a book with its errors or perverted morals of friends. The same dynamic shows up when a person living in immorality is rebuked. They usually resist change due to per pressure.

Having lived "x" years supporting a denomination with certain distinctives, and an assured income which would be jeopordized from that source, how could one ever think of changing or even modifying doctrines when retirement looms?

Extortion turns a wise man into a fool and a bribe corrupts the heart (Eccl. 7:7). My title refers to conflicts in philosophy or ideologies. So, with the above illustrative background let us apply this principle more directly into that area of personal theories or developing ideologies.

T.C. Chamberlain wrote an article on geology in about 1905. The article (quoted below) was provocative but so good that it was published in the Journal of Geology 1995 as an historical essay. It describes what can happen to a theorist if they do not "hang loose" during the development of a theory. What Chamberlain says about geology, I want to apply to chosen life styles or religious affiliations or all the examples preceding. The principles below apply to many venues.

He writes on the subject of geology (italicized, bold) but I am asking readers to insert their own discipline, religion, thought system or philosophy in place of the word "geology."

The Model Builder

In geology [Or in my current philosophy whether created by me or as merely a persuaded follower of someone or some other doctrine. - GG] In geology there are lots of unknowns. The moment one is offered an original explanation for a phenomenon, which seems satisfactory, that moment affection for his intellectual child springs into existence and as the explanation grows into a definite theory, his parental affections cluster about his offspring and it grows more and more dear to him. While he persuades himself that he holds it still as tentative, it is nonetheless lovingly tentative, and not impartially and indifferently tentative. So, soon, as this parental affection takes possession of the mind there is apt to be a rapid passage to the unreserved adoption of the theory. There has been imminent danger of an unconscious selection, and of magnifying of phenomena that fall into harmony with the theory and support it, and an unconscious neglect of phenomena that fail to coincide. The mind lingers with pleasure upon the facts that fall happily in the embrace of the theory and feels a natural coldness toward those that assume a refractory attitude. Instinctively there is a special searching out of phenomena that support it, for the mind is led by its desires. There springs up also, unwittingly, a pressing of the theory to make it fit the facts and a pressing of the facts to make it fit the theory. When these biasing tendencies set in, the mind rapidly degenerates into the partiality of paternalism. The search for facts, the observation of phenomena and their interpretation are all dominated by affection of their favorite theory until it appears to its author or its advocate to have been overwhelmingly established. The theory then rapidly rises to a position of control in the process of the mind and observation. Induction and interpretation are guided by it. From an unduly favored child, it readily grows to be a master that leads its author whithersoever it will.. The subsequent history of that mind in respect to that theme is but the progressive dominance of a ruling idea.

Briefly summed up the evolution is this: A premature explanation passes first into a tentative theory, then into an adopted theory, and lastly into a ruling theory. When this last stage has been reached, unless the theory happens, perchance to be the true one, all hope of the best results is gone.

The article generated tremendous amount of response but disappointingly the reaction largely was, "We hardly ever follow it and we do not follow it now. It takes too much time."

Well, obviously God wants us to resist the forces, "the bribes" (intellectual, social, political, financial, moral), or whatever leads us into any kind of error or darkness.

Pride and selfishness has an automatic blinding quality because it provides a kind of extortion, which forces the person to hold tight to the error he/she is holding. There is fear that the social Gestapo accompanying that ideology, or doctrine, or prevailing theory will ostracize or (figuratively) execute any person who deviates from the accepted norm; that fear controls the choices. Some would rather risk hell, holding on to an error, than give a thorough, unbiased search for truth. Often the sheer numbers of devotees is enough to convince many that a certain doctrine is true. Few will risk social rejection here on earth when there are 850 prophets of Baal unanimous in their enthusiasm and also aided by the political powers of Ahab and Jezebel (1 Kings 18).

The basic need for us is humility. But that requires a thorough repentance which never comes without help from God. It requires bowing the knee to Jesus Christ, making Him the boss of our lives and asking Him fervently for help.

I say it with compassion, dear reader of any description and in any area of competition for position, power or social acceptance: If this shoe fits for you, then by all means wear it. God will reward you as He did Elijah in His good time. I do not know a single person (including myself) who is not tested with bribes and powerful temptations. Few have the moral strength to choose life when the various bribes hang overhead. "After all, I've poured my life into this belief system. How can I change now?"

But the competing ideologies cannot all be right which means millions of intelligent, dogmatic people need the humility to consider, "I could be one of those millions who are mistaken." For some it might be only a few peripheral areas while the basic theology is okay. With others the entire system has to be scrapped. For example, Saul of Tarsus was turned 180 degrees through his personal encounter with the Truth (Acts 9).

In many denominations, organizations or social arrangements, one is surrounded with an unconscious aura of the fear of change. Therefore, it could be safer to stay away from such organizations or social coteries because it automatically locks one into error if error exists. So much is invested that this becomes a subtle extortion or bribe preventing an honest search for truth.

This need not contradict the maxim, "in essentials, unity; in distinctives, liberty and in all things charity."

Now please reread Chamberlain's article again with your particular persuasions inserted for the word, "geology." Evolutionary theory fits this shoe. So does the approval of live-in sexual relationships without marriage. So may a dogmatic rapture theory or a humanistic political party. So does almost every mutually incompatible philosophy. But human nature is stubborn, unwilling to bow the knee and admit reality. That is why these conflicts seldom resolve. Humble hearts are rare. Let us heed this summons to be teachable and prayerfully follow truth at any cost.

- Gorman Gray

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Summary Points # 7 & 8

7) In English we "do" our dishes and "do" our hair (transitive verbs). Neither the dishes nor the hair are created by "doing" them, and, likewise, the stars were not created when God "did" them (for signals and seasons). Asah is transitive in Genesis 1:16.

8) The luminaries (lamps or lights) were "set" or "given forth" in the atmospheric expanse in the same way that rainbows are "set" in the cloud (same word, nathan). Their function described on day four was for seasonal markers. The Bible was written for men, so the viewing platform is the surface of the earth, where man was to dwell. God Himself talks to Job about the constellations, obviously viewed from Job's perspective (Job 38:31-33). To suggest an isolated planet earth created first, followed by celestial bodies and then earth itself accelerated into orbits later, from its patent absurdity, justifies incredulity from the scientific community.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

comment from Margaret

Margaret has left a new comment on your post "Summary Point # 6":
I think it's a mistake to split the first sentence of v. 16 in two, as if the first half were the whole thing. God made those lights DO something. He gave them a role to play. He made them govern the day and night. As Ps. 104:19 puts it, he appointed (asah) the moon for seasons. The word (asah) is used in a similar way in 1 Kings 12:31.
It should be noted that "asah" is NEVER translated "create". That is not what it means.
So, just as God made (caused) Jesus to be a Prince and a Saviour, so he made (caused) the lights to rule the day and night.
The gradual lessening of the atmosphere that started on day one progressed through day two and continued until day four, when the atmosphere finally became transparent. And there were the lights, in the firmament of heaven, controlling such things as seasons, days, months and years - just as God planned for them to do.

I think your blog is a good idea, Gorman. I hope more people get into the discussion. You are very stubborn, but you allow other people to be just as stubborn. I approve of that.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Summary Point # 6

Ordinary readers might not make that connection (about God "making" the dry land by causing it to appear as He "made" the sun and stars by causing them to appear) and might conclude that the text plainly reads that God "made" the stars on day four by which he thinks "created out of nothing." They are not expected to notice this indirect reasoning, however compelling it may be.

Hence a better translation for "made" on day four is needed, which does not mislead casual readers (Gen. 1:16). "God brought forth, or prepared, or did, or put into execution, or established, or produced, or performed, or brought about, or put, or arranged, or provided, or set in order two great lights and the stars" on day four--take your pick. Or make up a word which is a blend of all those choices and
suitable to the day four context. It will probably be close to "did." "Made" is okay if accompanied and understood with the Jonah caveat. The verb is commonly translated over six dozen ways including those cited above. "Do" or "did" is, by far, the most common translation.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Summary Point #5

5) On day two, God made the air (the expanse where birds fly) which "continually separates" the ocean waters into the clouds in the hydrologic cycle. Jonah, the prophet, informs, "Yahweh made (asah) the sea and the dry land." That being the case, then we must ask just how God "made" the dry land on day three? "Let the waters be gathered into a sea, and let the dry land appear." God made the dry land, not by creating the dry material, but by uncovering, exposing, and manifesting the submerged continent.

God made the great lights and stars the very next day, not by creating them, but by uncovering, exposing, and manifesting the obscured lights. They appeared, just as the dry land "appeared," thus completing the "separation of day and night." The immediate context, of "making" the dry land, clearly justifies a similar picture for the "making" of the great lights and stars on the next day. The stars emerged from the clearing atmosphere like land emerged from water the day before.