Monday, October 07, 2013

Greek Thought or Hebrew Thought - Pythagoras or Samson?

Certain foundational assumptions have been hidden from us who grew up in the West, but as Christians.  When reading the Bible, it is important to understand that the writers were Hebrew.  Their thinking was Hebrew.  This affected all areas of knowledge.  For instance, in mathematics, they did not have the concept of zero.  That came later, from India.  It takes a certain philosophical perspective to think of there being nothing.  I suppose early Jewish thought just wasn't capable of that.  They also thought of prophecy in terms of having already been accomplished at the time the writer predicts in the prophecy.  The sentence and verb structure shows the prophecies to be in future perfect tense, as though it will have already happened.  Interesting.

Their poetry is not in rhythmic meter of language, but of ideas.  Hebrew poetry stressed opposites in order to drive home it's point.  I also think that it is a wonderful coincidence that Hebrew poetry can be translated into any language without losing the beauty of the thought comparisons we see in Psalms and Proverbs.

Finally, and the point of the rest of this post, is that Hebrew thought emphasized the knowledge and experience of God above all else.  Their first assumption was God Is.  That's it.  Nothing else was before God and so this colored their world view.

What we need to know is that the Greeks also have a presupposition; namely, that materialistic observation is the only source.  I may be wrong in this next statement, but I believe they thought the earth had simply always existed and this is why nature has been elevated to Nature in Greek thought.  They were always looking though for the first cause.  They see things in terms of cause and effect.  Not so with the Hebrew mind.  God is the first cause and so the first and best effect is communion with God.

From an article I read recently, I learned the following things:

  • Worldviews are different, even at the grammatical level
    • Hebrew verbs connote movement and dynamic variety
    • Greek verbs are static or harmonic

  • Greek:  rest, harmony, composure, self-control
  • Hebrew:  movement, life, deep emotion, power

  • Greek:  words are names and labels only - you haven't reached the truth yet
  • Hebrew:  words have power; they are not names only but things

  • Greek:  Classification of observable properties; Materialism
  • Hebrew:  fundamental character of God in relation to His creation and connectedness of all things

  • Greek:  Cause and effect while constantly trying to identify first causes
  • Hebrew:  source of causality (God) overrides any other concern

  • Greek:  Focus on the group to the abandonment of the individual
  • Hebrew:  Focus on the individual's relationship to God

  • Greek:  Thinking as the highest virtue
  • Hebrew:  Commitment as the highest virtue
 This brings up many questions:
  1. How did the early Gentiles come to faith without an understanding of the Hebrew concept of God? 
  2. How do other cultures of today experience God without knowledge?
  3. If people can come to faith without knowledge of the originating culture, doesn't this strike at the heart of Greek thought that says knowledge is the highest good?
    1. As a correlation, isn't this search for truth and knowledge, as the Greeks practiced it -- apart from God -- the original sin?  Valuing knowledge of good and evil over the relationship and presence of God?
  4. Why are we taught that heroes are scientists and stoics?  From Pythagoras to Spock, we're taught that the "Rational" man is the ideal man.  I believe that this has led to much error.  It has gone so far that many Christians blindly follow Ayn Rand's Objectivism without realizing she was an avowed atheist and despised Christianity.  There's not much charity in Rand's world.
  5. The hero of the Greeks is a stoic thinking man.  The hero of the Hebrews is an Artist:  David.
  6. Who would you rather have in a fight?  Samson or Spock?
These foundational assumptions of viewing the world are hidden to us in the West.  The fact of going to school, being controlled by bells on the hour, the idea that rationalism is the highest good are all taken for granted that this is the way life should be lived.  Why aren't these assumptions brought to the surface for scrutiny in Sunday School?  In religious education?  For instance, I've learned that  school as we know it is actually a Prussian invention designed to make people obedient to structure.  In the 1800's, our progressive thought leaders adopted the Prussian system here in America to keep the class system in place (percentages are not exact). 

  • Ruling Class - Top 2%
  • Artisan Class - Top 5%
  • Bureacratic (Management) Class - Top 15%
  • Working Class - Bottom 80%
Isn't Theology just another name for Religious Philosophy?  And what is taught in the seminaries?  It seems that it is simply advanced education in Bible survey (no small thing, I know), the denomination's (depending on the seminary) version of accepted philosophy -- Systematic Theology, and Greek and Hebrew language.   I am acquainted with the Systematic Theology of only of Augustine, Aquinas, Wiley, Calvin, Arminius, Van Til, Tillich, and Luther, although I've only ever read parts of each (I have to make a living after all).

The point is that we are learning through a filter and we don't even know there is a filter.  When a pastor pointed out that Matthew was showing Jesus to be the seventh seven according to Daniel 9:25, it was the first time I had ever heard it.  And to be honest, I'll bet most of the congregation was still trying to figure out the math while he was trying to say the experience of God was more important.  I almost missed the central message as well.

I wrote a paper in Nazarene Bible college that argued for intensive Sunday School training for all parishioners. I have yet to see people coming out of graduate work with Christian degrees in Christian Education implementing these programs.  We don't know what we believe because from the very beginning, we're taught by our Greek Western schools first principles that deny God and exalt Materialism (that's the philosophy of Materialism and Observation, not in the Economic sense).  We're being handicapped and don't even know it.  I feel fortunate I've been led down a path to start having my eyes opened to these things.  There are some good programs in place that I do visit on a regular basis, but I'm sad that these are para church ministries whose ideas are not coming from the pulpit or Sunday School.

Stand To Reason
Reasonable Faith
Colson Center
Think Christianly
The High Calling
Institute for Creation Research

So, it's no wonder that faith isn't "taking" to the last 2 or 3 generations.  They don't have the tools to understand.  We are trained in Greek thought that values the Technocracy above experience with God.  The assumptions are in every book and every textbook.  I can't read a popular non-fiction book without running across it.  Here are three examples.

The Shallows:  What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains - The book has a quote that says "The greatest thing that Evolution has bequeathed to us is the ability of the Human Brain to reform itself."  It gives credit to the creation instead of God.

Guns, Germs, and Steel:  The Fates of Human Societies - The entire book is predicated on an evolutionary understanding of man's development.  I've started it twice and can't get to the author's conclusion because I believe his first assumptions are entirely wrong.  They leave out God.  They leave out the Biblical understanding of the Flood and how it affected migration patterns.  I've had that book for five years and can't get through it.

Servant Leadership:  A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness - This was written by a long time IBM executive, Robert K. Greenleaf.  It has a forward by Stephen Covey, a known Mormon.  While Greenleaf is a bit more magnanimous, Covey (like Oswald Chambers, Norman V. Peale, Napoleon Hill, and more recent names like Tony Robbins) pulls principles directly from the Bible and then discards God while trying to say these things will work for everyone.  I'm reading the introduction and getting more and more incensed at the arrogance of Covey.  They are re-packaging God's ways and selling them as their own.  And we know that while God does bring the rain on the just and unjust, He doesn't just bless indiscriminately.  You must bow the knee to Christ to be given the gift of the Holy Spirit.

I will admit that my own search for truth is leading me evermore to that next book, that next article, that next documentary that would bring me closer to knowledge, closer to the truth.  And I see that trap for what it is.  I see my own part in the original sin.  I'm wondering if the reason I'm trapped by that is because of my Western Aristotelian thinking.  How do we elevate God back to the center?  How do we get over our idea of Bible Study as the highest good instead of worship of God in Christ?  Even elevating the Bible above God is wrong.  I believe the answer is to get closer to the presence of God through the laying down of all this Western pursuit of perfection, efficiency, and knowledge through the senses only.  What we need is a true spiritual awakening.  Find God first, then get equipped with the Apologetics and Philosophy to combat the erroneous assumptions of our day. 

I'll leave you with a pithy quote from the article.  Actually, maybe I'm revising it a bit.  It was from Abraham Joshua Heschel in his book, G-d in Search of Man:  A Philosophy of Judaism, 1955, p. 216:
"Thinking without roots will bear flowers but not fruits"
I love this because look what our Technocracy has wrought.  We don't steward the Earth's resources well.  We don't treat our fellow man well.  Our business leaders follow Machiavelli instead of Jesus.  The very first principle taught in school is Materialism in our secular society.  The church has abandoned its people by not equipping them with the tools to combat that pernicious and destructive philosophy.  Worse, the people don't even know they're being poisoned.  Kids grow up, compare what they were taught in school with what they were taught in church and then come to the conclusion that because God can't be "proven" in a Materialistic way, that it must not be "true."  We've missed the point of what "true" really means in that case.  We have failed God and failed our children. 

We are so busy combating the symptoms of cultural decline (abortion, substance abuse, homosexuality) that we don't even see that the pillars of our faith have been co-opted by the Materialists and the Secularists.  They are building our children in their image because they have replaced our foundation of God with their foundation of Man.  The process takes awhile, but just look at Barna and Pew polls.  We are going the way of England and Europe.  Christian faith is waning even while the people are clamoring for some type of spiritual sustenance.  In a recent interview, Russell Brand claimed that what we need is a spiritual awakening.  He's a known devotee of Eastern philosophies.  He doesn't follow Christ.  Yet here is Russell Brand advocating for a spiritually led society.  He stated that he wants to do away with the barriers between church and state.  He knows that we are starving, suffering, and failing without it.

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