“The phrase would probably be misunderstood; but I should begin my sermon by telling people not to enjoy themselves. I should tell them to enjoy dances and theatres and joy-rides and champagne and oysters; to enjoy jazz and cocktails and night-clubs if they can enjoy nothing better; to enjoy bigamy and burglary and any crime in the calendar, in preference to this other alternative; but never to learn to enjoy themselves. Human beings are happy so long as they retain the receptive power and the power of reaction in surprise and gratitude to something outside. So long as they have this they have as the greatest minds have always declared, a something that is present in childhood and which can still preserve and invigorate manhood. The moment the self within is consciously felt as something superior to any of the gifts that can be brought to it, or any of the adventures that it may enjoy, there has appeared a sort of self-devouring fastidiousness and a disenchantment in advance, which fulfils all the Tartarean emblems of thirst and of despair.” (G. K. Chesterton, “If I Had Only One Sermon to Preach,” in The Common Man)
Archive for February 2012
“The way to love anything is to realize how very much otherwise it might have been.” (G. K. Chesterton, “The Advantage of Having One Leg”)
“We need to reform our thinking about science. And we need to do it in a global way, by tackling on a large scale our conception of what kind of world we live in and what is our human role in it. Western civilization has lost sight of any uniﬁed goal, except perhaps the superﬁcial goals of pleasure, prosperity, and tolerance. We have lost our way as a civilization, and the universities have become multi-versities with no center. The grade schools are little better. The atmosphere says, ‘Work on these apparently meaningless assignments now, so that you will be able to go to college, get a good job, and live the American dream of a large home with two cars and a plasma screen TV.’ The malaise about science and its meaning is only part of a larger malaise of meaninglessness engulﬁng us.” (Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach, p. 12)
The historicity of Adam is very much up for debate among Western Christians at present. One of the things that has made this debate possible is the increasing popularity of “non-literal” readings of Genesis 1; the ascendancy of such readings, in turn, has been prompted by a desire to bring the church’s interpretation of Genesis into accord with the findings of modern science. It is said that the church must do with the historicity of Adam (which is based on a certain reading of Genesis 1) what it eventually had to do with geocentric cosmology (which was based on a certain reading of the Psalms) after Galileo’s findings four centuries ago.
I really, really wonder about this Galileo analogy. One hears it all the time, but the more I think about it, the more it strikes me as facile. If we accept the popular rendering of Galileo’s story, he found himself up against a church that treated certain poetic imagery as a scientific description of the world, not because scripture itself demanded this reading (comparing scripture with scripture, it’s usually not that hard to tell when a biblical writer is waxing poetic), but because the reading was in accord with an older cosmological paradigm than the one Galileo was proposing. If the church looks foolish in retrospect, it’s because its interpretation of scripture was over-determined by an outdated model of the cosmos.
I don’t think the church actually needed Galileo’s extrabiblical findings to chasten its reading of scripture; I happen to think a more careful comparing of scripture with scripture would have compelled it to keep its cosmological options open. But be that as it may, what I want to argue rather vigorously is that comparison of scripture with scripture demands belief in a historical Adam and Eve, regardless of anything extrabiblical science has ever had to say on the subject.
Even if one were somehow able to make a compelling case that Genesis 1 is poetic (whatever exactly that means), the hard fact is that scripture – both in the rest of Genesis and elsewhere – traces the historical lineage of the human race back to a man named Adam and his wife named Eve. There is not a hint anywhere in the Bible that our historical genealogy tails off into poetic mist when we get all the way back to the opening two chapters. If Noah begat three sons named Shem, Ham, and Japheth; and if Abraham is the father of Isaac and Ishmael; then Adam is the father of Seth (1 Chronicles 1:1; Luke 3:38); Enoch is the seventh from Adam (Jude 14); and if Enoch is seventh, than Adam is the first. If we have some doubts about this, Adam was formed “first,” then Eve (1 Timothy 2:13); and after they were both deceived (non-poetically, it would seem, given the fallout), the whole human race (“all”) died “in Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:22), the “first man” (protos anthropos, 1 Corinthians 15:45).
One may sneer at this, because one holds that Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosome Adam are the equivalent of Galileo’s cosmology and it’s time for the church to get with the program; but do let’s admit that the biblical case for Adam’s historicity is enormously more airtight than a geocentric reading of the Psalms. It doesn’t require much interpretive discernment to notice that the Bible regularly describes the earth in metaphorical language, whereas every time Adam is mentioned he’s either the terminus ad quo of our human (biological, historical) genealogy or the original source in a universal etiology of sin (one does speculate at what point the descendants of Mitochondrial Eve might have become subject to divine judgment).
“How good You are. You might have killed us with happiness, but You let us be with You in pain.” (Graham Greene, The End of the Affair, diary of Sarah Miles, 6 February 1946)
“What is ontologically anterior to cosmos and scripture is a particular person, the incarnate Logos, Jesus of Nazareth, who is historically posterior to the cosmic and scriptural orders of which he is the ontological ground. In this way, both cosmos and scripture are construed eschatologically: they can only be accounted for in terms of one who comes after them, a concrete particular who is, in a manner contingent upon the free choice of their Creator, their telos and skopos, the goal and the point aimed at in their coming-to-be.” (David S. Yeago, “Jesus of Nazareth and Cosmic Redemption: The Relevance of St. Maximus the Confessor,” in Modern Theology 12:2, April 1996, p. 184)
“The mystery of the incarnation of the Logos is the key to all the arcane symbolism and typology in the scriptures, and in addition, gives us knowledge of created things, both visible and intelligible. He who apprehends the mystery of the cross and the burial apprehends the inward principles (logoi) of created things; while he who is initiated into the inexpressible power of the resurrection apprehends the purpose for which God first established everything.” (Maximus the Confessor)
“Too often we try to define the essence of Christianity by a summary of doctrines. We turn to texts and to theologians in order to discern the ideas and beliefs that are distinctive to Christianity. That’s akin to thinking one can understand Hamlet just by reading the script; but it is only properly a play when it is performed, and there is a kind of understanding of Hamlet that comes from its performance that cannot be found just in the script.” (Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, p. 134)
Jamie Smith on the “liturgy” of the shopping mall:
“What the liturgy of the mall trains us to desire as the good life and ‘the American way’ requires such massive consumption of natural resources and cheap (exploitive) labor that there is no possible way for this way of life to be universalized. . . . The liturgy of consumption births in us a desire for a way of life that is destructive of creation itself; moreover, it births in us a desire for a way of life that we can’t feasibly extend to others, creating a system of privilege and exploitation. In short, the only way for this vision of this kingdom to be a reality is if we keep it to ourselves. The mall’s liturgy fosters habits and practices that are unjust, so it does everything it can to prevent us from asking such questions. Don’t ask; don’t tell; just consume.” (James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, p. 101)
John Zizioulas succinctly sketches the concept of theosis as follows:
“The eternal survival of the person as a unique, unrepeatable and free ‘hypostasis,’ as loving and being loved, constitutes the quintessence of salvation, the bringing of the Gospel to man. In the language of the Fathers this is called ‘divinization’ (theosis), which means participation not in the nature or substance of God, but in His personal existence. The goal of salvation is that the personal life which is realised [sic] in God should also be realized on the level of human existence. Consequently salvation is identified with the realization of personhood in man.” (John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion, pp. 49–50)
While this way of describing salvation sounds very strange to Western ears, it suggests a way of thinking about theosis that doesn’t compromise the essential distinction between God and man, between Creator and creatures.