Category Archives: History
Before I talk about my trip to The Sea of Galilee, I want to talk about the situation we are all facing with regard to the Coronavirus. One of the most helpful things I have heard was a brief interview Ravi Zacharias gave from a hospital parking lot (he’s in for a cancer treatment after a recent diagnosis).
He said essentially there are two extreme responses to avoid: great fear and indifference. I think he is right and that middle road is what I want to follow as I take precautions of “social distancing” and yet do not let fear rule my thinking. Here is the link to his approximately six minute interview by Ben Shapiro.
Travelling Around The Sea of Galilee
We left Nazareth and Mount Precipice to our hotel on the Sea of Galilee. (Capernaum and Magdala (near Migdala), which I will talk about presently are shown as ellipses on the above map). I was blessed to have an east-looking balcony to capture a beautiful sunrise from my room.
Our day began with a boat ride across the sea and for such a small lake, it had a fair chop. I guess the lake rift valley, surrounded by high terrain. means the surrounding mountains/hills act like a funnel and when the wind changes direction, it can whip up this relatively small lake significantly (reminiscent of the gospels).
Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount
Capernaum, the site of much of Jesus’ ministry, has a church and significant excavations and restorations of a beautiful synagogue. This synagogue dates to a time after the first century, as indicated by the imported light-colored stone, but in a corner, below the newer synagogue, one can find the remnants of the older synagogue that Jesus attended.
Peter/s house in Capernaum has been covered by a church, and the excavation is shown here.
I learned that since the Galilee area is volcanic in origin, the older building from the time of Jesus consist of black basalt. Later when Capernaum became more prosperous because of a Roman road, the newer buildings used imported white or light-colored stone.
Magdala, Home of Mary Magdalene
We finished our day at a beautiful church at Magdala, the home of Mary Magdalene. There is a wonderfully restored synagogue from the time of Jesus at this site. Magdala is at the entrance of a pass that is the likely route Jesus would have walked from Nazareth to The Sea of Galilee, so almost certainly He would have used this synagogue after his journey.
At the Mount of the Beatitudes, I had the chance to site on a bench in the beautiful church gardens and reflect on Matthew 4:23-5:12.As I reflected on this passage, I focused especially on Matthew 5:7 ” blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.”
It struck me, when our hearts are right, that genuine mercy is always an option to the penalties specified in the Mosaic Law. In Matthew 1:19 when Joseph realized that Mary was pregnant before they had come together, it is written of him: “And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her [a betrothal had the same force as a marriage and required a divorce] quietly.”
Presumably, in that society, Joseph could have publicly shamed her or even demanded she be stoned (John 8:3-11). He did not because, as the wronged party, mercy was always an option.
Being merciful is always an option.
I and many others have sometimes wondered if the God of the Old Testament has the same character as the Father God of the New Testament. We know from our teaching that he does. The fact that mercy is always an option, if the people have the heart for it, helps me to look at the Old Testament in a new light.
- If you have a particular passage in the Old Testament that troubles you, how might “mercy is always an option” help you understand it?
- One of the questions put to us at the Mount of Beatitudes: “For you, what is the hardest part of being a Jesus follower today?” How would you answer that question?
I’d love to hear your answers as comments here or on Facebook.
For the previous post in this series …
If you are looking for something to read during this time of isolation, my e-books (ePub format) are now also available from Walmart … here are the links:
Our Route So Far
We began our journey traveling up the coast from Joppa (south Tel Aviv) to Caesarea Maritima. We then headed inland along the the Valley of Yizre’el (also called the plain of Megiddo as in Armageddon).
One of the difficulties in reading maps of the Holy Land is that every place seems to have several different names, each with different spellings as the name gets transliterated into different alphabets.
In the case of the Yizre’el Valley/Plain of Megiddo, both Yizre’el and Megiddo were (and I suppose are) important towns in the valley and it makes sense for inhabitants to name it after the nearest important town in the valley. You’ll see the plaque on Mount Precipice near Nazareth called the Yizrael Valley, yet its the same valley we saw from Mount Carmel.
Nazareth is a small city of about 77,000 surrounding the village area of the Nazareth of two thousand years ago. The original village would have been located close to the springs that made life in this arid place possible.
We visited Nazareth Village, a reconstructed village from the time of Jesus on an archaeological site that used to be a terraced farm two thousand years ago. In the picture above, one can see the wine press itself, a flat, slightly sloped area where the grapes were pressed barefoot and then a channel to a deeper hollow where the grape juice was collected.
The History of Nazareth Village: “Extensive archeological [sic] excavations show that this remarkably preserved site is home to an over 2000 year old wine press cut into the bedrock. The remains of a vineyard, watchtowers, terraces, spring fed irrigation system and stone quarries tell the story of a working farm area just outside of the original old Nazareth. The hillside was preserved and untouched on the grounds of the Nazareth Hospital, established in 1906 by the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society (EMMS), now called the Nazareth Trust.“
As I reflected on this passage in Luke chapter 4, after having just finished studying the life of Elijah and the confrontation on Mount Carmel, it struck me for the first time that Jezebel was a Sidonian (1 Kings 16: 31).
Yet even in the culture of that time in which the family members and people of Jezebel should be held equally culpable for Jezebel’s deeds, our gracious God sends Elijah to look after a Sidonian widow and her son during a time of extreme drought.
My trip to Israel was much more than confronting and learning about history; it was also a time of personal learning and reflection. On Mount Precipice as we were thinking about the Luke 4:14-30, we were asked to consider the question:
“If someone were to follow you for a week and watch how you live, what would they say about who you believe Jesus to be?”
As a scientist, I worry a lot about bias, in particular confirmation bias, the observation that if a person believes a theory or hypothesis to be true, then they leap with glee on any datum that supports their point of view, but likely relinquish troublesome data points to the “To Be Explained” file with a sigh saying “I’ll have to give those data points more thought to see if I can see how they fit in.”
So “Whom should you ask?” I guess I would say ask someone else who does follow me around and then tell me what they see so that we’ll both know!
Likely there would be some indicators that I think Jesus is who He said He was, mixed in with many attitudes and behaviors that say the opposite (unfortunately).
- If you have ever been to the Holy Land, what thought or experience has stayed with you the longest?
- Did your visit to the Holy Land pique your interest in spiritual things or diminish your interest?
- If you haven’t gone to the Holy Land yet, and were given a chance to go, what would you hope to see/learn/experience?
I’d love to hear your answers as comments here or on Facebook.
For the previous post in this series …
If you are in Mississauga and interested in checking out Peter’s futuristic fiction … here is the link to his books in the Mississauga Library.
Mount Carmel, Elijah, and the Prophets of Baal
Elijah served as prophet in one of the darkest chapters in the history of Israel. A weak and wicked king, Ahab had married Jezebel, a Sidonian. Jezebel ran the kingdom in Ahab’s name. She killed, likely with the complicity of the prophets of Baal, pretty well all of the prophets of Yahweh.
We read in 1 Kings 18:3-4 (almost as a footnote or side note) that Jezebel had cut off the prophets of the LORD:
And Ahab called Obadiah, who was over his household. (now Obadiah feared the LORD greatly, and when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the LORD, Obadiah took a hundred prophets, and hid them by fifties in a cave and fed them bread and water.)
Many will likely remember this narrative well, where Elijah challenges the 400 prophets of Baal and the 450 prophets of Asherah that ate at Jezebel’s table to a contest on Mount Carmel. Ahab was urged by Elijah to:
“Send and gather all of Israel at Mount Carmel …” (1 Kings 18:19).
Having been on top of Mount Carmel, it is easy to see how that could have happened. One has the rocky and steep rounded mountain open to the vast Migiddo plain. The leaders of Israel could readily climb the mountain side to be near the summit to see the priests performing their worship ceremony. Yet the summit is so exposed that even people some distance away in the plain could seen the culmination of the sign with fire from the sky consuming Elijah’s offering.
A Troublesome Question
A troublesome question for me (perhaps not for others) would be “where is the grace in this passage towards the prophets of Baal?”
Having seen the character of Jesus in the New Testament and recognizing that this is also the most complete representation of the God’s character in the Old Testament, I would expect to find some evidence of His desire for grace, repentance, and forgiveness.
For me (and I recognize there is no explicit evidence for this in the passage) I think one of the reasons the Baal worship and the taunting by Elijah went on for such a long time, was to afford some of the prophets of Baal an opportunity to realize that they were serving a false god and repent. There is no evidence they did so, but God’s willingness to accept repentance seems almost boundless.
Even Ahab, after all the terrible things he did and allowed to be done, had his repentance accepted (1 Kings 21:27-29). His repentance only temporarily delayed the deportation of Israel, since the rot was too deep, but it delayed Judgment Day for a time.
The teaching on this epic historical narrative on Elijah left me with the challenge: “How can I apply this to my life. What should I take a stand on, even if it goes against what many around me believe?
As I pondered these questions, it occurred to me how deeply our presumption of relativism in general and Political Correctness in particular has colored our view of every question. Indeed, it seems making pronouncements of any kind (except pronouncing that one shouldn’t make pronouncements) is seen as a statement of opinion or fashion and can only be valid for ourselves and has no universal applicability. Indeed to insist otherwise is seen as bigotry.
In our culture of Political Correctness, it seems that making a statement that ideas, attitudes, and behaviors have genuine consequences is seen by many as capricious and egregious as insisting that everyone must only wear black.
This state of affairs makes application of the Elijah passage quite difficult. As a writer of fiction, I am constantly being told by my writer’s group and editor “show don’t tell!”
For our culture, telling, or making pronouncements is an anathema and keeps the speaker from being heard. If, however, I can construct a fictional character so real as to be believable, let them have ideas, train their own attitudes, and then makes choices that have consequences, then perhaps the reader will see the connections.
This has been a spur to me to strive to be a better writer, avoiding the preaching of sermons (telling) in my books, but letting the reader discover the connections as the story unfolds. I hope I can continue to grow as a writer and do it.
For the previous post in this series …
If you are interested in checking out Peter’s futuristic fiction … here is the link to his books on Chapters/Indigo.
Walking from Joppa to Caesarea
In the previous post in the Holy Land series, I spoke about Joppa and an appeal by Cornelius, a Roman centurion situated Caesarea, for Peter to visit him. Peter traveled to the city of Caesarea (or more precisely Caesarea Maritima to distinguish it from other cities in the Roman Empire honoring Caesar – you may remember for example Caesarea Philippi), a distance of approximately 33.6 miles (63 km). Our guide spoke of an average walking distance of 15 km per day, so that would suggest it would be a four-day journey one way.
I think the 15 km/day walk was a leisurely trek that took into account the penchant of travelers of that day to be news-bearers as well as news-acquirers as they stopped along the way.
Cornelius’ servants were legionaries. The Roman army had three walking paces with full kit that had to be achieved by every legionary. Stragglers were unacceptable because they divided the army and put it at risk.
- A standard march: regular step or military pace – about 18.4 miles (29.6 km) per day with full kit
- Faster step: about 22.1 miles (35.5 km) per day
- Forced march: up to 30 miles (48 km) per day
Thus given that Cornelius’ emissaries were likely traveling without full kit and the distance is easily achievable given legion requirements, the New Testament account of roughly four days round trip is easily achievable.
Herod the Great
Caesarea Maritima was built by Herod the Great over about twelve years (22-10 BC). He was an audacious builder and we will encounter his work again, in the temple renovation in Jerusalem, at Masada, and at the city of Herodion (his burial place).
Herod’s construction was impressive: he built a breakwater and jetties to achieve a deep water port on a coast with no natural protection. he also built a Roman city complete with theater, hippodrome (horse and chariot races), and an amphitheater (gladiatorial events) as well as Roman baths, statues and temples. It became a major Roman base in the area, consistent with the New Testament teaching.
Paul also also was imprisoned in Caesarea, the governor’s residence (Acts 23:23-Acts 26:32) and made his defense before King Agrippa there.
Alas, Caesarea was built in an earthquake zone and was severely damaged by quake an tsunami sometime in the 1st and 2nd century. By the 6th century, the damage was so great the harbor was unusable. This can be seen from the pictures.
Caesarea, like so many sites in the Holy Land is replete with archaeological evidence that complements and corroborates the data historical data found in the New and Old Testaments.
As a scientist who has spent a good fraction of his life conducting research in chemistry and physics, I am well acquainted with the careful distinction that science makes between data and explanatory interpretations of the data (by that I mean hypotheses, theories, and laws).
One is taught that data is to be taken as correct and true and cannot be dismissed lightly. Even if one suspects an error was made in a measurement, one does not delete the offending datum, but one remeasures it and keeps both old and new.
In contrast, one works to disprove hypotheses in order to avoid confirmation bias.
However, to an outsider, it seems these rules are abandoned when it comes to the Old and New Testament. Indeed it seems to me they are often treated not like data but hypotheses and so analysts feel free obligated to disprove their reliability.
Yet coming to the Holy Land, one finds hundreds, likely thousands of pieces of evidence: places, people, landmarks etc. which are referenced in the Bible.
Both Old and New Testaments are ancient documents with an excellent documentary pedigree. Yet it seems, these documents are often put on trial and assumed to be fictitious until proven otherwise.
For me this is reminiscent of some of the shoddy police work one sometimes reads about, where an officer is so convinced that a defendant is guilty that he automatically adds any witness with a potential alibi for the defendant to the list of co-conspirators.
This process is helpful if one is only interested in getting convictions, but not if one is looking for the truth. In the same way, if one treats the biblical texts as hypotheses and not as data, then one is not giving the texts the recognition they deserve.
If you are interested in checking out Peter’s futuristic fiction … here is the link to his Amazon Author page.
For the previous post in this series …
As a writer and a Christ-Follower visiting the Holy Land for the first time, it became apparent my trip cannot help but change the way I read the bible, look at history, and see one of the places that formed, in large measure, the civilization in which I live.
As someone pointed out, it is like going from a black and white picture to a three-dimensional color picture: the details are essentially the same but are seen in a wholly new way.
Joppa (also called Jaffa, Japho or Yapo) has been the port for Jerusalem from well-before King David. According to Wikipedia its use as a port dates back to 1800 BC.
It was captured from the Philistines in the time of David and used by Solomon as the port for the building materials used for the first temple (2 Chronicles 2:16).
I saw Joppa on a windy day. The architecture is from different periods, given that port has been taken and retaken. It is an interesting mix of older architecture from successive periods standing along side modern art.
In Acts Chapter 8 and 9 (Acts 8:36-9:48) we read the account of Peter and Cornelius. The latter, as a God-fearing centurion in Caesarea, after a vision, sends for Simon Peter in Joppa. Peter, himself, as an observant Jew needs convincing through a separate vision, that he ought to make the long journey to Caesarea and enter the house of a gentile. Peter does so and we have the first occurrence of the grace of the Christian message being extended beyond a Jewish audience in the New Testament.
As I read this, and I pondered Peter’s dilemma in being told, against his own background and inclination, to extend the gift he and his people had received through Christ, to not only others, but members of the oppressor’s class, it made me reflect on my own time and what it might mean.
We live in contradictory times. In school we are taught that we are biochemical machines that are the product of billions of years of mutation and selection, with bits of genetic code (genes) acting like puppet masters directing our every step to maximize our self preservation and reproduction so that our particular gene sequence comes to dominate the pool.
At the same time, in the same schools, we are also taught the contradictory assertion that we are held responsible for the past acts of our immediate ancestors, our clan, and our tribe even though we were not even alive to participate in the decisions (whether good or bad) that were made on our behalf.
For me the teaching in Acts 9 brings harmony to our modern contradiction. We owe duty and allegiance to family, clan, and tribe. However, Acts 9 teaches us to look beyond with a duty to those outside since they are also our brothers.
Acts 9 teaches me to care for, and do my duty toward family, clan, and tribe. Yet life is not a zero sum game where we only win, by pushing outsiders down, but rather, in the end, there are no outsiders.
My Canadian public education, from elementary school, through high school and on through my university postgraduate studies, from the basis of inculcating a worldview, had a decidedly Materialistic bias. I was taught that all smart people were convinced by the overwhelming evidence of “science” that chance operating over billions of years produced “life, the universe, and everything.” They usually stopped short of explicitly stating that there was no room for God, but the extension of the teaching to this conclusion was easy and no barrier at all was set up to hinder this extension.
It was only in high school and university that I began to realize that a great many dubious philosophical presuppositions had been smuggled in with the historical assertions I had been fed. The many remarkable successes of what I now call “Good Science” were used to justify (if I looked at the data) “Dubious Science.” However, in the minds of most students, who had been taught to regard all science to be of equal value and veracity, the word “science” or “scientists believe” was used as a certificate of reliability.
Into this difficult and heavily contested discussion arena, Bruxy Cavey has provided his own input. Having listened to the first message on the first two chapters of Genesis, I think his goal is modest: he does NOT want to specifically argue for one interpretation or another, but rather to explore the language and context of the Hebrew text to provide a boundary to the range of interpretations that are consistent with the text.
Given that objective, I learned a few things.
One had to do with the Hebrew word Yom (day). It was interesting how it was used differently in the accounts of the seven days:
- Days 1-6 there was evening and morning cited after each creation event
- Day 7 , the Sabbath Day when God is resting from creation seems to go on without end. In Hebrews 4:1-11 we are urged to enter that rest.
- In Genesis 2, when the passage unpacks the creation of Man, the events such as naming the animals seem to require more than 24 hours.
Responding to Comments
I also wanted to interact with one of the interesting anonymous comments that appeared on Bruxy’s Blog. The comment is shown below in blue.
I was great at prayer and reading the bible when I was younger, but like so many, things changed when I went to university and studied science. Years later, I still love listening to science podcasts. I’m trying to reconcile what science says and what the bible says. I will never dismiss science because there is a lot to respect about the scientific method and the sweat, blood and tears that goes into understanding of the physical world around us, that is brought to us by relevant and worthy fellow human beings. While it can be said that science has just as much blood on its hands as religion, it has brought us the amazing technology I’m using to type this out, penicillin, the ability to “hear” remnants of the Big Bang and the understanding that a marble and a giant boulder will hit the ground at the same time when dropped from the same height (still blows my mind).
Sorry for belabouring the point on how much I enjoy science, but that’s not going away. And yet I want to make room for Jesus and his irreligious message. I love the focus on love and shifting my gaze from myself to others.
When I first heard that this series was coming, with special focus on Genesis, my initial reaction was “Uh-oh… this should be interesting.” While the stories seem to try and carry a message or lesson, I can’t take them literally…I just can’t. The only thing I can do to from dismissing them outright is telling myself that they’re essentially all symbolic, not to be taken literally; a way to try and explain something very complex in simple terms. Like trying to explain to a child why and how we do our taxes once a year…you can’t go into depth, so you sort of oversimplify and use symbols that they already understand; like, “we have to tell the mayor (to replace CRA or gov’t) how much money we made, this way they can decide if we give more or get some back,” etc. God is the alpha and omega: this, to me, means he’s like infinity, outside of the constraints of time and space. I can’t even understand what that would even mean, so how could I possibly understand how he actually started it all? Enter Genesis.
I guess I’m hoping for a Meeting House take on this and that I’m still allowed to show up
I will never dismiss science because there is a lot to respect about the scientific method and the sweat, blood and tears that goes into understanding of the physical world around us, that is brought to us by relevant and worthy fellow human beings.
We should all be truth-seekers since truth is connected to reality. While I understand the sentiment expressed by anonymous, science is not a uniform endeavor. Indeed, I think we ought to respect science by putting its best practices into operation as we evaluate the merit of a particular theory or claim. It all comes down to the data and the integrity of the people who collect and discuss it. Scientists, like other people, are confronted with political pressure, political correctness imperatives, natural biases, and peer pressure.
Even if we haven’t measured a data point, it still behooves us to be skeptical and ask the hard questions and see if the data adds up. Especially we ought to see:
- If the scientific community has tried hard to disprove the theory or hypothesis (it is easy to fall into confirmation bias and collect more and more data points in support of our favorite theory).
- If sufficient attention has been paid to data points that don’t support the theory. Or have they conveniently shoved the data into the “to be explained” file, never published, and promptly forgotten.
- If scientists are being pressure to adopt a certain view or theory. Look specifically for political pressure, political correctness imperatives, and peer pressure. Have scientists lost their jobs because of their hypotheses? Are there accusations of pseudo-science to keep you from looking carefully at the data and arguments? Have lectures been shut down? These considerations don’t over ride the power of the data but ought to cause us to dig deeper and find out what is being suppressed and pay particular attention to the voices that are being silenced.
it [science] has brought us the amazing technology I’m using to type this out, penicillin, the ability to “hear” remnants of the Big Bang and the understanding that a marble and a giant boulder will hit the ground at the same time when dropped from the same height (still blows my mind).
I generally agree. Notice, however, penicillin, and classical mechanics (i.e. gravitation and Newton’s Second Law) are qualitatively different from “the ability to ‘hear’ remnants of the Big Bang.”
The first category (isolating and characterizing penicillin or verifying classical mechanics) contain time-independent events and the critical experiments that can be reproduced in 2019, 2050, or 2200. The Big Bang is an historical event. A person with the proper resources can measure the background radiation, but they cannot perform the critical experiment (initiate a Big Bang and show it gives rise to the background radiation).
That doesn’t make the historical account incorrect, it just means the tools of scientific experimentation are not as well suited to these problems as they are to time-independent questions.
Anonymous wrote about reconciling what he has read in Genesis with the accounts that scientists propose:
When I first heard that this series was coming, with special focus on Genesis, my initial reaction was “Uh-oh… this should be interesting.” While the stories seem to try and carry a message or lesson, I can’t take them literally…I just can’t. The only thing I can do to from dismissing them outright is telling myself that they’re essentially all symbolic, not to be taken literally; a way to try and explain something very complex in simple terms.
That’s fair enough. My own reaction is somewhat different. I have significant personal experience that makes me trust what the Bible teaches. Still, as Bruxy stated, the Bible may be perfectly reliable, but that doesn’t guarantee my interpretation is correct. I line up all the historical theories of our origin side by side: evolution, intelligent design, and various creation theories and generate a plus/minus for each one. I think all theories have significant defects and so I am left with saying we don’t know the details.
Anonymous makes a very important point using his analogy of explaining the CRA to a child. Explanations are always constrained by the language and understanding of the audience. For me one of the great attributes of the God of the Bible: He reaches out to us. He uses the language and understanding of his audience to speak to us. I think we need to keep that in mind as we read Genesis.
I appreciate Anonymous’ comment and I appreciate my chance to interact with these ideas.
I had the interesting experience of reading Anne Cleeves’ The Crow Trap (Vera Stanhope series book #1) while listening to the audio book version of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.
Alcott and Cleeves are both superb writers, but what struck me was the contrast between the hope and optimism of the one set against the dysfunction and hopelessness of the other. Curiously, the circumstances ought to have brought out the reverse.
Four girls, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, along with their mother, are trying to survive in Concord, Massachusetts with their father away in the Civil War and having to make due with very little money. They live in an era before antibiotics or vaccinations when almost any infection could kill you and are in the midst of the deadliest war America has ever faced. Furthermore, it is long before the welfare state and the only help the very poor received, sprang from the generosity of others. Yet the March daughters had a strong faith, a profound sense of obligation toward others in need even if they weren’t family, a bright optimism for the future, and relationships with each other and their mother and father that made them want to spend time with each other.
Jump from 1862 to the late twentieth century and we have five women in England in the North Pennines. In contrast to the Alcott girls they live in a time of modern medicine, the welfare state, and a time of relative political peace where starving to death or dying from an infection is an almost unheard of event. Yet, one of the women has already committed suicide (Bella Furness), the three educated women conducting an environmental survey, are quite different, but each is beset with her own troubles that so consume her, that there is little evidence that she can care about anyone except herself.
Finally there is Vera Stanhope, a brilliant detective who seems obsessed with her own homeliness, loneliness and the poor relationship she had with her deceased father, Hector. She seems to take out her frustrations on her assistant (Joe Ashworth) who has a happy family life, or would have if Vera didn’t take such delight in calling him out at all hours of the day or night to help with some aspect of their investigation. She’s clever enough to know exactly how far she can push Joe before he quits, or Joe’s beleaguered wife insists he change jobs.
It may be true that Ann Cleeves is an accurate reporter on our times, but it still tells me how far we have fallen from the hope, optimism, and selflessness of our past, and how extensively hopelessness and relational dysfunction seems to color our world. Cleeves writes well, but it’s hard for me to spend extended time is such a world colored a dismal grey. I enjoy it in small doses and then read something more hopeful before I dive in again.
Picture yourself walking along a path of many steps, but a path where you can see clearly only one step ahead. You can’t see the end destination. It makes sense to you to take that one step, and you take it. After that, you can now see the next step ahead, and so on. The thing is, after you have taken many such steps, you look back to where you had begun, and realize that if you could have foreseen the end of the path at the beginning you would not have begun it. What has happened here?
What I believe happens is that the path changes you. Each step on its own changes you a little, and each seems no big deal. Or each step makes sense on its own if you don’t know the final destination. It is that sum of all the little changes, that you didn’t foresee at the beginning, that concerns me here.
I see that process in many places. It is part of everyday living, the unavoidable experience of everyone as we age, and ask ourselves, ‘What happened? Where did the years go?’ It happens as we become desensitized to pornography or violence in the media and advertising. It happens with controversial issues such as homosexuality, or divorce, or abortion, where adjustment gradually becomes acceptance, and then approval, and then there is a new normal. It happens in Christians as we interact with non-Christians socially, intellectually, legally.1 We may change them, but interaction
1 I should state that I consider myself a traditional Christian. My wife
and I attend a Baptist Church. I am comfortable with Roman Catholicism,
Protestantism, Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and so on.
I have not formally joined any denomination. I accept the Apostle’s Creed
as a statement of faith.
with them also changes us. The changes may be good, or worthwhile, or not, but we should be aware of the process so that we can choose to assent to it, or not, from the beginning. The two areas I will examine here are (1) the process where many young, university age Christians lose their faith, and (2) the tolerance of heretical ideas, of old heresies returning, such as Gnosticism.
The important thing is to become aware as soon as possible of the overall effect of the path, and decide whether or not and on what terms to continue. I can see three things to do when one is somewhere on the path. The first is to look back to the beginning, to recover one’s vision from there. The second is to take one step back as a test; and the third is to take a step sideways, off the path entirely. (To actually go back to the beginning of the path is usually very difficult, or impossible, and the changes to that point are usually a mixture of good and bad.)
An example of the first, for a Christian, is reading the Bible, or asking oneself what would Jesus do, or Paul, or Peter. What would they say about this path you are on, the changes in you? Would they approve? How do you feel about their reaction? (Not… ‘what do you think about that?’). Praying. Returning to your root experience as a Christian…
The second thing one can do is to take one step back. Find out how easy or hard it is, compared with stepping forward. The step back could be easier, or more difficult, or no different. An example of it being easier is a person trying to break an old, long-established bad habit, where backsliding is easy. An example of it being more difficult is when a Christian is alone or in a minority among non-Christians, where it is easier to go along with the crowd. There could be unspoken goals or beliefs among the majority that are not made clear until that backward step is taken. And if the steps forward and back are about equal in difficulty, one could at least stay there until things become clearer.
The third thing to try is the sideways step, off the path entirely. This is the most difficult of the three because it is the most original response, thinking outside the box. It is seeing the steps, the path, from a different and new viewpoint. From there, one could set off on a new path or direction, or return to the original one with new understanding.
A great many young Christians leave the faith they were raised in, especially when they go away to university. I believe one reason for it is exposure to the secular environment, perhaps actively anti-Christian, without the counterbalancing of home and church. The result is a slow leaching away of meaning, of habits and religious practice, to where their faith seems ridiculous, dubious, and restrictive. And their loss of faith feels like liberation to them, which makes it very hard to resist or argue against.
A change we grow used to becomes the new normal, and each small step can be a small surrender. But each step is also a small confrontation, asking if this path is right, with each person on their own in trying to answer that. Being a religious person in a secular environment is not the same as being a religious person in a different religious environment. A Christian interacting with Hindu or Buddhist people is challenged with a different religious truth. A Christian in a secular environment is challenged by an absence of religious truth, by ‘what’s the point of believing it?’ Key beliefs such as the Resurrection begin to seem ridiculous, irrational, unnecessary, and eventually untrue. Rational argument and scientific reasoning are compatible with and can support both Christianity and atheism, but somehow atheism has become the default position in secular society.
The person has to want to stay Christian, has to want it strongly. Without that desire, everything else in their faith is useless. With that desire, the three things to do on the path when in secular society make sense. Returning to one’s roots could be reading the Bible, or ‘practicing the presence of God’. Taking a step back could be doing a short prayer at meal-time, both with others and alone. Doing it visibly, not just secretly or silently. And leaving the path entirely could be going on a spiritual retreat to refocus; or starting a craft or art or physical activity that is neither religious nor secular, getting you completely away from the issues for a while.
Loss of faith is often perceived or felt by the person as a gain in freedom, but that feeling is a temporary illusion. It is easy for believers to not face that issue of feeling and to concentrate on the authority of the Bible, or on belief in the Resurrection, or the Creeds… But the feeling of freedom will undercut any argument. Freedom from feels like freedom to, whether it is sexual freedom, or gender identity freedom, or not having to read the Bible or go to church, or abortion freedom, or freedom to choose what laws to obey, beyond society’s laws. It feels like liberation from a Christianity seen as narrow, constricting, and nonsensical, and into a wider society of more choices.
Each step taken must be seen instead as a small surrender, not as a step of liberation. To return to the beginning of the path could be to focus on Paul’s gospel of grace, of the ‘Apostle of the Heart Set Free’2 , and then choosing a different path from that point. We must address the difference between freedom and license directly, and do it rationally, patiently, respectfully and humbly.
2Bruce; Paul: Apostle. Pages 119 and 141. Also 2 Cor 3:17-18.
I see a similar path at work in scholars whose ideas become more extreme and provocative as time passes. There is excitement and joy in generating and exploring new ideas, especially radical ones. Developing arguments, marshaling evidence, engaging in intellectual combat: the academic is trained for this, and our culture sees the exploration of radical ideas as heroic. And it is. Jolts of creative pleasure and intellectual satisfaction are addictive, as they should be. But also addictive are the rewards of public attention and recognition, and the regard of one’s peers. The outsider is seen as heroic. The academic’s earlier ideas become part of his or her mental furniture, and cease to be exciting. The excitement in exploring new, forbidden ideas, new possibilities, more radical and revolutionary ideas is also addictive. Each of us has a secret yearning to be the next Galileo, or Newton, or Einstein. But the scholar may be confusing the pleasures of discovery, and of motivation, with the truth. Our brains are inherent pattern recognition machines, and that of the scholar is trained to be even more so. A friend of mine is of the opinion that modern scholarship, especially in the social sciences, has institutionalized the goal of heresy.3
3Kazmaier, Peter M. Personal communication.
So what can the scholar (and the creative artist too) do when on a path into the unknown? He can think back to the beginning, back to first principles in his questions. We are all human: it could mean having to get to the root of one’s motives. For the scientist, how would it feel to let others have the personal rewards, the professional recognition, the verdict of history for your ideas and work? For the artist, perhaps the joy of playing/practicing his art with absolutely no audience for it, ever. Would each of them still walk that path, if joy of discovery was the only reward?
What would taking one step back entail? I see it as a test of resistance and a test of rightness. These are empirical tests, rather than logical ones, for logic alone will keep leading you forward along the path. See if you can reverse the chain of reasoning, which could make just as much sense. Find out what makes it difficult to take that step back. Public embarrassment about changing your mind? Afraid of being called inconsistent or erratic? Listen for a ‘still, small feeling of rightness’ and nurture it. Try to put aside the allure of novelty, of new possibilities that may be illusory. Compare the two steps, forward and back. When you turn and face the other way, the path looks completely different. And what would be an example of a sideways step, off the path entirely? Perhaps getting an opinion on your situation from someone in an entirely different discipline or craft. (Artist? Musician? Parent with small children? Manual laborer?) How well could you convey your situation to them, in their language?
Another area where this path of many steps effect is at work is in the tolerance of, or indifference to, heretical ideas. I see a deadening or desensitization similar to that to violence or pornography in the media, in our culture generally. The new, the exciting, the offensive becomes in time the new normal. An example of a heretical belief is that Jesus was just a man, a very good man, who didn’t rise from the dead. It is a coherent and persuasive belief that will lead to other beliefs and ideas. Traditionally, it is called Arianism and is a heresy that keeps returning and recurring in the history of the Christian Church.4 (An interesting side question: why do some heretical beliefs keep returning?)
4It is named after its Fourth Century advocate Arius, and has no
relationship to Aryanism, a completely different word.
There are two dangers in dealing with heretical ideas: the danger of intolerance and the danger of tolerance. The danger of intolerance is clear and obvious from our history: persecution of heretics, book burning, the Inquisition, religious wars, the importance of freedom of thought and expression. The danger of tolerance is more subtle. The issue with heresy is not one of different equal beliefs, but of right versus wrong. It is not a debate with a person of a different religion, but with a person of the same religion who you believe is wrong on a fundamental belief that is accepted as fact. That person is free to believe whatever he or she likes, as are we all, but if we believe the other person is wrong we must be clear in that, and hold to it. A debate format over a belief implies the two sides are equal, are to be treated equally, whether in a formal debate between two people, or in the informal debate within one’s own skull. Any idea should be considered with respect, but a debate about it ends with a choice, and we go on to other things. And we must. But there is a long term ‘wearing down’ or erosion if a debate keeps returning. A wearing down of the older generation having to keep refighting old debates, and of the younger generation not valuing the tradition, rejecting it for the new, the exciting, the different. Both the old and the young must each find their own way back to their common roots in order to better understand the common path they are on.5
5Two people opposed to each other could each consider their own beliefs to
be orthodoxy, and the other’s heresy. They would have much to discuss and
clarify. What concerns me is the many-steps process likely at work within
each of them.
As a society, and in the Church, we have both gained and lost. We have gained in freedom of thought and expression, but we have also lost by becoming less serious in our thinking. It is as if we believe the ideas we think and express have no consequences for us or for others. But they can have consequences, for us in our own personal lives, and for society.
Consider Friedrich Nietzsche, one of the most influential philosophers. Perhaps his ideas contributed to his insanity, or they resulted from it, or both. But the Nazis took his ideas and misused them. And he continues to be influential and popular. Does he not bear some responsibility for his ideas? Or the scientists who helped develop the atom bomb, and who felt guilty for it afterwards. Or Marx, Darwin, Freud: They are intellectual heroes, role models, shapers of our world, and their ideas are part of us. Their ideas are so influential that we can’t go back in our thinking to before they existed. We can’t unthink their ideas, we can only agree or disagree with them, challenge them, build on them. We can’t remove their ideas from our heads. An idea, an image, even a powerful photograph, can have a long term effect, one for good, or for corrosive ill. If it is for ill, how best can one resist it?
If we are responsible for what we think and express, responsible at least to ourselves, and to others if we communicate, we must become aware of the little steps in the path of our thinking, our experience, all the little changes and acceptances we make, and to be prepared to stop, to wait, to reconsider and perhaps choose differently.
If the path of many steps is an intellectual one, leading perhaps to a heresy or unbelief, what could be the three responses I suggest?
The first, going back to the beginning of the path: you can’t unthink a thought or idea, once it is in your head, but you can consider other paths from where you are, perhaps other philosophical approaches or directions.
The second, taking one step back as a test, means facing the other way. A path looks quite different when you face the other way, and a common unexamined assumption our society has is one of faith in inevitable progress. What resistance is there to taking just the one step back?
The third response, stepping off the path entirely: perhaps concentrate on the non-intellectual feeling of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps doing some ordinary, everyday good thing that brings you back to Christ. As Brother Lawrence put it, practicing the presence of God is more to our essence as Christians than intellectual ideas about Christ and Christianity are. (Though how difficult the simplest things can be to do!)
The title, which I coined, is called a ‘venereal’ term6. There were many such terms in late medieval English, and knowing them was considered part of being an educated person A few such terms have survived into modern English. The best have a richness of meaning, of poetry and illogic to them: a pride of lions, a murder of crows, an unkindness of ravens, an exaltation of larks… Perhaps a creeping of heresies can help us each understand our own paths better.
6Lipton; Exaltation. Venery is an archaic word for hunting.
Bruce, F. F. Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977.
Lawrence, Brother (Nicholas Herman). The Practice of the Presence of God, With Spiritual Maxims. Grand Rapids: Spire, 1967.
Lipton, James. An Exaltation of Larks, Or The Venereal Game. New York: Viking,1979. Second Edition.
(c) Copyright Mark Jokinen, 2019
My parents are 94 years old this year and that has given me occasion, along with my siblings, to search through their books, memorabilia, and other historical documents as they downsize. Kazmaier is a relatively rare name and the Kazmaier branch of my family originates from small village (population 1,577 (December 31, 2008)) in Germany (Baden-Wurttenburg) called Grabenstetten.
I was delighted while searching, to come across a small book describing the history of Grabenstetten. The title Grabenstetten in Vergangenen Tagen (Grabenstetten in Bygone Days) provides a wealth of first-hand accounts of the village’s history and from time-to-time of the specific history of the Kazmaiers.
I thought, as a service to other Kazmaiers who are interested in our genealogy, it might be helpful to provide pieces of information from the book that might not readily available elsewhere.
- After 1800, 84 villagers emigrated to the United States, including five Kazmaiers.
- Forty emigrated to Switzerland including two Kazmaiers.
- In 1900 Johann Michael and Sofie Kazmaier emigrated to German South West Africa (modern day Namibia).
Note: Grabenstetten in Vergangenen Tagen was written in 1982 with no authorship listed. The Foreword is by Heinrich Schäfer and I surmise he might have been the author.
If you are interested in Peter’s SF and Fantasy novels check out … https://amzn.to/2qzzi4P