Saturday, July 30, 2016

Freedom from Collapsing Global Technological System Starts with Repudiating Its 1648 Roots

In Latin Christendom, the Age of Christianity came to an exhausted end in 1648. That’s when warring religious factions, Catholic and Protestant, in Latin Christendom’s savage civil war agreed to end their mutual hostilities after almost 130 years. After that, the best minds of what had been Latin Christendom abandoned theology and focused instead on developing what would become the sciences. Unknown at the time, this altered focus initiated a new era in human history: the Age of Exuberant Olympianity. To both understand and repudiate the collapsing Global Technological System (GTS), we need to understand its roots in Olympianity and repent of our devotion to its six false yet destructive gods.

To appreciate this change in focus, we will reflect on changes in a set of polarities, or opposites, which took place at that time. These changes in polarities, and their consequences, were noted by Jacques Ellul in his book The Humiliation of the Word (translated by Joyce Main Hanks, 1985).
In 1648, the best thinkers of Latin Christendom abandoned theology for the sciences. What this meant, in effect, was that they no longer sought to understand God. Instead, they sought to understand God’s good creation.
God vs. gods. These thinkers may not have personally denied the existence of God. What they did deny, however, was that humans could know God in any meaningful way. That was their fundamental mistake. By doing that, they repeated the mistake of Adam and Eve. They substituted their own judgment for God's. They became spiritually self-centered rather than remaining Christ-centered. Unlike Adam and Eve, their spiritual self-centeredness led them to an exuberant devotion to the Olympian gods even as they deceived themselves by thinking they had freed themselves from all gods true and false.
God’s good creation vs. sensate reality. After 1648, Latin Christendom's intellectuals abandoned thinking about God and sought instead to learn everything they could about God’s good creation. Having abandoned God the Creator, however, meant that they could not rightly appreciate creation as God’s good act. Consequently, they reduced God’s good creation to sensate reality. They studied only those aspects of creation that they could perceive through their senses, especially sight, and ignored every other aspect. Eventually, they dismissed the existence of anything that they could not see. They thought and acted as if there were no God and God’s good creation was limited to what they could see. The Olympian gods were so pleased.
Truth vs. accuracy. Jesus Christ is the truth and the source, center, and goal of all truth. Truth, then, properly refers to Jesus Christ himself and to those words spoken by him. These words, spoken by Jesus in the past and today, reveal to us who the only true god is and who we are in relation to him. Only God rightly speaks the truth about God (Karl Barth). Any words which Jesus speaks to us today will be consistent with the words he spoke yesterday through prophets and apostles as these are written in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
After 1648, leading thinkers, and eventually ordinary Christians themselves, dismissed this Christocentric understanding of Jesus as the Word of God and his words of truth. They reduced our understanding of truth to accuracy and accuracy to the degree to which our words correspond to sensate reality. Words are accurate when they correspond closely to the sensate reality which they describe. From this point of view, no words about God can be accurate because their correspondence to God cannot be visually verified.
Words vs. images. This mistaken substitution of accuracy for truth leads to the dominance of images over words. Why get bogged down using a lot of imprecise words when a visual image, like a diagram, illustration, or especially a photograph, instantly corresponds in a far more accurate way to the sensate reality under consideration? Why read a long book on history when you can so much more easily enjoy its lavish illustrations? Why read a book at all when you can simply watch the movie? Why describe a vacation when you can show videos of it? Why keep a journal of a journey at all? Why preach a carefully worded and logically coherent sermon when, in a society dominated by images, no one has the ability or interest any longer to listen to all those words?
Meaning vs. usefulness. Only words convey meaning. Images can’t. But our words don’t have to be meaningful. With the dominance of images over them, and their perceived insignificance, they usually aren’t. People, even Christians, routinely fail to keep their word. Rather than valuing words for the meaning they may communicate, we now evaluate them in terms of their usefulness. We no longer ask if words are true; that is, if they rightly speak of Jesus Christ and of ourselves, others, and the rest of creation in relation to Jesus Christ. Now we judge them in terms of their usefulness. Did we get what we wanted? Then they were useful; if not, they weren’t. Politicians do not and cannot speak the truth. They must use words that will be effective in getting them elected. The truth won’t do that for them. We’re the same.
Qualitative vs. quantitative. When only what we see matters, we focus on the quantitative at the expense of the qualitative. We reduce everything to what we can see, weigh, and measure. We use GPS to locate ourselves on an abstract grid of longitude and latitude. We speak of bodies but dismiss the possibility of souls. We also obsess about how those bodies look and how much they weigh. We look at a forest and think in terms of how much useful lumber it contains. God’s good creation becomes natural resources. Human beings, unique, precious, and irreplaceable witnesses to Jesus Christ, become human resources to be managed until made redundant. We measure the importance of groups, organizations, and societies in terms of their size. In this way, megachurches are understood as more important than any smaller church, as is any large church in a big city compared to any country church. Strangely enough Jesus, during his public ministry and ever since, always individualizes us by calling us out of the crowd and away from its pressure to conform.
Time vs. space. We can quantify time, and do, down to the nearest 1/100th of a second in sporting events. But qualitative time, the right time, mattered more to Jesus. Meaning comes through timely words of truth and acts of love.
When visual reality matters more to us, as it does to the Olympian gods, then we ignore discerning the right time and preoccupy ourselves with controlling space. Indeed, we create a hierarchy of spaces which corresponds to our hierarchy of power. In this way, there are spaces in which only VIPs are allowed. In fact, only the most important person is allowed in the most important spaces. How important we are is determined by how much we have and control.
Freedom vs. power. Jesus Christ is the truth who sets us free. It’s the Olympian gods who want us to lust for control over all that can be seen and quantified. In 1648, Western thinkers abandoned the words of truth spoken by Jesus in favor of the useful but destructive words of Francis Bacon who wrote, “knowledge is power,” back in 1620. For Olympians, knowledge is power; for Jesus, truth is freedom. Today’s GTS is by far the largest and most fearsome system of control ever to curse the earth. It is the greatest object of devotion to the Olympian gods ever created by humankind in its whole history. It gives those six destructive gods, and Satan who stands behind them, more power over human beings and the rest of God’s good creation than he has ever had before or ever will again.
Life vs. death. This GTS, Satan’s finest counter-creation and the largest embodiment of our own self-centeredness, is collapsing. It never was meaningful. Now it isn’t even useful. As Christians and churches, we have the opportunity to hear Christ’s call to abandon it today just as Christians and churches abandoned him back in 1648. If the best thinkers then started the theoretical and practical construction of the godforsaken GTS, we can repudiate that GTS and reverse their mistake by starting the theoretical and practical construction of a much more meaningful alternative. This we may do by forsaking the false Olympian gods and wholeheartedly devoting ourselves to living as witnesses to Jesus, the one odd god of truth, freedom, love, and vitality, for his glory and our good.

Copyright © 2016 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.