Thursday, May 10, 2018

Why Olympian Civilization Lacks Meaningful Feedback

English historian Arnold Toynbee wrote An Historian’s Approach to Religion in 1956. In it he spoke of Latin Christian Civilization’s decline, its replacement by an Exuberant Olympian Civilization, that civilization’s increasing menace to humankind and the rest of creation, and our future.

Latin Christian Civilization’s Decline
At its best (1073-1201), Latin Christendom formed a commonwealth of self-governing states under the religious authority of the pope. It delicately balanced his power as ruler of the Latin Christian Church with the freedom of political rulers and leading intellectuals.

The unusual balance of power and freedom embodied by this commonwealth began to break down in 1201. That is when the ruler and leaders of the Latin Christian Church increasingly abandoned the freedom of Jesus Christ for the power of the six conventional yet false and destructive Olympian gods. Latin Christendom disintegrated during a malicious, destructive, yet inconclusive civil war lasting from 1521 to 1648. An estimated 6-17 million people died during this 127-year period as a result.

Exuberant Olympian Civilization’s Beginning
After 1648, Christian intellectuals happily though mistakenly abandoned theology for technology. They easily led ordinary people into a new civilization based on Olympianity rather than Christianity.

Let us pause and reflect on this. The ruler and leaders of the Latin Christian Church increasingly abandoned Jesus and his freedom for the six Olympian gods and their power. This eventually resulted in the disintegration of Latin Christendom because this lust for power by Latin Christian leaders, supposedly devoted to Jesus, discredited them, their theology, and, tragically, Jesus himself.

It would have been more honorable if, after this severe discrediting, Latin Christian leaders had repented of their lust for power, their misplaced and destructive devotion to the six Olympian gods, and had returned with humble and contrite hearts to their one true lord and savior Jesus Christ. Instead, they steadily left him—the source, center, and goal of all means for questioning power—in a past they flippantly dismissed as medieval superstition.

Life in Exuberant Olympian Civilization seemed unimaginably wonderful for over 250 years. Toynbee was born in 1889. At that time, leaders and people of Olympian Civilization, he later wrote, felt supreme self-satisfaction. They believed their civilization was perfect, permanent, and the standard against which all previous and present civilizations were to be measured. There would be no better one beyond it.

Olympian Civilization’s Increasing Menace
Toynbee was 25 years old at the start of war in 1914. For him, as for many of his generation, that war destroyed the illusion of Olympian Civilization’s perfection and permanence and the smugness that went with it. “We…realized that, in discarding, in the seventeenth century, the doctrine of Original Sin together with the rest of the West’s Christian religious heritage, Western Man did not slough off Original Sin itself (152).

Earlier in his book, Toynbee defined Original Sin as self-centeredness and a pursuit of power indifferent to the cost of this pursuit for others. He contrasted it with self-devotion or the willingness to voluntarily embrace the suffering needed to love others.

Following the catastrophic destruction and death of the War of 1914, of a self-centered pursuit of power based on the falsehood that Original Sin no longer existed, Toynbee thought it was time to give the truth some renewed consideration. It was time to allow the truth of Original Sin to provide Olympian Civilization with some meaningful feedback concerning its wicked ways.

There are two types of feedback. Positive feedback increases existing trends. Want more of the same? Feed it with carrots. Negative feedback decreases existing trends. Want that foolishness to stop? Beat it with a stick. The Olympian gods know this well. They ceaselessly bully (negative feedback), bribe (positive feedback), and deceive us into behaving as they desire.

The War of 1914 caused the death of 17-23 million people in four short years, Toynbee thought this existing trend of increasing lethality needed to decrease. Some negative feedback was necessary. He proposed that Olympians moderate their lust for power by renewing “the struggle with Original Sin—which we have ignored and neglected for more than 300 years” (152).

Then came the War of 1939 which killed an estimated 50-80 million and ended with the use of two atomic bombs. Toynbee did not believe that modern people were more wicked than medieval or ancient ones. Their technological means, however, were far more harmful. Toynbee reflected, “No doubt it was always true that the ‘wages of Sin is Death’ [Romans 6:23]; but today, when we find ourselves once again forced by events to face, and grapple with, Sin, the truth of St. Paul’s warning cannot be ignored” (153).

Toynbee was 56 years old in 1945 when the War of 1939 ended. He still believed, as he had when he was 25 and the War of 1914 began, that facing and grappling with sin would provide salutary negative feedback to an Olympian civilization growing exponentially more destructive.

No Meaningful—Negative—Feedback without Repentance
Toynbee was 67 when he published his reflections on religion. His concluding thoughts on our Olympian Civilization and its need for negative feedback:

Indeed, among the public in a Westernizing World in the later decades of the twentieth century, there might be a revulsion of feeling against Science and Technology like the revulsion against Religion in the later decades of the seventeenth century. Once again, a mental activity by which the public had been continuously obsessed over a period of many generations might be repudiated by its former devotees because it had become known, by its fruits, to be a shocking vent for Original Sin and a serious threat to Man’s welfare and perhaps even to his existence (238).

Our Best Future?

Religion along a new line of approach which, if humbler, will be spiritually more promising (238).

Toynbee was wrong to anticipate a late 20th-century revulsion of feeling toward the six gods of Olympianity: (1) Jupiter, god of politics; (2) Mars, god of war; (3) Vulcan, god of technology; (4) Venus, goddess of sex; (5) Pluto, god of money; and (6) Bacchus, god of consumption. In 2018, we love them the world over more than ever.

He was right, however, to say that this revulsion might come. This won’t happen, however, before a significant minority of Christians and churches repent of their lust for power and devotion to the Olympian gods. Only with this repentance and a simultaneous return to Jesus—the only true God and Man of freedom—will Olympian Civilization get the negative feedback it needs to moderate its exponentially destructive ways.

That’s one important difference between Christian and Olympian civilizations. Jesus Christ himself, speaking through the Bible itself, as well as in the thoughts and through the words of Christians, calls Christians and their leaders to repent of their lust for power and its gods and return to his path of freedom and to him their only true savior.

Not so with the Olympian gods. When we devote ourselves to them, who’s to call us back to freedom? No one. From their point of view, if power fails us, then we simply failed to use it effectively enough. We didn’t bully, bribe, and deceive others well enough.

There is no source, center, and goal of freedom inside Olympianity, its civilization, and its system. That can only come from the outside—from Jesus. And Jesus will only do this through Christians and churches willing to abandon the gods and serve him despite the increasingly severe difficulties involved. Only Christians devoted to Jesus and living his freedom can provide our neighbor Olympians with the desperately needed, meaningful, negative feedback that power does not lead to life. Only freedom in Jesus does that.

Copyright © 2018 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.