July 04, 2004

Independence Day Sunday Sermon

from - smijer

Happy Independence Day, and Happy Birthday to America. I hope (against hope) that our next one will be celebrated in peace-time.

geo.JPGBefore our sermon today, I have a Praise Report. Shopping at McKay's Used Books and CD's today, I came across quite a treasure in the free bin (where books are often left that were not accepted as trade-ins). I came across A Geocentricity Primer, by Gerardus D. Bouw, Ph.D., and The Geocentric Bible, by Gordon Blane. These fantastic finds are by actual persons, who actually believe that the Earth is the center of the universe, that it does not rotate, and that the sun and other heavenly bodies rotate around it. In short they are Biblical Ptolemists. I quote first from the former:

The Copernican Revoltuion, as this change of view is called, was not just a revolution in astronomy, but it also spread into politics and theology. In particular, it set the stage for the development of Biblical criticism. After all, if God cannot be taken literally when he writes of the "rising of the sun," then how can he be taken literally in writing of the "rising of the Son?" -p.1

And from the second book:

This book, the Geocentric Bible, updates and expands those aticles, but is still based on the two Geocentricity books. There is not scientific proof for or against either heliocentrism or geocentricity.

I know that will be an inspiration to us all, and a reminder of why science doesn't adopt the revelation/inspirational model of religion. Hallelujah.

Now, on to the sermon. Today we are going to talk about the evolution of modern monotheistic faith from primitive superstitious practices, and how we sometimes come upon a vestigial feature that betrays the origins of our modern piety.

Religion finds its first roots in the ancient, agragrian, shamanistic societies, where people used rituals, such as dance and incantation, to entice the spirits, whom they believed were responsible for such things, to bring rain or good crops. It did not take long, however, for the priests or shamans to discover that they could personally profit from certain types of rituals, and animal sacrifice was born. Animal sacrifice was, in some cultures, perverted by religious excess and sometimes gave way to human sacrifice. Later, a theology was developed around the notion of God himself being laid on the altar, no matter how figurative this necessarily had to be.

The Greeks came close to the empirical revolution of the Enlightenment. They only came so close, though, and the world had to wait until the eighteenth century to see the religion divorced (nearly entirely) from the bronze age notion of rituals and incantations that manipulate the spirit world. That empirical revolution, brought on by Gallileo, Descartes, Newton, and others, promised to rid the world of superstition. Voltaire, in a moment of unbridled optimisim, predicted the demise of religion altogether. Nevertheless, by moving its theology into the abstract, religion survived the enlightment. Now, instead of power over nature, Christianity boasted Personal Experience, and Changed Lives - in other words, Christianity allowed the perception of miraculous intervention in their own psychology. Religion's impact was kept sacred by keeping it abstract, and religion survived. Yet today, vestiges of the ritualism and incantational magic remain.

Take for instance this news report from the UK. Apparently, local Christians are afraid that the Celtic traditions of "Beating the Bounds" (to drive away evil spirits), will somehow "unleash" demonic forces. These folks apparently believe that the feared demonic forces cannot operate unless someone, whether accidentally or purposefully, invokes them by incantation or ritual. A ritual intended to drive evil spririts away, if it does not properly invoke the magic name of Jesus, might be just the opening that demonic forces are looking for to be able to wreak their unholy influence on that town. It does not seem to occur to them that if these forces are powerful and malevolent enough to be feared that they may not wait to be invoked, and might "unleash" themselves without the help of our rituals.

Similarly, Western charismatics "bind" the demonic forces they encounter and even cast out those demons by incantation: they invoke the NAME of Jesus... The English word for the Hebrew Joshua is now a magic spell unto itself. They don't simply pray to their God (be it Joshua/Jesus, Yahweh/Elohim/Father, the Breath/Spirit, or all three)... they cast out or bind by repeating the incanctation: "I [blank] you, Satan, in the name of Jesus." They don't actually bind or cast out (they have no idea how or where to direct their efforts) - they just say the words: "I bind", or "I cast out".. and add the magic phrase: "In the name of Jesus". A magic spell, an incantation, the formulaic words and names that the spirits have no choice but to obey mindlessly. There is, it seems, no more free will in the spirit world than there could be in a paradise of heaven... Only robots, even the nonmaterial ones.

So we see that the primitive root of superstition remains. It doesn't remain only with these rural English folk - it remains in the United States where people fear the use of Ouija boards and Tarot Cards. All of the rituals that Enlightenment philosophy made absurd are now feared or respected by the descendents of post-Enlightenent theology.

So, while modern Christians no longer sacrifice innocents to appease the gods, they continue to fear the pagan sacrifice, and they continue to present the god-sacrifice of New Testament mythology. In its modern fears, we see religions ancient roots, normally concealed by its abstractions. And so, it remains difficult to see post-Enlightenment abstract theology without smelling the ever-present pagan ritualism of which it stands in awe.

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Posted by smijer at July 4, 2004 05:35 PM
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