My Faith—A Philosopher’s Look At Christianity, 32

Keen Continued

I’m going to in my study of Keen’s Apology For Wonder jump now to Chapter III, “The Wonder-ful Cosmos of Traditional Man”. If inside that box I labeled “Jewish History” where men and women were in contact with Yahweh because he made himself known to them because he was helping them to become representatives of Him, what was happening outside that box? I’ve already discussed that God was not silent there, but he wasn’t personally open either in the way he was with the descendants of Abraham. Could God have raised an Abraham in every society? I suppose he could have, but here is an unpleasant factoid; humanity had condemned itself bringing on itself the natural consequence of physical and spiritual death. Outside that box the Noah story tells us humans were not listening to God and he found someone that would.

Noah was not perfect. His children were not perfect. His servants were not perfect but his belief in God carried him through the flood where humanity would begin again. When children again filled the earth they had the same ontological being that Adam and Eve had and that Noah had so the story of Noah isn’t about God beginning again but now with a perfect human. God saving Noah and he refilling the earth didn’t take away the natural consequence of humanity’s sin, it gave humanity another chance to find their true humanity. Having made the choice Adam and Eve did, and in them we learn it is a choice we all make, it showed that we are incapable of being our true selves and overcoming our bad choice on our own. God has made abundantly clear that in his realm he will not tolerate sin so humanity could not stand in his presence until the penalty was paid in full wiping sin from humanity. It’s not my plan, it’s God’s plan. We’ve been in argument ever since how to do that. Even when God tells us how that will be done we still argue: works versus grace. Because God knew we could not work ourselves back to his presence he had a plan to do it for us, Jesus Christ, but in that plan it did not take from us the need to clean ourselves up and learn and become who we truly are.

Timing? His timing is the bane—frustration, anxiety, unhappiness—of our existence. Why not then? Why not now? Why in the future? Our frustration is that we think of God as a magician who snaps his finger—if you want to think of Jesus’s death and resurrection as a mere snap—and all is well with my soul. This is us being lazy, but it gets us nowhere. This is why I primarily look at history as a linear progression and not just a spiraling cycle. While we are not to (because we can’t) work out our salvation we are to work out our true being, finding all that we are capable of doing and accomplishing and this comes with a progression, slow at first but rapidly gaining momentum. Now this is my explanation of timing based on my sense of what I read in the Bible and my sense of what I experience looking through history. The problem is that while we are technologically smarter we certainly not morally better. Now back to Keen.

“[T]raditional man may best be understood as homo admirans—wondering man. He accepted his life and his environment as a meaningful gift which filled him with admiration and gratitude, and responded actively by creating a community in harmony with patterns of meaning and value which he believed were homogenized into the cosmos. By contrast, modern man increasingly experiences himself in anxiety as the sole value-creating force in what is still called a uni-verse but what for many has become a chaotic multi-verse, devoid of intrinsic meaning.”

The idea Keen has is a bit mythological filled with that false sense that we moderns like to romanticize about the ancients as one with nature. They were and they weren’t. While in the Army while in Germany I was required to become a linguist in French. Seems silly when I was in Germany but what the American people didn’t know was that because the Russians had so many tank divisions in East Germany and Czechoslovakia it was determined by military that if the Russians invaded West Germany they couldn’t be stopped and we in the Special Forces would be flown to France and fight our way back into Germany. So for a couple of months every day I would spend in French study and when I walked in I couldn’t speak any English and the first French words I learned were Qu’est que c’est; what is this? In essence everything was new and open for discovery.

As Jews and Christians we believe that the first Homo sapiens to populate the earth were Adam and Eve. Evolutionary science wants us to believe that Homo sapiens came from monkeys or chimps and what came from whatever was before that that came out of the goo of the earth. And this didn’t happen in one place but magically happened in several different places. Is the creation story in the Bible a mythological account handed down verbally through the ages to make the Hebrews feel good about themselves?

From the Smithsonian about humans they tell us: “The species that you and all other living human beings on this planet belong to is Homo sapiens. During a time of dramatic change 300,000 years ago, Homo sapiens evolved in Africa. Like other early humans that were living at this time, they gathered and hunted food, and evolved behaviors that helped them respond to the challenges of survival and unstable environments.” Homo sapiens is Latin for “wise man” and was introduced in 1758 by Carl Linnaeus. The “other” humans is probably a reference to the fact that we have learned of other places we can trace Homo sapiens, not just Africa. Is it an absolute binary choice between Adam and Eve and the creatures from the goo? Is the Adam and Eve story, as St. Augustine writes in his very large tome, Genesis, a metaphor and not actually history? Why did Moses, or whoever wrote the first four books, begin with the creation story and it took only three chapters to do it and actually the first chapter is the bones of creation, the other two chapters fill in the flesh of those bones? I’ve already argued that it is rather silly of us to make these three chapters a scientific expose on creation.

We know the story of Jacob’s son, Joseph who was sold by his brothers and ended up in Egypt and became a confident to the Pharaoh and because of the coming famine he foretold was able to bring his whole family to live in Egypt to be spared the famine. Jacob had twelve sons and we are told he had seventy servants and all ended up in Egypt, first as guests, then as slaves. Let’s say for argument’s sake that a hundred Hebrews ended up in Egypt and over 250 years later were a million plus that would be those who escaped Egypt. Remember that “Hebrew” nor “Jew” is an ethnicity. It all began with Abram who was most likely a Babylonian and his descendant line by the time it got to Jacob included peoples from the Near East to include Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, and others some of whom came into Abraham’s family and part of his descendants. In fact, Moses’s wife was a Cushite. All these nationalities who came into the family came with histories of their gods, and there was always the influence from the Egyptian gods filtering into the mix, to include the monotheistic God of Abraham, Yahweh. We know them all as Hebrews and they identified themselves as Hebrews and Yahweh, however much diluted, was their God. After their escape we see this as a real problem and I believe that the Pentateuch was written to clean out the dilution and reform under one God, and it begins with the fact that God, Yahweh, was real, was the only One, from whom all things came into being in contrast to all the mythologies that have been in their thinking. This was its singular purpose. It is clear that all non-living things, and all living things came from the hand of God, there was no one outside God who created because there was nothing outside Yahweh. And that the earth was created for us and that we were created special, “in the image” of God, something no other creature has.

So is Genesis 1 a historical fact as presented or a historical metaphor, truthful but not encyclopedic? There are those who believe it is and those who don’t know for sure. Why wasn’t God more clear? I don’t know. Ask him. Even if we think the creation story is true, but a metaphor, it still tells us that nothing was created outside God so if, and whoever those Homo sapiens encountered outside that Jewish history box are, they were still created by Yahweh just as Adam and Eve were.

Whether we are speaking of Adam and Eve or those outside the Garden, in essence, as Keen writes, they would still be Homo admirans, wondering man. When they woke up to the reality that they were alive, everything they encountered would be a surprise creating puzzlement, then leading to admiration. What they saw around them would be more harmony than chaos and in their own growing community they would recreate what they experienced because they saw it was good. Keen writes about their experience: “[R]eality is a unified totality; its harmony is complex; and rhythmic, and some sacred power creative of value is at work at the heart of nature, man, and society.”

Again, in case you’ve forgotten, I’m looking at man finding God in nature before they ever hear the name Yahweh, or Jesus. Their first experience is nature, God’s nature and they know, even though they can’t explain it in words, it all fits together, again harmony over chaos. They also understand its complexity and part of the complex is that behind the seen there must be an unseen that stitches it all together in harmony. And lastly, Keen writes, early humans find rhythm in life that could only come from a sacred power. He gives us an example of what he means in “the idea of mana (a Polynesian concept that there is a humanlike force or agency in all things), which was widespread in primal cultures. To say that all things had mana was a concrete way of affirming that at all levels of reality the same principle or power functioned as they knew in human life.”

This is foreign to many of us because we live in sophisticated cities, man-made cities and our minds only travel as far as creator man. In our culture God and the Bible has always been a part of us, though today there is a real movement to get rid of both, to deny its historical part of our life. But ancient humans wherever they were predominantly stared into the face of God, may not have wholly understood what they were seeing but understood there was more than what they saw.

Don’t facetiously make this a scene where the natives are sitting in a circle in the forest singing kumbaya and like Ferdinand the bull are sitting around smelling the flowers, one with nature, one with God, one with themselves. At times we’ve tried to kind of paint this picture as we falsely contrast their being at peace with our being at war with everything. Kevin Costner played Lieutenant John Dunbar in his 1990 movie Dances With Wolves where a Civil War soldier develops a relationship with a band of Lakota Indians. Attracted by the simplicity of their lifestyle, he chooses to leave his former life behind to be with them. They were all about peace, the white man wasn’t. The other night I was watching a movie about people living in the “wild” and out of the blue the phrase “they only kill what they need” was tossed in even though it wasn’t part of the story. We do mythologize the so-called earth people who weren’t all that at peace with each other and their world and respected nature. It’s our myth, not their life. This doesn’t excuse our bad, but let’s be real, we are all bad.

The last thing I’m going to bring up from Keen, and I practically underlined every word in his book so I could go the whole distance here, is the concept of harmony of the cosmos. Merriam-Webster defines cosmos as 1, the universe; 2, an orderly harmonious systematic universe, and 3, order, harmony. I can tell you through experience, living in the city almost destroys thinking in terms of cosmos. What do we in the city know of the universe. I can tell you that living in Southern California at night I can see the moon, a couple of planets, and several stars, and beyond that I know nothing as I look into the night sky. Those who live in the city all their lives and never leave it have a seriously eclipsed view and understanding of the cosmos. It’s one of the things I hate about the city, so much of my life is disconnected from the hugeness, the vastness, the massiveness of the universe. Outside the city where I can experience all that my mind is free to travel on forever, but in the city it often slams against a low-hanging blankness.

For the ancients their canvas was filled with awe and wonder, and this gave them massive clues to life. Keen writes, “Life for the primal man, then, was one. His environment was not a neutral envelope but a cosmos having the same structure and potency as he experienced in himself.” Today our periodic table has 118 elements. “An element is a substance whose atoms all have the same number of protons: another way of saying this is that all of a particular element’s atoms have the same atomic number. Elements are chemically the simplest substances and hence cannot be broken down using chemical reactions. “Almost 99% of the mass of the human body is made up of six elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. Only about 0.85% is composed of another five elements: potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium. All 11 are necessary for life.” Now let’s look at a star, something I rarely see in the city. “Stars shine by burning hydrogen into helium in their cores, and later in their lives create heavier elements. Most stars have small amounts of heavier elements like carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and iron, which were created by stars that existed before them.”

Why have I stopped to look at the elements, those that make up humans and those that make up stars? Because everything seen is composed of the same elements, different in number and element, but everything is made from them, everything in the earth and on the earth and everything in the heavens, above the earth. Evolutionary science wants us to believe that hyper-packed in that elusive ball that exploded into a big bang sending all those elements out created everything we see today. I’m not saying there wasn’t a so-called big bang, though there are reputable scientists who dispute that. I’ve often said this about God: he has a full pallet of colors—let’s say 118 colors—and with those colors he paints the earth, all that is in it, and all that is above it. In other words, God doesn’t just speak “Let there be . . .” and “wham-o-slamo” it magically appears, but the logos uses those 118 elements and forms what we read in Genesis 1. We moderns through science have discovered the makeup of things and have declared, “That is all there is to it.”