Saturday, September 30, 2006

On "Theocracy," 4: Why the venom?

Here, let us attempt the impossible -- for the answer to the question requires a broad-brush survey of global history over the past 2,600 years that is inevitably somewhat impressionistic and cartoonish. 

The justification for attempting the admittedly impossible, is that it is better to have such a sketchily skeletal but explicit survey in hand and then fill in nuances and corrective details as necessary, than to be the prisoner of an implicit unexamined world picture that keeps us in thrall to unstated, untested ignorance and prejudices. For, as the African National Congress' motto urges upon us, we should always seek to "understand the past, act in the present, build the future" -- a far better approach than Henry Ford's notorious dismissal: "history is bunk." 

The oddly prescient dream of Nebuchadnezzar of about 600 BC, as recorded in Daniel 2, is as good a jump-off point as any. Focusing on the geostrategically critical global cross-roads, the Middle East that bridges Asia, Europe and Africa, he was granted a view of four successive dominant kingdoms, culminating in what is unmistakably the Roman-Western power: an iron power that is infused with a strange iron-clay mix, and so is partly strong, partly weak, divided and irreconcilable yet dominant. 

And, in the days of these kings, a stone not cut out from human hands shatters the proud image, and represents the eternal kingdom of God that, from inauspicious beginnings, grows into a mountain filling the whole earth and standing forever. 

That brings us to a desperately compressed survey of forces, issues, themes, opportunities and challenges:
1] In AD 9, Roman forces suffered a decisive defeat in the Teutoburg Forest at the hands of Arminius and his German tribes, losing three legions led by Varus -- an irreplaceable loss at a critical point in history. Thus, the expansion of Roman civilisation into Germany was decisively stopped, and Rome was never able to shorten its vulnerable line on the Rhine, which would later become the invasion route of Germanic tribes that would destroy the Roman Empire in the West. [This also marks the point where German forces irreversibly injected the partly strong, partly weak, divided principle into the stream of Western culture.]
2] Into this unstable situation situation, at Athens, as recorded in Acts 17, there soon burst the prophetic, critical synthesis of Jerusalem, Athens and Rome led by Paul of Tarsus that would shape the way forward for Western culture. Before that, as Gibbons summed up acidly: the common peole thought that the stories of the gods were equally true; the philosophers, that they were equally false; the politicians, that they were equaly useful. Thus, we see the diverse, often conflicting streams of ideas that have marked the underlying fractiousness of Western culture ever since. [This is also a key point where the needs for freedom of inquiry and of conscience were underscored.]
3] Over several generations, in the face of opposition that ranged from criticism and scorn to outright bloody persecution, the Christian faith became the decisive influencing factor and hope for unity in an empire that was in fact fundamentally geostrategically unsound once we see the long defensive lines on the Rhine, the Danube and the Middle East, coupled to the weak economic and administrative foundation. By the turn of the 4th Century the empire reluctantly turned to the church as a way to find a unifying social fabric and made the decision to divide itself administratively into the Western and Eastern halves.
4] Over the nest several centuries, it often looked like all was lost: the romanisation and semi-paganisation of the church, the disintegration of the Western wing under the impact of German immigration and invasions, the rise of the second consciously global movement – Islam -- and the associated near conquest of the west, the disaster of the crusades as a series of counteroffensives, the dark night of learning under the impact of invasion, the Black Death plagues, and more.
5] So, circa 1400, if one looked at the three major civilisations poised for takeoff into the global era that would emerge in the next 100 years, we would have placed out bets on China, then Islamic civilisation, and only reluctantly on the late medieval Christendom. But after the passing of Cheng Ho's era, China turned inward. Islamic civilisation was at the world's cross roads, and though itself suffering overstretch, had no obvious interest in exploration as it controlled the key trade routes and profited from that handsomely.
6] But, at the turn of the C16, there was the decisive breakthrough to a truly global era. The emergent renaissance was sharply accelerated by the 1453 fall of Constantinople and the flight to the west of some of its leading scholars. The Iberians, having expelled their own Muslim invaders, voyaged out to the East and West, and stitched together the global world. The rise of printing and the troubled conscience of a German monk, Martin Luther, improbably combined to trigger the reformation, and through it the waves of liberation struggles that so materially contributed to the rise of modern liberty and democracy.
7] But also, we soon saw the inter-European struggles over religion, ideology, liberation and thrusts for power, plus colonialism and the western slave trade that so marked the next several centuries -- partly strong, partly weak, divided yet dominant. Also, the first truly global wave of Christian missions emerged over the next several centuries. 
8] Into this mix came the scientific revolution in the C17, and with it the rise of a successor to the Renaissance's humanism, the enlightenment. So, by the C19, the elites of Europe were largely fired by a post-Christian vision, though through the new experiment in self-Government, the United States, and its mother country, Britain, were especially restrained by the success of the English translations of the Bible, the liberation struggles inspired by largely biblical visions, and the waves of evangelical awakening that dominated the popular culture in the C18 and 19.
9] Across the C20, we see more of the same, but also the emergence of new patterns: four major global conflicts, the breakdown of the colonialist global pattern, the rise of a Southern Christian Reformation as the Christian Faith became increasingly owned by peoples of the emergent global South.
10] So, at the turn of C21, we see a West that is largely dominated by dechistianising forces, with the United States being a key battleground due to the lingering influence of forces unleashed by its own history and heritage from the reformation era. In the Middle East, Islam is resurgent, and the associated global subjugation ideology, Islamism, is on the march ever isnce about 1979. But, in the South, there is a surging new Southern Reformation, which is moving the centre of gravity of the Christian Faith south for the first time since the fall of North Africa to Islam in C7 - 8.
In that context, it is not hard to see why there is so much venom in the inner debates over the biblical heritage, and why there is a tendency on the part of the dechristianising forces in particular to be in denial over the threat posed by Islamism. It is therefore no surprise to see that the post-/hyper- modern progressivist secularists and their fellow travellers [the modernist apostates and the neopagans] are so focussed on the threat posed to their libertinism agenda by the resurgence of vibrant Christian faith in the United Statres, and the echoes from the ongoing Southern Christian reformation.

For, it is notorious that civil wars -- whether of ideas or shooting wars -- are the most vcicious. Further to this, the strange inability to see the threat posed by the Islamists is equally easily explained: in the dechristianisers' minds, they have bigger fish -- and more familiar fish -- to fry. 

But like the France of the 1930s that was so taken up by its inner struggles and issues that it failed to notice or act decisively on the mortal danger posed by Hitler, there is a plain need to recognise the seriousness of the external threat from the East. And, they also need to examine carefully the critical cracks in the foundation of their vaunted "scientific" evolutionary materialism; which is actually a self-contradictory philosophical worldview. END


Bart Nielsen said...

Thanks for the links on Arminius. You expanded some fuzzy areas in my historical understanding. (Now if you could expand on paragraph #3 for me, that would help even more. :) )

It is heartening to see the Reformation coming from the global South. My wife is from England and came to the Lord as a young adult in the Anglican church. As such when she came to America she went to the Episcopal church, fortunately landing in perhaps the most conservative congregation in Wisconsin. However the sad events of the last few years drove us out of the ECUSA. It is instructive to watch how those who guard the power centers of the ECUSA are so lacking in humility toward those bishops coming from places where it costs quite a bit to be a follower of Christ. Bring on those missionaries to America!

Gordon said...


You asked for a biggie. I gave a desperately compressed view of one part the decline of the Roman Empire. Wiki has a useful, fairly objective summary article here.

Gibbon's work is online here.

Hope these help.

My point is that the empire had VERY long defensive lines in Europe and the ME, with inadequate troops in the long run to hold them against the tide of the various enemies.

Second, the administration of a continent-scale empire in the days before railroad and telegraphy was credibly impossible. [That is what made the USA as we know it possible!]

Third, the economic and tax base were not compatible with the scale of required effort across time, as was probably the general level of technology to underpin the economy.

Then, the hostility to the novel superstition from Palestine was so great that they cast about for every alernative before reluctantly concluding that if you can't beat them, and can't do without them, join them. [Some would add, not without some merit: then corrupt them.]

So by the time of Constantine, the East and West were administratively divided. There were supposed to be two Augustii and two Caesars, the junior understudies. Constantine started as a junior but through civil wars ended up as the honcho. He went to Byzantium as a more geostrategically sound capital than Rome and from then on Rome was marginal. [That the East laster for 1,000 years longer than teh W is testimony to the soundness of that decision.]

Trust that slight expansion helps your reading!

Bart Nielsen said...

Thanks Gordon!

Gordon Mullings said...