Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Matt 24 Watch, 74: "Watch out that no one deceives you . . . "

Today, we need to address a neglected aspect of the church's serious business of un-deception.

The title for this post [and the wider series that now reaches post no. 74] comes from Matt 24:4, where in context we see a conversation between Jesus and his disciples during the Passion Week, as events raced to their climax on that fateful first Good Friday:
MT 24:1 Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 "Do you see all these things?" he asked. "I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."

MT 24:3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?"

MT 24:4 Jesus answered:
"Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, `I am the Christ, ' and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.

MT 24:9 "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and
many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
In short, there are three major signs of the end of our age and the second coming of our Lord:
[1] the rise of mass deception,

[2] spreading tidal waves of chaos in nature, society and the political world,

[3] the countervailing inexorable communication of the gospel to all nations.
All three of these are increasingly present in our time.

In order to effectively go about the third -- the
real sign of the end, and our primary mandate as the church -- we must be able to handle the disrupting, distracting, confusing and damaging implications of the first two. And, given the way the factors involved in the second sign tend to work together, it should not surprise us that desperate people wanting explanations, hope and rescue will be very vulnerable to political, ideological and religious pseudo-messianism as major contexts for the spreading of entangling deceptions.

Indeed, even science itself -- as we have seen in recent posts -- too often becomes captive to ideology, and serves the cause of deception.

So, we see that the business of "un-deception" (as C S Lewis termed it in his collection of essays on Undeceptions) becomes a key part of the gospel-based spiritual warfare that we must engage.

Also, if we are to be faithful in contending for the faith once for all delivered to the saints, we have no alternative but to engage deception where it lives. And, the habitat for deception is often at the nexus of science, falsely so called, ideology, the politics of false hopes and -- as Rev 13 points out -- with false or apostate religion in close support.

That immediately means that a relevant presentation of the gospel -- one that cuts across the popular deceptions of any time and place -- will necessarily be in part controversial. Thus, it will be resented, rejected and opposed by those who naively set their hopes on or calculatingly hope to profit by deception.

So, it is no wonder that Jesus warns of of hostility, persecution and falling away from the faith!

So also, as times race to the culmination of the age of the gospel, we face increasingly intense worldview war, with the serious possibility of persecution, suffering and even martyrdom. (Let us not forget that Stephen was both the first Christian Apologist and -- precisely because "they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke" [Ac 6:10] -- the first martyr.)

The Amplified rendering of 2 Cor 10:4 - 5 is especially plain on a key facet of that warfare:

2 Cor 10:4For the weapons of our warfare are not physical [weapons of flesh and blood], but they are mighty before God for the overthrow and destruction of strongholds,

5[Inasmuch as we] refute arguments and theories and reasonings and every proud and lofty thing that sets itself up against the [true] knowledge of God; and we lead every thought and purpose away captive into the obedience of Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One),

I find it interesting that we often tend to over-"spiritualise" this passage, through an over-emphasis on the spirituality of the weapons involved. But plainly, the main issues are those of breaking the power of lies and opening the door to the liberating en-light-enment of the gospel.

But, doesn't it talk about leading "every throught away captive into the obedience of Christ?

But of course: to be captive to the truth, not the error is the ironic path of true intellectual and moral freedom!

To see that, it is illuminating to read Col 2:3 in the NIV: ". . . Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."

In short, Christ is Truth himself, and Reason himself; manifested to us with power by the resurrection from the dead, with over five hundred eyewitnesses and awesome supernatural resurrection power shown in the transforming impact of the gospel, right down to today. So, the church's task embraces that courageous prophetic intellectual and cultural leadership that targets the critical cracks in the foundation of deceptive worldviews, then proclaims, explains, correctively warrants and calls for appropriate response to the truth.

Paul's opening words to the Athenian intellectuals in Acts 17 are an iconic, classic example:
AC 17:22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you . . .
Here, the proud guardians of the West's intellectual, artistic and democratic traditions had been honest enough to literally build a monument to their ignroance on the single most important point of all knowledge: God. And, in passing through the Agora that was yet haunted by the ghost of Socrates, the Areopagites met there a man preaching and discussing what it meant with passersby; similar to what the founder of Western Philosophy had been wont to.

Now, the Areopagites of Paul's day were disciples of Socrates, not like their forebears who had unjustly put him to death for being an intellectual gadfly. But, Paul seemed to them to be a half-baked intellectual seed-plucker purveying half-understood ideas:
Ac 17:18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, "What is this babbler [spermologos] trying to say?" Others remarked, "He seems to be advocating foreign gods." They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.
At least, they had the basic "brought-up-cy" to be civil to him, expressing that civlility with a subtle urbanity that reflects well on their sophistication and schooling:
Ac 17:19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean."
Of course -- as we just saw -- they got a lot more than the intellectual titillation they bargained for. For, with his opening words, he laid bare the key crack in their whole system of thought and life. Then, he spoke to the God who is our Creator, and who has not left us without an adequate witness to his divine nature and moral requirements, as Romans 1 - 2 so eloquently amplifies.

Then, as he brought his challenge to the Athenian intellectuals to a climax, Paul remarked:
AC 17:26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 `For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, `We are his offspring.'

AC 17:29 "Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone--an image made by man's design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.
He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead."
Paul also sets out the challenging ethical standard for Christian preaching and persuasion:
2 Cor 4:1Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.2Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
A sobering challenge. And, the marker of the border between a proper call to repentance, renewal of heart mind and life, and reformation of the community, culture, civilisation and its institutions, and deceptive manipulation, distortion and brainwashing.

Indeed, this brings back to mind the shock I felt when some twenty years ago, I first studied the Schein-Lewin model of change as a social-psychological process, in the context of having to address a manipulative sect preying on students in my university. For, that model shows that change rests on a basic, fairly simple process, one that is common to many, many situations, ranging from the innocuous and inconsequential to the utterly destructive:
I --> FROZEN: Normally, our social and institutional environment tends to lock us into roles, expectations, perceptions and relationships. that may be a happy experience, or an entrapping one that we find hard to escape.

II --> UNFREEZING: If one is isolated from that matrix, physically, situationally, emotionally, or by its real or imagined collapse, one finds oneself disoriented and open to . . .

III --> CHANGING: Based on the example of others in a new situation, or on "discovering" and using then internalising messages and models for a new way of operating that seems to work "better," one is induced to move to a new way of thinking, relating, speaking and acting. (Too often, the new messages and models are "conveniently" available, and their limitations, gaps or fallacies are even more "conveniently" neatly suppressed.)

IV --> REFREEZING: Over time, the new way may gel, setting itself in a locked-in condition similar to the old. This may be based in part on a new set of views and values, or it may simply be a sustained response to the imperative to get along with the powerful and thus survive and if possible thrive in a new situation.
The shocking part is that such processes can equally happen in beneficial, high-integrity ways, or in destructive, deceptive, manipulative ones. Indeed, the real difference between repentance and renewal on one hand and outright brainwashing on the other is in the integrity of the process and its leaders. A high integrity change process respects people, and acts in light of the truth and the right (as well as the struggle we all have to consistently do the truth and the right).

Manipulative change processes, by contrast, use deception, indoctrinate the naive and trusting with half-truths, suppress material truth that would lead people to make a better -- but not so agenda-serving decision -- and, in general, show themselves in a ruthlessness that disrespects people and the Rom 13:8 - 10 duty to do no harm as a key expression of neighbour-love. The Gramsci-Alinski Rules for Radicals methodology [in which US Presidential Candidate Mr Obama was trained, as Alinski's son testifies], unfortunately, abundantly (and highly relevantly) illustrates the latter. And, in light of its evident impact on our region, we must address it. So, we now turn to this highly relevant example of the challenge we face.

First, the Hoover Institution in a 2001 policy study on "Why there is a Culture War," aptly sums up the Neo-Marxist (surprise! -- NOT . . .) way of thought of Antonio Gramsci, the key theoretician:

Gramsci’s main legacy arises through his departures from orthodox Marxism. Like Marx, he argued that all societies in human history have been divided into two basic groups: the privileged and the marginalized, the oppressor and the oppressed, the dominant and the subordinate. Gramsci expanded Marx’s ranks of the "oppressed" into categories that still endure. As he wrote in his famous Prison Notebooks, "The marginalized groups of history include not only the economically oppressed, but also women, racial minorities and many ‘criminals.’" What Marx and his orthodox followers described as "the people," Gramsci describes as an "ensemble" of subordinate groups and classes in every society that has ever existed until now. This collection of oppressed and marginalized groups — "the people" — lack unity and, often, even consciousness of their own oppression. To reverse the correlation of power from the privileged to the "marginalized," then, was Gramsci’s declared goal.

Power, in Gramsci’s observation, is exercised by privileged groups or classes in two ways: through domination, force, or coercion; and through something called "hegemony," which means the ideological supremacy of a system of values that supports the class or group interests of the predominant classes or groups. Subordinate groups, he argued, are influenced to internalize the value systems and world views of the privileged groups and, thus, to consent to their own marginalization.

Far from being content with a mere uprising, therefore, Gramsci believed that it was necessary first to delegitimize the dominant belief systems of the predominant groups and to create a "counter-hegemony" (i.e., a new system of values for the subordinate groups) before the marginalized could be empowered. Moreover, because hegemonic values permeate all spheres of civil society -- schools, churches, the media, voluntary associations -- civil society itself, he argued, is the great battleground in the struggle for hegemony, the "war of position." From this point, too, followed a corollary for which Gramsci should be known (and which is echoed in the feminist slogan) — that all life is "political." Thus, private life, the work place, religion, philosophy, art, and literature, and civil society, in general, are contested battlegrounds in the struggle to achieve societal transformation.

. . . . Marx had argued that for revolutionary social transformation to be successful, the world views of the predominant groups must first be unmasked as instruments of domination. In classical Marxism, this crucial task of demystifying and delegitimizing the ideological hegemony of the dominant groups is performed by intellectuals. Gramsci, more subtly, distinguishes between two types of intellectuals: "traditional" and "organic." What subordinate groups need, Gramsci maintains, are their own "organic intellectuals." However, the defection of "traditional" intellectuals from the dominant groups to the subordinate groups, he held, is also important, because traditional intellectuals who have "changed sides" are well positioned within established institutions.

The metaphysics, or lack thereof, behind this Gramscian worldview are familiar enough. Gramsci describes his position as "absolute historicism," meaning that morals, values, truths, standards and human nature itself are products of different historical epochs. There are no absolute moral standards that are universally true for all human beings outside of a particular historical context; rather, morality is "socially constructed."

. . . . All of Gramsci’s most innovative ideas -- for example, that dominant and subordinate groups based on race, ethnicity, and gender are engaged in struggles over power; that the "personal is political"; and that all knowledge and morality are social constructions -- are assumptions and presuppositions at the very center of today’s politics. So too is the very core of the Gramscian-Hegelian world view — group-based morality, or the idea that what is moral is what serves the interests of "oppressed" or "marginalized" ethnic, racial, and gender groups.

If that sounds in part familiar adn insightful, but also in part dangerous and potentially deceptive, it should.

For, we see that the ethical controls on the change process have been taken out through a resort to ethical relativism.

In short, might makes right, so it is only a question of whether the establishment or the insurgents have the bigger rhetorical and socio-cultural firepower and impact. Indeed, we see here the key idea that the "oppressed" are inherently the ones who hold the moral high ground, and that their (perceived) interests define morality.

In light of the dynamics and issues over change highlighted through the Lewin-Schein "ice Cube" change-model, that should raise serious warning flags.

Saul Alinski, the Chicago-based practitioner, teacher, movement and institution-builder turned Gramsci's principles into a tested, ruthlessly effective community-based socio-political strategy. Andy and Berit Kjos provide a helpful summary, excerpting and commenting on Alinski's 1971 Rules for Radicals:

"True revolutionaries do not flaunt their radicalism, Alinsky taught. They cut their hair, put on suits and infiltrate the system from within. Alinsky viewed revolution as a slow, patient process. The trick was to penetrate existing institutions such as churches, unions and political parties....

In this book we are concerned with how to create mass organizations to seize power and give it to the people; to realize the democratic dream of equality, justice, peace.... "Better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.' This means revolution." p.3

"An organizer working in and for an open society is in an ideological dilemma to begin with, he does not have a fixed truth -- truth to him is relative and changing; everything to him is relative and changing.... To the extent that he is free from the shackles of dogma, he can respond to the realities of the widely different situations or society presents." pp.10-11

"The end is what you want, the means is how you get it. Whenever we think about social change, the question of means and ends arises. The man of action views the issue of means and ends in pragmatic and strategic terms. He has no other problem; he thinks only of his actual resources and the possibilities of various choices of action. He asks of ends only whether they are achievable and worth the cost; of means, only whether they will work. ... The real arena is corrupt and bloody." p.24

"The means-and-ends moralists, constantly obsessed with the ethics of the means used by the Have-Nots against the Haves, should search themselves as to their real political position. In fact, they are passive — but real — allies of the Haves…. The most unethical of all means is the non-use of any means... The standards of judgment must be rooted in the whys and wherefores of life as it is lived, the world as it is, not our wished-for fantasy of the world as it should be." pp.25-26

"...the organizer is constantly creating new out of the old. He knows that all new ideas arise from conflict; that every time man as had a new idea it has been a challenge to the sacred ideas of the past and the present and inevitably a conflict has raged." p.79

"And so the guided questioning goes on without anyone losing face or being left out of the decision-making. Every weakness of every proposed tactic is probed by questions.... Is this manipulation? Certainly...." p.88

"From the moment the organizer enters a community he lives, dreams... only one thing and that is to build the mass power base of what he calls the army. Until he has developed that mass power base, he confronts no major issues.... Until he has those means and power instruments, his 'tactics' are very different from power tactics. Therefore, every move revolves around one central point: how many recruits will this bring into the organization, whether by means of local organizations, churches, service groups, labor Unions, corner gangs, or as individuals."

"Change comes from power, and power comes from organization." p.113

"The first step in community organization is community disorganization. The disruption of the present organization is the first step toward community organization. Present arrangements must be disorganized if they are to be displace by new patterns.... All change means disorganization of the old and organization of the new." p.116

"An organizer must stir up dissatisfaction and discontent... He must create a mechanism that can drain off the underlying guilt for having accepted the previous situation for so long a time. Out of this mechanism, a new community organization arises....

"The job then is getting the people to move, to act, to participate; in short, to develop and harness the necessary power to effectively conflict with the prevailing patterns and change them. When those prominent in the status quo turn and label you an 'agitator' they are completely correct, for that is, in one word, your functionto agitate to the point of conflict." p.117

This strategy was then broken down into rules for action:

1. "Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have."

2. "Never go outside the expertise of your people. When an action or tactic is outside the experience of the people, the result is confusion, fear and retreat.... [and] the collapse of communication.

3. "Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy. Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty. (This happens all the time. Watch how many organizations under attack are blind-sided by seemingly irrelevant arguments that they are then forced to address.)

4. "Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules. You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than t he Christian church can live up to Christianity."

5. "Ridicule is man's most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counteract ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage."

6. "A good tactic is one your people enjoy."

7. "A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag. Man can sustain militant interest in any issue for only a limited time...."

8. "Keep the pressure on, with different tactics and actions, and utilize all events of the period for your purpose."

9. "The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself."

10. "The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition. It is this unceasing pressure that results in the reactions from the opposition that are essential for the success of the campaign."

11. "If you push a negative hard and deep enough, it will break through into its counterside... every positive has its negative."

12. "The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative."

13. Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. In conflict tactics there are certain rules that [should be regarded] as universalities. One is that the opposition must be singled out as the target and 'frozen.' ... When your 'freeze the target,' you disregard these [rational but distracting] arguments and carry out your attack.... One acts decisively only in the conviction that all the angles are on one side and all the devils on the other." pp.127-134

The blogger's summary from yesterday's post is all too apt:

. . . lie, cheat, steal, etc., while making those with American principles live up to impossibly high standards of institutional altruism, so that we and our liberal government fail in ridicule. Preach "change" and gradually build an activist army of the proletariat, motivated by (short sighted) self interest, for a crescendoing revolt. All, to pave the way for the "egalitarian state." And funny thing, Alinsky's book tosses an acknowledgment to Lucifer, "the very first radical," a refreshing lapse into candor.

The ruthlessly manipulative, destructive, immoral -- indeed, a-moral -- nature of the above is plain. Unfortunately, it also sounds entirely too familiar, as we look around us at the tactics of many pressure groups, media-promoted agendas, and indeed even too much of in what now happens in the name of education.

In this context, as a warning flag, it is worth excerpting David Alinski's letter to the Boston Globe on the occasion of the just past Democratic Party Convention:

Barack Obama's training in Chicago by the great community organizers is showing its effectiveness. It is an amazingly powerful format, and the method of my late father always works to get the message out and get the supporters on board. When executed meticulously and thoughtfully, it is a powerful strategy for initiating change and making it really happen. Obama learned his lesson well.

I am proud to see that my father's model for organizing is being applied successfully beyond local community organizing to affect the Democratic campaign in 2008. It is a fine tribute to Saul Alinsky as we approach his 100th birthday.

John Perazzo amplifies:

Obama was trained by the Alinsky-founded Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) in Chicago and worked for an affiliate of the Gamaliel Foundation, whose modus operandi for the creation of “a more just and democratic society” is rooted firmly in the Alinsky method. As The Nation magazine puts it, “Obama worked in the organizing tradition of Saul Alinsky, who made Chicago the birthplace of modern community organizing.…” In fact, for several years Obama himself taught workshops on the Alinsky method. Obama and his fellow agitators made demands for many things in the Eighties, including taxpayer-funded employment-training services, playground construction, after-school programs, and asbestos removal from neighborhood apartments. Journalist and bestselling author Richard Poe writes: “In 1985 [Obama] began a four-year stint as a community organizer in Chicago, working for an Alinskyite group called the Developing Communities Project. Later, he worked with ACORN and its offshoot Project Vote, both creations of the Alinsky network.” (In recent years, Poe notes, both of those organizations have run nationwide voter-mobilization drives marred by allegations of fraudulent voter registration, vote-rigging, voter intimidation, and vote-for-pay scams.) The Nation reports, “Today Obama continues his organizing work largely through classes for future leaders identified by ACORN and the Centers for New Horizons on the south side.”

In short, we have a right to be concerned, even as the US moves into an election day with Mr Obama in an apparently commanding lead.

But, the Gramsci-Alinski methodology issue is not at all confined to the person or personality of Mr Obama. Indeed, his main Democratic Party rival, Mrs Clinton was also trained in the same methodology, as Perazzo and Phillips documented.

The issue is far wider than that, though: the same approach has now become a mainstream approach in all sorts of pressure groups and political or even educational movements. [Indeed, it is not a surprise to see that the openly unrepentant terrorist, William Ayers, is now a Chicago based Education professor.]

So, neo-Marxist political messianism -- not the only variety of this ever so seductive form of idolatry by any means, but an important one -- is plainly one of the challenges the gospel faces in our time.

A challenge we must equip ourselves to meet.

Putting that in different terms: Marxism, in mutated neo-forms, is back; and must again be decisively answered if the gospel is to move ahead. END

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