Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
The Quaker movement had its initial ancestral moment -- in the state religion of a Middle Eastern monarchy -- that traced its legendary origin to a people first enslaved in Egypt, then rescued -- by God's (figurative) outstretched arm to settle in the dry Palestinian hills.
For these people (and their neighbors) there was no distinction between politics and religion. A god was the spiritual head of a people; a people was the human property of its god.
Our civilization drew its formative understanding of God from the traditions of this one people -- who shared and exchanged religious concepts with all the civilizations around them, yet somehow came to realize that their god was also the living Soul of the Universe, the consciousness within each human being, the ultimate power and intention behind all human history.
They came to understand God as being ultimately 'political' as well as 'spiritual' -- because the revelations they received over the centuries emphatically described God as being intensely concerned with the welfare of human beings and with how we treat each other, both individually and collectively.
Jesus, whom most of us claim to follow... drew his emphasis on ethical matters from that same tradition, emphasizing elements of it that many Jews still continue to consider central.
And all of it has its origins in that legendary experience of enslavement and liberation. The slaves of the American South had no trouble finding that connection, though their masters seemed entirely oblivious to it.
This, if you will have it, is "politics." Modern Americans are increasingly ceasing to understand what it has to do with religion. Yet God evidently considered it a necessary starting point.
A question that stuck with me, from the synagogue where I studied briefly: "Why did God harden Pharaoh's heart?" (This doesn't necessarily call for a simple answer, does it?)
But even more to the point, it seems to me tonight: "Why would God need to subject a people to slavery -- to teach them the spiritual meaning of 'politics'?"
Hello Forrest. It has been a VERY long time.
I think the key to answering your final question here is in a word used in your very first sentence, "legendary". The story of the Exodus is a story which formed the cultural DNA of a people, and the Christian faith inherited much of that cultural DNA, and then the Quaker movement cherry picked the cultural DNA of Christianity. Consequently, the power of the story belongs to it being a story and it being formative for people and not for its historicity. Asking then, "Why would God need to subject a people to slavery?" in regards to the Exodus is a little bit like asking, "Why does everyone want the Maltese Falcon?". The answer is, without it — no story.
The story emerged around campfires and tribal meets in a time when the peoples who would eventually become Israel were connected only by similar language, and a vague notion of a common ancestor named Abraham. It helped to form a community consciousness as they built a nation together. Writing it down and making its scripture was likely part of a process too, as the intellectual and power elites of that nation were dragged into bondage in Babylon they needed a story like Exodus to hold onto.
Okay, this became one people's legend because it served a cultural purpose for that people at that time.
It was picked up by neighboring peoples because it served their cultural purposes -- and stirred their imaginations, of course. DNA doesn't get transmitted if the critter that produces it dies. It serves a function or it goes the way of Gilgamesh.
And like physical DNA, cultural DNA can serve new purposes as the creature it belongs to develops; it can come to serve even more purposes if it's picked up by the cells of some other creature.
But the premise of this material, which I know to be true, is that 'God' is not merely 'an experience.'
People come to know God the same way we come to know anything else, by experienced phenomena and through inferences from what we experience. So for people who don't experience God messing with their lives, the whole thing can seem utterly theoretical and unreal, too abstract to apply to anything they know.
Thus the experiencing is a necessary ingredient -- but people don't experience anything without interpretation going on as well. Leaves move in the wind; but we know from experience that the wind and the air moving around us are more than something we make up to account for wiggly leaves...
Something moves us and speaks to us through this legendary stuff; and that Something has intentions.
So, okay, you don't get Moses without you've got Joseph somewhere back in the plotline. But we have it from Jesus that it's our Daddy telling us this bedtime story. What was He trying to tell us? -- and why are our hearts (and minds) so hardened?
Forrest Curo said:
But the premise of this material, which I know to be true, is that 'God' is not merely 'an experience.'
I think this is an important statement.
When I read the so-called Christian mystics I find people struggling to answer the question, "How do I pray when God has taken away my religious experiences?" But when I hear moderns talk about mysticism — even the academics who I would assume you know better than this, I find people trying to ask technological question: "how do I pray in such a way as to engineer religious experiences?"
And what I like about what you have said is you recognize that there's two senses in which there is religious experience. There are those blinding moments on Mount Tabor, which seem to point to the transcendence of God but at the same time, as you remind us, God is more than those experiences. And the trouble with those experiences is — what you do when they're over?
But the second sense of the word experience, is just the day to day living in this world and trying to be faithful. This sense of the word experience is about wisdom. About the practical knowledge of how to live as if God really is the Lord God and Jesus his Christ our Living Teacher and Lord. And especially how do we live in that way when all of the data of our senses scream a different message?
Forrest Curo said:
What was He trying to tell us? -- and why are our hearts (and minds) so hardened?
It's might be overly simplistic and even a little old school. But there is the old communication theory model. It comes out of the old shortwave radios where there was all this static in the background as we were trying to communicate over the primitive broadcast media. There is the message and then there's the noise.
We have a culture that loves the noise. Which seems peculiar given that we've created communications media that cleans so much of the static head of the transmission. Now the noise is the number of messages broadcasting at the same time and our little brains cannot handle it.
The challenge, I gather -- is for people to live as if we truly realized what we know in our deepest hearts. Not so much to "love without the help of anything on Earth" -- but to love despite the protective reflexes continually stirred by an often-harsh & intrusive psychic environment. To remain God's lambs despite the ongoing need for a serpent's sort of wisdom.
"A culture that loves the noise" is an ADD culture. And ADD, it turns out, is a condition in which the easy flow of love & attention between parent and child, that ancient goo-goo-gah-gah bonding dance -- has been derailed by a parent's chronic emotional distress at a crucial time in a child's development. How common would you say that's become in this culture?
The child's emotional control is then slow to develop fine-tuning, but frequently reduces to a choice between overwhelm and mechanical indifference (aka "hatred" as our Biblical ancestors would have termed it.) Attention becomes difficult to focus, as our mind acquires "a mind of its own." As Gabor Mate described the condition, he spoke of growing up in fear of "being left alone with my own mind."
So the noise masking the message -- may be 'loved', but what's crucial is that it becomes an addiction.
Stephen Gaskin used to say that attention was psychic energy. We're nourished by receiving it -- and we're nourished in a deeper sense by devoting it to something. It works best as a gifting, an interchange of giving and receiving. People are depleted, instead, by squirting it all out into the flow of newsporn... and into a continual media feast of outlets for habitual catharsis... and yet the appetite for this seems endless.
Intelligence doesn't necessarily save us; everyone's a sucker for a story that pushes our buttons. We use the minds we're given -- in the service of our addictions, not (readily) for giving them up.
How long, how -- to wake from this dream?
Talking about dealing with difficult children -- and with the difficult selves we've typically become, Mate said that the important thing was to re-form the bonds that had been broken. Not just to change behavior, but to reaffirm that the child mattered more than temporary inconveniences and embarrassments -- to re-establish a relationship in which it felt more natural to behave well. Does this sound, a little, like something Jesus was talking about?
QUOTE - Forrest Curo: A question that stuck with me, from the synagogue where I studied briefly: "Why did God harden Pharaoh's heart?" (This doesn't necessarily call for a simple answer, does it?)
My finding is that the Bible and God are being misunderstood because it only means that Pharaoh's heart was hardened because Pharaoh did not like the name of God.
This would be like me mentioning the name of Hillary Clinton or of Donald Trump and many people harden their hearts based on those names, and yet that does not mean that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh but that Pharaoh hardened his own heart because of the name of God.
See Exodus 8:15 ~ But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as Yahweh had said.
In other verses it is the translation and interpretation that it is worded in such a way that it looks like God was pulling some strings inside the body of Pharaoh to make his heart do as God wanted, but really that is a misguided interpretation.
Exodus 7:3 ~ And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt.
Pharaoh hardened his own heart based on hearing the name of the Hebrew God.
As goes Donald Trump who will harden the hearts of many people when he become the US President.
QUOTE - Forrest Curo: But even more to the point, it seems to me tonight: "Why would God need to subject a people to slavery -- to teach them the spiritual meaning of 'politics'?"
I do not have such a perfect answer for this as I do for the other question above here, but I do know that the words translated in the old Hebrew text did NOT mean what the modern English language means by "slaves" and "slavery". The old words would be more accurately translated as "employee" and "employment" and it does need to be interpreted based on its correct meaning.
This has been confirmed by archaeology that the Pyramids were NOT built by slaves - no - the Pyramids were built by professional craftsman (by employees).
So even if we go by the Bible text itself then the Hebrews (children of Israel) were first in Egypt as friends and as welcomed guest along with their Patriarch Joseph being the high rank official, and Joseph lived to be 120 years old which that might subtract 100 years from the total 430 years in Egypt, and then it took the Egyptians a long time to forget about their loyalty to Joseph, and so maybe the "persecution" was not so very long as many try to dramatize it.
Exodus 1:8 ~ Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph.
It would seem like it would take a very long long time before they would forget Joseph before any persecution started, which means it might have been just the last few years out of the 430 years.
Ancient slavery is not modern slavery...and certainly could entail considerable delegated power, as in Joseph's case -- which would not have endeared Joseph to "the Egyptians," at least not all of them, considering that the eventual result of his policies was that they reportedly had to turn over everything they owned to Pharaoh just to stay alive.
Pharaoh's initial problem may not have been: 'How to store up several years worth of crops for reserves, so I can squeeze out maximum prices when times get bad?' -- but "How do I get this foreigner to take the rap for imposing that policy?"
Modern 'employee' status may come close to ancient slavery in that many people can't afford to say 'I quit!' -- and in some places end up in literal slavery for lack of any better available options.
But even limited forms of slavery have this in common with imprisonment: Somebody else decides where and when you can get out.
Yes, the pyramids are not supposed to have been built with slave labor. But I'm sure the Egyptians had lots of other little odd jobs they were happy to make someone else do.
"Let my people go!" implies that someone was not letting them leave.
"Hardened his heart" didn't mean, as we might think, "turned cold & nasty" -- but rather, "strengthened his resolve". That is: Something would set Pharaoh back; he'd wimp out and offer to let his Hebrew employees walk off the job -- and then he'd get his courage back & refuse.
The story says that all of this was God's doing. Why?
I was under the impression that you wanted an answer to the question, and now I see you already have your own determined and preconceived answers.
So I still stand by what I said above in my last comment to be accurate and true, for anyone who might want to know.
I certainly am not now going to get drawn into another new preconceived questioning game.
I think James that thee and Forrest are NOT necessarily at odds here.
Firstly, that the folks involved were not slaves in the modern (I take it your mean US pre-Emancipation proclamation) sense needs to be self-evident -- the socio-economic structures are different. Which means they were "employees" in the modern sense for much the same reasons. What we need is a historian/social-anthropologist with a specialty in ancient cultures to explicate these matters. I am not one such.
Secondly, we have no reason (other than church and later Jewish tradition) for presuming that the Hebrews built the pyramids. No hard data and no references to the same in scripture. Giza got built with stone blocks and if as you point out (and I think I have heard before) the builders were free artisans. The most likely candidates would then be Egyptians acting as an act of devotion to their pharaoh and their gods.
Thirdly, the Hebrews - whatever they were building were working with mud mixed with straw. Most likely then they were not building monuments but a city.
So Forrest could be right about them being slaves (i.e., oppressed people with limited self-determination) and you can still be right about they pyramid builders being free.
The story itself was probably not originally about 'the Hebrews' but about the Levites, ie the only tribe of Israel in which Egyptian names were common -- but a very influential group, given that they were the priestly caste.
Many details were probably added in the time when 'Israel' -- ie the northern Tribes -- seceded from the Judean monarchy after Solomon, ie when the major issue was whether his foolish son would negotiate about the forced labor being imposed on these other tribes. That 'slavery' would be the point of the story at the time, not whatever conditions had been imposed on those Israelites who'd once been in Egyptian hands.
But that motif was central to Israel's sense of who they were supposed to be... How come?
Are you familiar with a tract by recorded minister Job Scott, "On Salvation" [http://www.qhpress.org/texts/jobscott]? He begins with one of the sayings of Jesus, that whoever does the will of God is the brother or sister or mother of Jesus. He ends by reflecting on the Christmas narrative — essentially suggesting that we give birth to Christ as we become faithful. Isaac Pennington actually makes similar comments throughout his tracts. The light is called the seed because it is so small that it can be ignored grows as we submit to it.
This notion permeates the Scriptures even to its earliest points. Consider when the Israelite army is preparing for battle against the Canaanite force and they draw lots and send what amounts to the majority of the Israelite warriors home so that they will go up against a greater force and yet they win. Over and over it is in weakness the strength of God appears.
Just for the record:
I did not say that the Hebrews built the Pyramids - what I did say is that we know that the Pyramids were not built by slaves and so this tells us what the Egyptian style was, and so there is no evidence to suggest that the Hebrews were anything otherwise then just construction employees, and the words "slaves" and "slavery" are inaccurate English translations.
So God did NOT turn the Hebrews into slaves or into slavery, even if the Egyptians did later turn against the Hebrews.
Second and more importantly is that the belief that God some how reached down into the heart of Pharaoh to make the Pharaoh to do wrong - is a gross misunderstanding of both God and of human beings.
The Bible goes on to tell how God liked the heart of David, and God did not pull any strings in David's heart, and again in the Bible it tells that God will take away the "stony heart" from mankind - see link HERE.
So Pharaoh hardened his own heart against God, and otherwise is to view God as some master manipulator.