Month: July 2017

Why America Will Never Work

Why America Will Never Work

The more I meditate on the spiritual landscape of the United States, the more I am convinced that its political framework is wired to fail repeatedly; a pendulum that will never stop swinging. It is set up to provoke continuous civil wars with no real lasting solutions, because everyone gets to have a say, no matter how stupid they might be. Sometimes there is silence in the American fields. The crime rate gets low, the economy pseudo-stabilizes with quantitative easing, certain laws are put in place to give the illusion of victory, a “good” president is elected, etc. However, when the country seems suddenly silent, it isn’t because there is peace, it is because the factions are reloading their weapons.

The United States was founded by Protestant theists and deists who wanted to rebel against all authority and apply their Enlightenment ideology (largely borrowed from the Protestant Reformation) to politics. Individualism became synonymous with freedom and liberty, and freedom and liberty became synonymous with Divine Providence. Practically speaking, ‘Freedom’ means I can do whatever I want; it means that which is interpreted to be in any way restrictive is to be destroyed. Thus, in the hearts of many, individualism was united with the idea of God, and secularism was conceived. This is how an individualistic ideal became the false gods popularly known as Freedom and Liberty.

The Roots of Conspiracy Mentality

Protestant eschatology and conspiracy mentality have always gone hand in hand as well. Starting with the post-Reformation eschatological opinions of what is known as the historicism perspective, the Pope was seen as The Antichrist, and therefore all things Catholic must have a hidden agenda. The papacy (or “Babylon”) was out to get you and lead you to hell, or so they believed. Many influential Protestant preachers bought into this old-school “fake news,” and passed it down to the next generations. From then on, many Protestants began to ascribe the Book of Revelation to just about every authority figure that remotely threatened any aspect of their opinions (or general comfort, for that matter). Fast forward to 1966, Ralph Woodrow’s “Babylon Mystery Religion” was published, and it spread like wildfire. Popular Evangelicals like Tim LaHaye begin to feel quite comfortable slandering the Catholic Church, and polemics became normative and encouraged, no matter how false or ignorant they might have been. One might say this was the spiritual origin of the modern political “attack ad.” The accusation itself was enough for it to be true, and instead of actually talking to Catholics and exercising discernment, they were content to think the belief itself was enough for confirmation. All of this is why the Evangelical-political Right is the way it is. This is why people like Alex Jones are successful. His audience (which seems to consist largely of Evangelical Republicans) has been programmed for decades to desire only to hear ignorant conspiratorial accusations (to validate their own ignorant conspiratorial accusations), regardless of whether or not they are true. It is the self-validating accusation itself that matters to these people, not truth.

There are many other reasons for conspiracy mentality and why the average American now completely distrusts authority, such as JFK, Clergy sex scandals, Vietnam, Presidential scandals, 9-11, police brutality, the list goes on. The music (especially Punk) and entertainment industry from 1970-2000 then reinforced these sentiments and justified rebellion for decades. I love Star Wars, but let’s be honest, those movies are all about a ragtag rebellion against the establishment.

One Country vs Fifty Countries

Aside from the religious eschatological overtones of the founding framework, another problematic aspect of the country is the fact that not everyone truly views the United States as one country. The more conservative Republicans and Libertarians idealize the United States as essentially fifty autonomous countries that ought to operate independently of one another, whereas the more progressive Democrats tend to idealize the country as fifty united sections of one big country. This is why, for example, there are differences of opinion regarding the ideal size of the government. If the country ought to be divided into autonomous states, then government ought to be small. If the country ought to be a union of all states, then the government must adapt to the size and grow. This fundamental difference of perspective is why no progress can ever be made.

The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected.
– G.K. Chesterton

If the entire country is filled with a bunch of people who want to assert their own opinion or religious-political ideology and die on every hill, how could the American experiment possibly succeed? The only thing I see in America’s future is the potential for another civil war. Revolution is all the revolutionary knows how to do. If people rise to power and get in the way of your beliefs, and if the established system is not working in your favor, you gun them down and enforce your ‘freedom’ upon everyone else until you get what you want.

The Bi-Partisan Imperial Cult

I should add, this is not merely a battle of ideology, this is a religious battle between major (political) groups of emperor worshipers who think they are fighting a holy war. Every political cult thinks God is on their side, precisely because everyone worships themselves. So in a sense, they’re right. I mentioned before about how the individualistic ideology of “freedom and liberty” became the American deities. This is how American flags made their way into religious sanctuaries, this is why we have forced conversions of other countries (known as “regime change”), and this is how Self became the god of modernity, reigning as the ‘Genius’ of the President. Patriotic anthems became the new liturgy, and every Presidential inauguration becomes an opportunity to worship our own proxy, that is, the one who is divinely (or rather, demonically) possessed by each individual voter. We should be provoked to laughter when we hear Republicans say they are afraid of an Islamic jihad, because violent Muslims could learn a few things from the bloody trail of American jihad. The USA spends more money on the military than the next multiple countries combined. As the Holy Scriptures say, “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, and rely on horses, and trust in chariots because they are many, and in horsemen because they are very strong, but they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the LORD!” (Isa 31:1) Again the scriptures say, Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we will remember the name of the LORD our God (Psa 20:7). May we repent of such idolatry.

A united individualism only leads to bi-partisan bickering. Both the red and blue people worship the Genius of the emperor just like the Romans. Because the Genius of the President is supposed to reflect the image of the individual worshipper (and not the other way around), America is designed in such a way where one is able to worship themselves through the standing President. When one imperial cult is able to worship themselves, and another cult is not, it develops into more war and division. Individualism never works, and it never will. So long as the refusal to submit to an authority is built into the framework of the American spirit, and so long as that violence and rebellion results from a President not reflecting one’s personal image, America will never work.

Song of Solomon, Images, and Graphic Nudity in Modern Film

Song of Solomon, Images, and Graphic Nudity in Modern Film

Movies and TV shows with explicit sex scenes have consistently been controversial among Christian circles. A series may have great writing, but also an excessive amount of graphic sex, violence, and often times a mixture of both. The question for me is simple: Do the ends justify the means? In counting the cost, does filling my eyes (and subsequently, my mind) with dangerous pornographic images justify my indulgence in just another story? Personally, I don’t think so.

My memory of graphic sexual images will far exceed my memory of a plot progression, and I would go so far as to say that is the case for everyone, not just me. All I need to do is try to remember any series I have not seen in a decade or two. What do I remember more, the plot of such a series, the precise details of the character progression, or certain visual scenes that happened to make an impression on me? It is always the explicit or shocking visuals that have the longest lasting influence on the mind.

I think it is unarguable that the sex scenes of some of these shows (Game of Thrones, for example) are no different from pornography. I guarantee that those scenes are spliced and put on porn sites. So why would I think surrounding such content with a fantasy story makes it okay for me to watch? It isn’t merely Game of Thrones that is guilty, I just find it to be the easiest example. Pretty much anything on HBO has a massive problem with sex and nudity. Even Netflix is becoming problematic in many ways. I have to go to the IMDB parents guide before every new show because graphic content has become a cancer in film. It seems like every Netflix original is rated TV-MA.

Whenever I read articles about Christians who watch some of these shows, they never actually say anything to justify the graphic sex or nudity. The pornographic content is always the elephant in the room, and it is always ignored. It is actually incredibly bizarre and awkward when people so casually recommend a show like Game of Thrones, as if this is something I could watch with them. As if I wasn’t horrified by what IMDB said was in the first episode alone. I once spoke to an agnostic friend of mine who is not in any way religious, and he said even he was uncomfortable watching Game of Thrones with other people, because of the sex.

If Christ said it is better pluck out your eye than to allow yourself to be corrupted through the eye (Mat 5:29), I find it nonsensical to think saying “it has a great story” is a valid excuse before God for indulging the eyes in pornographic content. When pornography gets a decent plot, it does not cease to be pornography. The devil has icons too. Behind every pretty woman with her breasts exposed, and behind every graphic sex scene, is a dragon waiting to chain you to your own passions.

One might say, “But nobody says anything about violence. Isn’t that bad too?” Yes, violence is never a good thing, however comparing depictions of violence with sex is to compare apples and oranges. For one, the sexual content is not fake, like war scenes. Actors actually strip down to nothing and have sex for a camera. This would be considered prostitution if they didn’t actually enjoy it and make a lot of money. Indeed, a poor and ashamed prostitute, stuck in her situation, is more righteous than such actors who do not even know how to blush (Jer 6:15, 8:12). Secondly, watching a violent scene does not, in of itself, tempt the viewer to become more violent. However, watching a graphic sex scene will tempt the viewer to become more sexual. Because the eyes stimulate the body, watching such things will have an involuntary effect on the body. This is why the scriptures say to flee from fornication (1 Cor 6:18). Other sins do not manipulate the body the way sexual sins do, and sexual sins always occur first with the eyes. It was when David “saw” a naked woman washing herself that his passions were tempted (2 Sa 11:2).

However, it should be noted that not every sex scene is equally explicit, therefore not every sex scene is equally destructive to the mind. I can think of a total of zero people who have complained that a movie or TV show was not as good as it could have been, simply because it lacked graphic sex scenes. In fact, the majority of sex scenes have absolutely nothing to do with the plot. If it does have to do with the plot, then the purpose of the action is generally to tell the viewer that so and so had an affair or something. However, the viewer does not need to see the details of how the affair took place, the viewer only needs to know that the affair took place. In modern film, the ‘how’ is extremely overemphasized and put on the screen for extended periods of time, rather than the previous trope of having two couples wake up next to one another in a bed (implicitly revealing what had occurred).

Song of Solomon in Visual Format

Icon depicting aspects of the Song of Solomon as it relates to Christ and the Church. It depicts Song 2:16; 4:12; 5:10; 8:6-7.

One might say, “but the Bible is graphic, read Song of Solomon.” Because this response is inevitable, I will even use Song of Solomon to prove my point. Firstly, Song of Solomon is a text, and one that is shrouded in poetry. It does not bombard your eyes with explicit sex scenes, because the metaphor makes the sexual content implicit. And because it is a text, the content is not visually seen, but imagined. Breasts are even compared to fuzzy little animals (Song 4:5, 7:3), so I don’t think any woman today would find that to be particularly romantic.

Christians do not have icons of the Song of Solomon literally depicting graphic sex. It visually depicts Song of Solomon as metaphor, not as literal sex. Depicting such a thing literally would be absolutely scandalous.

Icon depicting aspects of the Song of Solomon as it relates to Christ and the Church. It depicts Song 2:2, 5, 8-9, 7:6, 12.

Sex and nudity are supposed to be sacred. Sex should not have bystanders, for it is exclusive because romantic love (Eros) ought to be exclusive. When you have tens of thousands of flies on the wall in the form of writers, directors, videographers and HBO subscribers, the act of sexual union is cheapened into a marketing tactic to entice the passions. The phrase “sex sells” exists because people figured out how to exploit human weakness.

We as a culture penalize the one “Peeping Tom” who peers through the neighbor’s window and call him a pervert, and then we sit on our couches, turn on the television, and peer through the bedroom windows of countless couples. Does such actions not also qualify as perverse? It seems like a double-standard to me.

Whenever the scriptures mention nakedness, the expected response is always to cover/clothe (Gen 3:21, 9:23, Eze 18:7, 16, Mat 25:36, Mar 5:15, Jas 2:15-16). This is because, like I said, nudity is sacred and it ought to be respected. It is exclusive, and it ought to be protected. That’s what I think anyway. I do not write this to condemn or judge anyone, I merely seek to work through the details of what it is I believe about the subject.

From Man to Ox

From Man to Ox

In the narrative of the fourth chapter of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar says that he built the great house of Babylon by the might of his own power, and for the honor of his own majesty.[1] The text says that when such words were still in Nebuchadnezzar’s mouth, a voice from heaven said the kingdom has departed from him, and that his dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. Nebuchadnezzar was then humbled and began to eat grass like oxen, as his hair and nails were overgrown. Scholars have pointed out that the idea of the wild man was a common trope in the mythic lore of the ancient Near East, such as the example of Enkidu in the epic of Gilgamesh.[2] In Mesopotamian magico-medical writings, Lambert reveals a similar passage which says, “I am an ox, I do not know the plants I eat.”[3] Additionally, long hair is connected to the multiplicity of sins in such literature.[4]

The narrative in the fourth chapter of Daniel sets forth an important scriptural motif that is repeated elsewhere in the Bible. Earthly kings rise to power over God’s people and set themselves up as gods. As seen in the example of Pharaoh, the pride of such rulers result in the hardening of their hearts and the departure from reason, which then provokes a response from God.[5] The ungodly then affirm the blasphemy, saying things like, “This is the voice of a god and not a man!”[6] and again they cry out, “Who is like unto the beast? Who is able to make war with him?”[7] It is precisely in these moments when God responds dramatically. The lofty and exalted beast is struck down to earth like Lucifer, having his wings torn off,[8] and cursed to a lifetime of groveling on the ground.[9] The beast is then consumed by worms,[10] and thrown into the fire.[11] The humbling of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel’s narrative reveals how the mighty kingdom of God is destined to conquer and supplant the bestial kingdoms of this earth.

God said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people.”[12] The narrative pattern of the scriptures was always that of the Hebrew people forgetting the Lord and bringing judgment upon themselves for their lack of care for God. It comes as no surprise that such a pattern is expressly prominent within the exilic days of Daniel. The pattern of scripture itself reveals that when man acts like Nebuchadnezzar and puffs up his ego, he truly becomes like the beasts of the field. The entire book of Daniel is a reoccurring picture of the same proverb: “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”[13] One might read the book of Daniel and think that it is a story merely about the rise and fall of kingdoms aligned against Israel, however, the reality is that God keeps trying to show His own people that it is they who are being humbled through the exile caused by the Babylonian invasion.[14] They are Nebuchadnezzar, and God waits to restore them. In such exile, people will always cry out to God asking why such a thing happened to them, thus God repeatedly shows them the answer to the question. In other words, the book of Daniel is not the story of how many kingdoms rose and fell, it is rather the story of how one kingdom rose to forget the Lord and fell. Yet still, God waits to see repentance.

[1] Daniel 4:30-33.
[2] Hector Avalos. “Nebuchadnezzar’s Affliction: New Mesopotamian Parallels for Daniel 4.” Journal of Biblical Literature 133, no. 3 (2014), p. 497.
[3] W.G. Lambert, “Incantations,” 285.
[4] Avalos, p. 503.
[5] 1 Samuel 6:6.
[6] Acts 12:22.
[7] Revelation 13:4.
[8] Isaiah 14:14-15.
[9] Genesis 3:14.
[10] Acts 12:23.
[11] Revelation 20:10.
[12] Exodus 32:9.
[13] Proverbs 16:18.
[14] Daniel 9.

Venturing into the Quagmire of Human Sexuality

Venturing into the Quagmire of Human Sexuality

Dr. Edith Humphrey wrote a chapter in a forthcoming book about C.S. Lewis and his perspective on the nature of human sexuality. The book is titled Further Up and Further In: Orthodox Conversations with C. S. Lewis on Scripture and Theology, and it is to be published by St. Vladimir’s Press. I think Edith has a lot of good things to say, and I think she brings important tools into the fray that we ought to utilize in continuing to build a distinctly Christian theological framework with regards to the anthropological questions of modernity.

I have a lot of thoughts on this subject, as I have been contemplating the matter for many years now. Therefore, I will attempt to sort through all my thoughts by writing them down here and now. As someone who is naturally wired as a theologian, my anthropological perspective will be primarily rooted in the truth of the scriptures, and I build upon that foundation using complementary dualism from ancient China: the yinyang of Taoist metaphysics. I know, you probably didn’t see that coming, but you’ll see why I find it helpful by the time you finish reading. However, first we must talk of scripture.

“Neither male nor female”

St Paul is usually referenced when it comes to this discussion, because Galatians 3:28 says the following:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

This verse is typically used to suggest that there is no spiritual distinction between men and women, because Paul states how there is “neither male nor female” in Christ. This exegetical conclusion is then expanded to the idea that, concerning gender, the soul of a person is exclusively distinct from the anatomy of the body. An individual’s internal conception of their own maleness or femaleness is then interpreted to be merely a result of their intellectual experience of their own bodies (and how the movements of those bodies are interpreted by culture at large). In other words, such an anthropological speculation is a result of a particular exegesis of the text. Therefore, we must determine whether or not such an exegesis is consistent with the text.

Taken out of context, such a sentence seems persuasive. However, upon reading the surrounding context, the conclusion becomes less and less persuasive. Paul first states the difference between faith and law (Gal 3:23-25). He then says that we (the faithful) are all ‘children of God’ through faith (Gal 3:26), because we have been baptized into Christ and have put on Christ (Gal 3:27). Then he talks about removing the distinctions between Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, men and women. The very next verse, Paul says we belong to Christ, being the descendants of Abraham and are heirs to the promise (Gal 3:29). The most important verse comes next, when he says there is no distinction between a slave and an underage heir, even if the heir owns the estate (Gal 4:1). The reason is because the heir is (temporarily) still under the household authority (Gal 4:2).

In other words, Paul is juxtaposing law and faith to say that everyone now has equal access to the Logos of God through the gospel, because the importance of earthly categories, rankings and distinctions do not carry over to heavenly things. The playing field has been leveled. Ethnicity holds no spiritual weight (“Jew nor Greek”), because even gentiles can come to faith and put on Christ. Status holds no spiritual weight (“bond nor free”), because even slaves can come to faith and put on Christ. It is in this context that Paul adds male and female to the list, because even women can independently come to faith and put on Christ to be heirs of the promise. Rather than concluding that Paul is making complicated metaphysical claims about the nature of men and women, I think Paul is simply emphasizing the holistic and inclusive nature of the gospel.

The Yin-Yang and Lady Wisdom

Edith mentions how the scriptures often use feminine language to describe certain aspects of God, such as wisdom. Yet, at the same time, the scriptures do not refer to God as a she. What are we to make of this? Well, I will certainly not suggest some kind of Sophianism and imply the existence of a female deity, rather, I suggest we take a look at ancient China for some help in developing a framework for discussion.

In Taoist metaphysics, the yin-yang represents two equal and opposite complementary forces working together in harmony. Yin represents shadow, the passive, negative, earth, and feminine, whereas Yang represents light, the active, positive, heaven, and masculine.

It should be observed how ancient China seems to have also understood humanity as a universal microcosm (as the Hebrews understood). The observable world around them was understood in distinctly human terms, and what events take place in nature had significance for one’s individual life (omens, for example). If we really reflect on the intimate dance between a husband and a wife, it isn’t too difficult to see how it is reflected in nature. The husband actively descends from above upon the passive wife to plant seed and water her earth, and the woman receives and grows it in the ground of her womb, so that new life may sprout up from within. Thus, when we observe how seeds are planted in the earth, and how we observe the rain and the process of germination, we see why we call certain things male and certain things female. Men and women have this particular mode of existence that is observed everywhere else in nature, perhaps because nature was created as a prophetic reflection of Adam and Eve and their particular mode of existence: namely, to replenish the earth.

There is a distinction to be made between male/female and masculine/feminine. The former has to do with an outer anatomical reality, and the latter has to do with a continuum of our inward energy. It is my belief that “wisdom” in the Old Testament is classified as feminine precisely because wisdom is a passive agent (yin), not an active agent (yang). Wisdom is not so much like the one who runs around in the grass playing sports, wisdom is like the one quietly reading their favorite book. Wisdom reflects the quiet stillness of an attentive mind, not the active movements of a boisterous speech. I believe this is why something like strength is masculine in nature (yang), since it is an active agent. This is why strong women in ancient times were spoken of (often as a compliment) as being “manly.” Not because the woman was unattractive or not feminine, but because she manifested her masculinity (her “yang” energy) with regards to something like strength, boldness, or courage.

“It is I who am a man, you are all women.” -Amma Sarah, chastising monks

Androgen and Estrogen

In modern times, we might call such energies androgen (yang/masculine) and estrogen (yin/feminine). Both men and women have androgen (such as testosterone) and estrogen, but to different degrees. This is why one ought to see that the male and female are more nuanced than was formerly understood, being confined to certain objects (cars or dolls) or colors (blue or pink), regardless of how the individual manifested their inner “yin-yang” energy. A female may break the stereotype by having a bit more yang energy than her female peers (which manifests itself in an active sense, in that she is more drawn to playing outside rather than secluded reading), this does not make her male. Conversely, a male may break the stereotype by having a bit more yin energy than his male peers (which manifests itself in a passive sense, in that he is more drawn to secluded reading rather than playing outside).

Gender Confusion

It seems to me (based on anecdotal evidence) that the modern reality of gender confusion is generally a male issue. That is, there seems to be more men who struggle with this than women. If this is the case, we should wonder why. Perhaps it is because for far too long, the West has defined what it means to be a man by a certain level of testosterone, and in doing so, a vacuum was created where discontented “yin-males” did not know where exactly they belong. Perhaps the rigidity of such a culture pushed them into the only other visible category: female. However, I believe differentiating between female and feminine is an essential distinction. Female is always a question of anatomy, and feminine is always a question of energy. The problem with using a word like “feminine,” is it has an inescapably misleading connection to the word “female.” A man can be feminine (expressing a particular kind of yin energy, perhaps even down to the physical appearance), but what man would want to be called “feminine?” When a man is called feminine, he immediately interprets such a statement as an attack against not merely his masculinity, but his maleness. This is why even the word feminine is part of the problem, and should be changed to something else entirely. Perhaps articulating the matter in terms like yin-males and yang-males, or yin-females and yang-females, is more helpful in getting to the essence of what we are talking about.

It is my hope that I offer something to this conversation that brings it further along, even if it be nothing more than to be proven wrong. In her last paragraph, Edith says that we are indebted to C.S. Lewis for “venturing into the quagmire” that is the anthropological discussion of sexuality. I like that illustration. No real progress is made when we (as Orthodox Christians in particular) dismiss that which is difficult because of the pseudo-virtues behind that beloved word “mystery.” Mystery is not an excuse for spiritual, intellectual, or conversational stagnation. We must be like the perpetual newness of flowing rivers (or “living water,” as Christ put it), not the stagnant mosquito-infested pond. God says, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5), so perhaps we should reflect our Creator.

Mystery is not an excuse to fossilize ourselves, it is the motivating agent to move us further up and further in.

How Jesus Was Tempted In ‘Every Way’ Like Us

How Jesus Was Tempted In ‘Every Way’ Like Us

Scripture says Jesus was tempted in all points as us, yet without sin (Heb 4:15). This can’t mean that Jesus was tempted by every little thing that tempts us, because some temptations require mental disability (bestiality), other temptations may, when gathered together, be contradictory to experience at the same time (a homosexual man desiring more wives), or impossible altogether (incest without siblings). In other words, sin must be a prerequisite in order to experience certain particular temptations. 

Therefore it must instead refer not to every individual fruit of temptation, but to the three branches that produce them: (1) the lust of the flesh, (2) the lust of the eyes, and (3) the pride of life (1 Jhn 2:16).

We don’t have to speculate how Jesus was tempted, because scripture tells us:

  1. The lust of the flesh is made manifest in the words, “Tell these stones to become bread.” (Mat 4:3)
  2. The lust of the eyes is made manifest in the words, “All these I will give you.” (Mat 4:9)
  3. The pride of life is made manifest in the words, “Throw yourself down, the angels will catch you.” (Mat 4:6)

No sin exists apart from these three types of temptations found in the world. Jesus didn’t have to overcome every expression of lust because he overcame the threefold fullness of temptation itself. Jesus didn’t have to partake of every rotting fruit of pride, because he cut down the tree.

Edom: An Unintentionally Validating Jewish Polemic

Edom: An Unintentionally Validating Jewish Polemic

There has been some confusion regarding the prophetic phrase in Genesis 25:23 which says how “the elder shall serve the younger,” especially since such a concept would have been so foreign to ancient Near Eastern custom (though the providence of God transcends custom).[1] Some might say the reason this was stated was simply because Esau sold his birthright, thus forfeiting his authority to Jacob (though one might also observe a peculiar reference to Joseph, considering he—the younger in Jacob’s family—was eventually served by the elders when he became a leader of Egypt). However, it is particularly interesting how this passage was eventually interpreted by Jews after the rise of Christianity.

The descendants of Esau became known as the Edomites, whereas the descendants of Jacob became the Israelites, and both groups of people saw the other as an enemy.[2] It is also known that the Jews—in a polemical sense—associated Edom with Rome (and subsequently, the Church) during the Middle Ages.[3] Zeitlin writes:

The regular intercalation of the year is to add a second Adar. However the Sanhedrin could not meet on time for fear of the Roman government. However they succeeded in assembling and intercalated the year in the month of Ab. In order to inform their brethren in Babylonia of the intercalation of the year they had to employ a secret code. In this code they employed the term Edom to the Roman Church. They did it in order to conceal and disguise their real persecutor. In applying the term Edom for the Rome Church, which was hateful to them, they had in mind the prophecy of Jeremiah, 49. 17, “And Edom shall be a desolation; every one that passeth by it shall be astonished and shall hiss at all the plagues thereof.”[4]

It is not surprising that the Jews used Edom in a polemical fashion against those whom they perceived to be enemies (especially with the rise of Protestant Zionism in the 19th century),[5] but what is surprising is that a Jewish midrash interprets Genesis 25:23 to be a reference to Jesus Christ.

Ronald Brown did an analysis of the marginal notes on the Genesis Rabbah (MS Paris 149 version),[6] and he found that in reference to Genesis 25:23, the scribe writes how the future descendants of Esau “are to serve Jesus the Nazarene, who is of the descendants of Jacob, the younger.”[7] He goes on to say that because Esau’s descendants were associated with the Romans (“the one shall be stronger than the other”), when Rome embraced Christianity, certain Jews recalled the words “the elder shall serve the younger” (Gen 25:23).[8]

One cannot help but see the irony in a Jewish polemic accidentally validating the very people they sought to discredit.



[1] John Davis. Paradise to Prison. (Salem: Sheffield Publishing, 1984), p. 232.
[2] Ibid.
[3] S. Zeitlin. “The Origin of the Term Edom for Rome and the Roman Church.” The Jewish Quarterly Review 60, no.  3 (1970), p. 262.
[4] Ibid., p. 263.
[5] Warder Cresson. “Origin of Edom, Babylon, and Rome, or Christianity.” (accessed July 4, 2017).
[6] Brown notes that it was written by scribe Mordechai ben Isaac, completed in Arles, France, on Feb. 10, 1291.
[7] Ronald N. Brown “‘And the elder shall serve the younger’: a midrash about Jesus.” Harvard Theological Review, vol. 87, no. 3 (1994), p. 365.
[8] Ibid., p. 366.

The Unreliability of Vocal Dialogue

The Unreliability of Vocal Dialogue

I have been in a variety of vocal conversations (ie: in person/face to face), and I meditate and reflect after each one. Literally without exception. I do this so often that I began to notice a pattern within myself: I can’t seem to say exactly what I want to say, when I want to say it. I took this thought a step further, and I began to realize that if there were a significant enough people who are just like me, it has tremendous implications on the nature of common dialogue, and how unreliably misleading it can be.

I have watched many formal debates in my life, both political and religious. However, I want to address religious theological debates in particular. On multiple occasions, one person would struggle to extemporaneously say what they believed, and the other person would pounce on the perceived weakness. Then when they think of a more detailed and helpful explanation to put words to what swims around inside them, the other person then accuses them of changing the position or being contradictory. In other words, we do not seem to allow people the room to refine their outward words to correctly align with their inward beliefs. Instead, we assume that every spoken word a person utters is precisely what that person wants to say and how they want to say it.

Writing seems to be different. As I write this, I do not need to follow the unspoken rules of face to face conversation. Rules such as: “You must think and respond within three seconds.” I have time to prepare what it is I want to say. Or, more accurately stated, I have time to prepare the combination of words that best align themselves with the unspoken words within me. When speaking extemporaneously, I do not always find the best combination on the first attempt, because I am often not given the opportunity to think it through.

As a real example, on one occasion I was in a conversation about dyslexia. I said that when I reflected on my own dyslexia, I realized how there is a kind of balance to things. Though my dyslexia made me deficient in reading comprehension, it made me far exceed my peers in visual memory. After saying this, I said something general like, “That’s why I believe for every deficiency that exists, there is something exceptional to counterbalance it.” However, even though my words were generalized, my thoughts were not. In my mind, I was thinking of three deficiencies in particular: dyslexia, down syndrome, and autism. And yet, my words did not accurately align with my thoughts. However, because my words were generalized, this led to the skeptical response, “Do you think that’s true in all cases, though?” If this were a debate, I would have immediately been labeled contradictory if I replied with the truth and said “No,” because my generalized spoken words immediately condemned my specific unspoken words. I would then need the time to clarify that my first attempt at articulating my unspoken words was a failure. Hence the problem with verbal communication.

This troublesome situation leads me to believe that written words are more likely to accurately represent what a person thinks, rather than spoken words. Though, it is also possible to write in haste and fall into the same trap. There are many times when I write, my thoughts do not come in chronological order, and I often have to shift paragraphs around to make it a linear progression. Upon further reflection, it is quite possible that I discover I could have better articulated even this very post.

Therefore, it seems to me that we as human beings should graciously give others the benefit of the doubt when they say things that may rub us the wrong way, or don’t sound quite right, because they likely did not have enough time to reflect and accurately articulate what they truly wanted to say. I will freely admit, I am a much better writer than I am a speaker, so the times I verbalized what I didn’t mean to say far exceeded the times I verbalized what I did mean to say. Though, contemplating my own shortcomings has given me a deeper sense of love and understanding for others, and I suppose that is all I could ask for.

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