- When divinity descends to humanity
- Folk religions
- Intelligent, not rational — like angels
- Something I just won’t do
The Nativity of Jesus Christ — when the Son of God also became the Son of Man — happened in silence. It was a mysterious quietude, because this moment was a profound junction of Eternity with Time, of the Divine with the non-divine … when the Creator — and let us be amazed here — became Creature.
The Righteous Joseph, foster father of Jesus, was not in the Cave at the moment of the Nativity. He was looking for a midwife to assist the birthgiving.
The Protoevangelium of James, a document written around 150 AD as a compilation of reminiscences of Mary, her parents, and Joseph …, recounts Joseph’s firsthand memory of the moment of the Nativity:
And he [Joseph] found a cave and led her there and stationed his sons to watch her, while he went to a find a Hebrew midwife in the land of Bethlehem. Then, Joseph walked, but he did not walk. And I looked up to the peak of the sky and saw it standing still and I looked up into the air. With utter astonishment I saw it, even the birds of the sky were not moving. … And suddenly everything was replaced by the ordinary course of events. (Protoevangelium of James, 18.1-4, 11, emphasis added)
Everything stopped. Everything was stilled by silence, the silence of the eternal descending into time. This was the crucial moment Jesus described later to Nicodemus in the Gospel of St John: “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven” (3.13).
This Holy Night of the Nativity was not the first moment of eternal silence. It had happened before … When God gave the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai, the mountain was covered with smoke and God’s voice is heard by the people, far down below, as thunder. In an old Hebrew commentary on the book of Exodus, dating from the eleventh century, the Shemot Rabbah says this:
When God gave the Torah no bird twittered or flew, no ox lowed, none of the Ophanim [i.e., the mystical wheels seen by Ezekiel] stirred a wing, the Seraphim did not say ‘Holy, Holy,’ the sea did not roar, the creatures spoke not, the whole world wash hushed into breathless silence and the voice went forth: I am the LORD your God”(29.9).
Even further back, there is another Silence, and this was at the very beginning. Philo, or someone associated with him, writes this in the Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum (dated from around the time of the birth of Christ): “There were darkness and silence before the world was, and the silence spoke, and the darkness became invisible.”
It seems that Silence prevails whenever (and wherever) divinity descends into humanity …
And finally, at the end of all things there will be Silence. In his vision of the Apocalypse, St John the Theologian has already seen the terrifying judgments that God has wreaked upon the world. Now, however, God is turning to usher in the new heaven and the new earth, where everything is utterly transfigured, where nothing is lost and everything is gained.
What do you think happens before the dawning of this New Creation?
“And when He [i.e., the Lamb] had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour” (Apocalypse 8.1, KJV).
You guessed it: Silence.
Sometimes I file private thoughts away to see how they’ve held up when I run into them again. Other times I just blurt them out.
One that has held up well, so I’ll now publicly debut it, is that Evangelicalism has become the folk religion, the default religion, of the religiously indifferent American. This one, I sort of whispered as I renamed my “Evangelicalism” category as “American Folk Religion” for a while, then changed it back.
I say that not to indict or mock Evangelicalism. They can’t stop anyone from saying “I’m Evangelical” to opinion poll question #1 and then “About twice per year” to question #2: “How often do you attend Church?”
The result is that “Evangelical” is the tag affixed not just to Evangelicals as I’ve known them, but to lots of flakes and slackers (including white supremacists who haven’t gone the alt-right pagan route). That skews polls and necessitates the better ones differentiating observant, Church-going Evangelicals from those who just lazily took that label, or who took it because 25 years and three spouses ago, they had a “born again experience.”
That’s just what happens to folk religions.
The same is true of Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism in some countries. It’s not only a vital religion to some, but the folk religion of almost all, and with the tangible proof of baptism as an infant to boot. So you’ll have no trouble finding rotters.
That’s why we all need to try to deal with the best practitioners of other traditions, not the nominal members who can serve as straw men. And remember this when you hear, for instance, of “Evangelicals” supporting Roy Moore.
But I’m hearing rumors of some Evangelicals (those who don’t want to be pigeon-holed politically) fleeing the label “Evangelical,” so I may yet again change that category label back to “American Folk Religion.” Or maybe I need both labels, trying to intuit whether I’m writing about real Evangelicals or notional Evangelicals.
Earlier this year, this newspaper examined test scores and discovered that at more than 100 American colleges, at least one-third of seniors were incapable of making an argument or weighing evidence, among other tasks of critical thinking. Lorde’s influence would seem to match her popularity.
(Jillian Kay Melchior, Lorde of the Flies: Why College Students Reject Reason) The column that concludes thus is an examination of the faddish popularity of Audre Lorde, a dead poet who embodied intersectionality—black, woman, lesbian. For this dinosaur, it was eye-opening.
The penultimate paragraph captures the mind-boggling anti-rationality of Lorde’s total absorption in feelings:
Moreover, Lorde claims that “in order to be utilized, our erotic feelings must be recognized”—and, if her comments in a 1979 interview are any indication, accepted unquestioningly. Lorde recounts how her interlocutor, the white feminist poetess Adrienne Rich, had once told her during a conversation, “It’s not enough to say to me that you intuit it.” Lorde insists: “Even at the same time that I understood what you meant, I felt a total wipeout of my modus, my way of perceiving and formulating. . . . I’m used to associating a request for documentation as a questioning of my perceptions, an attempt to devalue what I’m in the process of discovering.” Skepticism or demands for evidence are not only a personal affront but an example of the oppressive system at work.
It seems to me that Lorde here is talking as if she’s an angel, intelligent but not rational:
Aquinas has this explanation of angels, who he says are not rational.
“Not rational? Surely they’re rational!” He says “No, they’re not rational. They’re intelligent but not rational.” Because what is rationality? Rationality has to go through steps. You go from premises to conclusions.
Angels don’t have to do that. They apprehend truth directly.
(Martin Cothran at the Eighth Day Symposium, January 15, 2017)
I don’t want to mock the very idea of humans achieving knowledge other than rationally, though. I’ve got some Michael Polanyi on my reading list precisely because I want to figure out what his “personal knowledge” was about (and how it relates to “tacit knowing,” which I think I’ve heard mentioned in connection with him).
There are some things I just won’t do.
I mentioned that I’ve stopped watching boxing and MMA, and rarely watch even football. The first two sports directly involve humans harming other humans; the third, evidence grows, indirectly does so as well.
A fortiori I will not watch a bodycam video of a Mesa, Arizona police officer Mitch Brailsford shooting Daniel Shaver. I particularly resent the idea that “I owe it to Daniel Shaver” to watch his life blown away, which someone actually wrote.
Nobody should infer thereby my indifference to this incident. I just won’t rail again Brailsford or his acquittal without watching the video, and I won’t watch the video just in order to gin up some outrage for a semi-informed rant.
Form your own conclusions if you feel the need to do so.
American liberalism commenced with democratic majoritarianism and ends with undignified appeals to Anthony Kennedy’s vanity
— Gray Connolly (@GrayConnolly) December 9, 2017
True story: My 11 year old daughter made a snow girl, using dead leaves for tears.
Me: “Why is she crying?”
Kid: “Because she knows she’s going to die.”
I’m not reading any more Russian Christmas stories to my children.
— Rod Dreher (@roddreher) December 9, 2017
* * *
Nobody is cooler than Bob Dylan. And yet, when it seemed that he underwent conversion to Evangelical Christianity in the 1970s, and he made three albums of Christian songs, that was seen as just an embarrassment. And he stopped being explicitly Christian in his work and began doing different sorts of songs, all his fans kind of went “Whew!” and they just don’t talk about those three albums. It’s like this terrible false step he took.
Even Dylan was not able to make Christianity cool. It can’t be done. So we don’t stand a chance.
* * * * *