July 31, 2007

Names and the Original Language

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis :: Permalink

This afternoon, I read part of G. C. Aalders’ commentary on Genesis.  I was struck by the frequent repetition of a certain warning.  It shows up first when we hear about Eve naming her son “Cain” and punning on the Hebrew word for acquiring.  We aren’t to make too much of that, Aalders cautions.  “It should be borne in mind that Eve did not speak Hebrew” (p. 118).

The warning comes up again in connection with Abel, whose name means “futility” in Hebrew.  What did Eve have in mind when she gave him that name?  Uh uh.  You don’t ask that question: “There is … no way of knowing just what Eve had in mind with this name.  Again, we must be reminded that Eve did not speak Hebrew” (p. 119).

We go a bit farther and we hear about Cain building a city and naming it after his son, Enoch.  “Attempts have been made to relate this name to similar names that appear later,” Aalders says, “but we should remember that Cain did not speak Hebrew” (p. 130).

What about the other names in this chapter?  Same thing.  “All attempts to discover meanings for the names which are listed here on the basis of similarity to various Hebrew words end in complete failure” (p. 130).  That goes for Adah and Zillah, too: “Once again, we caution against treating these names as being Hebrew before the Hebrew language was a reality” (p. 130).

The same is true at the end of the chapter.  Yes, Aalders says, the name “Enosh”

is formally the same as a Hebrew word which means “man” or “humanity.”  We may not conclude from this, however, that this is the meaning of the name Enosh.  We are reminded, once again, that prior to the confusion of speech there was no Hebrew language.  The similarity between the name given by Seth and the similar Hebrew word must be explained by the existence of a Hebrew word which happens to have the same sound (p. 135).

Aalders doesn’t address the pun on Seth’s own name in Genesis 4:25.

Get the picture?  Time and again, we’re told that the meaning of these names — and even the pun by which Cain’s name is explicitly related to the Hebrew word for acquiring — are not to be matters of our inquiry because, Aalders says, the people back then didn’t speak Hebrew.  The names just happens to have the same sound as some Hebrew words.

How do we know that?  Aalders points to the confusion of tongues at Babel, but the fact that tongues were confused doesn’t necessarily mean that no one retained the original language that everyone once spoke, does it?

Doesn’t the evidence seem to suggest that Hebrew was the original language?  If not, then the original language was one from which all the puns could be translated exactly into Hebrew, and having done some translation myself, I find it hard to imagine such a language.  But for some reason, for Aalders and for many others, the idea that Hebrew might have been the original language is the one thing we must not consider possible.

After all, Aalders tells us so every few pages.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:49 pm | Discuss (3)

The Intellectuals and the Masses

Category: Miscellaneous,Politics :: Permalink

At several points in The Ordeal of Change, Eric Hoffer deals with the intellectuals.  He points out that in the past, the intellectual (or the equivalent thereof) was often a member of the ruling elite or part of a privileged sector of society.  So in India, the highest caste of the Brahmins was the educated caste.  In classical Greece, the influential men in society were often philosophers, poets, historians, and artists.  But beginning in the fourteenth century or so, various changes took place, among them the introduction of the printing press, which made education no longer the privilege of an elite class.  As Hoffer says, “There emerged a large group of non-clerical teachers, students, scholars, and writers who were not members of a clearly-marked privileged class, and whose social usefulness was not self-evident” (p. 15).

That last clause is particularly significant because one of the characteristics of the intellectual, according to Hoffer, is his desire to be socially useful:

In the modern Occident power was, and still is, the prerogative of men of action — landowners, soldiers, businessmen, industrialists, and their hangers-on.  The intellectual is treated as a poor relation and has to pick up the crumbs . He usually ekes out a living by teaching, journalism, or some white-collar job.  Even when his excellence as a writer, artist, scientist, or educator is generally recognized and rewarded, he does not feel himself one of the elite.

The intellectual’s passionate search for an acknowledged status and a role of social usefulness has been a ferment in the Occident since the days of the Renaissance.  He has pioneered every upheaval from the Reformation to the latest nationalist or socialist movement.  Yet the intellectual has not known how to retain a position of leadership in the movements and new regimes he has done so much to initiate and promote.  He has usually been elbowed out by fanatics and practical men of action (p. 15).

In Communist countries, mind you, things are a bit different: “In a Communist country writers, artists, scientists, professors, and intellectuals in general are near the top of the social ladder, and feel no doubt aobut their social usefulness” (p. 16).  But in the United States, in particular, intellectuals have a harder time, Hoffer says.

The intellectual, seeking an elite status and a role that’s socially useful, makes alliances.  He makes alliances with the downtrodden and underprivileged.  And, as Hoffer says, “his most potent alliance has been with the masses” (p. 39):

The intellectual goes to the masses in search of weightiness and a role of leadership.  Unlike the man of action, the man of words needs the sanction of ideals and the incantation of words in order to act forcefully.  He wants to lead, command, and conquer, but he must feel that in satisfyin these hungers he does not cater to a petty self.  He needs justification, and he seeks it in the realization of a grandiose design, and in the solemn ritual of making the word become flesh.  Thus he does battle for the downtrodden and disinherited, and for liberty, equality, justice, and truth, though, as Thoreau pointed out, the griveance which animates him is not mainly “his sympathy with his fellows in distress, but, though he be the holiest son of God, is his private ail.”

Once his “private ail” is righted, the intellectual’s ardor for the underprivileged cools considerably.  His cast of mind is essentially aristocratic….  He sees himself as a leader and master.  Not only does he doubt that the masses could do anything worthwhile on their own, but he would resent it if they made the attempt.  The masses must obey….

There is considerable evidence that when the militant intellectual succeeds in establishing a social order in which his craving for a superior status and social usefulness is fully satisfied, his view of the masses darkens, and from being their champion he becomes their detractor (pp. 39-40, one paragraph break added).

So various intellectuals have spoken out against the masses.  Hoffer quotes Emerson, who says that the masses are

rude, lame, uonmade, pernicious in their demands and influence, and need not to be flattered but to be schooled.  I wish not to concede anything to them, but to tame, drill, divide and break them up, and draw individuals out of them….  If government knew how, I should like to see it check, not multiply, the population (cited p. 43).

In fact, when the intellectuals have gained power and elite status, as in Communist countries, they often become the fiercest slavedrivers:

And what of the masses in this intellectual’s paradise?  They have found in the intellectual the most formidable taskmaster in history.  No other regime has treated the masses so callously as raw material, to be experimented on and manipulated at will; and never before have so many lives been wasted so recklessly in war and in peace (p. 42).

And yet the intellectual still needs the masses.  For one thing, he needs their money.  For another, he craves their worsihp: “He has a vital need for the flow of veneration and worship that can come only from a vast, formless, inarticulate multitude” (p. 45).

Summing up, Hoffer says:

The intellectual’s concern for the masses is as a rule a symptom of his uncertain status and his lack of an unquestionable sense of social usefulness.  It is the activities of the chronically thwarted intellectual which make it possible for the masses to get their share of the good things of life.  When the intellectual comes into his own, he becomes a pillar of stability and finds all kinds of lofty reasons for siding with the strong against the weak (p. 46)

The trick, then, according to Hoffer, is to keep the intellectuals “chronically thwarted.”  That’s the recipe for creativity.  Real intellectuals, real artists and writers, are often not much good at statecraft and rule, so it is usually “the pseudo-intellectual who rules the roost, and he is likely to imprint his mediocrity and meagerness on every phase of cultural activity” (p. 47).  Besides, “his creative impotence brews in him a murderous hatred of intellectual brilliance and he may be tempted, as Stalin was, to enforce a crude leveling of all intellectual activity” (p. 47).

But if the intellectuals aren’t given rule and authority, they end up at their creative best:

The creativeness of the intellectual is often a function of a thwarted craving for purposeful action and a privileged rank.  It has its origin in the soul intensity generated in front of an insurmountable obstacle on the path to action.  The genuine writer, artist, and even scientist are dissatisfied persons — as dissatisfied as the revolutionary — but are endowed with a capacity for transmuting their dissatisfaction into a creative impules.  A busy, purposeful life of action not only diverts energies from creative channels, but above all reduces the potent irritation which releases the secretion of creativity (p. 47).

In short,

the chronic thwarting of the intellectual’s craving for power serves a higher purpose than the well-being of common folk.  The advancement of the masses is a mere by-product of the uniquely human fact that discontent is at the root of the creative process: that the most gifted members of the human species are at their creative best when they cannot have their way, and must compensate for what they miss by realizing and cultivating their capacities and talents (p. 47).

I pass all of this on to you because I found it fascinating.  But I also wonder whether it has any application to the life of the church.  The church also has her intellectuals and her pseudo-intellectuals, her men of creativity who are often not given positions of leadership but who — maybe precisely by virtue of their marginalization — produce great and important work (I think of men such as James Jordan!), and men who crave power and leadership and who work to rise to the top so that they can impose their ideas on the masses of the church.  It’s possible, for instance, for a pastor to denigrate his elders as if he’s the only one with the sense to know what ought to be done, or for a seminary professor to castigate pastors in his denomination because they don’t know sound doctrine the way he does.  At any rate, Hoffer’s understanding of the intellectuals should provide food for thought, not only as we look at the world around us (why are so many politicians these days lawyers?) but also as we look at the life of the church.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:17 pm | Discuss (0)
July 30, 2007

Psalm 30

Category: Bible - OT - Psalms :: Permalink

A reminder: I’ve prepared these psalms for our liturgy, trying to be as accurate in my translation as possible. The alternation between plain text and bold is for responsive reading. I invite feedback on the translation!

A Psalm.
A song for the dedication of the house.
By David.

I will lift you up, Yahweh, for you have drawn me up
And have not let my enemies rejoice over me.
Yahweh, my God, I cried to you
And you healed me.
Yahweh, you brought up my soul from Sheol;
You kept me alive from among those going down to the pit.

Psalm to Yahweh, you his loyal people,
And give thanks to his holy memorial-name,
Because there is a moment in his anger,
Lifetimes in his favor.
In the evening weeping lodges,
But in the morning, rejoicing.

Now as for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
Yahweh, in your favor,
You established strength for my mountain!
You hid your face;
I was dismayed.
To you, Yahweh, I called,
And to my Lord I made supplication:
“What profit is there in my blood,
In my going down to the grave?
Will dust praise you?
Will it declare your trustworthiness?
Hear, Yahweh, and be gracious to me!
Yahweh, be my helper!”

You turned my mourning into dancing for me;
You loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness,
In order that glory may psalm to you and not be silent.
Yahweh, my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

A few comments about this psalm:

(1) It’s not clear when David wrote this psalm. It speaks of him being secure, then humbled, then restored, so it may have been written for a (re)dedication of his house after Absalom’ revolt, as James Jordan suggests.

(2) The “holy memorial-name” (in the eighth line) is the name Yahweh (Ex. 3:15).

(3) The second last line speaks of “glory” making music, which may refer to David’s own “glory,” the sounds of music and singing which he makes as he rejoices.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:40 pm | Discuss (0)
July 23, 2007

Psalm 29

Category: Bible - OT - Psalms :: Permalink

A reminder: I’ve prepared these psalms for our liturgy, trying to be as accurate in my translation as possible. The alternation between plain text and bold is for responsive reading. I invite feedback on the translation!

A Psalm.
By David.

Ascribe to Yahweh, sons of mighty ones,
Ascribe to Yahweh glory and strength!
Ascribe to Yahweh the glory of his name!
Bow to Yahweh in the majesty of holiness.

The voice of Yahweh is upon the waters;
The Mighty One of the glory thundered:
Yahweh is upon many waters.
The voice of Yahweh is in power!
The voice of Yahweh is in majesty!
The voice of Yahweh breaks cedars,
And Yahweh shatters the cedars of Lebanon.
And he makes them skip like a calf,
Lebanon and Sirion like a son of wild oxen.
The voice of Yahweh is striking with flames of fire.
The voice of Yahweh makes the wilderness writhe;
Yahweh makes the wilderness of Kadesh writhe.
The voice of Yahweh makes the deer writhe in labor,
And uncovers honeycombs,
And in his palace, everything says, “Glory!”

Yahweh sat enthroned at the Flood,
And Yahweh sits as king unto eternity.
Yahweh gives strength to his people;
Yahweh blesses his people with peace.

A few comments about this psalm:

(1) In line 4, most versions translate the first word as worship (e.g., “Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness”).  The word for worship here, however, is a word that’s used for bowing down deeply before someone.  It’s not used only in relation to God; people bow down before other people in Scripture, too (e.g., 1 Sam. 2:36, where this same word appears).  Nor does it refer to many of the things we think of in connection with worship (e.g., singing and praise); rather, it refers to bodily posture.  For these reasons, I’ve chosen to translate it as bow.

(2) In lines 4 and 9 we hear about majesty. The word can refer to ornamentation or beautiful clothing. So line 4 may refer to the holy garments priests wore and, by extension, to our being clothed in holiness. In line 9, Yahweh’s voice is adorned with majesty. When he speaks, it’s glorious.

(3) There are seven references to Yahweh’s voice. The word for shattered (line 11) is a more intense form of break (line 10). The word for the wilderness writhing is also used for deer writhing in labor.

(4) The word for honeycombs in the next line is unusual. The masculine form of this root means forest, and so a lot of translations have “And strips the forests bare.” It’s possible that what we have in this psalm is a rare feminine form of the word, which appears only here in this psalm, and that “forests” is the correct translation.

But this form of the word is the word used in 1 Sam. 14:27 for the honeycombs from which Jonathan ate honey and was refreshed. It’s possible, then, as James Jordan suggests, that this line means that God’s voice uncovers the honeycombs in the Land of Milk and Honey, so that people can eat and be refreshed like Jonathan. For my translation, I’ve opted to go with the only meaning for this word that we know from Scripture.

Posted by John Barach @ 1:20 pm | Discuss (0)
July 20, 2007

Toward the Holy Kiss

Category: Miscellaneous :: Permalink

For those of you guys who aren’t quite ready for the return of the holy kiss, here’s something that may help you take the first step: “How To Give a Great Man Hug.”

Posted by John Barach @ 1:53 pm | Discuss (4)
July 18, 2007


Category: Miscellaneous :: Permalink

In his essay “Workingman and Management,” Eric Hoffer writes:

One need not call to mind the example of Communist Russia to realize that the idealist has the making of a most formidable taskmaster.  The ruthlessness born of self-seeking is ineffectual compared with the ruthlessness sustained by dedication to a holy cause.  “God wishes,” said Calvin, “that one should put aside all humanity when it is a question of striving for His glory.” — Eric Hoffer, The Ordeal of Change, p. 65.

What Hoffer’s describing here is, I think, a genuine danger.  A guy who is self-seeking may be ruthless, but you might be able to convince him that it’s in his best interests to spare you.  Not so for a guy who thinks he’s fighting for some higher cause.

That’s a danger in churches, too.  There are people who adopt the motto “Truth Before Friendship” and who eagerly rush into battle in the name of “doctrinal purity.”  But “Doctrinal Purity” is a harsh goddess who demands ever increasing human sacrifices and her servants, thinking they are serving the true God, often cut down their brothers in Christ ruthlessly.  The biblical motto, it seems to me, is not “truth before friendship” but “speaking the truth in love.”

And now to my question: Does anyone know the source of this quotation from Calvin?  My quick Google search turned up the same quotation on a few pages, but no one cited a source.  Where does Calvin say this?  What might he mean from the context?  By itself, it sounds rather horrid, though I can imagine a situation where what Calvin says here might be true (e.g., the Israelites were not to allow themselves to feel compassion for the Canaanites such that they spared them when they conquered the land).  But Hoffer provides only the bare quotation with nary a footnote.  Anyone?

Posted by John Barach @ 5:14 pm | Discuss (2)
July 16, 2007

Psalm 28

Category: Bible - OT - Psalms :: Permalink

A reminder: I’ve prepared these psalms for our liturgy, trying to be as accurate in my translation as possible. The alternation between plain text and bold is for responsive reading. I invite feedback on the translation!

By David.

To you, Yahweh, I cry,
My rock, do not be silent toward me,
Lest, if you are quiet toward me,
I become like those who go down to the pit.

Hear the sound of my supplications when I cry to you,
When I lift my hands to your most holy place.

Do not drag me away with wicked men
And with workers of iniquity,
Who speak peace with their neighbors
And evil is in their hearts.

Give to them according to their act,
And according to the evil of their deeds.
According to the work of their hands give to them;
Return their doings to them.

Because they do not attend to Yahweh’s acts,
Or to the work of his hands,
He will tear them down
And not build them up.

Blessed be Yahweh,
Because he has heard the sound of my supplications.
Yahweh, my strength and my shield!
In him my heart trusted
And I was helped, and my heart exults,
And with my song I will thank him.

Yahweh is strength to them;
And a saving refuge for his Anointed one is he.

Save your people,
And bless your inheritance,
And shepherd them,
And lift them up unto eternity.

A few comments about this psalm.

1.  In the opening stanza, I’ve translated a couple phrases as “be silent toward me” and “are quiet toward me.”  The Hebrew actually has “from me” both times.  That sounds strange to our ears, but perhaps the idea is that silence would mean that Yahweh is keeping his distance: if he’s silent when I cry, that means he’s staying away from me.

2.  At the end of that first stanza, David speaks about lifting his hands to the debir of Yahweh’s holiness.  Commentaries and dictionaries say that word applies to the Most Holy Place and that’s probably correct.  But it’s interesting to notice that this word is derived from dabar, which means “to speak,” perhaps because the Most Holy Place is where Yahweh’s earthly throne is, the place from which he speaks and where his Law is kept.  For that reason, James Jordan suggests that we understand this as “the holy room of your enthroned word.”

David wants Yahweh not to be silent.  He wants him to speak.  And so he lifts his hands in prayer toward the place from which Yahweh speaks.

3.  In the second last stanza, “them” comes as a surprise (“Yahweh is a strength to them“) especially since David has been talking about himself (“I,” “me”) in contrast to the wicked (“them”).  But here, “them” seems to refer to the righteous in general, to God’s people (as in the next stanza: “Save your people.”

There’s a close connection, therefore, between David and Israel.  If Yahweh stays silent and keeps his distance from David, allowing him to be dragged away with the wicked, then Israel will not be saved either.  David is “the Anointed One” (the Hebrew word here is the source of our word”Messiah”) and the “Anointed One” represents his people.  That is especially true of Jesus: Yahweh is a strength to us because he is the saving refuge of our Messiah, Jesus Christ.

4.  In the last stanza, “lift them up” has the sense of carrying them, too.  Yahweh lifts us up in his arms and carries us into the future.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:01 pm | Discuss (0)

“Adults” and “Adolescents”

Category: Miscellaneous :: Permalink

Modern man’s personality is weakening.  Modern man is no longer certain of the sources of personal integrity.  We see the adults take flight into their expert knowledge, into their “fields” to find certainty and character and distinction.  The modern adult does not like politics or any general confession of faith or the emotional vagueness of a “movement.”  He concentrates on his profession and he is as good a specialist as he can be.

But simply by watching how the word “adult” has spread, we may gain an inkling that the modern “adult” is not too strong as a personality.  He is called an “adult” from the evidence of statistics about his biological age.  When persons are called “adults,” there is a divarication of biological and social maturity.  We see the boy and adolescent stay young, brutish, shapeless long beyond the years in which his grandfather took shape as a personality and took his place in society as a citizen, in the congregation as a member.  — Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, “Modern Man’s Disintegration and the Egyptian Ka,” I Am An Impure Thinker, p. 35 (paragraph break added).

I suspect that the term “adolescent” has done the same sort of damage.  Defining a young person as an “adolescent” until he reaches a certain age and then calling him an “adult” may lead young people to remain immature longer than they did in the past.  After all, “adolescents” or even “teenagers” aren’t “adults” and therefore aren’t expected to act like adults.  They aren’t expected to be mature, since maturity is now linked to biological age, and therefore they act immaturely.

That may explain why I’ve often met men from my grandfather’s generation or the succeeding one who strike me as “personalities.”  They’re sometimes quirky but they’re also interesting.  They aren’t all educated academically, but many of them have thought a lot of things through and formed their opinions on a wide variety of topics. 

They were often required to work at an early age.  In fact, I suspect that their age rarely mattered to anyone and when it did (e.g., entrance into the army in a time of war) they may even have lied about their age in order to get increased responsibility (which, need I mention, is far different from lying about your age in order to get into a club and drink your face off).

Today, however, “adolescence” seems to be expanding so that teenagers act childishly and young men, who are even past the biological age at which “adulthood” is said to begin, still want to act the way they did as teenagers.

And churches, in my experience, are no different in this regard from the rest of the culture.  That’s especially true when young people are required to wait until they approach adulthood before making profession of faith and being admitted to the Lord’s Table.  Until that time, they’re often seen as not-quite-members.  Sometimes their sins aren’t even taken seriously since, after all, they haven’t yet “made profession of faith.”

And so, it seems to me, that by focusing on a profession of faith at a particular age instead of treating children as full members and training them from childish faith to mature faith, the church perpetuates immaturity.  Instead of having adults who are defined by maturity instead of biological age, both our culture and many churches have adolescents stuck in a prolonged immaturity which, all too often, they seek to prolong as long as they can.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:17 pm | Discuss (1)

The Two Faces of Tobacco

Category: Literature :: Permalink

This morning, I finished reading Patrick O’Brian’s The Mauritius Command, the fourth in his series of novels about Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin.  As usual, it was absolutely delightful.  In this one, Aubrey is a commodore in the Indian Ocean, still during the time of the Napoleonic wars, with Maturin along as ship’s doctor and a bit more.

Here are Stephen’s comments about how well one of his prescriptions was working for a colleague’s patient:

“May we not in part attribute his activity to the roborative, stimulating use of coffee, and to the general soothing effect of mild tobacco, which has set his humours in equilibrio?  Tobacco, divine, rare, superexcellent tobacco, which goes far beyond all their panaceas, potable gold, and philosopher’s stones, a sovereign remedy to all diseases.  A good vomit, I confess, a virtuous herb, if it be well qualified and opportunely taken, and medicinally used, but as it is commonly abused by most men, which take it as tinkers do ale, ’tis a plague, a mischief, a violent purger of goods, lands, health; hellish, devilish and damned tobacco, the ruin and overthrow of body and soul.  Here, however, it is medicinally taken; and I congratulate myself upon the fact that in your hands there is no question of tinkers’ abuse” (pp. 201-202).

So there you have it: the next time you’re feeling down and sick, Dr. Maturin prescribes coffee and a mild cigar, taken opportunely.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:18 pm | Discuss (1)
July 12, 2007

“Whose Freedom Are You?”

Category: Theology - Political,Theology - Trinity :: Permalink

This week, I listened to a sermon by Doug Jones entitled “Whose Freedom Are You?,” which was preached at Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, back in June.  (You can get the notes of the sermon here.)

In the sermon, Jones meditates on the differences between a unitarian and a Trinitarian view of freedom.  (By “unitarian” with a small “u,” Jones is referring, not to the Unitarian church itself, but to any form of theism that posits a God who is only one person, not three; more broadly, he’s also including the views of Christians who confess the Trinity but whose thinking and acting is actually not consistent with that confession.)

On a unitarian view, Jones asks, what is freedom?  What is freedom for a God who is one person, not three?  His freedom is the lack of obstacles that stand in his way.  There’s no one else whose wishes and desires constrain him.  He is able to do whatever he wants to do.  He can live as he pleases without taking anyone else into account.  One doesn’t have to look too far to find such views of freedom in the Western world.

But on a Trinitarian view, freedom is quite different.  In fact, freedom and love are closely related.  The Father’s freedom is his desire and ability to do good to His Son and Spirit.  The Son’s freedom is His desire and ability to do good to the Father and Spirit.  The Spirit’s freedom is His desire and ability to do good to the Father and the Son.  And, because we’re caught up into that family by the Spirit as the children of the Father and, collectively, as the Bride of the Son, the freedom of the Triune God is the desire and the ability of each of the three Persons to do good to us.

On the unitarian view, I’m most truly free when I have no one else to stand in my way.  My wife becomes a limitation on my freedom.  My money isn’t mine to do with as I please; I’m obligated to use some of it for her and that restricts and limits my freedom.  My boss is a limitation on my freedom because he compells me to come to work when he wants and not whenever I wish.  The more other people are involved in my life, the less free I am to do what I want to do.

But on a Trinitarian view, the addition of more people to your life isn’t a restriction on your freedom but an opportunity for your freedom to flourish, because love is freedom and freedom is love.  I suppose, though I don’t recall Jones saying it exactly this way, that I am most truly free when I’m free from seeing my wife as an obstacle to (or a tool for) my own self-gratification and instead delight in serving her.

Along the way, there’s some thought-provoking application in this sermon to the vision of freedom presented in a speech by George Bush and to the vision being sold in Iraq, not least through the American involvement there.  Jones summons the church to think carefully about what we mean by “freedom” when we use the word in these political contexts.  Are we presenting a unitarian view or a Trinitarian view?  What are the results of the “freedom” we export?

Posted by John Barach @ 6:29 pm | Discuss (0)
July 11, 2007

My Life for Yours

Category: Family :: Permalink

The other day, I mentioned that Thomas Howard’s Hallowed Be This House is the source of the title of Douglas Wilson’s book My Life for Yours.  Indeed, it is.  That line runs throughout Howard’s book, as he shows that the home, viewed rightly, is a school in the mysteries of the gospel and the gospel-shaped life.

Here’s how he introduces this theme:

The mystery which was supposed to be at work in the life of Israel … and which was made present to them in the rite of the Tabernacle, was the mystery upon which all life proceeds and which will never be outgrown since it is there at the root of all things.  It is the mystery of My Life For Yours.  It is expressed in the words, “I owe my life to you, and I lay down my life for you.”

No one has ever drawn a single breath on any other basis.  No child has ever received life to begin with without a “laying down” of life by the two people to whom he owes his conception, and by the laying down of his mother’s life for months in bearing and nourishing him.  And somebody had to lay down his life for the child year after year in caring for him and training him and providing for him.  And no one has ever sat down to the smallest pittance of food that he did not owe to somebody’s life having been laid down, if it was only a prawn or a lettuce leaf; to say nothing of the work (a form of laid-down life) somebody had to do to plant and cultivate and pick and market the leaf, or catch the prawn.  No one has ever learned a single thing that he did not owe to somebody’s having taught him or helped him one way or another.  Morning, noon, and night, we owe it all to others.  My Life For Yours.  I owe my life to you, and I lay mine down for you (pp. 23-24).

In the course of the book, Howard develops this theme from the front door through the living room and the kitchen to the bedroom, where we have both the entrance into life and the exit.  My temptation is to quote it all to you, but instead I’ll just recommend that you pick up this book, along with Wilson’s, and spend some enjoyable time meditating on how the gospel is lived out in the rooms of your house and how your home is God’s school of charity, as Howard puts it.  And may those meditations be words on which we can act.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:43 pm | Discuss (0)
July 9, 2007

Lying Babies?

Category: Family :: Permalink

An article in the July 1 issue of The Telegraph, a British newspaper, reports on a study by Dr. Vasudevi Reddy, who is in the University of Portsmouth’s psychology department.  Her findings are based on her study of more than fifty children and on interviews with parents.

One of her findings was that babies as young as six months old lie to their parents by pretending to cry or to laugh in order to get attention from them.  Reddy says:

Fake crying is one of the earliest forms of deception to emerge, and infants use it to get attention even though nothing is wrong. You can tell, as they will then pause while they wait to hear if their mother is responding, before crying again.  It demonstrates they’re clearly able to distinguish that what they are doing will have an effect. This is essentially all adults do when they tell lies, except in adults it becomes more morally loaded.

On at least two blogs, the Triablogue and the Riddleblog, this article is cited in connection with original sin.  “See?” these bloggers say.  “Psychological studies are only now catching up to what we knew all along from the Bible.”

Now I don’t deny that children lie or that “those who speak lies go astray from birth” (Ps. 58:3).  But I wonder about the validity of this study.  Reddy says that infants as young as six months old practice fake crying “to get attention even though nothing is wrong.”  But who says nothing is wrong?  Reddy?  The parents she interviewed?

Perhaps she concludes that nothing is wrong because the child will cry a bit and then stop to see if the parents are responding.  But does that confirm that nothing is really wrong?  Perhaps all it confirms is that the child is hoping for a response.  If the parents don’t respond, the baby will cry some more.  But if you ignore a baby long enough, eventually it will lapse into silence.  (But what a terrible thing to do to a baby!  Why would you want to teach a baby that its cries will go unheard, that Mom and Dad’s ears aren’t open when their children cry?)

In fact, if a baby is crying because it wants the parents to respond, then I’d be inclined to say that something is wrong.  The baby is lonely.  The baby wants cuddling and love.  It feels a lack in its life, and so it cries.  I see no evidence that the cry is itself deceptive, that the baby is actually feeling great and senses no lack at all and is perfectly happy but decides to cry anyway in order to deceive the parents into giving it attention.

How much more, then, with laughter?  If a child laughs, how could one possibly prove that the child laughed in order to get attention, not because it was happy?  And why not both?  If you read something funny and you laugh out loud, not only because you enjoy what you’re reading but also because you hope your wife will ask what’s so funny and you’ll be able to read it aloud to her, is your laughter a lie?  I’m not convinced.  But even if it is, how could you ever prove that that’s what the six-month old baby is doing when he laughs?

Or take coughing.  When my daughter was very young, I had a cough.  I was sitting in the car, coughing intermittently, while I waited for Moriah to come back from shopping.  Suddenly I heard a cough in the backseat.  Aletheia wasn’t sick.  She was just mimicking me.  Was she lying?  Was she pretending to be sick in order to deceive me into giving her attention?  I don’t think so.  I think she was mimicking me because she had just learned to make that sound and because mimicking adults is both fun and, judging by her reactions, funny (or maybe Aletheia only pretends to laugh in order to manipulate me, if you believe some studies).

Again, I’m not suggesting that infants are incapable of sin.  I am suggesting that whatever sin they’re capable of isn’t as easy to detect as this article indicates.  And I’m concerned about the effects of an application of the doctrine of original sin via this study to our children.  That is, I’m concerned that parents, motivated by a confession of original sin and hearing that children cry or laugh in order to deceive, may fail to respond to their babies when they laugh or, perhaps worse, when they cry (“He’s just crying.  He’s exercising his lungs.  He’s trying to deceive and manipulate me.  Nothing’s really wrong”).

For more on the story, see this article, which quotes Reddy as defining “fake” crying as something more “calculated” than the usual cries of distress.  She backs that definition up with an example from a mother who thought the crying sounded “put on” and noticed that the child would pause in crying “which seemed rather like waiting to see if it worked.”  That all sounds remarkably subjective to me and may reflect the beliefs the mother already had.  That is, if the mother already believed that her child’s cries were “put on,” then the fact that the child is quiet sometimes constitutes “proof” of what the mother already thinks.

In this blog entry, however, it sounds as if the data Reddy is considering includes “a variety of acts, such as teasing, pretending, distracting and concealing, which are not typically considered in relation to human deception….  Infants and toddlers seem to be able to communicate false information (about themselves, about shared meanings and about events) as early as true information.”

If that’s the kind of data that Reddy is considering, then, while it’s true that infants can communicate false information (e.g., my daughter’s coughing isn’t the result of a cold), their doing so doesn’t really constitute (sinful) deception.  There’s nothing sinful about pretending.  In fact, I’ve encouraged my daughter to communicate such “false information,” by pretending with her.  I’m not really a monster who’s going to eat her up.  I’m not really a horse that she can ride.  She isn’t really a carpenter, even though she has a hammer.  And so forth.  But no one considers “false information” of this sort to be sinful deception.

Perhaps, then, the reports about this article aren’t reflecting exactly what Reddy has been studying.  Reddy herself has not said that the “deception” she’s talking about is bad, and so it may simply be that some Christians are drawing the wrong conclusions from her study.

Still, I’m concerned about parents who hear about Reddy’s study and who think about it in light of the church’s confession concerning original sin and who then regard their children’s communication with suspicion (“Is she manipulating me?  Deceiving me?  Is this just fake crying?”).  That’s not only an abuse of the doctrine of original sin; it’s also a failure to love, just as it would be if I regarded everything my wife says with suspicion because, after all, she’s been tainted by original sin, too.  Love thinks no evil, believes all things, hopes all things.

Posted by John Barach @ 6:14 pm | Discuss (4)