Views & Reviews
No. 25 Copyright (c) 1995 Biblical Horizons January, 1995
A Brief Introduction by James B. Jordan
Eugen Rosenstock was born in Berlin in 1888, son of a Jewish banker. He converted to Christianity early in life, earned a doctorate in law, and served in the German army in World War I. After the war, he became convinced that Western Civilization was undergoing a great change and decided to devote his life to providing a Christian explanation of this movement of history. When he married Margrit Huessy, he added her last name to his own.
The twin poles of his thought concern language and history. Against the method of philosophy, he contended that it is language, not logic, that opens reality; and against the timeless abstractions of philosophy he contended that God’s work in history provides the true revelation of human existence. In back of these two correlative ideas is the Christian doctrine of a God who speaks and who has created the universe and superintends the progression of historical development stemming from that act of creation.
Since the Second Person of God reveals God, and since He is the Word of God, and since humanity is made in His image, it follows that an investigation into the character of language is an investigation into the character of man and of reality. Thus, R-H proposed a linguistic approach to human life and developed a Christian approach to grammar that di_ers markedly from the Greek approach that we have all been taught. Language, according to R-H, moves from God to man as command, to which we respond in joyful lyrical obedience. God speaks to us again in judgment, evaluating our works, and we respond with re_ection, learning from our history. Thus, language moves from command to song to judgment to re_ection.
This is history; it is liturgical history because it is a dialogue between God’s Son and His daughter (humanity). (This is how I put it, not R-H). The history of cultures also runs from a time of command and initiation, when the culture is established, to a time of outworking, as the people joyously implement the paradigm of their culture. Then comes a period of decay leading to a time of judgment and a further time of re_ection. Thus (this is I, again), we move from Moses to David to the prophets (Jesus) to Paul.
Apart from God’s Spirit, sinful humanity drops out of history into the "world." God calls us back into history as actors in His drama. History, though, is a complex tapestry that involves all human beings and all human actions. Thus, R-H investigates history in depth, showing the changes and transformations, the revolutions, that destroy old cultural models and introduce new ones.
All of this I see as very valuable, and for that reason I recommend that anyone seriously interested in laboring in the intellectual arena become familiar with Rosenstock-Huessy’s insights. Now for a few observations.
1. Rosenstock-Huessy is always a surprise. One never knows what he will write or say on a topic, but it will always be something "di_erent." He tries to come at old things in new ways, sometimes successfully and sometimes not.
2. Rosenstock-Huessy is rather a maverick as a Christian. He sco_s at the notion that the universe is millions of years old. He claims to hold _ercely to Nicene orthodoxy, and views the Bible as God’s inspired Word. He has contempt for liberal Christianity and for literary criticism of the Bible. He a_rms that the four gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, in that order. Yet he also thinks that the books of Moses were put together in the days of David. Also, he often speaks and writes as if the Church were going to wither away in the next millennium, but he remained an active church-goer all his life. (In fact, the coming age of international techo-tribalism will be a golden time for the local church, for the local church is the purest form of the tribe.)
3. Rosenstock-Huessy’s followers and advocates are, it seems, mainly composed of people who want some kind of religionless Christianity, or some kind of one-world order that is not grounded in the church. The antithesis between Christ and non-Christ, between "history" and the "world," which is pretty clear in R-H’s own work (though not as clear as we would like), is not maintained by many of his disciples. In my opinion, the "liberals" who have taken up R-H’s insights are not being faithful to the master. Be warned, though, that if you begin to read the literature surrounding his work, you will sometimes encounter left-wing nonsense.
4. Rosenstock-Huessy’s books and tapes are available from Argo Books, RR2, Box 366A, Jericho, VT 05465. Write for a catalogue. They also publish a newsletter. The new catalogue is due out soon. If you want to get into this, and want me to make some suggestions of where to begin, write and let me know.
Belling The Bell Curve
by James B. Jordan
The Bell Curve by Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein has been all over the news of late. In a _ne essay in the February, 1995, American Spectator, Thomas Sowell points out some problems with it, while generally commending the book. Sowell points out that IQ is not a matter of race or genetics, but changes rapidly from generation to generation within a culture. Sowell, however, provides no mechanism to account for this.
The Christian needs to be able to give an account concerning this matter. I believe we _nd much of help in the researches of Rupert Sheldrake and his associates, summarized most recently in his book The Presence of the Past (New York: Random House Vintage Books, 1989). Sheldrake, a Christian, points out that the evidence is mounting to show that the created universe does indeed undergo change in response to stimuli. Animals change over time, inheriting acquired characteristics not through gradual changes in tiny things called genes, but as a result of shocks to their "morphogenetic _elds." The constancies in the natural patterns and characteristics of animals are not bound upon them by "natural laws" but are "habits." Thus, Sheldrake challenges the notion that a given animal’s characteristics are solely determined by its genetic code and personal life experiences.
The current establishment view is that what is universal in animals and men are their respective genetic codes, and that personal life experiences do not in_uence the universal character of the species or race. Thus, the individual life experiences of gira_es or Eskimos does not change the species gira_e or the race of Eskimos. Sheldrake’s research contradicts this assertion. He shows that when a given gira_e learns something new, all gira_es will tend to learn itand not over many generations, but within the lifetimes of the existing gira_es. This is a Trinitarian, one-and-many approach to the subject: The oneness of all-gira_es learns to some extent what the particular gira_e learns.
If Sheldrake is correct, the same is true of human races. Just because today the pygmies, for instance, have low IQs does not mean they will have low IQs in a generation. If they become Christians, for instance, they will rapidly change.
I cannot summarize Sheldrake’s evidence and his entire argument here. I can only recommend you _nd the book and read it for stimulation of thought.
The Christian view of race and IQ should take the following two factors into account. First, history is real and it is short thus far. The world is only 6000 years old. All change and development thus far has taken place in that short span of time. Further change can happen just as quickly.
Second, God intends humanity to mature as His daughter. Growth in life, and therefore in ability and IQ, is part of that development. The higher IQ of some groups has little if anything to do with genes, and everything to do with those groups’ history and habits. Change the habits of a group, and the group’s IQ scores will change in one generation.
On the Intrusion of
by Peter J. Leithart
In "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," one of his philosophical short stories, Jorge Luis Borges, the blind poet of Buenos Aires, recounts the _ctional history of the First Encyclopedia of Tlön. During the seventeenth century, a small group of European scholars determined to collaborate on an encyclopedia detailing the history, geography, philosophy, science, and languages of an imaginary country that they called Tlön. The task proved too immense for a single generation to complete. It was passed from master to disciple for two centuries, during which the society was driven from Europe and turned up in America.
"In 1824," the story continues, "in Memphis (Tennessee), one of [the society’s] a_liates conferred with the ascetic millionaire Ezra Buckley. The latter, somewhat disdainfully, let him speak and laughed at the plan’s modest scope. He told the agent that in America it was absurd to invent a country and proposed the invention of a planet."
Buckley’s support of the project came with a single condition: "The work will make no pact with the imposter Jesus Christ." Borges explained, "Buckley did not believe in God, but he wanted to demonstrate to this nonexistent God that mortal man is capable of conceiving a world."
The society reformulated its goals accordingly, and in 1914, it _nished the _rst forty volumes of the encyclopedia. Plans were laid for a second, more elaborate edition, written not in English but in one of the invented languages of Tlön.
With the discovery of the First Encyclopedia of Tlön in a Memphis library in 1944, language, history, even pharmacology and archaeology began to be reformed by Tlönistic concepts. Within a hundred years, the narrator predicts as the story closes, "the world will be Tlön."
"The truth is," Borges wrote in a postscript dated 1947, "that [reality] longed to yield [to Tlön]. Ten years ago any symmetry with a semblance of order dialectical materialism, anti-Semitism, Nazism was su_cient to entrance the minds of men. How could one do other than submit to Tlön, to the minute and vast evidence of an orderly planet?"
"It is useless to answer," Borges continued, "that reality is orderly. Perhaps it is, but in accordance with divine laws I translate: inhuman laws which we never quite grasp. Tlön is surely a labyrinth, but it is a labyrinth devised by men, a labyrinth destined to be deciphered by men."
Borges’s dense and ironic stories, full of Chinese boxish _ctions-within-_ctions, resist easy interpretation. It seems legitimate, however, to understand this story as a parable of the modern world. Modern Western civilization is a massive e_ort to imagine and construct a world to replace the collapsed civilization of Christendom.
From a Christian perspective, the e_ort to invent a post-Christian world is like the creation of Tlön. Christianity provides not only comfort in a_iction and at death, but also a true account of the world and its history. Thus, when they set out to describe a world independent of God, the Encyclopedists of the Enlightenment, no less than the Encyclopedists of Tlön, were conceiving a world that doesn’t exist.
The problem, as Borges reminds us, is that imaginary worlds have a sobering capacity to fashion reality. The world can become Tlön, and Tlön can become a horrifying place to live.
No one would now deny that Marxist dreams of equality and freedom turned nightmarish when applied to the real world of Russia. What is less well understood is that the imaginary world of modern thought has intruded into and molded American civilization.
Perhaps the clearest illustration is found in public education. Most schoolchildren are taught to believe in a world where God, sin, and redemption are at best marginal and private concerns; where complex living organisms somehow spring into existence and then change into other organisms; where Christianity did not play a central role in the American struggle for liberty; where Moby Dick can be understood without reference to the Bible.
This world is neither neutral nor tolerantly pluralistic. It is simply a fantasy world.
Our civilization, T. S. Eliot remarked, "is trying to experiment with attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality." For the Christian, this experiment is as colossal a waste of e_ort and resources as a project to invent an Encyclopedia of Tlön. Just as wasteful, but, in a more than _nancial sense, far more costly.
Sex & Power
by James B. Jordan
I recently heard a tape of a discussion among several Christian writers and political thinkers, and one of the participants noted that it seems that some of our greatest leaders have not been sexually faithful men. Indeed, some have been pro_igate. Thus, the participant argued, it seems that private virtue does not clearly link to public virtue. In this essay, I wish to take issue with that notion.
First of all, we do not know now much greater these men might have been if they had been faithful to their wives.
Second of all, we do not know what other men, faithful men, might have been done far better if they had been in power rather than the "great men" who were.
But third, there is indeed a very strong relationship between marital faithfulness and public virtue, and that is what I wish to explore here.
To begin with, the Bible teaches that the leader(s) of a nation relate to the nation as a husband to a wife. The leader is married to the nation in some deep psychological sense. This is also true of the relationship between a pastor and a church. Thus, the corruption of a man’s marital relationship will inevitably a_ect his political actions. And vice versa: A pastor who betrays his ecclesiastical calling by attacking or betraying the Church may well _nd betrayal in his own marriage as a consequence.
In_delity, polygamy, and divorce are all forbidden by implication in Genesis 2:24, "For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife." If a man cleaves or sticks to his wife, he will be unable to cleave to another.
Leviticus 18:18 speci_es this prohibition to include the sister of one’s wife. Jacob had married sisters, though this involved a trick, because he was legally married to Rachel and then physically cleaved to Leah, thus becoming bound to both without planning to be. Israelites might have imagined, thus, that marrying two sisters was permissible. But God said, "And you shall not take a wife in addition to her sister as a rival while she is alive, to uncover her nakedness." Any second wife is a rival, and any second wife "uncovers the nakedness" of the _rst, exposing her to shame and ridicule as inadequate. Thus, this law also forbids all polygamy.
We ask, then, why Moses (under Divine inspiration) adds in Deuteronomy 17:17 regarding the king, "neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away." It has already been established that polygamy is forbidden. Why add that kings, in particular, are forbidden to collect wives? Surely the reason has to do with the particular situation of the ruler. We notice that Paul says that Church rulers also must not be polygamous (1 Timothy 3:2 & 12). The principle would be the same in this case.
Part of the reason for forbidding extra wives for the king is that marriages are alliances. Solomon’s wives were taken as part of alliances with the heathen nations round about Israel, for instance. This opened the nation up to idolatry, and Solomon built idol shrines for his heathen wives.
A deeper reason, however, has to do with the relationship between sex and power. Why is a man unfaithful to his wife? After all, if all the man wanted was sex, he could have it with his wife, or at least with a prostitute. Beyond this, if the man actually fell in love with another woman, he might have a love a_air with her, but this would not involve having sex with one woman after another. Engagement with prostitutes and extra-marital a_airs are sinful, but do not involve the abuse of power. We can think of the American o_cers during World War II who spent three or so years in Europe away from their wives and wound up having love a_airs with some female associate. This is understandable, though wrong, and is not an abuse of power.
Having sex with one willing woman after another, however, is an abuse of power. There is the thrill of titillation in possessing one woman after another, and often there is a very real addiction involved, but indulging in such activities is seldom possible apart from power (including the power wealth brings). Such women are readily available to men who have power, for they want to participate in the power. A John Kennedy, for instance, does not use such women for sex, for he has a wife, nor is he having a love a_air with them; he barely knows their names. Rather, he is abusing power.
Such a man _nds such women available and willing, and uses them. Uses them; that is the operative phrase here. Throughout history, men of power have used women one after another. Such behavior shows a great contempt for women.
The Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, who has a Christian background that is re_ected in his early works, deals with just this subject in his novel A Man of the People. This novel, which I commend to you, is in part a re_ection on the parallels between sexual power and political power.
We can turn to David for a Biblical example. Though married to Michal, David began collecting more wives during his "wilderness sojourn" (Abigail and Ahinoam), and continued to collect more afterwards. His cavalier attitude toward women translated into a cavalier attitude toward his political responsibilities. Precisely when he should have been with the Ark leading Israel into battle, he stayed behind and sinned with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11). His son Amnon imitated him and ravished Tamar, embittering Absalom, and leading to a civil war. Later, David abused power by numbering the people, trying to take Yahweh’s host as his own.
Today we (evidently) have a leader who regularly "Kennedyizes" with women. From the news, especially as recounted in several issues of the American Spectator, we gather that his preference is for the women to engage in fellatio (oral stimulation of the penis). Now, as far as a married couple is concerned, there is no Biblically forbidden caress, and whatever a couple chooses to do in the course of love-making is up to them. Where there is love and marriage and mutual consent, there is no degradation. In the context of one-night-stands, however, a man who uses women in this way is degrading them. He surely won’t remember their names. He gets them to do something that puts them in a position of humiliation before him. If these reports are true, this leader is certainly not in position to be faithful to his nation, and is a man who regularly abuses power.
The availability of women to the man of wealth and/or power is a great temptation. If he resists that temptation, he will develop character that will stand him well as he exercises power. Because the temptation is so much greater for such men, and because the consequences are so much more deadly, the Bible specially singles out men of power and forbids them to practise polygamy and pro_igacy. A faithful man may have other _aws that prevent his being a good leader, as was the case with Jimmy Carter, but marital faithfulness is one certain requirement for a good leader.
In conclusion, marital chastity and _delity are essential to the proper exercise of rule, in Church and state. The leader who abuses women will abuse the nation as well.