The Search For Order
In that, one must feel the dimension of the supernatural that pervaded all knowledge at that time. The supernatural, itself, contradicts reality. It is an ever present fourth dimension in the real old world that skewed all observations. Dimensions, even today, can underline contradictions. For example: As I contemplate my coffee cup I see it as a substantial solid, but as I think of it in subatomic dimensions, I visualize it as space which elemental nuclei are surrounded by planetary electrons with comparatively as much inter-particular space as our Sun and planetary system. The cup presents a contradiction of "solid", in one dimension, and "space" in another. A belief in the supernatural does the same thing. The writers of the Bible did not hesitate to accept the supernatural as reality in some places, especially if it had to do with the majesty of God, and interpret reality as the supernatural in others. Because of this, there is conflict between the literal and meaningful understanding of the Bible.
Literal and Meaningful
Jonah was a prophet in Galilee, who, among other things, prophesied the restoration of the old boundaries of the kingdom. He had heard of the sinful city of Nineveh and felt compelled to go there and warn them of their eminent destruction. He was afraid to go because the people were said to be dangerous and cruel. He would have rather gone the other way to the end of the Earth, which was Tarshish in southern Spain. One had to sail upwind for six months to get there, though one could sail back in a month down wind. Anyway, after much anguish (being at sea in the belly of a fish), he finally decided to go and preach in Nimeveh which was five hundred miles (thirty days travel to the east).
When he got there, the people, including the king, took him seriously and repented their ways: wearing sackcloth and sitting in ashes. In the meantime, Jonah had retired to a hillside overlooking the city so that he could see the show of Nineveh's destruction. He constructed a booth which became over grown and shaded by a gourd (vine). The fact that it was a vine rather than a huge gourd is further evidenced by the fact that a worm infestation caused the vine to wither. Gourds do not wither. Jonah complained to the Lord that he loved the vine that shaded him, and he mourned it's death. The Lord admonished him saying: "If Jonah loved the vine that shaded him and mourned it's death, how much more might He, the Lord, have compassion for the repenting people of Nineveh?" This was the first dialogue in the Bible to describe the Lord as a compassionate rather than a vengeful God. This was a step in the evolution of understanding.
We may note a Biblical anachronism in this story at this point, however. It is this instance of logic among the oldest writings in the Bible. In the words of God: "If you can have compassion for a vine, how much more so can I have compassion for a city full of people?" Therefore, I am a compassionate God where people are concerned over and above your compassion for the vine. This is an example of a type of logic: Modes Ponens. Since logic was not invented until several hundred years later, we suspect that this part of the story was inserted centuries after the original story was written. From that day forth I have never again scoffed at anything I read in the Bible. I haven't understood it all. I still wonder what it means to take a rib from Adam. Is it "a chip off'n the old block", or what? Neither have I understood some of the interpretations other people have put to it. As I see it, the prophets were smart, charismatic men who were doing the best they could in a morass of ignorance and the supernatural, and I am grateful to the privileged for having their writings to learn how difficult were the first Truths to discover.
The Truth is the story of an evolution of a concept of God as it changed over the ages. Every meaning of the Bible is a true representation of a state of mind of a people at a definite period in history. Without the Bible, and other ancient works, we would have no idea how ancient people thought, and how their ideas changed over historic times. The reading of the Bible, therefore, is an experience which may encourage us to evolve our own ideas. From this point of view let us review some salient features of the Biblical story which will involve history, archeology, and science as well as the Testaments.
The Primitive Awakening
Without a doubt a great advance by man was the discovery of process and order. Nature develops and grows on order, but until the advent of man, it was all below the level of consciousness. Nothing is discovered until it is brought to the level of mental consciousness, and can be contemplated and manipulated in the mind. One can imagine the change in a mind that develops from mystical spiritualism to the real world of cause and effect, and order. It was a great step even to cherish the first few understandings of order. Isolated, the first few thoughts of order were of little use. It took a special curiosity, and determination to hang on to such ideas and develop them.
that we cannot dream that it was ever otherwise.
We are quite certain that each period of day and night regularly follows each other, but to the earliest mind, before clocks, this probably was not at all evident. In the first place the length of the day depends on the season. Furthermore, and we all have experienced this, some days were boring and seemed longer, while other days were exciting and seemed to be short. Night time was never regular. Sometimes people barely shut their eyes and it was daylight again. Surely days and nights were first construed as irregular periods of light and dark. Who knows what regularities first came to their attention? But, it possibly had to do with families and people. God was talking to those people in the most natural sense, but it was hard to comprehend that God was Natural Order amidst all that apparent disorder. The Creator is an orderly relationship between very small particles of lifeless matter. God spoke truly, but there was a cacophony of disorder. People could see only the largest orders of relationships.
They must have sensed that the kindest people were the nearest relatives and that strangers were hard to understand and were unpredictable. Most strangers were dangerous in a sparse competitive environment. Maybe it was not seen that the first order of life was that God is Love, for it extended only to a small family. It was obvious that there were two kinds of people: male and female, and that they were upright. Aside from eating, the getting together of male and female was the most important thing in life. The relationship of father to children probably was not suspected for millions of years. Since every where else in Nature the rule is that where there is sexual dimorphism (where males and females are easily discernable) there is polygamy, the relationship of a man was as a head of a harem, and the women had children.
In small family groups a constant aspect was that there was the big man and little women. The first aspect of kinship was undoubtedly for the mother and other folk, sisters and brothers, who came from her. From those considerations and observations their ideas of genealogies were derived. It was not until a family could have a house and home that monogamy became a regular feature of a family. Perhaps the competition for sexual favors from the man of the house was too much for more than one woman in close quarters. It was not until recently that a woman considered herself as anything more than a "pod" in which grew the seed of the man. Darwin believed it! Recognition of the genetic contribution of the woman came later.
In primitive times strength and power were synonymous. It took millions of years to separate power from strength alone and add wealth and politics. Then, as now, power led to satisfaction, which was mostly sex. Such was the order of things. A growing maturing people must have been in awe of power then, as they are now. There was a simplicity of choices. In the competition for satisfaction, some individuals consistently succeeded where others failed. That was the order of things. That was God talking. Those differences in values and capabilities were the very essence of the motive force of evolution. When conditions of order were understood, such regularities were remembered by individuals who had a talent for remembering. In time they were able to assist their memories by drawing figures in special places. For many thousands years men have been making magical signs and pictures. We have found alters made of special arrangements of rocks and bones such as "Stonehenge" in England or the Hopewell Indian Earthworks in Ohio. All these signs were hoped to have an effect on a spirit and somehow force it to do the will of the worshipers.
Writing had a most profound effect on society, and in the beginning, was of the strongest influence. When they could draw their figures on portable objects, they had an analogue of a book. It was then a matter of stumbling onto more efficient ways to make their marks on lighter objects. Those most important regularities in the nature of things were marked in special places; and, those people who marked things there were talking to God. God was in the order of things. They had nothing else in which to believe, and, why should they try to think of anything else? One of the first light, portable, efficient modes to mark important observations on the regularities of Nature was a collection of scrolls about thirty six feet long, which became the books of the Bible. To those who could not read or write thought this was the strongest influence of all. It was awesome.
As we consider the Testaments, we must consider the dimensions on which the writers were operating. We must be one with their endeavors and place a value on their work consistent with an evolution of ideas. They were concerned with laws of survival and terms of rationalism and the supernatural. That gradually changed as empiricism and science grew. Those ancient geniuses were working on the principle that God was just like they were. They were impressed by wealth. So, they believed God would be too. Gold, Gold plate, jewels, and other signs of wealth were placed on the box, otherwise known as the Ark, where they believed God resided. Men were more easily swayed by flattery than threats. So they believed God would be, too. They loved to have people give gifts and swear allegiance to them. Such human foibles were also ascribed to God.
The ancient Jews were a long way from the concept that the ultimate worship of God was the study of Nature, but their spiritual evolution developed along the line of thoughts of men with the greatest insight that eventually prevailed, regardless of the understanding of the men who originated them. In other words: The right ideas survived the tests of time regardless of, and in spite of, the circumstances that inspired them, and maybe for the wrong reasons. As a good example: Prayer evolved out of a desire to influence the will of God through supplication, praise, and declaration of allegiance. This has survived the tests of time, not because such practices influenced God, but because it influenced the person praying. Prayer has a psychological worth because it refines a person's goals and conditions their mind to think and work in a constructive fashion. Prayer is universal among humans both in living people and through the ages of people who have passed into history. Prayer was discovered independently all over the world and is practiced by all religions. Such a practice would only arise and survive for so long for so many if it were useful.
In a prayer, a person meditates on what he wants and clarifies it by verbalization. This mental process, more often than not, intensifies a practical solution to a problem. A shortcut to a positive result is to pray for one's self, declare a determination to do something constructive, plan steps in a process of attaining one's goals. Concentration in prayer is highly productive. Atheists seem to believe that one must pray to a spirit, and that if there is no spirit, there is no avail. This would be true if that were the mechanism. Instead, the mechanism is a physiological reaction to mental concentration. I have heard so many people say, in effect, that if there is no the supernatural in it, they won't do it! Others have accused me of being superstitious because they have seen me pray, or heard me confess that I never go to sleep at night without a prayer, even a very formalized prayer: That ritualized prayer in which I say the same thing each time. The important thing is that I concentrate on the meaning of the words, and I try to mean them every time. Each prayer is followed by a short period of concentration in which I say to myself: "Those are my goals! Now, what do I do tomorrow to bring them about?" If I have nothing else, my ritual is: "My Creator and Sustainer in Nature, may I be wiser, more knowing and kinder? Give me insight and understanding of thy covenant that I may be redeemed and be stronger and healthier to communicate thy message for thy sake." To be wiser is to know more about survival. To be more knowing is to study. To be kinder is to think of a subtle way to help some one else. Since I believe that God is in the order of things, I believe that doing his work is to spread information on bringing more order to the world. Not to be forgotten in prayer is identification, humility, and dedication. In the salutation: "Creator and Sustainer in Nature", I identify with Nature. In asking that I might be wiser, more knowing, and kinder, I humbly confess that I could be better."
In asking for strength, health, and the ability to communicate I dedicate myself to the task of promoting our understanding of Nature. Prayer is an inseparable part of reverence. Prayer can be a step in the cure of boredom, frustration, and alienation. In prayer we can reaffirm that we are part of a whole, that we are less than the whole, and that we are dedicated to the promotion of the whole. So, even though prayer was started to placate a supernatural spirit that directed the course of events, it can be continued to aid in the course of present human events. Prayer should appeal to our better nature.
Search for Order
If we affirm that our philosophy is still growing in the present, we affirm that it has grown in the past. In the scriptures we find an evolution of concepts. As we review the centuries and millennia that the scriptures overview, we come to the realization that the process was at first slow and difficult. Not like today, when the pace of evolution of many aspects of intellectual life is quickening. There was a time when the average person could spend his whole life in an area where the dirt paths and dwellings did not change. Now-a-days, in a life time, a dirt path can become a road, then covered with concrete, and broadened to an eight lane highway, and it is worth one's life to walk anywhere. In my lifetime the persistent dirt paths have given way to ethereal lanes through the air traveled by jet aircraft. Today, the evolution of philosophical concepts has a problem keeping up with the fast pace of modern science. In this chapter we approach a subject which can only be understood if one understands that it outlines an evolution of thought.
Behind each written piece there is a perception, an experience. The value of the writing depends on the insight of the authors. The writings of greatest value have broad application for survival. This is the essence of wisdom. The ancient Jews thought that God was in conscious control of everything. They observed life about them and saw that some men lived better than others, and they detected some patterns of behavior among their fellow men which seemed to promote "bad luck". They did not see it as "bad luck", however, because God commanded everything. Knowing of nothing else, they deemed it to be the Will of God that certain activities would be punishable, by God, with early death. These activities were called "sins". The "bad luck", or early death, was God's punishment for committing the "sin".
Occasionally, they designated sins that were far fetched, but in other instances they worked out some pretty good rules. One observation that seemed to work out was that people who were never promiscuous remained free of certain types of "bad luck", and that was God's will. Likewise, they noted that men who cleaved to one woman had better luck, and rules about monogamy were derived. Religious rules were formulated, but smart men, poor men, idiots, and maidens seemingly were not deterred. Everyone did just as they pleased. The prophets were frustrated and preached, and preached, and preached: predicting the collapse of their society and destruction of the temple to little avail. They fought "animism" and "animalism" then and failed about as much as they do now.
Chapter 19. The Old Testament: Judaism