|Say what one will about mythology; there are times when it is an incredibly deep store of verifiable human knowledge drawn from experience and made more powerful through allegorization.|
Take Virgil’s remark in Book IV of the Aeneid that as soon as Aeneas and Dido have, according to Juno, been married, immediately “Rumor flies through Libya’s great cities. Rumor, swiftest of all the evils in the world.”
Who is this Rumor? What happens if we pay attention to the mythology and not just assume we know what it’s saying because we know the English word?
As it turns out upon close inspection of Titan genealogies (how many of us ever really bother to look at those things, let alone learn the Titans as well as we know the Olympians?), Rumor is the cousin of the god Apollo, famously known as the god of Truth via prophecy. Apollo’s true words are frequently misunderstood, which is precisely why they cause so many problems. By contrast, Rumor’s words are very easily understood, which is precisely why they cause so many problems. Ironically, both sets of words, the true and the false, operate on already existing desires within the hearers.
Herotodus tells us how Croesus of Lydia wants to destroy the Persians. He asks Apollo’s Oracle if he should attack and if he’ll win. The Oracle tells him cryptically, “If you attack you will destroy a great empire.” Exceedingly happy at his divinely-given fortune, Croesus attacks, but is himself defeated by the Persians. Angry at the Oracle for supposedly lying to him, he confronts it, reminding it that it told him he would win. To which the Oracle calmly replies, “You didn’t pay attention to the words I actually said. I told you that if you attacked you would destroy a great empire. You are the one who failed to ask which empire you would destroy.”
Thus does the god of Truth subvert human plans because human folly hears only what it wants to hear.
Likewise, Apollo’s cousin Rumor flies forth proclaiming to all of Africa that Aeneas and Dido have contracted a marriage which is now blinding both of them to their respective royal duties, and so threatening everyone with disorder. Virgil’s phraseology here is interesting: “…terrorizing the great cities, clinging as fast to her twisted lies as she clings to words of truth. Now Rumor is in her glory, filling Africa’s ears withtale on tale of intrigue, bruiting her song of facts and falsehoods mingled.”
The result of her mixed song, her spreading of reports to every itching ear, is that a petty African lord, Iarbas, who was already angry at Dido for spurning him, and so is easy game for Rumor, who “stokes his heart with hearsay, piling fuel on his fire,” finds himself”driven wild, set ablaze by the bitter rumor.” Iarbas then denounces Jupiter for allowing all of this to happen, asserting that Jupiter’s own temples are merely “hollow show,” which prompts Jupiter to compel Aeneas to leave Dido in order to pursue his destiny. Distraught Dido subsequently commits suicide, cursing all of Aeneas’ future descendants to eternal war with Carthage.
Thus does the goddess of twisted words subvert human plans because human folly hears only what it wants to hear.
The allegorized-mythological connection between truth and rumor points to surely one of the most profound human experiences. Words matter. Accurate reporting of words matters perhaps more. And in this light it is all the more interesting that Rumor is usually the Latin word “fama,” which also has the connotations of reputation and fame. Apparently the line between truth and lies can very, very thin.
It leaves the thoughtful person uncomfortably aware both of the necessity of moderating his speech and properly interpreting that of others. Human folly knows no bounds – there is no reason why even someone with “the correct worldview” in his head couldn’t easily fail to use words well or fall prey to the distortive power of Rumor while blindly believing he is only listening to the very voice of Truth Itself.
It also leaves the thoughtful person wondering whether reputations and fame are inevitably some sort of odd mixture of truth and lies – and so what that might mean for our epistemic and moral duty when we encounter fabulous reports reports, pro or con, concerning important people and events. I doubt there is anywhere that Rumor flies faster than on this great and powerful technological terror that we call the Internet.
Ontology is “the study of being,” or, “the study of existence.” Things that exist share the quality of “existing,” and ontology studies what it means to say that a thing “exists.” The term “ontology” comes from the Greek words ontos (being) and logos (the study of). Ontology answers questions like these:
- Why is there something rather than nothing?
- What is a “something” in the first place?
- What kinds of “somethings” exist?
- How can we organize, or classify, the kinds of “somethings” into groups so we can better understand them?
- What happens to a “something” when it experiences a change? How much can you take away from or change “something” before it becomes “something else”?
A being is just a thing that exists. You are a being, I am a being, cars are beings, houses are beings, tables and chairs and pencils and footballs are beings, and so forth. Anything that exists is a being. Some beings exist outside of your mind (such as other people). Other beings exist only in your mind (such as unicorns and other products of your imagination).
What about God? God exists, right? Doesn’t that mean that God is a being? Actually, Christians think of God as being in a different class than all the things mentioned above. God is not a being. Rather, He is Being. What does that mean? To answer that question, we first need to discuss a few more terms that are used in ontology.
- Immanent Being – To say that a being is “immanent” means that that being exists inside the world. Immanent means “inside of.”
- Transcendent Being – To say that a being is “transcendent” means that that being exists outside of the world. Transcendent means “outside of.”
- Finite Being – A finite being is a being that has limitations, such as size, weight, color, abilities, lifespan, and so forth. Another term for finite being is contingent being, which means a being that was made to exist by something else.
- Infinite Being – An infinite being is a being that has no limitations.
What does all of this mean? Why is it important? What relation does it have to how we as Christians think about God?
A great many books outside of the Bible that you read as part of literature classes were written by pagans. (A pagan is someone who believes in many gods rather than just one God.) In pagan religions, the gods and goddesses are beings who exist inside the world. They are immanent beings, not transcendent beings. The only real difference between the gods and human beings in pagan religions are that the gods are a lot more powerful than the human beings. Otherwise, like human beings, they are limited, finite beings.
The God of Christianity is very different from all pagan gods. The God of Christianity is infinite, not finite. Unlike the pagan gods, our God is both transcendent and immanent. Because He made the world, He exists outside the world (Genesis 1; Psalm 90:2; Ephesians 1:4). Yet He also exists inside the world (Psalm 139:7-10; Jeremiah 23:23-24).
What these things mean is that the Christian God is not just a being. He is not like all the other things that we call beings. He is not like you and me and houses and cars and tables and chairs and pencils and footballs. Nor is he like beings of your imagination, like unicorns. And He is utterly unlike all the beings that pagans called “gods.”
According to classical Christian thinkers, God is not just a being. Rather, God is Being. All other things that exist exist imperfectly and with limitations. God exists, but unlike all other things that exist He exists perfectly and without any limitations. All other things that exist have being, but God is Being. This means that all other beings are dependent on God. In classical Christian literature, particularly philosophical works, there is a whole class of arguments for the existence of God known as ontological arguments because they focus on this issue of being.
In Genesis 1, the Bible tells us that “In the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth. And the earth was formless and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” By itself, this verse does not prove that nothing existed before God created the world. But when we add to it John 1:3, we find that “Through Him [Jesus Christ] all things were made, and without Him nothing was made that was made.”
The Apostle Paul writes, “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Hebrews 11:3 tells us that “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.” God made everything out of nothing (see the doctrine of creation ex nihilo in Chapter 20). Thus, everything that exists is dependent (or contingent) upon him.
Ontology is a very important part of any worldview. What a worldview says about ontology affects what it says about all kinds of other issues, including how human beings know things and what is the destiny of all things. Some worldviews do not emphasize it much, but at the bottom of any claim that they make about the world is some kind of ontological assumption.
The term “philosophy” comes from two Greek words, philos (love of) and sophia (wisdom), so it means literally “love of wisdom.”
Philosophy begins with asking questions. When we start to reflect upon – that is, to think seriously about – ourselves and the world that we live in, we quickly realize how BIG everything is and how SMALL we are. We realize that we do not know very much at all, and that certainly we do not know as much as we like to think we know!
Something you will come to appreciate as you get older is the saying “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I still don’t know.” Once we realize that we do not know very much, we are in a position to start asking questions about the things that we do not know.
Many people believe that Socrates (469 B.C.–399 B.C.) was “the father of philosophy.” Socrates was famous for saying that true wisdom consists in knowing that you do not know. He was also famous for saying “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
According to Socrates, most people do not know most of what they think they know. In fact, most of what they think they know consists of prejudices that they have not exposed to the light of inquiry on the basis of reason.
According to Socrates, most people regularly confuse appearance (what only seems to be the case) with reality (what actually is the case). By asking questions and exploring them to try to find answers, Socrates encouraged people to think philosophically – to seek true wisdom rather than just what seemed to be wisdom.
Philosophy does its work by means of reason. Philosophy starts with our ordinary, daily experiences, asks questions about them, and tries to logically figure out the answers to the questions. Philosophy is, therefore, concerned with matters that we can figure out for ourselves – that is, matters that we do not need special guidance from God to figure out..
Using Socrates as a model, we can see that for the Greeks, philosophy was defined simply by three statements:
- “Know yourself.”
- “Do not do anything to excess.”
- “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Like all the wise men of the Bible, Socrates knew that he was not much at all, and that most of what he thought he knew was wrong when compared to God’s knowledge. In this sense, philosophy is something that all Christians can and ought to be interested in, for it is a path to wisdom. When you follow this path, you will know, with Job, that a human being is “Like a flower he comes forth and withers. He also flees like a shadow and does not remain.” (Job 14:2) You will also realize the truth of what God said to Job about how pitiful Job’s knowledge was: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” (Job 38:4)
Also, recognizing that you do not know puts you in a frame of mind to learn things because you do not think that you already know. If you already know something, do you try to find it out? Of course not. Only by recognizing that you do not know are you ever able to start trying to find out. This is the beginning of a philosophical way of thinking. Scripture teaches the same thing: “The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Cor. 8:1).
The second point of philosophy is “Do not do anything to excess.” When you know that you do not know, you will also be prepared to live your life avoiding excesses. Too much food, too much playing, too much working – all of these are excesses. Scripture tells us to control ourselves, which means, among other things, to avoid excesses (Proverbs 13:3; Proverbs 21:7; Galatians 5:23; Philippians 4:10-12, and others).
Philosophy can help teach you to understand the difference between the mere appearance of Good and the reality of Good. You will often find that what appears to be Good to you the first time you look at it is not what really is Good. More often than not, the things that only appear to be Good will be excesses of one kind or another, while the thing that really is Good will be something moderate, something that is not extreme.
The third and last principle of philosophy teaches you to live your life with an attitude of examining everything to see whether it is true or false. You cannot know yourself and avoid excesses if you do not examine your life carefully and weigh your experiences in this life in the light of principles that come from a higher place than this life. The Bible tells us the same thing:
- Philippians 4:8 – “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”
- 1 Thessalonians 5:21 – “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.”
More from T.S. Eliot, foreseeing the impasse of the modern educational ideal:
People can be persuaded to desire almost anything, for a time, if they are constantly told that it is something to which they are entitled and which is unjustly withheld from them. The spontaneous desire for education is greater in some communities than in others…It is possible that the desire for education is greater where there are difficulties in the way of obtaining it – difficulties not insuperable but only to be surmounted at the cost of some sacrifice and privation. If this is so, we may conjecture that facility of education will lead to indifference to it; and that the universal imposition of education up to the years of maturity will lead to hostility towards it. A high average of general education is perhaps less necessary for a civil society than is a respect for learning.– as cited in The Great Tradition, ed. Richard M. Gamble, p. 620
T.S. Eliot, writing about 72 years ago, presciently observes:
…the ideal of a uniform system [of education] such that no one capable of receiving higher education could fail to get it, leads imperceptibly to the education of too many people, and consequently to the lowering of standards to whatever this swollen number of candidates is able to reach.
– Notes Toward the Definition of Culture (as cited in The Great Tradition, ed. Richard M. Gamble, p. 621
Education is not job training; it is not even schooling. Education, in so many words, is knowing what things are for, not simply how they work. The truly educated person understands the proper uses to which such things as bodies, brains, governments, art, and sport are put, not merely how to eat, how to execute difficult mathematical computattions, how to win an election, how to paint a still life, or how to hit a curveball.
The difference between these knowing what things are for and merely knowing how they work is the difference between wisdom and information, between knowledge and data, between knowing and knowing about. Those who acquire the former are genuinely educated; those who gain only the latter are technological functionaries, replaceable by the next generation of machines.From Michael Bauman, The Second Death of Socrates: Why Public Education is the Enemy of Learning
The English word “theology” comes from two Greek words, theos (God) and logos (the study of), so it literally means “the study of God.” Things that Theology is interested in are: (1) the nature of God (what kind of being is God?), (2) God’s attributes (God’s characteristics and abilities), and (3) God’s relationships with His creatures.
The basic meaning of the word “theology” is “the study of God.” However, often the word “theology” is used in a more expansive sense than this, to describe the studies of different teachings of the Bible. These kinds of theology have their own special “-ology” names:
- Theology Proper (the study of God)
- Anthropology (the study of man and the created universe)
- Christology (the study of the person and work of Jesus Christ)
- Pneumatology (the study of the Holy Spirit)
- Ecclesiology (the study of the Church)
- Soteriology (the study of salvation)
- Hamartiology (the study of sin)
- Eschatology (the study of the final purpose of all things)
The source for all of these “-ologies,” all of these particular “studies of,” is the Bible. The things that the Bible says about these topics are scattered throughout its pages, not presented all in one place for each issue. We go through the Bible, look at the things it says about each of these issues, and then try to put all those things together into a single “picture” that makes sense. When we do this, we are doing theology, and we are each and every one of us theologians.
Why Is Theology Necessary?
First, no man is an island. No one lives all alone with his own personal copy of the Bible. No one should act as if he or she can figure it all out without ever consulting anyone else. Christians are called to be in community with each other (the church). It is in the context of our lives together in the church that we read the Bible, talk about it, try to figure out what it means, and work to apply its teachings to our lives. Theology is what we all do together as Christians who all love the same Lord and read the same Bible.
Each of us has different gifts, different strengths (1 Cor. 12:12-20). We need each other, especially when it comes to understanding the Bible. Sometimes one person can see something that another does not see, and the first can help the second to see. As Christians, we are a body (Eph. 4:4-16). For each person to try to figure out the Bible all by himself would be like the foot saying to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or the head telling the stomach, “You have nothing to say that I need to hear. I can do it all by myself!”
Second, the Bible itself tells us that not everything in it is easy to understand (2 Pet. 3:16). Sometimes what you read in one part of the Bible seems to say something different than what you read in another part. When this happens, you have to try to reconcile the two places.
One of the jobs of Theology is to reconcile parts of the Bible that seem to contradict each other. Theology uses tools to do this. Some of those tools are: (1) knowledge of the original languages of the Bible, (2) knowledge of the cultures of Bible times, (3) the thoughts of past generations of Christians on the texts in question, and (4) the beliefs of your church.
Third, Theology helps you to grow more mature in your faith. There is nothing at all wrong with “just” reading the Bible. Every Christian should read the Bible regularly. But there is a difference between just reading the Bible and studying the Bible.
Studying the Bible is a much more serious task than just reading it. Studying the Bible requires you to pay much closer attention to its words, and it often requires you to confront things in the text that seem to be difficult to understand. When something you read in the Bible is difficult to understand, and you “wrestle” with it for a while trying to reach a conclusion, you are thinking theologically – that is, you are engaging in the process of trying to figure out what the theology of the Bible on this particular point is. The process of “wrestling” with the Bible this way helps you to grow more mature in your faith and makes you stronger as a Christian.
Theology can help you see where your own views come from, and also help you better understand why other Christians think differently than you and your church think about particular issues, so that you can be more charitable to them.
In the Middle Ages, theology was called “the Queen of the Sciences” because Christians thought that all other kinds of knowledge owed allegiance to the basic truths of the Christian Faith as summed up by the discipline of Theology. This is a view that has fallen on hard times in our age, because we often do not want to do the hard theological work of relating what the Bible says to every area of our lives.
We need to remember that God’s Word has something to say to us about every area of our lives. All of our studies should be done with a nod to the “Queen,” whose decrees we read about in the pages of the Bible.
Greek religion was anthropomorphic – the gods were made in the form of man himself. The gods, as their statues show, were idealized human beings, having far more power than, but with all the character flaws of, their worshippers.
The chief difference was that whereas man is doomed to die, the gods are “the deathless ones,” “the born-for-always ones,” and “those without cares.” The presence of such beings inspired in men a sense of fear and unworthiness – close to but perhaps not exactly guilt. Thus, the relationship between the gods and men thus could only be one of men giving to the gods in order to placate them and to hopefully receive blessings back from them.
In the Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic eras of Greek history, religion was wrapped up with one’s civic duty to the city. Cities were thought to have been founded by gods, and to worship the gods was to show one’s care for the welfare of one’s city.
Worship consisted of formal story-telling with certain associated rituals, such as the pouring out of libations or the burning of sacrifices to the gods or reverencing statues of the gods or observing certain burial rites.
These rituals were aimed at the formation of public moral character, the ethos of the individual Greek person in terms of his public duties to his city. For the Greeks of Homer’s time forward, the polis (city) was the sum total and center of life.
All of life was political because all of it was lived in the polis. Sine the polis was divinely founded, in a sense, then, Greek religion was fundamentally political.
A quite important question that gets passed forward into Christian wranglings with the Greek heritage is thus: What is the proper relationship of religion and politics? To this question we cannot seek an answer from the Greeks, but we must continue to reflect on the Greeks nevertheless.
Unlike many religions, such as Christianity, Islam, and Mormonism, Greek religion had no developed theology such as we would recognize. Nor was there an institutionalized worship of the gods such as we would recognize. The Greeks did not go to temples and worship the gods like we go to church to worship God. There were priests, but these were not like the Aaronic priesthood of the Old Testament. The priests oversaw the operations of the temples, but the Greeks did not need to go to the temples to worship the gods.
Moreover, there was no special revelation such as the Bible, the Koran, or the Book of Mormon. The works of Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey, were in a limited sense “holy books.” All Greeks revered them, and Homer was called “the teacher of all the Greeks.” But unlike the Bible, Homer’s books contain no codified religious dogmas and no detailed religious law codes.
Further, unlike the Bible’s portrayal of God, the Greeks came increasingly to rezlie that the character of the gods was not worthy of imitation by man. The moral code of Homer’s works is not spelled out systematically like in the Bible, but would have been “absorbed” by those who heard him performed (or later read him). How should you think and live? Why, like the great heroes and heroines in Homer, of course! This meant seeking arete, or “excellence,” and part of excellence was showing proper reverence for the gods – the most excellent beings of all.
Rather than being a covenantal bond as it is in Christianity, Greek worship of the gods was what some have characterized as a do ut des affair. The Latin phrase means, “I give in order that you may give [to me].”
Seneca (ca. 4 B.C. to 65 A.D.) recommends that since life often sends us for a loop, we should just sit down, shut up, and deal with it:
You must reflect that fettered prisoners only at first feel the weight of the shackles on their legs: in time, when they have decided not to struggle against but to bear them, they learn from necessity to endure with fortitude, and from habit to endure with ease. In any situation in life you will find delights and relaxation and pleasures if you are prepared to make light of your troubles and not let them distress you. In no respect has nature put us more in her debt, since, knowing to what sorrows we were born, she contrived habit to soothe our disasters, and so quickly makes us grow used to the worst ills. No one could endure lasting adversity if it continued to have the same force as when it first hit us. We are all tied to Fortune, some by a loose and golden chain, and other by a tight one of baser metal: but what does it matter? We are all held in the same captivity….all life is a servitude. So you have to get used to your circumstances, complain about them as little as possible, and grasp whatever advantage they have to offer: no condition is so bitter that a stable mind cannot find some consolation in it….Abandoning those things which are impossible or difficult to attain, let us pursue what is readily available and entices our hopes, yet recognize that all are equally trivial, outwardly varied in appearance, but uniformly futile within… – “On Tranquillity of Mind,” in Seneca: Dialogues and Letters, ed. and trans. C.D.N. Costa (New York: Penguin Classics, rep. 2005), pp. 46-47
In some respects he sounds like Solomon in Ecclesiastes, but in others it looks like he could take a lesson from Job.