Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: zeitgeist

An answered prayer

We had talked over our situation that night, prayed for direction and believed we had been shown a direction that we should pursue. There still remained the question of whether Dennis would need or want my help.

It didn’t take long for the answer to come. The phone rang the next morning before we had time to eat breakfast. It was Dennis. He started out as he always does: “How are you doing? How is Chris? How is Michelle?” Then he started talking about the ranch land that he and Ted were buying south of Moose Jaw and wondered if I wanted to come in as a partner. Well, maybe I wanted, but we had no money laying around for such an investment.

Then he said that looking after the pasture land would give him even less time for field work and wondered if I was available for that. “And the house on the half section is empty. It would make a nice little house for the three of you if you were interested.”

We were definitely interested. And so it happened that the spring of 1973 found us on our way back to Moose Jaw. We settled into the house and soon I was putting in long hours helping to get the machinery ready and then seeding.  Later in summer there was work like tilling the summerfallow and hauling grain to the elevator.

The main farm was 2½ sections, a mile wide and 2½ miles long, 1600 acres. The soil  started out light and stoney on the south end and got heavier as we went north. The north half section, where we lived, was Regina Plains heavy clay gumbo. There was another ¼ section a few miles further north and ½ section of cultivated land with the ranch land, 2,080 acres in total. At that time the practice was to seed 2/3 of the land each year. That meant seeding 1,380 acres, with older, smaller equipment.

To give an idea of how heavy clay gumbo soil behaves I’ll describe how we drove away from our home when it rained. Field work stopped when it was wet, so we would want to go into Moose Jaw. The east-west road south of our yard was not gravelled, therefore impassible when wet. The road north was gravelled, yet there was a slight uphill grade. As soon as we ventured up that incline the tires became coated with greasy clay. The road was greasy, despite the gravel, and it was impossible to steer in a straight line. I would let Chris drive and I would walk beside to push the car straight when it began to slip sideways. The road was that greasy that it didn’t take a lot of effort. Once we got to level ground we were OK.

The yard should have been a great place for our almost two year old daughter to play. But by midsummer we were plagued with grasshoppers. We found them annoying, Michelle found them terrifying. The grasshoppers became more than annoying when they harvested Chris’s garden.

As soon as we moved back to Saskatchewan we began to attend the one church in Moose Jaw that called itself Mennonite. I don’t wish to name any of the churches we attended over the first years of our marriage, nor their pastors or other people in the churches. I hold no animosity towards them and don’t wish to hold them up to ridicule. We met a lot of fine people and enjoyed the time we spent with them, but we were looking for a genuine Anabaptist-Mennonite church and weren’t finding it in any of these places.

I eventually began to understand what was going on. When the apostle Paul wrote: “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1), his intention was that we would follow him in acquiring the same faith that he had.

A true living faith will cause us to live a life that is patterned after Christ, not after the zeitgeist of the era in which we live. There is an ever present danger that Christian faith will grow lukewarm, or even cold, yet a lifestyle pattern has been established that people will follow without comprehending that this lifestyle pattern is not the faith. It is faith that creates a lifestyle, but a lifestyle has no power to create faith.

This seems to have happened to many Mennonites in past generations. The faith gradually died out, yet the lifestyle was maintained for a time, sometimes a long time. Eventually their descendants became alarmed and sought a renewing of faith, but instead of returning to the faith of their forefathers, which by now was unknown to them, they turned to pietistic protestantism. Some of them gained a genuine saving faith, but now there was no reason to retain the old patterns and they began to run as hard as they could to avoid any hint that they were living by some external rule.

Then the pietistic faith itself became a pattern that their descendants tried to maintain. By now many of the current generation has little idea of what constitutes genuine Christianity. This was where we came in and it wasn’t at all what we were looking for.

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What is “the world”?

In 1 John 2:15-17, the apostle delivers a clear warning to Christians about loving the world and the things of the world: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.  And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”

This makes it very tempting for well-meaning believers to compile a list of things that are “worldly” and to exercise great care to avoid such things. Much like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. And just like the Pharisees we can scrupulously avoid things and still be motivated by lust and pride. We may be able to hide that from ourselves, but not from others.

The many repetitions of “world” in the above passage all translate the Greek word “kosmos”, which refers to the physical world and the physical things in it. There are many other passages in the New Testament that speak of the “world” where the Greek word is “aion.” This word has a wide range of meaning, but when it is translated “world” it refers not to physical things, but to spirits and attitudes that prevail at a certain era and place. French Bibles usually use a word that means “age” or “this present age”.

This brings us much closer to the root of what we call worldliness. There is no inherent evil in a physical object, but many of the ideas that seem to be in the air we breathe convey attitudes that are directly contrary to the way of Christ.

Romans 12:2 is an example of such Scripture passages and the inference to our way of thinking is often missed.  “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” “This world” is translated “the present age” in French Bibles. Even in English, the meaning should be clear if we would stop and consider the whole verse. We are not to pattern our way of thinking after the prevailing ideas of the age we live in, but allow the Holy Spirit to renew our minds to know what is truly meaningful and important.

There are many other verses where aion is translated world in English and age or present age in French. Here are a few: Matthew 13:22  – “He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world  and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.” 1 Corinthians 2:6 – “Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought.” 2 Corinthians 4:4 – “In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” Galatians 1:4 – “Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father.”

I think zeitgeist might be better understood than world in these passages.” Zeitgeist: a pattern of thought or feeling characteristic of a particular period of time.” It comes from German words meaning spirit of the times. This is the “world” that is most dangerous and deceptive for one who wants to follow Christ.

Manufacturing the illusion of diversity

In the city that is an hour away from our home there are 2 synagogues, 2 mosques, 1 Buddhist temple, a few other religious groups and 150 churches, and probably an equal number of Christian charities, para-church organizations, schools, etc. It is true that the majority of the population never attend a worship service of any kind, but among those that do the overwhelming majority prefer something with a Christian flavour over any of the other options.

We were in a coffee shop in this city a few days ago and happened to meet an acquaintance who writes a weekly feature article for the religion page of the daily newspaper. She said the newspaper has told her that she is writing far too much about Christians and should look for things to write about other religions.

Now I grant that the newspaper has the right to do this. But it is just one more evidence that the media today are creating the news, not just reporting it. Most of the people involved in the media are committed believers in the “diversity” zeitgeist. “Diversity” in quotation marks for the simple reason that these people do not believe in the kind of diversity that presently exists, only in their fantasized wonderland which excludes everything that most people consider to be normal.

This is why the media have become cheerleaders for everything LGTB, reporting breathlessly on the great step forward this movement represents in the progress towards fulfillment of human potential. At the same time, if they ever report on anything Christian, the writing drips with disdain for the hopelessly backwards ideas of Christian people. Of course, the media simply represent the prevailing teaching in our universities and schools.

I consider it a hopeful sign that more and more people are opting out of the public education system, choosing either to send their children to a private Christian school or to home school them. Technology offers us the means to access other news sources and to share news on an individual level. Discernment is needed here as much as in reading the mass media, pretty well everyone has some sort of agenda in choosing what news to report or comment on.

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God (Romans 12:2).

Here is part of Daniel Whedon’s commentary on the above verse: “To this world—The word for world here, αιων, signifies not the physical frame of the globe, (for which κοσμος is the more proper term,) but the living world or age of man. The nonconformity here does not consist of that cheap nonconformity which consists of a peculiar fashion of coat or bonnet. Christianity does not prescribe a certain fashion or costume, or a special grammar. Conformity to our age in things involving no sin or moral depravation is right. It is a waste of moral strength where there is so much real sin and ruin in the world to expend our efforts on incidental trifles. And it was a terribly heathen world in which these Romans lived and the apostle wrote. Christianity had not softened and shaded the world to its own likeness. Hence the external non-conformity of that age meant a wider contrast than is possible now between the Christian and his more immediate surrounding world. Yet in the receding background our present age darkens into a darkness almost as deep as heathenism itself. The age still largely lies in wickedness.

“Transformed… renewing… mind—The apostle strikes deeply. True perfected faith renews the mind, and changes it from the world’s fashion to the model of God’s will.

“Prove—That is, may test or ascertain by a full, rich actual experience. The will of God here is God’s wish or requirement from us. And the terms good, acceptable, and perfect are not, as in our translation, adjectives qualifying will, but adjective nouns in apposition with it. The real meaning, then, is, Ye may prove what God’s requirement of us is; namely, the good, the acceptable, and the perfect. Faith, therefore, is our self-commitment to God, and to all goodness, acceptability, and perfection.”

Perhaps Christianity did for a time “soften and shade the world to its own likeness,” but that is fast disappearing. A Christian’s survival in this present age depends on not permitting his mind to become conformed to the thought patterns of the surrounding world.

The right and wrong use of statistics

[This is an article I wrote a year ago for The Business Bulletin.]

A few weeks ago I went into a small town branch of the Royal Bank of Canada with a cheque received for some translation work. The cheque was in US dollars and I asked the teller to convert it to Canadian dollars, give me $80.00 in Canadian cash, $20.00 in US cash (to include in a card I was sending to someone in the US) and deposit the rest to my account. I received friendly and efficient service and left without thinking any complicated thoughts about what had transpired.

A survey firm called a few days later, asking me to rate different facets of that banking experience on a scale of one to ten. I told him I couldn’t do it. I do not look at other people as machines and mentally rate their performance on a scale of one to ten. That doesn’t make sense to me.

I suspect the bank intended to use the survey results for publicity purposes, informing the public of the great satisfaction rating of the Royal Bank of Canada. How can anyone trust such a poll when the respondents most likely just pick numbers out of the air so the questioner will let them get back to their work?

Sometimes it is important to consider what the statistics are actually measuring. Do statistics of traffic violations by province measure the driving habits of the population or the enforcement habits of the police? Statistics on charitable donations per capita show Saskatchewan near the top of the list and Quebec near the bottom. These stats come from the receipted donations claimed on income tax returns. Is it possible that Quebeckers are more generous in giving spontaneously without needing a receipt? Do statistics such as these shape our opinions of the people of each province?

I believe it was Mark Twain who stated that there were three kinds of lies: lies; d****d lies; and statistics. That being said, I am a strong believer in the usefulness of statistics — when dealing with inanimate objects that can be measured or counted. I took numerous courses in statistics in preparation for writing the Certified Quality Engineer exam. I worked for many years with the practical application of statistical analysis in a manufacturing setting and I am convinced that this is the most effective way of determining what is going on in an industrial process.

We first need to understand some basic principles. The sample to be measured must be chosen completely at random, there is a margin of error to be taken into account in each sample, and an average of one time out of twenty the sample will not be representative of the actual process. In a manufacturing setting, samples are taken at regular intervals. If one sample does not fall within the range established by preceding samples it may mean that the process has changed, or it may be the one time out of twenty when the sample was not truly representative of the process. The way to find out is to immediately take another sample. If this one falls within the limits established by earlier samples, it means the former sample was not representative. If measurement of the resample gives results close to the former sample it is time to sound the alarm, shut down the process and find out what has changed. Statistical methods have done wonders in tightening tolerances and reducing waste in industrial processes.

Statistical sampling of opinion is fraught with much more complexity. First off, you are dealing with opinions, which are subjective and not amenable to precise measurement. Secondly, it is hard to obtain a truly representative sample, many people might be unavailable or unwilling to participate. Thirdly, there is no way of telling if a one time poll falls on the side of the 19 times out of 20, or the 1 time out of 20. Fourthly, many polls are conducted with leading questions designed to elicit a certain type of response. Another complicating factor arises when a newspaper eliminates the no responses and no opinions and calculates a percentage using only the remaining responses. That can raise the margin of error into the stratosphere.

I could phone a few hundred people at random with the following question: “The beautiful flowers of Purple Loosestrife are no longer seen in Saskatchewan’s wetlands. Do you think this is due to: a) global warming; b) excessive use of pesticides; c) lack of pollination due to honey bee die back; or d) a dramatic increase in the number of Canada Geese?” Many people will have forgotten, or perhaps never knew, that Purple Loosestrife was deliberately eradicated ten years ago as an invasive species and will pick one of the answers supplied. I might come up with a statistic saying that 50% of Canadians believe that Canada Geese are destroying Purple Loosestrife in Saskatchewan, but such a result would be rubbish.

Too many surveys are conducted along similar lines, giving a choice of preselected answers on sensitive subjects such as abortion and gay marriage. Then the results are fed back to us as proof of what the majority of Canadians think on this particular topic. The newspapers report the results of these surveys with a slant that indicates that those of us who think otherwise are quite out of step with the times, perhaps even hinting that we are dangerous to the public good.

Such carefully manipulated polls are voices of the zeitgeist, pressuring us to think in the approved manner of our time. We should take a step back and look at what is really behind these polls, so we can think soberly and realistically. May we never be ashamed to express those sober and realistic thoughts, they may be a breath of fresh air for someone trapped in the stifling atmosphere of the zeitgeist.

We are men and women. It should not be possible for a propaganda machine to adjust and fine tune our attitudes as if we were machines.

Is Christianity a subculture or a counterculture?

Subculture, a cultural group within a larger or predominant culture but distinguished from it by factors such as class, ethnic background, religion, or residence, unified by shared beliefs or interests which may be at variance with those of the larger culture. A group within a culture, distinguished from it by features of custom, conduct, etc.

Counterculture, a culture having values or lifestyles that are in opposition to those of the current accepted culture. A movement that actively rejects the values of the prevailing culture in favour of other ones.

The definitions above come from two dictionaries. In each case the first definition is from the Canadian Oxford Dictionary and the second from the Nelson Gage Canadian Dictionary. In simple terms, what these definitions are telling us is that people within a subculture are marching the the drums of the zeitgeist, heading in the same direction, but wearing a different uniform. People who belong to a counterculture are marching to the sound of a different drummer and heading in a different direction.

Which definition best describes evangelical Christianity today? Zeitgeist is a German word that has entered common usage in English. The Nelson Gage dictionary defines it simply as the pattern of thought or feeling characteristic of a particular period of time.

Here are some characteristics of the zeitgeist, which will also be characteristic of a subculture, but not a counterculture; followed by Bible passages that indicate what the Christian attitude should be:

Consumerism, a lifestyle in which buying and consuming goods is the prime interest. “And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15).

Materialism, a tendency to care more for material possessions than spiritual needs. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

Self-esteem, a good opinion of oneself. “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Philippians 2:3).

Egocentric, seeing everything in relation to oneself. “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake” (Matthew 5:11).

Individualism, emphasizing the importance of individuals as opposed to that of a group. “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).

Pietism, an emphasis on a personal relationship with God independent of a relationship with fellow believers. “No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. . . . If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? (1 John 4:12, 20). “ I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

The transformed mind

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. Romans 12:2

The first phrase of this verse is often quoted by Mennonites; many words have been spoken over the pulpit and written in books about the doctrine of non-conformity to the world. However, after hearing this for many years we have the unfortunate tendency to focus on avoiding certain things that we identify as worldly, keeping some distance between ourselves and “worldly” people, and therewith comforting ourselves that we are not conformed to the world.

When that happens, we are missing the true import of Paul’s message. First off, “this world” is a translation of the Greek word aion, which refers to an age, or period of time. If we consider the verse as a whole, it should be evident that the antithesis of conformed and transformed is referring to the way we think. The apostle is warning us not to allow our thinking to conform to the prevailing spirit, attitudes and feelings of the era in which we live (the zeitgeist), but to allow our thought patterns to be transformed and patterned after the will of God which does not change from era to era.

Secondly, this verse is the introduction to a wealth of instruction about what it means to have our minds transformed. This instruction continues up to the first few verses of chapter 15. I will not quote what the apostle says, you can read it for yourself, I will just give a brief exposition of several main points.

Brotherly love
Paul exhorts us to love without dissimulation, that is with no hint of hypocrisy. Neither should we hold back our expression of love and appreciation for our brothers and sisters. We have all been given different gifts to be used for the benefit of the brotherhood, let us be fervent in exercising those gifts, and in encouraging others to exercise their gifts for the benefit of others.

Enemies
We should live peaceably with all men, not seeking vengeance when we are wronged, but rather doing good to those who have mistreated us.

Government
It should be a matter of conscience with us to be respectful and obedient to those in authority, except in those rare instances where they attempt to compel us to do something that is contrary to the faith. Governments are faced with conflicting demands from many powerful groups in our land. They cannot satisfy everyone, nor can they make the kind of sweeping changes that some Christians seem to expect. Politics is the art of compromise, it is really no place for a Christian. Yet we should pray for all those in government, at all levels, and appreciate it when our governments make small steps that protect our freedoms. Critical and derogatory remarks about the makes of our laws, and the enforcers of those laws, should never be heard from the mouth of a Christian.

Those who are weak in the faith
We should not criticize, much less ridicule, those who are weak in the faith. Rather, we should love them and be careful that our actions and attitudes are not a stumbling block for them.

None of these instructions are telling us that we should be people pleasers, afraid to say or do anything that would be a little different from the attitudes and actions of our peers. A transformed mind is a mind that is tuned to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, leading to a transformed way of life. As we individually follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, we find ourselves walking side by side with fellow believers. Attempting to achieve this unity by our own attempts to conform to what we perceive to be the values and priorities of our peers leads only to disappointment, hurt feelings, jealousy and discouragement.

Here is how Paul concludes his instructions on being transformed by the renewing of our mind:

Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God. Romans 15:5-7

Relevant to what?

Relevant to what?

Everybody talking about the decline of Christianity in the Western world says that it is because the faith preached over the pulpit is no longer relevant to our society.  What they cannot agree on is in what way it is no longer relevant.

For over a century now, many churches have struggled to become more relevant by espousing the social gospel, incorporating psychological insights, adopting a contemporary style of music, applying marketing techniques to evangelism,  becoming more seeker friendly and so on.  You name it; someone has tried it.  And people keep dropping out of the churches.

The social gospel is godless socialism wearing the clothes and using the language of Christianity.  Psychology says our problems are found in the subconscious, not the heart.  All the new styles and techniques miss the mark by thinking the old-fashioned gospel is, well, too old-fashioned for a modern society.

The problem is that churches are trying to make the gospel relevant to the zeitgeist, rather than to the real needs of mankind.  What they are doing is exactly what the Apostle Paul tells us not to do in Romans 10:2: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”  “This world” translates the Greek word “aion,” which does not refer to the physical world or the things of the world.  It rather refers to the way of thinking of the time in which we live.  In French it is translated by words meaning “this present age.”  Nowadays a better word would be zeitgeist, meaning the pattern of thought or feeling characteristic of a period of time.

Can we see the problem here?  In trying to be relevant to the zeitgeist the churches have been trying to conform themselves to a moving target.  The defining characteristic of the zeitgeist is that it is ever changing.  That which seemed totally modern and “with it” twenty-five years ago is passé today.  All attempts to be relevant by conforming to the zeitgeist are doomed to failure.

The Word of God needs no adaptation to make it relevant to our needs.  However, we may need to learn how to apply it in ways that people of today will understand.  If our mind set and our methods are still geared to the1950’s we need not expect a lot of success in 2013.  In fact, the use of pat answers and Christian clichés is always apt to arouse resistance to the message.

We do not need a new translation of the Bible.  The constant churning out of new translations creates the impression that the old is not reliable.  This comes across as another attempt to conform to the zeitgeist.  Let us make ourselves thoroughly familiar with the Bible we use and put it into practice.  Let us show the world by our lives that we find the teachings of the Bible to be totally relevant to our own innermost needs.  Then we will be more convincing when we tell them that the gospel is relevant to them, too.

We are not machines

A week ago I went into a small town branch of the Royal Bank of Canada with a $500.00 cheque I had received for some translation work.  The cheque was in US dollars and I asked the teller to give me $80.00 in Canadian cash, $20.00 in US cash and deposit the rest in my account.  (The $20.00 US was to go with a sympathy card for a young sister who was returning home, having just received word of her father’s death.)  I received prompt, friendly and efficient service and left without thinking any complicated thoughts about what had just transpired.

Yesterday I had a call from a survey firm asking me to rate different facets of that banking experience on a scale of 1 to 10.  I told him I couldn’t do it.  I am not a machine, I don’t look at other people as machines and go about mentally rating their performance on a scale of 1 to 10.  That just doesn’t make any sense to me.

I believe it was Mark Twin who stated that there were three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies; and statistics.  That being said, I am a strong believer in the usefulness of statistics — when dealing with inanimate objects that can be measured or counted.  I took numerous courses in statistics in preparation for writing the Certified Quality Engineer exam.  I worked for many years with the practical application of statistical analysis in a manufacturing setting and I am convinced that this is the most effective way of determining what is going on in an industrial process.

We first need to understand some basic principles.  The sample to be measured must be chosen completely at random, there is a margin of error to be taken into account in each sample, and one time out of twenty the sample will not be representative of the actual process.  In a manufacturing setting, samples are taken at regular intervals.  If one sample does not fall within the range established by preceding samples it can mean that the process has changed, or it may be the one time out of twenty when the sample was not truly representative of the process.  The way to find out is to immediately take another sample.  If this one falls within the limits established by earlier samples it means the former sample was not representative.  If measurement of the re-sample gives results close to the former sample it is time to sound the alarm, shut down the process and find out what has changed.  Statistical methods have done wonders in tightening tolerances and reducing waste in industrial processes.

Statistical sampling of opinion is fraught with much more complexity.  First off, you are dealing with opinions, which are subjective and not amenable to precise measurement.  Secondly, it is hard to obtain a truly representative sample, many people might be unavailable or unwilling to participate.  Thirdly, there is no way of telling if a one time poll falls on the side of the 19 times out of 20, or the 1 time out of 20.  Fourthly, many polls are conducted with leading questions designed to elicit a certain type of response.

For instance, I am sure I could compile impressive looking survey results if I were to phone a few hundred people at random with the following question: “The beautiful flowers of Purple Loosestrife are no longer seen in Saskatchewan.  Is this due to: a) global warming; b) excessive herbicide use; c) lack of pollination due to honey bee die back; or 4) a dramatic increase in the number of Canada Geese?”  Many people will have forgotten, or perhaps never knew, that Purple Loosestrife was deliberately eradicated ten years ago as an invasive species and will pick one of the answers supplied.

The results of such a survey would be rubbish.  Yet too many surveys are conducted along similar lines, giving a choice of pre-selected answers on sensitive subjects such as abortion and gay marriage.  Then the results are fed back to us as proof of what the majority of Canadians think on this particular topic.  The newspapers report the results of these surveys with a slant that indicates that those of us who think otherwise are quite out of step with the times, perhaps even hinting that we are dangerous to the public good.

Such carefully manipulated polls are voices of the zeitgeist,  pressuring us to think in the approved manner of our time.  Christians should be listening to a different voice, the voice of the Holy Spirit.  He will set us free to think soberly and realistically.  May we never be ashamed to express those sober and realistic thoughts, they may be a breath of fresh air for someone trapped in the stifling atmosphere of the zeitgeist.

We are men and women, not machines.  It should not be possible for a propaganda machine to adjust and fine tune our attitudes as if we were machines.

Outside the box

We are being influenced every day by  authoritative voices telling us how to think, and what to think — about education, about tolerance of minorities, about justice, about the environment, about religion, about science, about most everything we do or want to do.   Some years ago we spoke of political correctness, often with derision.  A better word to describe this phenomenon is zeitgeist.

Zeitgeist is a  word adopted into the English language from German.  The literal meaning is “the spirit of the times,” and it denotes the prevailing pattern of thought or feeling during a particular period of time.   It feels like we are in a time of a particularly rigid zeitgeist where there is little tolerance for those who dissent from the prevailing beliefs of our society.  Do you feel boxed in?

Those of us who are older have seen a dramatic shift of the zeitgeist in our lifetime.  Ideas about what is right and wrong seem to have been turned upside down.  Were the old days better than these?  Was the old box more comfortable than the one we find ourselves in today?

“Do not conform yourself to the present age, but be transformed by the renewal of you understanding, so that you may discern what is the will of God, that which is good, acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2, my translation from the Louis Segond French Bible).

“The present age” is just another term for zeitgeist.  The apostle Paul is telling us not to let ourselves be boxed in by the prevailing attitudes, but that we should allow God to renew our understanding so that we can think outside the box.

This is freedom, even though those who are fully in the zeitgeist box will try to tell us it is bondage.  There are even some Christians who have built a comfortable little box for themselves and are afraid to step outside into the full light of the gospel.  The gospel demands obedience to the Word and to the Holy Spirit and it is a hard life when one has one foot in the zeitgeist box and the other in the kingdom of God.

The renewing of the mind will set us free from fear, anger, hatred, envy, jealousy and pride and offers us a fellowship with others who are likewise renewed in their heart and mind.  This kind of freedom and fellowship is only found on a narrow pathway, but it is genuine freedom and fellowship.  If we stray from this narrow way, we find ourselves once again ensnared by the zeitgeist. The love, joy and peace of the narrow way will slowly be squeezed out of us and replaced by suspicion, anger and a desire to find someone else to blame for our problems.

 

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