The Origin of Speech (Book Review)

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Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy wrote some amazing books, and this might be my favourite so far. In The Origin of Speech, ERH illustrates that speech, and its creation, is the power which holds a civilization together.

For this book review, I’ll start by copying the Editor’s Postscript found on page 128…

Speech begins with vocatives and imperatives. It begins with formal speech which moves men to action and is embodied in ritual. Our grammar books on the other hand begin with the nominative and the pronoun I. The nominative is only usable when an experience is over. I can only respond as an I after I have been addressed as thou. I is the last pronoun a child learns to use.

We discovered that our systems of formal logic are skewed by accepting this distortion of our grammarians. The beginning vocative and lyric stages of all experience are thus called illogical even though they are essential before the narrative and nominative (abstract) modes can be applied. Common sense or daily talk is a derivative of formal speech.

Gender identifies the required participants in living interaction and is not synonymous with sex. Neuter is not a third sex but refers to all dead things. Thus grammar is a mirror of the stages of human experience. Inspiration through a vocative or imperative addresses us as thou, then forces us to respond as an I, makes us report as we, and at the end a story speaks of us as they. Thus we are conjugated through the stages of experience.

Instead of mental health, we propose grammatical health. Grammatical health requires the ability of command, the ability to listen, the ability to act, and finally the ability to free ourselves from the command by telling our story. Only then are we ready to respond again. We demonstrated that grammatical ill health can lead to war, dictatorship, revolution and crisis — and showed how formal speech can overcome these four.

We used the image of a time cup created to be fulfilled and to be discarded in time. All social order depends on the power of invoked names to create never-ending series of such time cups.

The grammatical method does not supply a rule book for our behaviour but a method to help us understand our history, to differentiate between valid and invalid names, and to determine the response appropriate to the stage of a particular experience or event. It should create a whole series of new social sciences unhampered by our skewed logic which has been dominated by nominatives and I’s.

Grammatical experience changes us. In the world of today, there are people at many different stages of grammatical development, and our method offers them the hope of more successful cooperation and understanding. It gives us all a common history, a history aware of timing, and a foundation for a possible peace among men.

***

Rosenstock-Huessy describes the difference between “pre-formal” speech, “formal” speech, and “informal” (or post-formal) speech. Pre-formal speech is akin to animal speech: grunting and growling, pointing and nodding. Formal speech is man’s high speech: the naming of things, ceremonies, political structures. Informal speech is somewhat of a combination of pre-formal and formal, in which we relax things a bit to make it more “low brow”. In formal speech I call my parents Mother and Father; in informal speech I can call them mama and papa. Pronouns are then considered informal speech as well. The informal is founded on the formal.

ERH lists four diseases of speech: war, revolution, decay, and crisis. These diseases arise when speech is no longer possible, or is being suppressed. War occurs when two sides are no longer willing to speak to each other and the tension between them grows to violence. Revolution occurs when a young generation, wanting change, is not yet able to articulate through speech the change it wishes, and so turns to shouting, protests, and violence. Where the young create revolutions, the old create counter-revolutions. The values of the past are held up against the revolution, but they have grown hollow and meaningless. Those praising the old values do not themselves live them out, and haven’t for some time. This leads to decadence and decay. A crisis in society occurs when those with knowledge do not speak to those who have no knowledge — they do not tell them what to do.

Of course all four of these diseases are interrelated. The unwillingness of the revolutionary to respect the “old ways” is countered by the old genaration’s unwillingness to embrace the new. The unwillingness of two parties to speak in war, but yet still willing to speak within their own communities, is met with the unwillingness of the “haves” (re: knowledge) to speak with the “have-nots” within their own communities.

ERH offers remedies to these diseases: to the deafness of war, a willingness to listen; to the incoherent shouting of revolution, the ability to articulate; to the crisis of muteness, a willingness to entrust; and to the decadence of hollow lip service, the rejuvenation of values through new representatives. “If this is true,” ERH writes, “the original character of all language should be connected with man’s victory over these evils.” (Page 17) New speech is generated when one or more of these diseases occurs. In fact, it must if a solution to the disease is to be found.

ERH covers many other topics related to speech in this book. All of it is quite illuminating, and I highly recommend giving it a read. I give the book 5/5 stars.

For a set of notes covering the whole book, click here: ERH Fund, Notes on The Origin of Speech

Related reading…

Past & Future ~ Connected by Speech

The Relevance of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy

One Miracle of Speech

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Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God (Book Review)

James Jordan, in his book Crisis, Opportunity, and the Christian Future, writes…

The gospel as presented in Acts and by the early Church took this form: “You are living in isolation, lowliness, despair, chaos, and bondage. But there is a New World! There is a New Creation! There is a New Kingdom! You can leave behind your old horrible life and come into the warmth of the Church. You can join us at the table and sing psalms with us. You can come under the oversight of our elders, and be part of a new family.” (Page 44)

The medieval Church taught our civilization what God’s law is. Faced with social anarchy on all sides, early European rulers heard the gospel this way: “You are living in hell. But God has given His law! God has shown the way to live! Christ is King! You can submit to His High-Kingship and lead your people into a new way of life!” (Page 45)

The medieval Church fell into sin when the law ceased to be a wonderful guide to life and became an oppressive threat demanding good works as a way of “meriting the merits of Christ.” … Thus, the Protestant Church taught our civilization what God’s freedom is. Faced with bondage to law, the Reformers preached the free conscience under Christ: justification by faith alone. We are familiar with this doctrine, but notice that it is only really “heard” by people who have some knowledge of God and of the law. Once that prior knowledge has drained out of society, the Protestant message no longer has the power it once had.” (Page 45-46)

The famous Protestant sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God written by Jonathan Edwards was very effective in its day; a day when most of the American people were quite knowledgable of God, Christianity, and the bible; a day when the people should have known better than to turn away from God. But that day has obviously passed in the west, and a different presentation of the gospel is needed. James Jordan suggests looking back to the early Church and how they presented the gospel to people who were somewhat in the same situation as non-believers today: “You’re alone. You’re miserable. Come into the family of Jesus.” This message is what they’ll hear and understand.

zahndBrian Zahnd also understands this need for a fresh gospel presentation, and offers one with his book Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God. But, is he offering a truthful presentation? I would say no. Zahnd is, what I like to call, a “Postmodern Jesusist“. Another term I could use is “Neo-Marcionist”. According to his narrative in the video above, I think Zahnd has always been a Marcionist, although ignorantly so (listen from 1:00 – 1:25). And his solution now is not to dismiss Marcionism altogether, but to worsen it by creating a kind of “Postmodern Marcionism”. Zahnd writes on page 60, “I’m a million miles from the second-century heresy of Marcion … My approach to the Old Testament is nothing like Marcion’s. I call the Old testament sacred scripture.” That may be, but that’s why I will say Zahnd’s approach to the O.T. is a really just a new twist on the Marcion heresy.

In the first chapter, he mostly expands on what you see in the book trailer. But as he does so, he also builds up to the idea that the authors of the Old Testament simply did not have a full revelation of God. They had an inferior revelation and therefore not a true one. He quotes the apostle John: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” So, since they didn’t have Jesus, they didn’t have a complete revelation. I can agree with Zahnd that their revelation of God was incomplete in the O.T., but I disagree with the idea that an incomplete revelation is necessarily false. There are some things that don’t change in their nature with an increase or decrease in size. Like truth. Truth is truth, whether known fully or not. When you take your kid to a restaurant, and order something for him from the kid’s menu, the food is the same food the adults eat, it just comes in a smaller portion. Truth’s nature is the same in large portions as it is in small portions. The revelation of God given to Israel was not in the fullness that would later be given in Christ, but it was still true.

In the second chapter, Zahnd constructs a couple of straw men for you to attack, or to identify with, depending on your agreement with him. For example, if you agree that God commanded the genocide of the Canaanites under Joshua, then you are open to Christians today committing genocide. In regards to the genocide, and other stories like it in the O.T., Zahnd gives three options on how to deal with the problem: 1) Question God’s morality; 2) Question God’s immutability; 3) Question how we read scripture. He rightly rejects options 1 & 2, but then goes on to give a method of reading scripture which is entirely based on postmodern philosophy: The O.T. authors wrote what they wrote not because they had a true revelation from God, but because of their biases and their warrior tribalistic worldview.

Zahnd seems to have little to no understanding of holiness, justice (apart from “social justice”), and covenant. He writes: If you’re going to imagine divinely endorsed genocide, you should not imagine yourself as Joshua but as the unfortunate Canaanite whose entire family and village have just been murdered. Instead of always seeing yourself as the cowboy, try being the Indian* sometime. (Page 44) First of all, was a holy God unjust in destroying the Canaanites?† Thankfully because of the person and work of Jesus, I don’t have to be destroyed like the Canaanite. I can be saved and created new. I can also enter into a covenant with God, just like Joshua was in covenant with God. Joshua wasn’t a blameless man, but he was in covenant, and that makes all the difference. I will imagine myself as Joshua.

(Note: If you read Jonathan Merritt’s article about this book, then you can skip the first two chapters. And before reading this book myself, I wrote a blog article about Merritt’s article, which I think is a good answer to the first two chapters as well.)

As I mention above, Zahnd is correct in writing that the O.T. Israelites did not have the fullness of revelation that would come with Jesus, but truth is truth, and we don’t read the bible like a Muslim reads the Quran; we don’t apply Naskh to the bible.‡ Before Jesus completed His work on the cross, God operated in the world a certain way, and after Jesus, God operated in a different way… and the O.T. is still a true account of who God is. Zahnd even applies Naskh to the sacrificial system — a system which is integral to Christianity. True, we don’t sacrifice animals anymore, but that’s because those sacrifices ended with Christ. But according to Zahnd, because of verses like Psalm 40:6 and Hosea 6:6, God never wanted the sacrificial system at all — so you can now ignore most of the Pentateuch.

As I read the third chapter, I found myself agreeing with most of what Zahnd says of Jesus being the greater revelation of the Word of God, but I kept asking, “But is the O.T. true? Does it truly portray God?” Zahnd says no, and for no good reason. He just doesn’t want it to be true — the O.T. doesn’t line up with his postmodern narrative. While he does believe that Jesus taught a new way to live, he doesn’t seem to believe that the world radically changed with the death and resurrection of Jesus — indeed, he doesn’t know the old world of the O.T. doesn’t exist anymore. Zahnd’s view of Jesus isn’t scandalous or radical; it isn’t radical enough!

In later chapters, Zahnd writes about hell and eschatology. I don’t have an issue with his take on hell, which is similar to C.S. Lewis and what you’d find in The Brothers Karamazov: Hell is an inability to love and be loved, and the gates are locked from within, not without. His view of eschatology and the book of Revelation is what you’d expect; something I think would be similar to what Rob Bell would teach — and I don’t have a huge issue with that either. But for the most part, these later chapters are more of the same of what I described above.

I find myself wondering: Why not just accept the O.T. at face value? What is the real reason Zahnd would reject so much of it? Is it because of years of theological study? No. Most people’s theology (if not all people’s theology) is not based on biblical study. It is based on personality and worldview. In order for Zahnd to believe what he wants to believe about Jesus, he has to reject the O.T. portrayal of God. He is offended at the O.T., and this is his way of dealing with it. Is he correct though? No, I don’t think so. He takes too much liberty in deciding which parts of the bible are true, and which are not, and he bases his exegesis on unreliable ground. For two thousand years Christians have understood that Jesus’ death on the cross was an atoning work satisfying God’s wrath towards sin and sinners. Why must we change that belief now? Because of postmodern philosophy?

I do agree that there is more to the cross than just Jesus dying for sin. N.T. Wright has written a lot of good stuff on the whole idea of the righteousness of God. I am happy that someone like Zahnd can write the book he’s written and this conversation can continue. I agree with Zahnd that the goal of Jesus is to restore the world (and not destroy it). And I do agree that the Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God approach to sharing the gospel doesn’t work these days, and something fresh is needed. But Zahnd compromises too much.

I’m going to give the book 3/5 stars.

A book I recommend people read instead of Zahnd’s is the above mentioned Crisis, Opportunity, and the Christian Future by James B. Jordan. James B. Jordan is an excellent Old Testament scholar and he explains much of the issues people might have about the difficult sections of the Old Testament. You can listen to his lectures by clicking here.

* I wonder if he’s referring to the Comanche Indians.
When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. (Deuteronomy 18:9-12 ESV)
‡ See the Quran 2:106

Related Reading…

In the Fullness of Time

Postmodern Jesusism

Jesus and Covenantal Righteousness

The Art of the Argument (Brief Book Review)

The Argument favours the intelligent, the prepared, the resourceful, the courageous, and the well-trained. The Argument rewards intellectual and moral virtues of every kind. The Argument promotes the most civil to the highest reaches of influence in society, and demotes fools and bullies to the basement of irrelevance.
~Stefan Molyneux

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The Art of the Argument, written by Stefan Molyneux, is a primer on logic, reason, and debate. The book is primarily written for today’s younger generation — those who belong to the “snowflake” generation — but it is good for all ages and all who do not know how to argue without relying on emotion and subjectivism.

So, if you’ve ever heard someone say, “Hate speech is not free speech,” or you have said that yourself, allow Stefan to explain to you why free speech is essential for any civilized world, because without the ability to openly discuss our differences and problems, we can only resort to violence.

Molyneux gives many examples of how to present a logical and objective argument — not in order to defeat an opponent, but rather to discover the truth. “The Argument is beholden to a third party – the truth.” (Location 1530 on Kindle)

I can recommend this book if you enjoy debate and see a need to speak out against the attack on free speech rising in the west today.

I gave it 4/5 stars.

Propaganda (Brief Book Review)

propaganda

“Modern propaganda is a consistent, enduring effort to create or shape events to influence the relations of the public to an enterprise, idea or group”
~Edward Bernays

I recently finished reading Propaganda by Edward Bernays. It’s a short book written in the late 1920s describing the methods used by anyone who wishes to push their ideas and agenda onto a large group of people. The methods described in the book are still in use today.

Propaganda is a neutral term; it is neither good nor evil in and of itself. It can be used for good and used for evil, but mostly it is a vessel used to push an idea.

If I were a newsman who recently read a report done by some major university on the annual financial earnings of men and women and wanted to do a story on it, I could choose a couple of different ways to present the report. If I have no agenda but to present the report to the public for their own scrutiny, my headline would look something like: New Report on the Financial Income of Men and Women Released by U of T. However, if I’m a feminist, and do have a strong agenda, and I see in the report that men, due to more frequently working full time, putting in more overtime, and taking jobs in higher paying fields, are earning more money on an annual basis than women, I can use that information to push my agenda, and my headline would look more like this: Women Only Make Seventy Cents for Every Dollar a Man Makes New Study Shows. And that headline would be propaganda. It’s not an outright lie; it’s just that I am presenting the information to the reader so as to sway his or her opinion toward my agenda (which, for the feminist, is to convince the public that women are oppressed by men).

propSo, even though propaganda is neutral (and should not be mistaken with opinion writing), I would argue that it will most often lean towards dishonesty as the presenter of the propaganda is most likely not being sincere in his or her propagation of the information, even when the cause behind the propaganda is a good one.

I gave the book 3/5 stars.

The Day the Revolution Began (Book Review) Part Two

Revolution
Part One of this review can be found by clicking here.

In the next section of the book, Wright focuses on three elements which are “found within the varied pre-Christian expressions of Jewish hope. Each then played a large part in the early Christian understanding of what actually happened on the cross.” (Page 116) They are: 1) The Messiah would be a king; 2) The final redemption might come about not only in the context of extreme suffering, but by the means of it; 3) The “forgiveness of sins” and the “end of exile” would be the dramatic expression of the covenant of love.

In the King/Kingdom section, Wright writes a bit about the gospel (the proclamation of the good news that the righteous king is now in power), and a new exodus. He uses Daniel chapters 2, 7, and 9 to show how the Messiah would overcome the world empires and reign as king forever. Chapters 2 and 7 show how the world empires are destroyed by the Messiah King, and chapter 9 shows that Israel would have to endure a prolonged exile (70 x 7 years), but then the Messiah would come and save the people. This section is a short one and one could read Wright’s Simply Good News to get a better idea of how he presents the gospel.*

In the next section on suffering, Wright writes: “It is important … to detach the pre-Christian Jewish notion of a coming Messiah from the notion of suffering.” (Page 122) He points out that the notion of one man coming to suffer on behalf of the group is not necessarily a Jewish idea, but rather a pagan one.

“[F]rom quite early on in … Israel’s scriptures, some prophets and psalmists seemed to come back regularly to this idea of great suffering as the prelude to the coming deliverance. This suffering would, however, only be ‘messianic’ in the loose sense that it might immediately precede the ‘messianic age.’ Sometimes Israel’s scriptures refer to the suffering that results from Israel’s idolatry and sin. Sometimes, however, as in many of the psalms, it is suffering inflicted on God’s people, or perhaps an individual, despite their innocence. The night gets darker, the pain still more intense, and then a new day will dawn.” (Page 122)

Wright then focuses on the story of the Maccabean revolt. Wright says earlier in the book: “To understand any event in history, you must put it firmly into that history and not rest content with what later generations have said about it.” (Page 51) So, I guess he is trying to figure out why the early Christians viewed passages like Psalm 22, Isaiah 50 and 53 as describing the suffering Messiah (Jesus) as one who came to suffer for all the people when pre-Christian Jewish thought did not follow that narrative. It’s a bit of a confusing section, and I don’t think Wright gets his point across clearly enough here to the reader. He assumes you know (or hopes you don’t know) the Maccabean story well enough to follow his reasoning. Whereas Wright is very clear in other sections, repeating his main points over and over, here he is quite vague.

Well, the Maccabees were a Jewish family who rebelled against the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes IV ca 160 BC. Antiochus had greatly oppressed the Jews, prevented them from temple worship, and pushed them out of Jerusalem. The Maccabees fought back, won the day, and ruled Israel as kings and priests for the next 100 years or so. Antiochus had removed the rightful Zadokite high-priest, but the Maccabees did not reinstate him (or his descendant), but rather made themselves high-priests as well as kings.

The story as told in 1-4 Maccabees** is a story of Jewish covenant renewal (Antiochus’s oppression was the result of Jewish unfaithfulness), but it also emphasizes the suffering of the few, or the one, for the many, and so Wright suggests that it is here where the pagan idea of one suffering for many is combined with the narrative of Jewish covenant renewal. No doubt the Jews at this time were heavily influenced by Greek culture.

“Suffice it to note that at precisely the point where a Jewish writer [the author of Maccabees] is drawing explicitly on pagan philosophical traditions and doing his best to present a story of Jewish martyrdom as a story of human virtue [a pagan theme], especially courage and nobility, these themes come suddenly into prominence. Was that the reason, one might wonder, why some of the early Christians said some things about Jesus’s death that strike us, at least at first glance, as very similar? Or were they following a subtly different interpretive line?

“In any case, the point is clear. Within the larger Jewish hope, there are signs that some people at least, under pressure of intense suffering and persecution, reached for ways of interpreting that experience not only as something through which God’s people might pass to deliverance, but as something because of which that deliverance would come about… The point … is that the idea of redemptive suffering, though certainly not associated with messianic expectation, was clearly available in the Jewish world of Jesus’s day.” (Page 131)

The third element is titled Divine Faithfulness and Covenant Love. One theme that is absent from the Maccabean writings, but is clear in passages like Isaiah 40-66, is that God’s redemptive work is the result of His faithful love. A new exodus would occur with God taking the initiative to save, and not just for the Jews, but for the Gentiles as well.

The redemptive work would come through a royal servant. “There is a well-known fluidity between the nation and its royal representative: the king holds the key to the destiny of the people.” (Page 139) The king, through the love for his people, takes on himself the consequences of his people’s sins.

Then the Lord saw it, and it displeased Him
That there was no justice.
He saw that there was no man,
And wondered that there was no intercessor;
Therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him;
And His own righteousness, it sustained Him.
~Isaiah 59:15-16 (NKJV)

I looked, but there was no one to help,
And I wondered
That there was no one to uphold;
Therefore My own arm brought salvation for Me;
And My own fury, it sustained Me….
In all their affliction He was afflicted,
And the Angel of His Presence saved them;
In His love and in His pity He redeemed them;
And He bore them and carried them
All the days of old.
~Isaiah 63:5 & 9 (NKJV)

To be continued in Part Three….

*An excellent and illuminating commentary on the book of Daniel was written by James B. Jordan. I took a whole bunch of notes on that book which you can read here.

**A history of the Maccabees (and other events surrounding the life of Jesus) that I recommend is Emil Schürer’s A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ.