If you are not a fan of Jordan B. Peterson already, this video should do it….
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
Any term given an unnecessary modifier should always be treated as suspect. Social Justice, for example. Why do they add the Social? Social Justice is a special kind of justice that only applies to a small group of people. Anyone not in that special group will actually have justice, real justice, pushed aside.
Social Justice is Affirmative Action.
Social Justice is the fight against White Privilege.
Social Justice is the minimum wage.
Social Justice is restitution for slavery ended over a century ago.
Social Justice is equality of output, regardless of input.
Social Justice is not justice for all.
There seems to be a new religion being invented today, which I think is best called Postmodern Jesusism. It’s not an entirely new thing. It’s really just a new twist on the ancient “Old Testament God = bad / New Testament God = good” Marcionist idea. It goes like this: God didn’t really command all that nasty stuff in the Old Testament. The authors of the O.T., not having a complete revelation of God, just did what they thought God wanted them to, and then recorded it as though God really told them to do it. For example, God didn’t really tell Israel to invade Canaan and destroy the people there (Deuteronomy 7:1-2); the Israelites just thought God told them to do that, because that’s what they wanted to do, and so they did it, and then recorded it as though God told them to do it. In other words, the O.T. is lying about God.
But now we have the complete revelation of God in Jesus, and Jesus is a passivist, therefore the portrayal of God in the O.T. must be false. See?
In an article written by Jonathan Merritt*, it says this…
What has changed [from the O.T. to the N.T.] is not God but the degree to which humanity has attained an understanding of the true nature of God. The Bible is not the perfect revelation of God; Jesus is. Jesus is the only perfect theology. Perfect theology is not a system of theology; perfect theology is a person. Perfect theology is not found in abstract thought; perfect theology is found in the Incarnation. Perfect theology is not a book; perfect theology is the life that Jesus lived. What the Bible does infallibly and inerrantly is point us to Jesus, just like John the Baptist did.
The obvious problem with the argument made above of course is that all we know about the teachings of Jesus is from the Bible, but the Bible is “not the perfect revelation of God.”
Peter Enns, in his book The Bible Tells Me So, defends the same position when he writes:
[T]he ancient Israelites were an ancient tribal people. They saw the world and their God in tribal ways. They told stories of their tribal past, led into battle by a tribal warrior God who valued the same things they did – like killing enemies and taking their land. This is how they connected with God – in their time, in their way. (Kindle location 888)
This new way of reading the Bible is a nice convenient way of making the Bible fit with our current enlightened view of the world. It’s a shame that for the past 2000 years, the Church didn’t notice it. But thankfully, we now have the philosophy of postmodernism and deconstructionism.
Postmodernism pushes the idea that all truth claims are really only power grabs. And deconstructionism teaches that we can’t take anything at face value; we must deconstruct every claim, every written work, and look for the implicit biases of the authors.
Postmodernism is resentment masquerading as superior morality.
What our Postmodern Jesusists don’t seem to get is that the Bible is the story of how God invaded this world, starting with the small seed of Abraham, in order to completely destroy the old fallen world and inaugurate a new and perfect creation. This invasion/transformation doesn’t happen all in one shot; it’s a gradual process that will one day fill the whole world (Daniel 2:35, 44). Before Christ, the bloody birth of Israel was a violent but necessary state which God had to set up in order to introduce His saving plan into this bloody and violent world. And God didn’t want Israel to be a warrior nation. Once they were established after the removal of the Canaanites, God wanted them to be a peaceful nation of priests, standing as mediators between God and the Gentile nations. When Israel was faithful to that role, they were at peace with the nations; when they were unfaithful there was war.
Did things change after Jesus? Of course! But not in the way Merritt suggests. The role of the Church is not to pick up guns, invade nations, and kill unbelievers. And I agree with Merritt when he writes, “…we are forever prohibited from using the Old Testament to justify the use of violence.” But Old Testament Israel, once established, wasn’t justified to use violence either, unless it was to protect the nation from destruction. Israel needed to exist – it was the only road to God in an evil and violent world. That world, the “old world,” was destroyed on the cross, and a new creation has been birthed through the resurrection of Jesus, and it grows through the Church – not through physical warfare (although that sometimes might happen, especially if defensive), but through spiritual warfare. And we mustn’t forget, the physical and spiritual worlds are indeed interconnected.
Today the Church fights the true enemy: the powers, principalities, and spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12). That’s what O.T. Israel was fighting against too, but for them it was hidden behind flesh and blood (and wood and stone) enemies. For us, it is revealed for what it truly is. Because of this, Christians fight on a new plane of existence, one in which the true enemy is brought down.**
Postmodern Jesusists confuse evil with good and good with evil. Because they don’t understand the concepts of holiness and covenant, they accuse God of unjustly destroying innocent people. And seeing their folly, instead of correcting their view of the O.T., they decide it’s best to change the story: “Did God really say…?” Well, only according to those primitive unenlightened Israelites, I guess.
What about nations warring against each other in today’s world? Is it okay for Christians to fight for Canada against Christians fighting for Germany in WW2? Well, those are human wars. Those aren’t necessarily wars having to do with the kingdom of heaven invading the earth (although they might be). The world is still in a predominantly fallen state, and wars still happen. Christians, whose first allegiance is to the kingdom of God, have to decide with a clear conscience how much they want to get involved in human wars. Fighting Nazi Germany was a good thing, in my opinion. Perhaps invading Iraq wasn’t. I’m not 100% decided on these issues yet.
*Merritt’s article mentioned above is based on the book Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, which I purchased and will read soon. Perhaps I’ll do a review on it. [Update: read my review here] I already see though that those who endorse the book, Rachel Held Evans, Tony Jones, Walter Brueggemann, Sarah Bessey, Brian McLaren, and others, are indeed the high priests of Postmodern Jesusism.
**Notice in the O.T., there is rarely any mention of demons, and the leaders of Israel are never engaged in battle against demons — they do stand up against the priests and followers of Gentile false gods. But, when Jesus shows up in the gospels, there are demons everywhere, and the disciples do engage in warfare against the demons. I’ve written more about that in the related reading links below.
My dad used Old Spice. He also grew up in WW2 Germany and emigrated to Canada alone when he was sixteen. He started up his own business after dropping out of high school, got married, and had kids.
He grew up in a time when the formal and the informal had their proper places. The informal stems from the formal, and the formal is foundational. We don’t always want to live in formal mode — life would be too serious then. We want to be able to lighten things up a bit in our day to day lives. I don’t want to call my dad “father” all the time; I want to call him dad or papa most of the time. However, my ability to call my dad “dad” rests on the fact that first I call him “father”.
These days in the west, informality, and thus frivolity, have taken over. The foundation of the formal is crumbling and no one takes life seriously enough. (No one, that is, except the revolutionaries we see yelling and screaming at the universities. But they too have no formal foundation to build upon.) Even a product like Old Spice has to embrace the shallow video game culture in order to sell….
I suppose the West will have to create a new formal foundation before it can mature to its next stage of development.
Further reading: Fatherlessness and the Rise of the Shaving Industry