Tag Archives: idolatry

Isaiah Chapter One: The Price of Doing What You Want

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Isaiah was a prophet to four kings in Judah. His book is, in our modern version, 66 chapters long, the same as the number of the books in our Bible. Some have called it a microcosm of the whole Bible. Indeed, we can find many of the elements throughout the Bible in this one book, so studying it gives a chance to hit many of the highlights God wants us to discover throughout His Word.

Heavens and earth are called to witness the declaration. Creation has been an innocent witness to and victim of man’s rebellion from the time of the fall. Romans 8:18-25 details the correct attitude of believers, that of understanding that suffering is part of true service to God, because sin is not good and pleasant and enjoyable, but produces misery and anguish. Creation has longed for purging from the effects of sin ever since it entered the natural world.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. (Romans 8:18-25, NASB)

This should have been the attitude of the Children of Israel in Isaiah’s time, but the truth was that they, instead of acting like sons raised up to love and serve their father, God, they revolted. They weren’t just indifferent or apathetic, they actively rebelled.
Trained domestic animals know better than these people about who to serve and obey. How can these people be ignorant? Sinful as a whole nation, burdened by all of that wickedness, generational guilt and corruption. Abandoning, despising, and turning away from God.

This has to be true because if the traditions were maintained, Jewish children were educated in the Law from an early age. They knew better, from the three methods God has always used:
1. the witness of creation,
2. the witness of His Word, and the message of the prophets. By this time they had numerous books of the Bible
3. plus teachers and prophets like Isaiah.

“There is no room for another mark.” Tars Tarkas said in the John Carter movie, speaking to his daughter Sola. Sola was punished for disobedience against her green Martian tribe by being branded each time she was caught. She had been punished so many times there was no space left on her body for the signs of her rebellion.

Whether this punishment in this movie was just or not isn’t the point. It illustrates the condition of the people of God. He had disciplined them for their true and unquestionable rebellion until there was no space that did not bear “bruises, welts, and raw wounds.” (Isaiah 1:6, NASB)

Put aside your socially-conditioned shock over corporal punishment, please. Even in our permissive society we reach a point where we have laws to try to correct wrongdoing. These were God’s attempts to lawfully correct His people’s wrongdoings. He just didn’t have any place left to administer correction.

From head to toe these people bore the marks of stubbornness and rebellion. The fact that they were untreated (raw) and “not pressed out or bandaged, nor softened with oil” means that they were like sheep who wouldn’t even let a shepherd take care of the injuries sustained as part of the sheep’s natural tendency to wander and get itself injured or corrected with the rod. They’ve run from the tender aftermath where the father who had to discipline would love to take the rebel into His arms and administer comfort and display love.

The man-curated portion of creation also bears witness to rebellion. His structures created from God-supplied building materials are burned. His crops are stolen by invaders, as happened often throughout the book of Judges. These marauders devoured this food right in front of the Israelites. Desolation by strangers. A terrible fate.
This makes it clear that it wasn’t God who wanted to rob them of safety and sustenance. Enemies took the opportunity to swarm in because the people had trampled on God’s walls of protection. They smashed through those loving arms reaching out to defend them and embraced instead false gods and practices. In doing so they also invited in pain, misery, and loss.

All that was left was a little shack in an empty field, the place where someone was supposed to look after the crops as they grew. But there was nothing left to tend or protect. A besieged city will eventually run out of supplies and come to the end of its food and water. Israel had allowed itself to be surrounded and cut off from God’s help. Only a few survivors would remain because of God’s enduring mercy. They could have been wiped out, as Sodom and Gomorrah were, but God did not desire that.

How do we know that they were probably still following the traditions of teaching their children? Because they were following others, the sacrifices, the attendance at the Temple. We know this because God said they were sacrificing, but instead of enjoying the “sweet aroma,” as He has described it elsewhere, God said “I take no pleasure” calls them “worthless” and says “incense is an abomination.” He says “I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.” It’s as if you invited and important guest to dinner and served the garbage disposal scraps along with the real food. What were the Israelites thinking?

Just as the people were burdened with their sins in verse 4, God was burdened by their hypocritical sacrifices and growing weary of having patience, seeking true repentance in verse 14. That’s what sacrifices were supposed to be for, to show evidence of being sorry, turning away, and seeking forgiveness.

That’s not what these sacrifices were, though. When the Israelites prayed, they couldn’t even see that they were raising up bloody hands, stained by the innocent blood God says elsewhere that people were guilty of shedding. From evil kings all the way down to mothers who killed their own children, God recounts over and over again the horrors His own people were capable of committing. God will not, cannot, listen to the prayers of polluted people when they never give a thought to confessing and forsaking their sin but just feel like they have to carry out a ritual.

“Tradition!” shouts the cast of Fiddler on the Roof in the famous production number of the same name, but these traditions were empty of truth and meaning to those people in Isaiah’s time.

God begged and pleaded that they would see their sin, acknowledge it, and be cleansed from it. They needed to learn what the traditional education was supposed to be impressing on them, the basics of right human behavior.

These were such simple precepts. Stop doing evil. Learn how to do right. You don’t have to have superpowers to become a champion of justice. Tell bad people they are wrong. Stand up for children with no parents. Defend women left without husbands.
Did you think God was only interested in emotion, in mysticism? Then why does He invite us in verse 18 to reason together with Him? Because true belief isn’t weird. It isn’t mysterious and impossible to think through and understand.

God gives an object lesson. If you spill blood on something, it will stain. Just so, the people had stained themselves by killing the innocent. But blood can be washed out, even out of something pure white, like wool, and then it will be bright, clean, and shining pure again.

But of course He isn’t talking about literal blood or wool here. He’s talking about sin and its remedy. Sin is the destruction of innocence. People do murder innocents when they abort babies or leave newborns in a toilet or leave children in a cardboard box someplace because they didn’t want to protect them. The same goes for women who are attacked, molested, raped, or murdered because they are deemed easy prey.

In the days of Isaiah there were human sacrifices, usually children, but women were also victimized, used and discarded as temple prostitutes or subject to other monstrous mistreatment. Anytime we fail to value and protect life we are guilty of innocent blood.
Again, God appeals to simple reason in verse 19. Consent to obey, and you will have the best. Refuse and rebel, and the sword is coming to kill you. You have been warned, just as you are warned about the consequences of misbehavior when you accept a job.
If you keep abusing your position, stealing from your employer (so many ways to do that and no one can pretend they don’t know many ways to betray an employer’s trust) vandalizing his property, mistreating fellow employees, you could end up worse than fired. You could go to prison, at least. This is what the people were doing to God.

How does a person go from faithful to unfaithful? Just to unjust? Righteous to murderer? How does this happen in the heart of a man or woman today? A bride and groom do still sometimes exchange vows, including a pledge of fidelity. Believe it or not, this is still a thing in many marriage ceremonies, even nowadays.

Yet married couples betray each other by adultery, mistreat each other by hiding or misspending income, abuse each other with physical violence, and even murder a spouse, sometimes with the added horror of committing suicide afterwards. This can happen in other areas of life as well, following a pattern of initial faithfulness devolving into downward steps that end in some kind of terribly unnatural death.

Instead of maintaining valuable currency we have, like ancient Sparta, become satisfied with coinage worthless outside our own tiny circle. We can’t get anything but watered-down beverages because we don’t protect the value of things. We are led by the rebellious and form friendships with people who think stealing is just getting what you’re owed or the only way to get ahead. You can pay people to make you falsely successful. Nobody listens to the cries of the real needy, the orphans and the widows. They’re too busy chasing false success for themselves.

These people are adversaries of God. They oppose Him, and He will treat them like enemies in battle. He won’t put up with impurities like the dross in silver. Get ready for the lye soap, you dirty sinner. You will become pure by God’s washing and it won’t be comfortable or make you feel loved, since you didn’t want to be loved when you had the chance.

How do we get back to righteousness? Let God restore it. Stop rebelling. Give in to His wisdom in the choice of judges and counselors. He chose them in the time of the Judges, just to name one example. Wow! Would we have chosen Samson or Jephtha? God’s ways are not our ways, but He asks us to trust Him and to be obedient, not understand or know everything. “Trust and Obey” is far more than a song for children in Sunday school. It’s a life principle.

Only in that way can faithfulness be restored. God does it. We don’t do it. Our efforts fail and so do our sinful hearts. “Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it.” But how do we get redeemed? By sacrifices? By struggling with our own version of righteousness? Nope. Once again, God does it. Verse 27 doesn’t say Zion redeems herself. It says she “will be redeemed.” How? By repentance.

What’s repentance? Simple. It’s when I’m walking that way, the way of sin, doing that thing that is opposed to God, and suddenly I say, “No. I’m going to walk the opposite way, and do the opposite thing!” You say and think the same thing about sin that God says. “No more! I oppose it! I turn my back on it.”

After all, transgressors, that is, people who turn off God’s path, ignore His signs so they can do things ‘way worse than walking on the grass, end up in the trash compactor. Hear that awful din when the garbage man comes with his big truck and those claws grab your can and hoist it into the air, emptying it into the maw of the crusher? Hear the roar and squeal and the grinding of the compactor mashing your trash into … yeah. That’s the fate of the sinner. You don’t want to be in God’s compactor. You don’t want to know what it means when God says these people will “come to an end.” (v. 28)

Why would you be ashamed of trees? Embarrassed by gardens? (v. 29) Maybe you don’t understand the Bible because you don’t see how the cultural applications are relevant today. Ever hear of a Zen Garden? Japanese and other Buddhists create these as a place where they can meditate. It’s a form of worship. False worship.

These trees, these gardens, mentioned in Isaiah, are places to worship false gods. You should be embarrassed if you are worshiping idols. Oh, you don’t worship any false gods? People throw around terms from other religions today, like feng shui, yoga, even mindfulness, claiming they are ways to get healthy, get focused, be more successful. They don’t see the idolatry. Or they don’t want to. These are obsessions with physical things that cross over into supposed spiritual benefits.

God uses parallels to visualize the fate of idolaters. Love to worship at that sacred tree? Watch the leaves wither and fall. Sitting and meditating in that mystical garden? It dries up without water. Who puts life into a tree or gives water to a garden? Look to the Source of life, God, and stop worshiping the mere life itself.

Not only are the tree and the garden temporary, not only do they die off, they dry up and so do the people who worship them. A man might seem strong and successful as he practices techniques of eastern mysticism, but if the focus is on the mere physical, something so temporary, when it dries up it could become just something to spark a fire. It could burn up. In fact, God says the idolater will burn up, no matter how strong he appears. No one can put out a fire that God starts, and He will start one, to do away with the idol and the idolater.

Questions for Further Study, Discussion, or Thought
1. Why is Creation a good witness for God to call upon?
2. How do we know that Israel should have known better than to rebel?
3. How should children respond to their father’s discipline? Why would they not respond correctly?
4. Why did God hate their sacrifices? What is the real purpose of sacrifice?
5. List some ways married couples can be unfaithful, and how this is a picture of man’s relationship to God.
6. Explain the meaning of repentance.
7. Share some cultural examples of idolatry that people may not realize they practice. What is their justification for doing these things?

Image Credit: Isaiah Bible Card from the Providence Lithograph Company, 1904. thebiblerevival.com Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

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Discernment — Post by Michael J. Findley

 

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Why do good people make bad decisions? Dear friends, stop believing every spirit. Instead, test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1

Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are savage wolves. You will know them by their fruit. Grapes aren’t gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles, are they? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a rotten tree produces bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and rotten tree cannot produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into a fire. So by their fruit you will know them.
Matthew 7:15-20

Based on a friend’s recommendation, I attempted to watch a trailer of the movie The Shack. Do evangelical/fundamental Christians not understand that portraying God as a woman is sin? God does not appear to us any way we choose to imagine. That is not the God of the Bible. That is a god of our own imagination.

Then God spoke all these words:
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt—from the house of slavery. You are to have no other gods as a substitute for me. You are not to craft for yourselves an idol or anything resembling what is in the skies above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water sources under the earth. You are not to bow down to them in worship of serve them, because I, the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the guilt of parents on children, to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing gracious love to the thousands of love me and keep my commandments. Exodus 20:1-6

This is what you are to do to them: tear down their altars, break their pillars, cut down their ritual pillars, and burn their cared idols in fire, because you are a holy people to the LORD your God. Deuteronomy 7:5-6

Understand that God is limited by His Word, His promises. God cannot lie. God cannot sin. God does not appear to us any way we want Him to. A god who does is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

In The Shack a letter is found in the mailbox after snowing with no tracks to the mailbox. The letter tells a character in the story to go to a shack.

While some people believe that God revealed Himself to His prophets in the Old Testament like this, they are mistaken. This is the method the demon chose to reveal himself to Harry Potter. It is a common method of communicating with unclean spirits.

A prophet or a diviner of dreams may arise among you, give you an omen or a miracle that takes place, and then he may tell, you, ‘Let’s follow other gods (whom you have not known) and let’s serve them.’ Even though the sign or portent comes to pass, you must not listen to the words of that prophet or that diviner of dreams. Deuteronomy 13:1-3

My people are destroyed because the lack knowledge of me. Because you rejected that knowledge, I will reject you as a priest for me. Since you forget the Law of your God, I will also forget your children. Hosea 4:6

All Scripture from the International Standard Version

Image Credit: www.theshack.movie

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Attitude — Post by Michael J. Findley

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This might just be the sin which destroys American Christianity.

This is how God’s children and the devil’s children are distinguished. No person who fails to practice righteousness and to love his brother is from God. This is the message that you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because what he was doing was evil and his brother’s actions were righteous. (1 John 3:10-12 ISV)

You have probably read this so often that you know what it says without reading it. But do you understand what John is saying?

This is probably the last letter John wrote, therefore, the last book written in the Bible. It closes with the words Little children, keep yourselves away from idols. (1 John 5:21 ISV) An idol is anything you place between yourself and God. Yes, I am certain that you already knew that.

However, John’s point is that when that idol is revealed, made manifest, exposed, we explode in rage. The first child, Cain exploded in rage when his brother’s righteousness exposed his sin. Cain walked and talked with God. He was, to use a modern comparison, a “church member.” He was “raised in the Church.” Yet what he was doing was evil.

Throughout history, great acts of evil were often initiated by the people close to God. Cain’s sins eventually led to the destruction of the entire earth with a universal flood.

God in His mercy and grace saved Noah and his family. Yet their children quickly rebelled against the Lord, corrupted His Word and built a tower which God judged.
When Moses went up to speak to God face to face on Mount Sinai, Aaron and the children of Israel built a golden calf to worship and party around.

Until they were led away into captivity in Babylon, the children of Israel continued to worship idols in high places. Jeroboam I, when he rebelled against Solomon’s son Rehoboam, built golden calves for the Northern Kingdom to worship in Dan and Bethel.

Just before he was stoned by the leaders of the Jews, Stephen pointed out that this idolatrous attitude crucified Jesus. “You stubborn people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors fail to persecute? They killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers.” (Acts 7:52-53 ISV)

Dr. John MacArthur had a conference on “Strange Fire” which pointed out how Americans do what they want without any concern for the teaching of the Word of God. This series faced a storm of criticism when it was published. The Church of the United States is filled with unbelievers who do what they want to do and are in control of worship services.

The first time I heard someone tell me that they went to praise services but would not attend or even listen to sermons I told him that his attitude was not that of a believer in Christ Jesus. Since then, I have found this to be a common attitude. Paul told Timothy to Preach the Word, be instant in season and out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine. (I Timothy 4:12 MKJV)

Paul also told the Romans that without preaching there was no salvation. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without preaching? (Romans 10:14 MKJV)

Read this blog carefully. What have we set up in our hearts as an idol between us and the Lord Jesus Christ. What are you unwilling to give up to serve Him?

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Phinehas

[Picture on page 30]

Aaron’s son Eleazer married one of the daughters of Putiel, and she bore him Phinehas. These are the heads of the fathers’ households of the Levites according to their families. Exodus 6:25

Aaron died before crossing the Jordan and entering the Promised Land. His son, Eleazar, was High Priest during that crossing. His son, Phinehas, was a leader of Israel at that time. Just after the death of Aaron, Balaam advised Balak, the King of the Midianites, on a strategy to destroy Israel when the Lord refused to curse Israel for Balaam’s sake. The Midianites were also children of Abraham through Keturah. Balaam advised Balak to take Midianite women to seduce Israelite men into idolatry. At first the seduction was successful.

So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the Lord was angry against Israel. The Lord said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of the people and execute them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.” So Moses said to the judges of Israel, each of you slay his men who have joined themselves to Baal of Peor. Numbers 25:1-5

The Lord Himself intervened in this sin. The people repented. But Balak would not give up.

Then behold, one of the sons of Israel come and brought to his relatives a Midianite woman, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, while they were weeping at the doorway of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas the son Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he arose from the midst of the congregation and took a spear in his hand, and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and pierced both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman, through the body. So the plague on the sons of Israel was checked. Those who died by the plague were 24,000. Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Phinehas the son Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy amon them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy. Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel.'” Numbers 5:7-13

We should be aware that a spear is not the nearly useless primitive weapon depicted by modern secular humanists. The spear is found in every culture all over the world, on every continent and in every tribe. It was the primary offensive weapon of the Babylonians, the Persians, Alexander the Great and the Greeks and the Romans. It is used with a powerful overhand thrust which can penetrate armor. Spears are at least 10 feet long and can be 3 times that. It does not have to be reloaded and can continue to inflict damage as long as the person wielding it has strength. Phinehas used the spear as a priest exercising the judgment of God. The Lord had already commanded that those engaged in this sin should be executed.

Soon after the sin of Baal Peor, Phinehas goes to war with an elite unit under the command of Moses against Midian.

Moses sent them, a thousand from each tribe, to the war, and Phinehas the son Eleazar the priest, to the war with them, and the holy vessels and the trumpets for the alarm in his hand. So they made war against Midian, just as the Lord had commanded Moses, and they killed every male. Numbers 31:5-7

With most people, this is the end of the historical record of Phinehas. After Joshua dismissed the sons of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh, these tribes build a heap of stones. Phinehas is sent at the head of a delegation to investigate this possible idolatry. Finding that this was not a case of idolatry, he brings back a good report to Joshua and the rest of the tribes.

Phinehas leads the children of Israel one more time after the death of Joshua, his father Eleazar and the rest of their generation. Modern Christians rarely mention the lengthy account of the Levite’s concubine who was raped by Benjaminites until she died. The few that do mention it notice that it occurs near the end of the book of Judges, so they assume that this occurs just before the time of Samuel. This great sin actually occurred soon after the death of Joshua.

The sons of Israel inquired of the Lord (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days, and Phinehas the son Eleazar, Aaron’s son stood before it to minister in those days), saying, “Shall I yet again go out to battle against the sons of my brother Benjamin, or shall I cease?” And the Lord said, “Go up, for tomorrow I will deliver them into your hand.”

While there is some disagreement as to the exact numbers, it seems that over 80,000 Israelites died during this time of judgment. The life and ministry of Phinehas is that of blessing by God for judging sin by killing the sinner.

Christianity in America is overrun by the belief that “no one can judge what I do.” People call themselves Christians while committing sins condemned by Word of God.

How can we reconcile our selfish lifestyles with God’s command to destroy idolatry?

But thus you shall do to them; you shall tear down their altars, and smash their sacred pillars, and hew down their Asherim (totem poles) and burn their graven images with fire. For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. Deuteronomy 7:5, 6

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Book Review of The Shallows, What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr

Men’s minds and thinking are getting shallower all the time, but it’s wrong to blame that on the Internet. Many things are just as powerful as the Internet in changing our lives and our thought patterns. Rock music, television, video games and addiction (alcoholism) still play a greater role in “shallowing” the mind than the Internet. The human brain works the same way it has since Adam. The Internet is a minor cultural change compared to the Civil War in the American South, Concentration Camps for Jews, the ten plagues in Egypt and the decimation of Native American culture by Europeans.

(Note that all quotes below are from Carr’s book unless otherwise stated.)

Sabrina’s “workaholic” Linus Larrabee shouts, “My life makes your life possible!” “And I resent that!” playboy younger brother David shouts back. “So do I!” Linus retorts. This popped into my head as I read the repeated descriptions of the deep readers and contemplative thinkers. Nathaniel Hawthorne lay back and experienced nature for hours. Trains and busy working people disturbed him. The “shallow thinkers” Carr brings up are productive people, people with jobs. They have always paid for the lives of these deep thinkers.

Deep thinkers may not be playboys. They still need to be supported to lie in the grass listening to the breeze. Artists and writers from ancient times had patrons or they starved to death. Today their support still comes from those who can handle the world’s distractions. I say this as an artist and writer forced into the distraction of working or helping my husband work to pay bills and buy books like The Shallows.

Carr’s concept of “deep reading” sounds like Eastern Mysticism, opening the mind to everything, rather than reading as the Scriptures teach, “to know wisdom and understanding,” “comparing Scripture with Scripture.” If you can’t lose yourself in a long book you don’t learn properly? Then why does he reduce the Nathaniel Hawthorne tale of his Sleepy Hollow reverie to “snippets?”

Carr quotes wicked men as praiseworthy examples. Emerson, Freud, Nietszche and Marx are just a few of his favorite secularists. Studies are automatically authoritative. In our book Antidisestablishmentarianism we include this: “Dennis Prager, anthropologist and historian, laments the unthinking reliance on pseudo-science in today’s society. ‘In much of the West, the well-educated have been taught to believe they can know nothing and they can draw no independent conclusions about truth, unless they cite a study and “experts” have affirmed it. “Studies show” is to the modern secular college graduate what “Scripture says” is to the religious fundamentalist.'” (Prager quote from “Breastfeeding as a Religion,” World Net Daily, wnd.com, posted November 11, 2003 1:00 am Eastern.)

Carr’s “facts” are lies or skewed into lies. Plato’s Phaedrus strongly supports oral tradition. Theuth and Thamus illustrate oral versus written traditions. “Unlike the orator Socrates, Plato was a writer, and while we can assume that he shared Socrates’ worry that reading might substitute for remembering, leading to a loss of inner depth, it’s also clear that he recognized the advantages that the written word had over the spoken one.” Carr twists it to say Plato is supporting writing over oral tradition.

Plato knew of the honored Spartan tradition that their laws had to be memorized. “Plutarch, in his discourse on the life of Lycurgus and his rule in ancient Greece, expresses the belief that oral tradition is a way of making the law more firmly fixed in the mind.

“None of his laws were put into writing by Lycurgus, indeed, one of the so-called ‘rhetras’ forbids it. For he thought that if the most important and binding principles which conduce to the prosperity and virtue of a city were implanted in the habits and training of its citizens, they would remain unchanged and secure, having a stronger bond than compulsion in the fixed purposes imparted to the young by education, which performs the office of a law-giver for every one of them.”

Carr says Plato’s Republic opposes the oral tradition. “In a famous and revealing passage at the end of the Republic, … Plato has Socrates go out of his way to attack ‘poetry,’ declaring that he would ban poets from his perfect state.” Book Ten of Plato’s Republic starts off by saying that he wanted to banish the type of poetry that did not support his state. His goal was to rewrite the religious and imitative literature. Plato wanted absolute regulation of content, not the banishment of the oral tradition, as stated in Book II. “Then the first thing will be to establish a censorship of the writers of fiction (which includes the Poets) …and we will desire mothers and nurses to tell their children the authorized ones only.”

The book relies on the shallowness of gleaning opinions from others without testing them by researching in the work itself. Carr didn’t seek out the real meaning of the discussions in the Republic and Phaedrus for himself. This would be almost comical if it weren’t for his repeated emphasis on deep thinking and reading.

Carr talks about the cool serenity of library stacks, but we went to a college where the stacks were closed and the frustrations of getting the right books were endless. Open stacks are still time consuming if the book in the card catalog isn’t on the shelf. Leisure reading and research reading are very different. Long novels like War and Peace and Bleak House and technically difficult works like Einstein and Infield’s The Evolution of Physics are worth the time to read cover to cover. But the library is confining and the Internet is liberating when there is time pressure.

Carr loses the struggle to define determinism because he is thoroughly deterministic in his approach to the studies, the experiments, and the use of what he condemns (superficial research and study) to prove his point. He mentions a couple of histories of societies making technology choices, but, “Although individuals and communities may make very different decisions about which tools they use, that doesn’t mean that as a species we’ve had much control over the path or pace of technological progress.”

How dare he say the brains of London cabbies won’t be as interesting if they start using GPS? That thinking isn’t much different from withholding medicine and clothing from jungle tribes. They’ll be “less interesting” for anthropologists to study. “Anthropologists are often faced with situations where members of the tribe they are studying die on a regular basis from easily curable diseases. But administering medicine may be the first step toward the loss of a culture. Many tribes actually express desire to become more technological. Anthropologists usually pressure them not to do so. One Brazilian indigenous tribal chief, after hearing such a recommendation, is quoted saying, ‘Do they think we like not having any clothes? It may be the way of our ancestors, but the bugs bother us…’ Should tribes like these be exposed to the modern world? There are no easy answers.” (Quoted from BBC online, updated April 10, 2002, in our book Antidisestablishmentarianism.)

E-books already outsell paper books on Amazon.com, and have for over a year. The Kindle is easy to read, keeps your place, allows written comments and highlighting. It’s a “real book.” Many small and medium conventional publishers are out of business. Only publishing giants and specialty “boutique” publishers can sustain the costs of producing paper books. The minimal costs of e-books will force this trend to continue.

Carr even quotes Psalm 115:3-8, a description of the deadness and powerlessness of idols, and warps it to fit his thesis about “technology’s numbing effect. It’s an ancient idea, one that was given perhaps its most eloquent and ominous expression by the Old Testament psalmist.” The creation of idols didn’t just “amplify and in turn numb the most intimate, the most human, of our natural capacities — those for reason, perception, memory, and emotion.” This is blasphemy. How can he equate the deadly sin of idolatry with the mere loss of “natural capacities”? He does this because he’s a secularist. (The passage is included here) “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not. They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them.” ( KJV)

Placing of scientific journals online does not narrow the scope of research and scholarship, which has always built on past scholarship. An article from 2005 need not cite one from 1945. That research was incorporated into, for example, a 1960 article. Further study, experimentation and research would occur by 1960, or more recently.

At one time many libraries had that 1945 issue, interlibrary loan privileges or microfilm. Libraries today rely on online research, which requires membership fees, payment by the article or both. Some of these charges are prohibitive to keep paying and paying for every article an author wishes he could study and reference. Newer articles are more readily available, often free or cheap, and easier to find.

We have been bombarded with distractions and choices and sensory overloads for centuries. It was happening before the Internet, before Gutenberg, before Plato. It’s up to us to filter.

Nicholas Carr pays tribute to the Scriptures by calling Psalm 115:3-8 a “most eloquent and ominous expression.” Hear then, more of the Scriptures and judge whether Carr has any conception of how eloquent the Word of God can be, and how little he understands about how it should shape our thinking. (The following quotes are from the King James Version)

Ecclesiastes 1:8-11: “All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us. There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.”

Ecclesiastes 12:11-14: “The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.  And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.  Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”

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