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THE DEATH OF GOD

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This week for our theological article, we will be examining Friedrich Nietzsche’s (1844 – 1900) infamous statement, “God is dead.”

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (pronounced ‘knee-cha’) was born in Röcken, near Leipzig, on October 15th, 1944. His father, Karl Ludwig Nietzsche (1813 – 1849), was a Lutheran pastor and former teacher, and his mother was Franziska Oehler (1826 – 1897). The Nietzsche family quickly grew to include a daughter, Elisabeth (1846 – 1935), and another son, Ludwig Joseph (1848 – 1850). Unfortunately, the family would be beset by tragedy. In 1849, when Nietzsche was five-years-old, Karl Nietzsche would suffer a devastating brain haemorrhage and die. Then, as if to rub in salt in their wounds, the infant Ludwig Joseph, would die unexpectedly shortly after.

Nietzsche was educated at the prestigious Schulpforta school near Naumburg. There he received an education in theology, classical languages, and the humanities. After graduating, young Nietzsche attended the University of Bonn before moving to the University of Leipzig. During his time there, Nietzsche became acquainted with the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860) whose work, the World as Will and Representation (1818), would have a tremendous influence. Then, aged only twenty-four, Nietzsche was awarded the position of professor of Greek language and Literature at the University of Basel in Switzerland. He had never written a doctoral dissertation.

Nietzsche left academia briefly to serve as a medical orderly in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). He was discharged due to poor health. Nietzsche returned to Basel where he came acquainted with the cultural historian, Jacob Burckhardt (1818 – 1897), and the composer, Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883). Wagner’s influence on Nietzsche can most readily be seen in the Birth of Tragedy.

During the late 1870s, Nietzsche became increasingly beset with debilitating health problems: digestive problems, poor eyesight, and migraines. He was forced to spend months off work, and eventually agreed to retire with a modest pension. Nietzsche was only thirty-four years old.

From there, Nietzsche devoted the rest of his life to the study and writing of philosophy. Between 1870 and 1889, Nietzsche wrote nineteen books, including: The Birth of Tragedy (1872), Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks (1873), Human, All Too Human (1878), the Gay Science (1882), Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883), Beyond Good and Evil (1886), On the Genealogy of Morals (1887), Twilight of the Idols (1888), Ecce Homo (1888), and the Will to Power (1901, technically unpublished manuscripts published by his sister, Elisabeth).

In 1889, in Turin Italy, Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown after seeing a horse being flogged in the Piazza Carlo Alberto. In the following days, Nietzsche sent a series of ‘madness letters’ to Cosimo Wagner (1837 – 1930) and Jacob Burckhardt in which he signed his name ‘Dionysos’, claimed to be ‘the crucified one’, and asserted that he was the creator of the world. It was quickly agreed that Nietzsche should be brought back to Basel. There he was incarcerated in a clinic in Jena.

In 1890, Nietzsche’s mother, Franziska, brought him home to Naumburg where she looked after him until her death in 1897. From there, Nietzsche was cared for by his sister, Elisabeth, in Weimar. He died on August 25th, 1900 at the age of fifty-five.

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The statement, “God is dead” is Nietzsche’s most memorable and provocative statement. (Of course, he wasn’t the first one to coin the term. That was Heinrich Heine (1797 – 1856). Nietzsche merely philosophised it). It first appeared in the Gay Science in a fable entitled, the Parable of the Madman. In the parable, the madman asks, ‘where is God?’, only to be informed that God had been killed by man:

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderer of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe the blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves?”

Of course, Nietzsche wasn’t talking about the literal death of God (he was, after all, an atheist). Instead, he was referring to the death of the concept or idea of God. The statement was meant as a reference to the decline of traditional and metaphysical doctrines that had dominated European thought and culture for centuries.

Nietzsche observed, correctly, that western morality was predicated on the presumption of the truth of Judeo-Christian values. Christianity had become infused in European culture and thought. Philosophers and scientists like Copernicus (1473 – 1543), René Descartes (1596 – 1650), Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727), Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274), George Berkeley (1685 – 1753), Saint Augustine (354-430AD), Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716), and more were all deeply influenced by their belief in God. Culturally, Handel’s (1685 – 1759) Messiah, Da Vinci’s (1452 – 1519) the Last Supper, and Michelangelo’s (1475 – 1564) Statue of David are all infused with religious themes.

The decline of Christianity’s supremacy in society began with the Enlightenment. Science replaced scripture. During this time, the belief in a universe governed by God was replaced by governance through the laws of physics, the divine right to rule was replaced with rule by consent, and morality no longer had to emanate from a loving and omniscient God.

The legacy of the Enlightenment, Nietzsche rightly observed, was that Christianity lost its central place in Western culture. (Of course, it can also be argued that Christianity’s central doctrines and tenets have been so absorbed by society people no longer recognise their influence). Science, replete with its elaborate depictions of physical reality, ultimately replaced religious truth.

Hitler at Dortmund Rally

Nietzsche’s assertion is often seen as a triumphal or victorious statement. However, analysis reveals that Nietzsche did not necessarily see the death of God as a good thing. He recognised that as society moved closer to secularisation, the order and meaning religion gave to society would fall by the wayside. People would no longer base their lives on their religious beliefs, but on other factors. Their lives would not be grounded in anything. As Nietzsche wrote in the Twilight of the Idols:

“When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident… Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole.”

Nietzsche believed the solution to the problem would be to create our own, individual values. Christian morality (derided by Nietzsche as ‘slave morality’) would be replaced by ‘master morality.’ Human beings would strive to become Übermensches or overmen.

The problem with Nietzsche’s suggestion is that it is virtually impossible to keep society ordered when everyone’s values are different. Furthermore, as Carl Jung (1875 – 1961) points out, it is impossible for us to create our own values. Most of us can’t keep our new year’s resolutions, let alone create a value system that will bring order to society.

Nietzsche, along with Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821 – 1881), predicted that the 20th Century would be characterised either by apocalyptic nihilism or equally apocalyptic ideological totalitarianism. In the end, the world experienced both. The wake of the Great War (1914 – 1918) saw Europe plagued by communism, fascism, Nazism, and quasi-religious nationalism. In Russia, communism, through which a person’s value was derived from his labour, arose under the Bolsheviks. In Italy, fascism, through which a person’s value was derived from his nationality, arose under Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945). In Germany, Nazism, through which a person’s value was derived from his race, arose under Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945). All of these systems attempted to give people’s lives meaning by replacing the state with God.

In the end, the 20th Century would be the deadliest and most destructive in human history. The legacy of two world wars, nuclear weapons, communism, and fascism has been millions of painful and unnecessary deaths. This is what we get when we remove God from society: needless pain and suffering.

DILIGENCE

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This week for our theological article we will be looking at one of the seven cardinal virtues: diligence. The word itself derives from the Latin “diligentia” meaning “attentiveness” and “carefulness.” It is the practice of “careful and persistent work or effort.”

Needless to say, diligence is an extremely important quality in the Christian faith. It is where our faith begins and it is the key to fulfilling God’s purpose on earth.  In Proverbs 10:4 it is written:

“Poor is he who works with a negligent hand. But the hand of the diligent makes rich.”

Likewise, it is written in Proverbs 21:5:

“The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage. But everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty.”

And it’s not just true for religion, either. Diligence is a key aspect of social and economic success. People renowned for their diligence include George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Clara Barton, J.D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, Sam Walton, Walt Disney, Bill Gates, and Oprah Winfrey.

In other words, diligence is the key to achieving “impossible” goals and developing all other virtues. As human beings, we are required to toil for the things we have, to tend the fields, mine ore, spend the majority of our lives engaged in mental or physical labour. It is how we build our character and develop our sense of self-respect.

So, how do we become more diligent? Fortunately for us, Solomon has a few words of wisdom.

First, Solomon tells us to “wake up to reality.” We cannot be diligent while our minds are still stuck in the clouds.

Second, define your visions. If you expect to get somewhere, you have to know where you are going. Defining your goals, coming up with a mental picture of what you would like to achieve makes it significantly more likely you will be successful.

Third, effectively partner. You are not infallible, therefore you need to work with others who will offset your personal limitations.

Fourth, build your life upon the pursuit of wisdom. Use good judgement, knowledge, and experience as stepping-stones to success.

FALLOUT OVER PRESIDENT TRUMP’S PRESS CONFERENCE

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President Trump has been heavily criticised for appearing to defend the alt-right in the wake of the devastating Charlottesville car attack in a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

Throughout the conference, Trump appeared agitated and defensive. When asked why it had taken him so long to condemn the Unite the Right protesters, Trump answered:

 “I didn’t wait long. I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct. Not make a quick statement. The statement I made on Saturday, the first statement was correct a fine statement, but you don’t make statements that direct unless you know the facts.  It takes a little while to get the facts. You still don’t know the facts. It’s a very, very important process to me. And it’s a very important statement. So I don’t want to go quickly and make a statement for the sake of making a political statement. I want to know the facts.  If you go back to my original statement … I brought it.”

Trump went on to defend his statement on Saturday, saying:

“Excuse me, excuse me, take it nice and easy. Here’s the thing. When I make a statement, I  like to be correct. I want the facts. This event just happened. In fact, a lot of the event didn’t even happen yet as we were speaking. This event just happened. Before I make a statement, I need the facts. So I don’t want to rush into a statement. So making the statement when I made it was excellent. In fact, the young woman who I hear was a fantastic young woman, and it was on  NBC, her mother wrote me and said though I guess Twitter, social media, the nicest things. And  I very much appreciated that. I hear she was a fine, really actually an incredible young woman.  But her mother on Twitter thanked me for what I said. And honestly, if the press were not fake,  and it was honest, the press would have said what I said was very nice. But unlike you and  unlike the media, before I make a statement, I like to know the facts.”

Then Trump switched his focus to attacking the “alt-left”:

I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned very different groups. But not all those people were”I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned very different groups. But not all those people were neo-Nazis, believe me, not all of those people were white supremacists, by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E.  Lee. And you take a look at some of the groups and you see, and you’d know it if you were honest reporters which in many cases you’re not, but many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down.  I wonder, is it George Washington next week, and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You really do have to ask yourself where does it stop. But they were there to protest, excuse me,  take a look at the night before, they were there to protest the taking down of the statue of  Robert E. Lee.”

Republican Senator for Florida, Marco Rubio defended President Trump’s statement on twitter:

“Mr. President, you can’t allow #WhiteSupremacists to share only part of blame. This is  simple: we must condemn and marginalize white supremacist groups, not encourage and embolden  them.”

However, the reaction from both Republicans and Democrats has been overwhelmingly negative. Democrat Congresswoman from New York, Kathleen Rice, tweeted: “President Trump is a racist. Period. He’s gone out of his way to make that clear, so let’s not tip-toe around it. He’s a racist.” Similarly,  Democrat Senator from Hawaii, Brian Schaltz tweeted: “As a Jew, as an American, as a human, words cannot express my disgust and disappointment. This is not my president.”  Meanwhile, former House Majority Leader and Republican Congressman from Virginia, Eric Cantor criticised Trump for equating the counter-protesters with the alt-right.

Trump’s plight certainly hasn’t been helped by the support he has been receiving from white supremacists. Richard Spencer told the Washington Examiner that he was grateful to Trump for “defending the truth.”  Likewise, Ku Klux Klan leader, David Duke, tweeted:

“Thank you President Trump, for your honesty and courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville and condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa.”

There can be little doubt that President Trump deserves wide-spread criticism for his refusal to directly name and shame neo-nazis, white supremacists, and the alt-right for their role in the events in Charlottesville on Saturday. He rightly deserves criticism for refusing to condemn the alt-right during his Presidential campaign.

And the people who should be criticising him should be the American people, not the hypocritical mainstream media and political left who only seem to find their moral indignation when evil can be attributed to the right.

This, after all, is the same media that overhypes every threat of right wing violence and turns every crime committed by a right winger into a condemnation of all conservatives, but conveniently turns a blind eye to the violence committed by antifa in Seattle, Sacramento, and Berkeley.  The same media that has presented right wing violence as a bigger threat to people’s safety than Islamic terrorism, which has routinely downplayed its threat, and vilified anyone who wishes to talk about the issue as being an “Islamaphobe.”

Then there’s the left wing media’s remarkable lack of criticism towards Barack Obama. They did not condemn Obama’s speech in Dallas, Texas, where he blamed the murder of five police officers on the legacy of Jim Crow and slavery, and claimed the police were unfairly and systematically targeting African Americans.

Does President Trump deserve criticism for his refusal to name and shame those responsible for the violence on Saturday? Undoubtedly yes. But the mainstream media and political left have no moral authority to do so.

SELF MASTERY

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This week for our theological article, King Alfred Press will be exploring the quest for self-mastery and its importance in living a pious life.

For years, “living in the moment” has been popular advice among self-help gurus. No need to learn from history, no need to think about the consequences of your behaviour, the only thing that matters is satisfying present desires.

However, there is a fundamental problem with living in the moment: it causes you to act impulsively.  You become a slave to circumstance. You end up becoming the sort of person who engages in unhealthy, short-term relationships, you become the sort of person who spends without thought and rack up massive credit card debts.  Compulsive eaters have been known to literally eat themselves to death, and there is little need to discuss the relationship between crime and the intoxicating effects of alcohol.

The rational antidote, then, to living in the moment is to orientate yourself towards self-mastery. By doing so, we can live pro-active, Godly lives. God expects us to be diligent with what we have and where we are before we move forward with our lives.  As it is written in the Gospel according to Luke (chapter sixteen, verse ten):

“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are
dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities”

Self-mastery helps you achieve mastery of your own emotions, affections, likes, and desires.

So, how do you go about achieving self-mastery? Well, I cannot pretend to have the answers. However, it is eminently obvious that changing your daily habits is a good place to start.

First, engage in daily prayer. It will help you quieten your mind and communicate with God.  Read your Bible or Torah. Remind yourself every day of what God expects of you. Second, practice self-denial. Third, do things deliberately, with purpose – act as though everything you do matters. Fourth, don’t lie – especially to yourself. The only way to overcome your problems is by being honest about them. Fifth, take care of your mind, body, and your surroundings. As Professor Jordan B. Peterson famously advises: “clean your room!” Keep your workspace clean and tidy, put everything where it belongs, make yourself orderly.

HUMILITY

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This is our weekly article examining an aspect of the Judaeo-Christian faith.

Modern society is based around a culture of self-esteem.  Whatever happens to make us feel good in the moment is the highest order of the day. Hence we get the abolition of winners and losers, and the advent of moral relativism.  Our highest consideration is to ourselves, with no room for God our other people.

A lot of this affliction comes from post-modernism (the belief there is no determinable reality) which has changed the definitions of ‘arrogance’ and ‘humility’ to mean ‘conviction’ and ‘doubt’, respectively. Through post-modernism our sense of humility has shifted from humility towards ourselves, to doubt of the greater truth. As G.K. Chesterton (1874 – 1936) predicted in 1908:

” What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of  ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was  meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.  Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert — himself.  The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt — the Divine Reason. . . . The new skeptic  is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn. . . . There is a real humility typical of our time;  but it so happens that it’s practically a more poisonous humility than the wildest prostrations of the  ascetic. . . . The old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder.  But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which makes him stop working altogether. . . . We are on the road to producing a race of man too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication  table.”

 The Bible urges us to pursue humility. C.S. Lewis (1898 – 1963) once observed that humility is “not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” It requires us to take our personal thoughts and feelings out of a situation in order to act selflessly for others.  When we humble ourselves, God exalts us.

John Chrysostom (c. 349 – 407AD) once observed that “humility is the root, mother, nurse, foundation, and bond of all virtue.” They key to true humility is subordinating yourself totally to the command of God. Never be afraid to fall on your knees in the presence of God.

GRATITUDE

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Once a week, King Alfred Press will be examining an aspect of the Judeo-Christian faith. This can include a Biblical story, religious philosophy, religious culture, a value, a theological idea, or anything else that can carry a spiritual dimension.

This week’s topic is ‘gratitude’, or the ‘state of being grateful.’ The importance of gratitude is expressed numerous times in the Bible.  In the First Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians, we are advised to “give thanks to God in all circumstances” (chapter five, verse eighteen), whilst in Ephesians, we are reminded that it is “by grace we have been saved” (chapter two verse eight).

Gratitude acts as a reminder of our origins. We are all creatures created, loved, and cared for by a just and merciful God. Beginning and ending every day with a thankful attitude reminds us of the gifts God has bestowed upon us.

Through the constant practice of gratitude, combined with trust in God and repentance of our sins, we are able to achieve joy. By practising gratitude, we develop kindness, charitableness, mercy, and humility. It is a habit we should practice every day of our lives.