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This is our weekly theological article.
The Canadian clinical psychologist, philosopher, and academic, Jordan B. Peterson (1962 – ) has released a 12-part lecture series designed to evaluate the psychological and cultural significance of the Bible. As he explains on his website:
“The Bible is a series of books written, edited and assembled over thousands of years. It contains the most influential stories of mankind. Knowledge of those stories is essential to a deep understanding of Western culture, which is in turn vital to proper psychological health (as human beings are cultural animals) and societal stability. These stories are neither history, as we commonly conceive it, nor empirical science. Instead, they are investigations into the structure of Being itself and calls to action within that Being. They have deep psychological significance.”
Be warned, these are long lectures, ranging from two-hours-and-twenty-eight minutes to two-hours-and-forty-minutes. Furthermore, much of the subject matter is very deep and complex. However, it is a lecture series that boasts a wealth of practical wisdom and will greatly enlighten the viewer on the cultural and theological heritage of Western civilisation.
You can find the full lecture series here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL22J3VaeABQD_IZs7y60I3lUrrFTzkpat
For our cultural article this week, we will be examining Walt Whitman’s 1891 poem, O Me, O Life.
Walt Whitman is considered one of America’s most important poets. Whitman was born in Long Island, New York, on May 31st, 1819. Whitman educated himself by reading Dante, Homer, Shakespeare, and the Bible. At twelve he got an apprenticeship as a printer, but lost it when a fire destroyed the printing district. He worked as a journalist for various newspapers before going independent and travelling around America. In 1870, Whitman settled in Camden, New Jersey. Walt Whitman died on March 26th, 1892, at the age of seventy-two.
Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
O Me, o Life appeared in Walt Whitman’s poetry collection, Leaves of Grass, in 1891. Written in free verse, the poem seeks to determine what the value of life actually is. It is an answer to how one can suffer “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and still find a reason for living.
The first stanza is essentially the same in theme as Hamlet‘s “to be, or not to be” speech. How can life, with all its suffering and hardship, be worth living? Why do we continue to hold life so dear when all the inherent suffering and malevolence can compromise our faith in God, in other people, and even in ourselves?
For Whitman, the answer was simple: Life in and of itself is valuable. That even in the darkest periods of human history, life goes on. For Whitman, the answer to life’s purpose is that you get to “contribute a verse” to the eternal story of man.
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.
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.