Bewitched

December 24th, 2012

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T’was the night before Christmas and all through the house, a creature was stirring… but it wasn’t a mouse. It was Lucifer. It’s surprising so few Christians recognize him in the Christmas story – especially since the thrust of his work has never changed.

Christmas Eve has become an evening for saccharin church services. Before modern times, demonic activity was widely recognized as more intense on this day. Christian traditions recognized Satan in the story. It was only in recent times that dark tales became brightened, diluting the demonic elements.1 The night before Christmas became serene – duping some believers into assuming no creatures are stirring.

Revelation 12 begs to differ. In its account of Christmas, a woman is about to give birth. A dragon crouches before her, ready to snatch her newborn. In Isaiah 14 we read how the dragon got there. He’s Lucifer, a luminous being from eternity past. For unknown reasons he launched an insurrection, using language: “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly; I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High” (14:12-14). These are words lacking a meaningful connection to reality. This will become the thrust of Lucifer’s work – breaking the meaningful connection between words and reality.

Get ready. You’re going to hear that phrase a few more times as the thrust of Lucifer’s work sounds like a skipping record. His meaningless words prove bewitching, moving one-third of the angelic realm to rebel against God. They lose and are cast to earth. This explains why earth is first described as “formless and void” – a phrase with ominous overtones of God’s judgment.2 Lucifer and his legions are lurking in the bushes.

Let’s be clear. Words are not inherently evil. God forms the “formless and void” with words. Good words enjoy a meaningful connection to reality. God tells us to further his work by means of words. Adam names the animals. This is what the writer of Proverbs means when he writes, “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances” (Prov. 25:11). Satan however sees meaningful words as a menace. He bewitches Eve with words that have no meaningful connection to reality (Surely God has not said…?). Adam and Eve fall. God promises a solution, setting the stage for Christmas.

The thrust of Lucifer’s work follows a pattern from eternity past – breaking the meaningful connection between words and reality. Few Christians see his subterfuge. It’s in the Christmas story. Hearing about a newborn king, King Herod tells the magi he wants to worship the baby (Mt. 2). His words have no meaningful connection to reality. Herod is driving under the influence of Lucifer. Bewitched, the magi promise to report back. God warns the magi to flee. Joseph and Mary are warned. Enraged, Herod slaughters every Palestinian baby two years or younger – which is how the story ends in Revelation. There, the foiled serpent declares war on every follower of the newborn.

It’s one thing to know our “adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Pet. 5:8). It’s quite another to recognize how Lucifer devours. It’s plain as day in scripture – Satan breaks the meaningful connection between words and reality. Is this still happening? While not a Christian, Ludwig Wittgenstein saw a ‘disconnect’ between words and reality in the Western world. The culprit was the Enlightenment, favoring rich rhetoric with its tendency to reduce the complexity of reality to a deceptive clarity (e.g., “principles” and “concepts”). Wittgenstein saw philosophy – the love of wisdom – as a corrective. “Philosophy is a struggle against the bewitchment of our understanding by the resources of our language.”3

Philosophy is helpful but neuroscience might be more so. It is only in the human brain’s right hemisphere that we come in contact with reality. We then form words in the left to explain our experiences. If however we start in the left, with words, language can lose any meaningful connection to reality. The Enlightenment starts with words. Examples of a ‘disconnect’ abound, as with the word “values.”

Friedrich Nietzsche said if there is no God, there are no virtues – only “values.”4 Values are inherently good. Nietzsche was talking about values as understood by the Western world. Modern values lack any meaningful connection to how Westerners live. Numerous studies reinforce this. One study indicates business professionals “usually don’t act on their values” at work.5 Another indicates values-talk yields business managers who suffer from “moral muteness.”6 It appears the great philosophy of the West, the Enlightenment, reduces “values” to meaningless dribble.

“If my name survives at all,” wrote Wittgenstein, “then only as the terminus ad quem of the great philosophy of the West.”7 The Enlightenment is that philosophy. With its emphasis on words, the evidence indicates many Western faith traditions are bewitched by the Enlightenment’s eloquence. Research indicates phrases like “passionate believers” and “corporate values” have little bearing on the faith community’s behavior. Prior to the Enlightenment, it was assumed people think first in pictures, or metaphors. It was assumed a picture’s worth a thousand words. Older Christian traditions saw wisdom in the admonition: “Let thy words be few” (Eccl. 5:2). They took seriously Jesus’ warning that we shall be judged by “every careless word” we speak (Mt. 12:36-37).

If Jesus is right, Christmas can serve as a wake-up call. Lucifer is always stirring up trouble. When faith communities see the thrust of his work, they’ll recognize an eerie similarity between their work and the Enlightenment. They’ll begin to communicate in pictures. Some might even determine to be the terminus ad quem of the Enlightenment.

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1 Scott Meslow, Fairy Tales Started Dark, Got Cute, and Are Now Getting Dark Again (The Atlantic, May 2012).
2 Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), p. 106.
3 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), p. 96.
4 Gertrude Himmelfarb, “From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values” (Law and Order, May/June 1995)
5 Judith Samuelson and Mary Gentile, “Get Aggressive About Passivity,” Harvard Business Review (November 2005), pp. 18-19
6 Frederick B. Bird and James A. Waters, “The Moral Muteness of Managers,” California Management Review, no. 1 (Fall 1989): 73-88.
7 Wittgenstein, Denkbewegungen: Tagebuher 1930-1932/1936-1937, ed. I. Somavilla, Haymon, Innsbruck, 1997, 2003.

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12 Responses to “Bewitched”

  1. Keith Moore says:

    A wise warning… Have a blessed Christmas.

  2. Susan Alford says:

    Pray for my daughter Ginna….her connection between words & reality has become blurry. I refuse to give up on her. Because I know the enemy wants to destroy her. She was raised to know God & accepted Christ when she was a child.

  3. George Hepburn says:

    Lucifer uses words to deceive and that is where I see great trouble for those trying to stay out of his grasp. He uses many tools to distract us from the reality God made for us. That’s why all God fearing people must keep their eye on God’s Word . In that way, we can stand firm against Satan and best walk the true and narrow path that leads to life eternal .

    Merry Christmas.

  4. John Rankin says:

    Important interpretive territory. But I see a problem concerning the tohu w’ bohu (“formless and void”), where Satan is supposedly already lurking in the shadows.

    These words are prior to God’s creation of the physical universe, and in the view of some, also an allusion to Babylonian religion.

    But, would this mean that the good order of creation in Genesis 1-2 is polluted before it is declared good? Or must Satan’s choice of rebellion happened later?

    Does the good and whole creation precede broken creation, or is brokenness sewn in from the outset? The prior is a biblical distinctive in the face of all pagan assumptions; the latter is not.

  5. Mike Metzger says:

    John:

    Good considerations. There is always a tension in trying to “time” occurrences that occurred before time existed (i.e., eternity past). I doubt that anyone could “sync” these events, as we human beings perceive reality from time and space – two realities that do not exist as we know them in eternity.

  6. Dave Thom says:

    Mike, today’s column is proof that I should never miss one, there’s so much to think about in what you write. And when you write so eloquently about words and ideas I can imagine the stress you encounter (or the ease that comes with discipline) to be faithful. I thank The Lord for the gift of your writing and thank you for the gift of your hard work in writing well!

  7. Robert Winer, M.D. says:

    Mike:

    While I appreciate your presentation of Lucifer, as it retains the personal factor which the Bible so clearly illustrates. However, for those who understand Lucifer and / or Satan symbolically, your characterizations can come off a bit preachy.

    It is true that Nietzche’s views relate on the first level to Western civilization, however, it seems as if you don’t get that his works culminate in Thus Speaks Zarathustra which is highly symbolical. If one understands Nietzsche solely as philosophy, you get the Third Reich, as history has proved.

    Finally, your understanding of neuroscience is primitive at best. No one reputable in the field, and being a neurologist I have some understanding of this field, would use the right / left brain model. Though having some merit, it is a vast over-simplificaiton. You mention the finding of value disconnect in Western society. While you are accurate, for a better understanding, you need some psychological training and information.

    So, as you can see, I am not pleased by your presentations. I know you try hard, but if you wish not to fade into opinions that are irrelevant to modern Christianity, you’ll have to get moving forward into the 21st century.

    Sorry to be so blunt, but my heart is to see the Church grow in the very areas you speak about.

    Be well,

    Robert

  8. Mike Metzger says:

    Robert:

    Always appreciate any help I can get in moving into the 21st century. Thank you for your insights. I hope I can better tease out the distinctions between brain hemispheres without falling into dichotomies.

  9. Christopher Harness says:

    Mike,

    Your piece only makes me wonder about the numerous and varying interpretations of the same exact words. That’s the other thing about words that you do not include in your thesis…they mean different things to different people.

  10. Mike Metzger says:

    Chris:

    Yes indeed. Images provide context for words. Otherwise, words can mean just about anything to anyone.

  11. Mark Elson says:

    Mike,

    I’m afraid I don’t agree with post-modern thought, that is image over word, experience over reasoning, emotion over mind; that is an ideology either rejecting the existence or dismissing the universality of objective reality, truth, reason, value, linguistic meaning is itself completely disconnected from reality. Post Modernism plagues much of the minds and thoughts of today’s contemporary church as they promote aesthetics over rationality. What is odd about your information is that Philosophy has rejected Post Modernism like a plague but such studies as Sociology, Anthropology and some areas of Religion have not.

    You say… “Philosophy is helpful but neuroscience might be more so.”

    As a professional thinker (and given to much philosophical thinking) this statement is far short of sharp thinking. The above is a self-refuting statement; you are using a philosophical statement to refute the value (in whole or in part) of philosophy. Philosophy is the study of wisdom, things that are logical; therefore the laws of logic but this above statement breaks the law of non-contradiction. If the above is true, then you should be able to verify, empirically, to some degree, the truth of that statement; but of course empirical verification is not possible to metaphysical properties. One can however philosophically deduce this through reason to determine if that statement is correct, that is it corresponds to the way reality is. You cannot, in any decent thinking, hold this to have any meaning.

    “It is only in the human brain’s right hemisphere that we come in contact with reality. We then form words in the left to explain our experiences. If however we start in the left, with words, language can lose any meaningful connection to reality. The Enlightenment starts with words. Examples of a ‘disconnect’ abound, as with the word “values.””

    When one does not take serious the value of philosophy to such properties as thinking, thought, image, words etc, one would not realize that these properties toward the question “how does the brain work?” can never be answered by Neuroscience because they belong properly to philosophy. It does not follow that because “the right is responsible for image / metaphor” that it should receive knowledge prior to “the left responsible for reason and word”. Why? This is simply an opinion encouraging a relativistic reality. The conclusion to such a statement would be “if you can imagine it, it must be true.” Fairytales and myths fall in that category also. Robert was correct, this makes a bad model and would encourage you to look deeper into this argument.

    The irony is that although you disclaim and blame Enlightenment (and by that reason) it was this same “faith in science” thinking that was the foundation to the Enlightenment. Science is not the culprit here, but humans asking science to think in areas that are not within its scope of responsibilities (metaphysics) is. I would argue that we are still Modernist and Enlightenment thinkers, after all when you want to take medication you read the words on the bottle to make sure it’s not rat poison and not image it to be something else.

    Sorry it was so long I too share the same passion you and have for the Church and these are large issues.

  12. Mike Metzger says:

    Mark:

    I am anything but a postmodernist. It is not image over language but image prior to language. It is not either/or but both/and. As for what neuroimaging purports to reveal about which hemispheres seem to do what, I am relying on roughly forty authors/researchers. I’d be happy to learn, for example, where and how I misrepresent (or oversimplify) Iain McGilchrist, John Medina, Rita Carter, or Daniel Kahnemann.

    As for your rat poison example, reading the label does not in any way ensure the words are a reliable representation of the contents. I would contend that your confidence begins with a largely nonconscious confidence (what Lewis and others call “imagination”) that those words have a meaningful connection to reality. Image frames words, providing a way for you to give them meaning. Of course, a little investigation can further ensure your confidence is well grounded. I’m in no way opposed to science – only scientism.

    I am thankful for your high regard for the church and being entrusted with the gospel. I share your enthusiasm and appreciate your comments.

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