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Sunday, 6 April 2014

A message for the church

Dearly beloved

I write this letter to you in a time when the church face enormous challenges. We experience a period of dramatic change in our country and around the world. This is a time in which all those who's hearts are concerned about the decline and falling away should come together and ask: what must we do? With the psalmist we can ask: When the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? It is in a time like this that the call goes out: Where are those among them, who should make up the hedge, who shall stand in the gap before the Lord for the land, that it would not fall into total destruction!

The answer came to me during an early morning of prayer with some dear brethren. Sometimes we are confused. Sometimes we do not see things clearly. Sometimes we are unsure about what we should do. That is the time when we should inquire about the foundations. What are the foundation stones without which no building can do? What are the basic principles of the church? We should go back to these. We should clearly discern what are the fundamental truths of the gospel.

I believe that God made it very simple. Given in a nutshell: there are only two basic principles. The one regulates our relation with Him and the other our relation with all people. These are 1. Obey God  2. Forgive each other. Can it be so simple. Yes, it is. In our day and age the principles of obedience and forgiveness have fallen out of favor. Why? Because these are not typical democratic values. Obedience is not the language of democracy. Forgiveness is not the language of the market. But the kingdom of God is not a democracy! The Lord Jesus is our King. We belong to God's kingdom. And these are the principles of His kingdom. 

We should remind ourselves what a kingdom is like. The kingdom in old Israel was based on a tribal/clan system. The king was a father; he was a father for all those who had no father, approachable by all his subjects. He was also a leader who commanded them against their enemies. As Christians we belong to God's kingdom - which, I repeat, is a kingdom, not a democracy! And the essence of God's kingdom is obedience. Obedience flows from the deep trust that we have in God, our father. God is our spiritual father who loves us, who gave His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to die for us. But as king we also hold Him in awe. Love, trust and awe - that's why we obey Him. We need to rediscover the principle of obeying God. Absolute obedience.

With democracy came the greed of an absolute free market. Here the principle is: To get somewhere you must use people. You must use them to reach your goals. And this leaves many people with grudges. But in the kingdom of God the exact opposite is true: We must forgive because God forgave us. We should reconcile with those who have grudges against us. And this is an absolute rule: Forgive and live as far as possible in such a manner that others do not have to forgive us. We experience the full joy of freedom if we forgive and are forgiven by others. To be free of anger, distrust, hate, grudges - there is only one answer: forgive each other in the same manner in which God forgave you. That is: absolute forgiveness.

When we carefully consider these principles, then we ask: Can we really live that in the full sense? Is it really possible in practice? A better question is: How can this be done? There is only one answer: This is only possible if we are crucified with Christ. In fact, we are already crucified with Christ! But it is not enough to say that Jesus has done that for us on the cross. It is not enough to recognize that we should live crucified lives and try our very best to do so. Rather, we must participate in that salvation. We must in faith accept and experience that salvation. We must be able to say with the apostle Paul: I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me! Only then can we experience the fullness of our inheritance in Christ as members of God's kingdom who are able to live according to the principles of that kingdom. 

Christians who are living uncrucified lives have a quarrel with the principles of obedience and forgiveness. But nothing will change this basic rule of the kingdom of God: the key that unlocks the power of God's Spirit working through us is crucifixion. When we in faith reckon ourselves to be crucified with Christ as the same apostle Paul says in his letter to the church in Rome, yes, and die by God's grace to our selfish desires, to our own interests, then we can be fully committed to God and have a disposition to obey Him. When we bend our knees before God and humbly pray: I am willing to let go of my pride, my selfishness, my laziness, even my right to myself, only then will we experience the full power of Christ's resurrection. Then will we be able to say: Lord, I am fully thine, do with my life as you please. It is only when we experience such a crucified life, such a life of full surrender to God, that we would be able to obey God and forgive each other in a really profound and even radical way.

Some of you will say: But what about love! Is not love the central message for and of the church. Should we not love one another. This is indeed the basic commandment of Jesus. This love, however, will only be realized in and through our lives when we are fully committed to God. Only when we are crucified with Christ and live such a life in faith will we experience that the reservoir of God's love in us is unlocked. Then will we be able to obey and forgive, and experience the love of God in action. Then will the dynamic pentecostal power of God's Spirit flow through our lives like a river of living waters. The love for God, each other and all people, is not from ourselves - it is God's love that flows though us. God loves though us. Love will characterize our lives and that of the church.

I therefore repeat, beloved, that we should obey God and forgive each other. How deep is our obedience? How deep is our forgiveness. How deep are we committed to God. To what extent do we live according to the basic principles of the kingdom of God. We should not let the spirit of this world govern our lives. We should not allow the norms of the time to dictate to us how we should live. Those who try to form our opinions according to this world hate these principles. They attack it. But we belong to another kingdom. And if we want to see the power of God in action, if we want to see God's kingdom come in power, we should implement the basic principles of that kingdom in our lives. So, we have to ask ourselves: Do I really live according to those principles?

I want to encourage you all. The end is drawing closer. Times will become more difficult. But Jesus, our leader, will lead us to victory. Let's obey Him and forgive each other. Let's consecrate our lives to Him anew. Let's take hands and become one in our love for Him and each other. Let's ask ourselves: Is this how I lead my life? We should make time to go on our knees and consider these things in the presence of God. When we allow God to realize these things in our lives we will experience the presence of God in our lives and the church. Yes, even the awful presence of God in revival.

May God be with you all.

Your brother in Christ

Willie Mc Loud (Ref.
Strand, South Africa

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Sunday, 2 March 2014

The Garden of Eden: Was it a real place?

In this essay I discuss the Biblical Garden of Eden in the wider context of the ancient Middle East. The Bible is not the only text where these motifs are found; they appear elsewhere in ancient Semitic literature. I ask: Was it a historical place? This is the third part of the series on the Book of Genesis.

The Garden of Eden is introduced right at the beginning of the Bible, in Genesis 2-3. I have previously discussed the creation story (see part 1 of the series) as well as the main characters in the garden story, namely Adam and Eve (see part 2). Now, I focus on the garden itself. Although the basic theme of the garden is well-known, the long tradition behind this theme is for the most part unknown.

The views that readers have regarding the Garden of Eden closely reflects their views regarding Adam and Eve as historical personages or not. Those who believe in a historical Adam and Eve also take the geographical details in the story serious, namely the names of the rivers and the areas through which they flow. Various interpretations have been offered as to where the garden was located, some placing it in southern Mesopotamia, even in the Persian Gulf. Others think that the garden was located in the north, in Turkey or northern Iran.

In my opinion any discussion of the Garden of Eden should commence with a careful analysis of the main features of the garden mentioned in the story. We must first ask certain basic questions, for example: Was the garden in a plain? Or was it situated on a mountain? Did the rivers originate or converge in the garden? What do we know about the tree(s) in the middle of the garden? Such an analysis will allow us to research the history of these motifs and see where they were first used. From this important insights could be gained. Only then should we engage with the questions about the geographical details and the historicity of this garden.

The Garden of Eden

The Garden of Eden [1] is introduced in Genesis 2:8. We read that "the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden". Various interesting things are said about this garden:

1. All sorts of trees grew in the garden, both those that were "pleasant to the sight" and those who were "good for food". Two of these trees are singled out, namely the "tree of life" and the "tree of knowledge of good and evil". Both these trees grew in the middle of the garden (Gen. 2:9, see also 2:17; 3:3, 6, 17, 22, 24). God forbid Adam from eating of the tree of knowledge, and when he and Eve did, they were chased from the garden to stop them from also eating from the tree of life.

2. There is reference to a river which watered the garden. Another four rivers are mentioned: "and from hence [i.e. the garden] it was parted, and became four heads" (Gen. 2:10). These rivers were the Pison, Gihon, Hiddekel (Tigris) and Euphrates. If we take the reference to "heads" as the upper headwaters of these rivers, then this garden must have been situated somewhere high in the mountains.

3.  God's abode could have been in or near the garden because we read that He walked in the garden in the cool of day (Gen. 3:8). What is also quite interesting, is that God speaks in the plural saying: "man has become as one of us to know good and evil" (Gen. 3:22). We find this use of the plural also in Gen. 1:26 and 11:7.

4. The inhabitants of the garden included not only Adam and Eve, but all kinds of animals which Adam named. Among these animals was the serpent who tempted Eve. Furthermore, God placed Cherubim at the eastern side of the garden. They are associated with "a flaming sword which turned in every way" (Gen. 3:24).

These features can be compared with those mentioned in Ezekiel 28 and 31 where we also find discussions of events that are said to have taken place in "Eden, the garden of God" (mentioned in both chapters: Ezek. 28:13; 31:9). Although Ezekiel tells a different garden story, there can be no doubt that the same garden theme is used. In both cases it is clearly stated that the events happened in Eden, the garden of God. Although the four rivers are not mentioned, there is agreement between the two depictions. The depiction in Ezekiel can help us gain a better understanding of some of the things which is implicit in the Genesis story of the garden. The following is said about the garden in Ezekiel 28 and 31:

1. All sorts of trees grew in the garden, among which were cedars and chesnut trees (Ezek. 31:8). One tree is singled out, namely a "cedar in Lebanon" (Ezek. 31:3). This cedar's height was exalted above all the trees of the field and its roots were by great (underground) waters. It seems that this cedar throned over the whole earth: "All the fowls of heaven made their nests in his boughs, and under his branches did all the beasts of the field bring forth their young, and under his shadow dwelt all great nations" (Ezek.31:6). Eventually it was cut down because of its pride.

2. A certain anointed cherub, "that covereth", was in Eden, the garden of God (Ezek. 28:14). This cherub was very beautiful and wise, but became fallen because of its pride.

3. The garden and the mountain of God are closely connected in the story. The garden seems to have been on or near the "holy mountain of God" (maybe lower down on the mountain?). We can deduce this from the fact that the garden of God, in which the exceptionally beautiful cedar grows, is also said to be located somewhere on the Lebanon mountains, where one of the peaks probably represented the mountain of God. The top of the "holy mountain of God" was covered with "the stones of fire" (Ezek. 28:14), which could metaphorically refer to the stars [2]. This reflects the extreme height of this mountain. The fallen cherub is said to have been in the garden as well as on the mountain of God.

The second reference in Ezekiel 28 to the "mountain of the God" (Ezek. 28:16) is translated in my Afrikaans Bible as "godeberg", which literally means "mountain of the gods".  This refers to the mountain of God where all the "gods" (later called "angels") gathered for the council (or: congregation) of the gods (see Ps 82:1, 6-7 where the angels are called "gods"; Ps. 89:7 where the angels are called "Sons of the Mighty One" [or: God, in the Septuagint] or "saints", i.e. the "holy ones"; Is. 14:13, 14; 1 Ki. 22:19-22; Ezek. 28:16) (I discuss the ancient tradition about the council of the gods gathering on the mountain of God (El), which go back to pre-Biblical times, in [3]). The fallen cherub was clearly one of those gods who was later chased from the mountain of God.

When we compare the two descriptions of the garden of Eden in Genesis 2-3 and Ezekiel 28, 31 we find some obvious agreements in the basic motifs, but also disagreements regarding the details. Among these agreements are reference to some special tree in the garden which is singled out. In the Genesis 2-3 story this is the tree of knowledge; in Ezekiel's story this is a beautifully high cedar. Regarding this tree there seems to be some differences, namely that we find two trees in the Genesis depiction and only one tree in the Ezekiel's depiction. Furthermore, both trees in the Genesis story yield fruit; but a cedar cannot do that. 

In the Genesis account, there is no explicit reference to a mountain. There is, however, some details that can be taken as an implicit reference to it, namely that the "heads" (headwaters) of the four rivers originated in the area of the garden. From the fact that the same garden theme is used in both stories, which originated from a very old tradition regarding such a garden, we can assume that the garden of Eden was situated on or near a mountain - the mountain of God.

In the Genesis story it is mentioned that God walked in the garden. This could imply that He had his abode there - which is also accentuated in Ezekiel's story where we find that the garden is on or near the mountain of God, i.e. where He had his abode. Furthermore, in the Genesis story we find that God speaks on behalf of "us". This could be interpreted in various ways (I plan to discuss this in more detail when I focus on the Hebrew concept of God in the Book of Genesis). It may include a reference to all the gods, who know "good and evil" and who live for ever (see Gen. 3:22). In this reading the mountain of the "gods" is implicit in the Genesis story. Ezekiel's depiction therefore brings things into focus which seems to be part of the assumed features of the Genesis story.

We also find that both stories include reference to a cherub or cherubim. In the Genesis story the cherubim guard the gates of paradise; Ezekiel's story is about a particular cherub, the one who "covereth". This could imply that his role was to cover God's face or feet. This cherub became a fallen creature. We can propose that various cherubim were present in the garden and that one of them, clearly a very prominent one, became a fallen creature due to his pride.

How do we explain the differences between the depictions in these two stories? The most important of these are that the garden of the Genesis account lies toward the east whereas Ezekiel's garden is situated on the Lebanon mountains to the north (Ezek. 31:3). The other difference is that the main trees are different. In Ezekiel's account the tree became a symbol of the pride which is also ascribed to the fallen cherub, and is cut down. To answer this we have to discuss the ancient Semitic tradition regarding such a garden, and the variations to the theme that have crept in throughout the ages.

Ancient traditions

In the ancient Middle East the tradition about the garden of paradise was very old, going back to a very early period. We find it also in other, extra-Biblical texts, which are much older than the Bible. In this essay I focus only on two ancient texts, namely from the traditions of the great king Sargon of Akkad (2370-2314 BC) [4] and the Epic of Gilgamesh, the best known epic in ancient Mesopotamia which dates from Old Babylonian times during the first half of the second millennium BC.

In the first example, we find the depiction of the garden scene in an epic called "King of Battle" which tells how Sargon, king of Sumeria (of "Sumer and Akkad"), reached some high mountain in the west and how he and his solders sat on their thrones on this mountain in the same manner that the gods are normally depicted. He is said to be seated "like a god". Here, on this mountain, which is clearly taken as a prototype of the mountain of the gods, we also find a description of the most beautiful garden, with all sorts of trees and exotic fruits. Mention is also made of precious minerals found there, which reminds us of Ezekiel's account in which such stones are also mentioned (Ezek. 28:13). The creatures who held there included the Anzu bird (an eagle) and the Kilili demon. I will show in the next part of this series that the Mesopotamian Anzus correspond with the Biblical cherubim.

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, this hero also travels to the west to the mountain of the gods. Given all the similarities with the stories told about the great kings of Akkad, there can be no doubt that this epic, originally written in Akkadian (an eastern Semitic language), used those tales as basis for Gilgamesh's adventures. We read in this epic how the hero and his companion, who traveled from Sumeria to the west, saw the Cedar Mountain, the "dwelling of the gods" in the distance [5]. In Old Babylonian times, early in the second millennium BC, the Cedar Mountain referred to the Amanus mountain range. Later it referred to the Lebanon. According to the story there was a creature who was the guardian of the forest, called Humbaba (Huwawa). The heroes killed him to gain access to the mountain of the gods and the garden of trees. There they found a very large and beautiful cedar, which they cut down.

There is clearly a great deal of agreement between these early Semitic depictions of the garden of the gods and Ezekiel's depiction of the "garden of God". This garden had its location high in the Cedar Mountains, on or near the mountain of the gods. In both accounts one cedar is singled out as being very special (the reason being that it was taken as an image of the axis mundi [6]), which is then cut down. And in both accounts we find similar creatures, namely the Anzus and the cherubim. There is even an old story according to which one of the Anzus, who guarded the abode of the king of the gods, was driven from the mountain of the gods - very similar to the story told in Ezekiel 28 (this falls outside the focus of this essay). And the guardian of the forest, Humbaba, clearly show some correspondence with the cherubim in the Genesis story who guards the gates of paradise.

In early forerunners of the epic of Gilgamesh we find material which dates back even to the time before the Akkadian period. In the Sumerian text of the Ur III period (2100-2000 BC) called Gilgamesh and Humbaba (Bilgamesh and Huwawa) we read how the heroes traveled across seven mountain ranges before they found the cedar. These "seven mountain ranges" were not on the way to the Amanus mountains in the west, but on the journey to the distant land of Aratta in the north. It is also referred to in the legends told about the early king of Uruk, Enmerkar, who ruled during the last part of the fourth millennium BC. His servant traveled through the seven mountain ranges to the land of Aratta beyond the Zagros mountains [7]. In the epic called Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta we find a beautiful description of the mountain of the gods in the area of Aratta [8]. This means that the mountain of the gods was not originally situated in the west (which reflects developments during the Akkadian period), but in the north. And in the early tales about the journeys to that northern land, we find that it was not cedars that grew there, but different trees.

This background help us to understand the differences between the stories of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2-3 and Ezekiel 28, 31. The story in Ezekiel clearly reflects the Akkadian traditions which are also found in the Epic of Gilgamesh, which was current during the time of the Babylonian exile. The story in the Book of Genesis, on the other hand, reflects traditions older than the Akkadian period, before the mountain of the gods became associated with the Amanus and later the Lebanon, and the tree of paradise became a cedar [9]. This was still the period when it could be said that the garden's location was in the east (from the land of Canaan). I plan to discuss the early tradition about the tree and its fruit in the next part of the series, which focuses on the serpent).

The geographic location of the garden

We are now in a position to discuss the geographical details given in Genesis 2-3 for the location of the garden. Since the earliest traditions about the mountain of the gods and the garden originated in the northern Zagros mountains, we expect the geographic details given in Genesis 2 to agree with this. And indeed, this is the area where the headwaters of both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers originate, namely far in the north, in the areas of the Van and Urmia lakes. But what about the two other rivers mentioned in the Book of Genesis? The Gihon and Pison rivers.

It has been argued that the Gihon is the Gaihun, of which the name was changed to Araxes after the Islamic invasion of the Caucasus, and that the Pison is the Uizhum [10]. The name Gaihun clearly corresponds with Gihon and we can explain the correspondence between the names Uizhum and Pishon by a typical U to P change. The tributaries of the Gaihun rise in the mountains to the north of the Van and Urmia lakes and flow eastward into the Caspian Sea. The Uizhum rises from several springs near Mt. Sahand, east of Lake Urmia, as well as in parts of the Zagros near the city of Sanandaj. It also flows into the Caspian Sea.

There is also a good correspondence between the other details given in the Book of Genesis and the geographic areas through which the rivers flow. The Gaihum, for example, flows through the Kusheh Dagh (Mountain of Kush), in agreement with the Biblical reference to the "land of Kush". The Uizhum is also called Kezel Uzun ("dark red" or "gold"), in agreement with the Biblical land of Havilah, "where there is gold".

This northern geographic region could have been the area from where the forefathers of the Sumerians and Semites living in Sumeria originated (this discussion is beyond the focus of this essay). This would take us back to a time before the first settlers arrived in the southern plains of Sumeria (the Biblical "Shinar"). This is the time in which the Bible places Adam and Eve (see part 2 of this series) [11]. It is quite remarkable that the early traditions about the mountain of the gods in the north and the geographical details in the Book of Genesis agree so closely.   


In this essay I discuss the garden of Eden. I focus on the two most important depictions of this garden in the Bible, namely in Genesis 2-3 and Ezekiel 28, 31. I show that the most important features of this garden is that the garden is situated on or near the mountain of God, that there is an exceptional tree in the garden, and that cherubim are found there. These features are also found in other Semitic depictions of this garden which is much older than the Bible. Clearly the Biblical depiction reflects a very old tradition.

I also explained the differences between the two Biblical depictions of the garden of Eden, namely that Ezekiel locates the garden in the Lebanon, not in the east, and presents the exceptionally beautiful tree in the garden as a cedar, not a tree that yields fruit. These differences are easily explained if we understand the changes that appeared throughout the ages in Mesopotamia, according to which the earlier tradition which placed the mountain of the gods in the northern Zagros was replaced by one which placed it in the west (in the Amanus and later the Lebanon mountains). This also shows that the Book of Genesis incorporates very old traditions - before the tree in the garden became associated with a cedar.

Was there really such a historical garden? Obviously we cannot prove that. But it is clear that the tradition about the garden located on or near the mountain of the gods is very old. An early mountain which was identified as such could have been in the northern Zagros. The geographical details in the Book of Genesis agree remarkably well with such a location for the mountain [12].

[1] The Hebrew word "eden" is said to be derived from the root "adhan", which means "to be delighted". It has also been proposed that it could go back to the Sumerian "edin" or the Akkadian "edinu", which means "open plain".
[2] The "stones of fire" could be a reference to the stars. We find a similar depiction of the mountain of God, called the "mountain of the congregation", in Is. 14:13, which is situated "above the stars of God". The "congregation" refers to the congregation of the council of the gods. Here is also a reference to Lucifer, the morning star, who wanted to sit on the mountain of God,and be "like the Most High". Like the cherub in Ezekiel 28 he was driven from the mountain of God.
[3] Die goderaad in Hebreeuse tradisie ("The council of the gods in Hebrew tradition"). 
[4] According to the so-called high chronology of Mesopotamia.
[5] I have previously argued that the council of the gods, who gathered on the mountain of the gods (or: God), which is found in the Hebrew and Canaanite traditions, is part of a continuous tradition which go back to the earliest known traditions in Sumeria. I have also argued that the father of the gods, who was called El in Semitic tradition and An in Sumerian tradition, is called the "Most High God" in the Hebrew tradition (see Ps. 82:6). We can compare it with our names God and Dieu (in French). This shows that the Hebrew God El, the father of the gods, was worshiped from the earliest of times. See chapters 5 and 6 in my book, Abraham en sy God (2012, Griffel). In the Hebrew tradition those gods in the council who participated in the rebellion were regarded as fallen creatures. 
[6] The world axis. This refers to the rotational axis of the earth which is reflected from the poles into the northern and southern starry heavens. For earthly observers this axis is observable in the rotation of the stars; it gives the impression that the cosmos turns on this axis around the earth.
[7] The only known geographical reference to Aratta which is found outside the early Sumerian literature, occurs in the accounts of Sargon II of Assyria's eight campaign. He traveled over the seven mountain ranges across the northern Zagros, where he finally arrived at the river called Aratta. This places the land of Aratta (the Biblical Ararat) near Mt. Sahand in northern Iran. The people who lived here was later displaced to the north and they took their traditions with them. It is possible that the holy mountain of Aratta with its garden became well-known all over the ancient world.
[8]  ETCSL translation 2006, 227-235.
[9] I have previously mentioned that there is no post Old-Babylonian material included in the Book of Genesis (see part 2 of this series). This proves that the Mesopotamian material in the book must date back to at least that period (i.e. the time of Abraham). I argued elsewhere that it was brought by the family of Abraham from Sumeria to Canaan (see Abraham en sy God (2012, Griffel)). The fact that the tree in the garden of Eden is not a cedar is clearly in line with an early origin for the material in this book.
[10] In my opinion David Rohl, following Reginald Walker, makes a very good case in this regard in his book Legend, the Genesis of Civilization (1998, Random House). He associates the plain of Tabriz in northern Iran with the area of the Garden of Eden. The river which runs through this plain is now called Adji Chay, but was previously known as Meidan, which means "Walled-in garden" - which agrees with the meaning of the Greek word "paradeisos" used in the Septuagint for the garden in Genesis 2. This would then be the river which "water(ed) the garden" (Gen. 2:10). All the rivers mentioned in the Book of Genesis originate in the mountains surrounding this area.
[11] I have previously shown that the Biblical Adam corresponds with the Sumerian Adapa (see part 2 of the series as well as a more detailed discussion in Abraham en sy God (2012, Griffel). We read about Adapa that he went to the abode of An (God, see [5]), which refers to An's holy mountain. There he had to make certain choices involving the "food of death" (which would bring death) and the "food of life". This could be an implicit reference to a garden situated on or near the mountain of An, in accordance with the very ancient connection between the garden and the mountain of the gods (or: An). 
[12] There is a Hebrew tradition according to which another paradise was located in the realm of the dead (see Luk. 23:43). This was also a very old tradition and refers to the abode of the blessed dead. Whereas the original Garden of Eden was situated in the north, near the mountain of the gods, this garden was situated at the opposite end of the Mesopotamian world in the Persian Gulf, where the area of Dilmun (since the Akkadian period associated with the island Bahrain) could have represented the abode of the dead. In the Epic of Gilgamesh the hero finds such a beautiful garden, with trees of precious stones and jewels for fruit, on the edge of the Persian Gulf at the barmaid Siduri's abode. 

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud. (Posted on
The author has written a book on the Sumerian roots of the Bible (Abraham en sy God (Griffel, 2012)) and is a scientist (PhD in Physics). He writes on issues of religion, philosophy, science and eschatology.

The Book of Genesis, part 1: Does the creation narrative of Genesis 1 support the idea of a young earth?  
The Book of Genesis, part 2: Adam and Eve: were they the first humans?

Readers are welcome to share the essay with friends and others.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

The pursuit of geopolitical power in an emerging multi-polar world

In this essay I discuss the role of geopolitics in the emerging world order. For the first time in decades we see a multi-polar world emerging and various world powers (especially China, Russia and the EU) are challenging the old order. But what are their strategies? And how do they try to realize them? Although technology plays an important role, the old game of geopolitics is back in town. I discuss the most important geopolitical strategies and how these world powers are incorporating them in their thinking. I also show how this help us to understand the current situation in Ukraine.

There are longs periods during which the international political landscape in the world is quite stable. And then there are periods in which it is extremely unstable (typically ending in great wars). At this stage in the history of the world we are moving from a stable to an unstable situation. Although the world is not yet in the precarious situation of being unstable, it is changing fast and the signs are clear that a new phase in the political history of the world has began. There is a sense that the playing field has opened up and that opportunities are presenting themselves. The other important players (other than the US) sense that the Great Recession has damaged the financial power of the West and with it its ability to project power. And they are preparing strategies to assert themselves in ways unthinkable a few years ago.

Stability in the international political landscape always has its origin in a stable balance of power between world powers. This can include a situation where one superpower rules (a mono-polar world) or where two great powers are more or less evenly balanced in various parts of the world (bi-polar-world). Generally, these are periods of peace when commerce flourishes. During the last few centuries this happened during the period of the British empire in the eighteenth century, during the long period when the West and the USSR were evenly balanced in power (before the Cold War came to a climax during the last part of the 1980's) and again during the period of US dominance over the last few decades.

But there are also periods during which the world was very unstable. This typically involves a multi-polar world in which various players actively participate in the pursuit of power - when the great powers try to maneuver themselves into positions of power. This happened when Imperial Germany challenged British power just before the First World War and again when Nazi Germany challenged the Anglo-American power just before the Second World War. It also happened when Communism spread all over the east and the West tried to block that in the period before and during the Vietnam War. And it is happening again - in the period since the Great Recession.

The great powers follow various strategies in their pursuit of power. These could include an effort to try and out-sprint each other in military capability, both regarding new technologies and brute power. This can typically be measured in military spending. At the end of the Cold War the West out-sprinted the USSR for the simple reason that it became overstretched and did not had the economic and innovative ability to keep competing (that is why China combined its communism with a form of open economy). But there are another important factor in the power game. Although it is not often mentioned, it played a very important role in the thinking of the great military powers of the past and the present. This is geopolitical concerns. Various geopolitical strategies for world domination have been developed which involve control of certain strategic geographic areas of the world. The use of such strategies depend on a country's own geographic position.

Classical geopolitical strategies

There are essentially three major geopolitical strategies. The first was developed by Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914), a US naval officer. He studied the British Empire and concluded that its navy was the basis for its success. He developed the concept of "sea power" according to which countries with greater naval power will have greater worldwide impact. He presented his ideas in his famous book The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1600-1793 (1890). His ideas had a great impact on the thinking of many strategists since that time and even today it is important in US Naval Doctrine. This strategy seems to be especially well suited for trading countries like Britain or the US, which need large navies to protect their financial interests. Although such countries were historically island countries which was in some sense protected from enemies by the sea which surrounds it (even the US can be viewed as a large island away from the large world mass of Euro-Asia), this advantage has diminished due to technological developments over the last century. Nowadays trade moves along sea, air, land and advanced communication routes.

The second strategy was developed by Sir Halford Mackinder (1861-1947), a British geographer. He viewed history as a constant battle between sea power and land power. Whereas sea powers have the ability to control the sea, land powers have the ability to control the major crossing points on land (railroads, oil pipelines etc.). He studied the world's land mass to establish which part of it is of central importance for any land power to effectively control the world. In his view this involves controlling the "World Island", which includes Europe, Asia and Africa (i.e. two-thirds of the available land). The other smaller "islands" like North and South America or Australia are less important. Furthermore, to control this large land mass (especially the "Heartland" which includes Europe and Asia) one have to control eastern Europe. Traditionally the European powers and Russia came into conflict over this area. If the area between the Black and Caspian Seas is included in "eastern Europe", this means effective control of all the routes going from Russia to Europe and the Middle East.

The third important strategy was developed by Nicholas Spykman (1893-1943), a US scholar of international politics. He brings Mahan and Mackinder's strategies together. In his view the most important geographical area to be controlled, is not so much eastern Europe, but the "rimland". This includes the area surrounding the "Heartland" of Euro-Asia and consists of various sections, namely the European Coastal areas, the Arabian-Middle Eastern desert land and the Asiatic monsoon, by which he means the civilizations surrounding the Chinese cultural sphere. Anyone who controls the "rimland", be it land powers in Euro-Asia or Sea powers, controls the world. His view greatly influenced the US containment strategy, of both the USSR and China.

Current power games

Countries have no control over the geographical area where they are situated. The US is an "Island" country, and China, Russia and the EU (the only ones to be discussed in this essay) are land powers in Euro-Asia. Since large deserts divide Russia and China, and the possibilities for power expansion in these areas are restricted, it is easy to see why Russia have traditionally projected its power to the west and south (i.e. towards Europe and the Middle East) and China have projected its power towards the seas to the south and east. For China any effective projection of power would first of all involve control of those areas. During the Cold War, when the power of the US and  the USSR were quite evenly balanced, the US controlled the seas as well as a large part of the rimland (but lost control in Vietnam), whereas the USSR controlled eastern Europe as well as parts of the rimland. At the end of the Cold War, the USSR lost control over those areas, but the US held and strengthened theirs.

There are mainly two reasons why the international political situation in the world is changing. The one is the rise of China. Over the last few decades the Chinese rulers have come to the conclusion that the only way to effectively grow their power is through rapid technological and economical development and that involves trade. Furthermore, they have concluded that the best strategic geopolitical model suited for their circumstances, is the one associated with trade, namely of sea power as envisioned by Mahan [1]. The Chinese have built a powerful navy and are challenging US containment. They have tense relations with nearly all their neighbors to the east and south, including Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan (things have calmed somewhat due to Taiwan's current policy of appeasing China). In November 2013 China even proclaimed a new air defense zone in the East China Sea of which about half overlaps with Japan's own air defense zone. The Senkaku islands (called Diaoyu by the Chinese) are in this area. In reaction the Japanese have increased their military budget for the first time in more than a decade.

The other reason for the changing world situation is the geographical rise of the EU, which now includes 28 countries. Although the rise of the EU has not really drawn much attention because the EU is not viewed as a strong military power and some have taken the economic crisis in the EU to signify its decline, in geographical terms the EU has dramatically expanded its reach. It is exactly this eastern expansion of its influence which has brought it into conflict with Russia over the Ukraine. Before its independence, the Ukraine has been part of the Soviet-Union. What we have seen, is that the EU has effectively expanded its control over a very large part of eastern Europe which, according to Mackinder, is needed for any ambitions to have eventual control of the world. Would the ex-Soviet states of Ukraine and Armenia have signed association agreements with the EU as part of the eastern partnership program at the end of 2013 (together with Moldavia, Georgia and Azerbaijan), it would have been the first step to contain Russia beyond the Ural mountains. Such a Russia is effectively stripped of all geopolitical possibilities to expand its power - no wonder that the Russian president, Putin, has used strong arm tactics to prevent them from signing.

The Arab Spring could play an important role in shaping this emerging world. If all the Arab countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea would eventually, maybe after some decades, turn into democracies (some expected that to happen overnight!), their natural home would be the EU. From a geopolitical point of view, this would give the EU control of a large part of the rimland. If it ever happens that other Arab countries in the Middle East, like Syria and Iraq would also move in this direction, the EU could in principle become the most powerful country in the world (This is because of such possibilities that Spykman was very much against the unification of Europe). Since its rise is so peaceful, nobody expects it to become such a superpower. But that can change if some EU countries proceeds to form a political union (become politically integrated) and have strong military capabilities at their disposal.

The outcome of the war in Syria could also have a major impact on the emerging world order. The reason why Russia is supporting the Syrian regime, is simply because it is one of their last allies in the Middle East. If Syria becomes democratic, Russia would be excluded from the Middle East (except for its alliance with Iran). Together with the EU's eastern partnership (if that ever comes to full fruition), this would reduce Russia to a large but impotent country. So, Putin's cunning power games is not a sign of Russia's rise, but rather of its struggle to keep some of its prospects for power open. 

On the other hand, the US's reluctance to bomb the Syrian regime in 2013 after it used chemical weapons against the rebels, has been taken by many Middle Eastern countries as a sign that the US does not have the same motivation as in the past to become involved in conflicts in the region. Although it is clearly a good strategy to first get rid of Syria's chemical weapons before any direct Western participation in the conflict, it none the less seemed to countries like Saudi-Arabia and Israel (and probably Iran and Russia) that the war-weary US is becoming an unreliable partner. Since the US will become self-sufficient in fuel-production in the near future, it clearly does not have the same motivation than in the past to secure Western fuel supplies in the Middle East. The US has also stated that they have the intention to focus more on securing their strategic interests in the east, with the rise of China in mind. It is possible that the US will eventually need all their resources to contain a rising China in the east. This will open a strategic space in the Middle East which will most probably be filled by the EU (although Iran, together with Russia, will do all in their power to resist this).

The US has spend a lot of effort in promoting peace in the Middle East. They got the Israeli-Palestinian peace process going again, are trying to bring the Syrian regime and the rebels to the negotiation table and are also trying to force Iran to let go of its nuclear ambitions. Although such an effort to promote peace seems noble, there are some problems associated with this approach, namely 1) it seems that the Obama administration is trying to promote peace at all costs (or avoid war at all costs?), and 2) lasting peace has historically only been achieved when the world moved from an unstable political landscape towards a more stable one (typically after great wars), never when the world is moving from a stable to an unstable situation, from an uni-polar world to a multi-polar one. The result is that the major players see this as an opportunity to enhance their positions in the intermediate period before everything becomes extremely unstable. They try to maneuver themselves to outplay the others.


The world is changing fast and a new multi-polar world is emerging in which China, Russia, the US and the EU are the major players. In (classical) geopolitical terms, the US has been using the ideas of Mahan and Spykman for about a century to enhance its own power. They have controlled the seaways and the rimland. But this situation will not stay static. Their control of both the sea as well as the rimland (especially in the east) are challenged by China, who is also seriously considering implementing Mahan's strategy. Although China has not yet made any major move in this regard, it seems quite possible that they will eventually do so - especially when they think they are in a position to succeed (maybe with fast, land-grabbing military exercises). It is possible that the containment of China will eventually force the US to apply all its resources in this regard. 

The alliance between the US and the EU within the framework of NATO, and the free-trade zone that is being negotiated, implies that the US could (and probably would eventually have to) leave the European borderlands to the EU as primary  (but maybe not sole) defender thereof. This will only happen once the EU has developed into a major military player as well. In the meantime it has used its soft power to enhance its own interests to such an extent that it has effectively secured eastern Europe and could very well eventually include the countries around both the Black and Mediterranean Seas in its sphere of influence. This will give them control over large parts of the rimlands bordering Europe and the Middle East. If Russia is effectively excluded from this zone, the EU could become the new and final (?) unipolar superpower in the world. Although this seems improbable at this point in history, this is exactly what geopolitical analysis predicts.

[1]  Part1-3: Inside China's military buildup (Reuters investigates).

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref.

See also: The rise of the final world empire: the different views
 The euro countries move towards a fiscal union: an eschatological perspective

Friday, 17 January 2014

Debussy as Grand Master of the Priory of Sion

Readers of my blog will know that I have previously posted a few articles on the Priory of Sion. Today, on 17 January, it is appropriate to post another essay on the topic. This essay was written by Pieter Smal. 

1. Introduction
Many famous composers and personalities in the past were involved with secret societies. Both Mozart and Haydn were Freemasons along with famous contemporaries like Lessing, Voltaire and Goethe (Thomson 1976: 25). A private compilation of documents called Dossiers Secrets d'Henri Lobineau (“The Secret Dossiers of Henri Lobineau”) was deposited in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris circa 1967. One of these documents cites Claude Debussy (1862–1918) as the twenty-fifth Grand Master of the Priory of Sion. (Baigent et al. 2001: 88, 121.) Although many scholars are reluctant to write about Debussy and the occult, Leon Guichard's book Debussy et les occultistes has sparked an academic interest in the topic (Goldman 1991: 130). The aim of this paper is to relate the life and music of Debussy to the occult, thereby creating a profile that could be associated with a secret society. Since Debussy's music is notably mystical and revolutionary (when compared to the music of his contemporaries) we should explore esoteric hints in the titles of his compositions.

2. The occult and the Priory of Sion
The Priory of Sion is said to be secret organisation founded by Godfroi de Bouillon in 1090, nine years before the conquest of Jerusalem. The aim of this society seems to be the restoration of the Merovingian bloodline and dynasty to the thrones in Europe. A document published in 1967 entitled Le serpent rouge (“The red serpent”) links the Priory (of Sion) with the Rosicrucian Order. In addition to the slogan Ormus the Priory adopted a second subtitle, Ordre de la Rose-Croix Veritas (“Order of the Rose-Cross Veritas”), in 1188. It is speculated that the Knights Templar was the military wing of the Priory. Famous grandmasters cited in Dossiers Secrets include Nicolas Flamel, Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Robert Fludd, Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo and Jean Cocteau. (Baigent et al. 2001: 97, 111, 113, 122; Brouillard 2009: 1.)

Most individuals listed as Grand Masters of the Priory were associated with hermetic ideologies and the occult. Priory grandmaster Nicolas Flamel is perhaps the most famous medieval alchemist whilst Robert Fludd studied the Kabbalah and astrology. (Baigent et al. 2004: 123, 127; Yarker 2006: 201.) Hermeticism should not be confused with hermeneutics – the proposal and interpretation of theory (Beard and Gloag 2005: 77). Hermeticism is taken from Marsilio Ficino's Latin translation of the Corpus Hermeticum, the alleged teachings of the Egyption god Thoth, also known as “Hermes Trismegistus”. The original document was assembled during the first few centuries after Christ and consists of various teachings surrounding astrology, alchemy, Pythagorean mathematics, Platonic philosophy, divination, necromancy and magic. Hermeticism is thus a collective term that refers to teachings surrounding the occult. (Levy 2010: 59; Thomas 1976: 267.)

3. Debussy's involvement in the occult
In 1892 Joseph Péladan opened a Parisian salon called Salon de la Rose+Croix (“Salon of the Rose+Cross”) (Hand 1984: 45). This salon became a fashionable place for luminaries who associated themselves with the Rosicrucian Order or the occult, including composers like Scriabin, Satie, Holst and Debussy. (Dalrymple Henderson 1987: 8.)

Debussy was an esoteric individual: both his music and private life are shrouded in secrecy. Many letters are either lost or remain unpublished in private collections. Frequently we find names omitted and whole sentences carefully excised. Perhaps these letters were written for the purpose of disinformation. Researchers know that lost letters and correspondences were sent to Serge Diaghilev, Vincent d'Indy, Paul Dukas, Manuel de Falla, Gabriel Fauré, Charles Gounod, Maurice Maeterlinck, Stéphane Mallarmé, Joseph Péladan, Igor Stravinsky and Paul Valéry. (Baigend et al. 2004: 469; Lockspeiser 1978a: 232–233; Greer 2013: 149.)

A report by the Académie des Beaux-Arts in 1887 first linked music to the term “impressionism”, making reference to Debussy's Primtemps. Biographers insist that this work was inspired by Botticelli's Primavera, which is significant since Botticelli was listed as a Priory Grand Master in Dossiers Secrets. (Jarocinski 1976: 11–12.) Besides impressionism, musicologists also regard Debussy as an important exponent of symbolism and orientalism in music. The 1889 and 1899 Paris World Fairs introduced Debussy to Japanese prints and Javenese gamelan music. Debussy recalled these exotic Eastern influences in his music, even naming one of his piano preludes Canope, referring to two Egyptian burial vases which he owned. (Kautsky 2012: 18.) We also find a Buddhist sanctuary in Pagodes from Estampes ("Woodprints").

It is no easy task to define what the symbolist movement is. Vyacheslav Ivanov summarises a description:
"In 1885 Jean Moreas in a reply[...] to P. Bourde, a collaborator of Le Temps, who had accused Verlaine, Mallarme, and their followers of 'decadence', called them instead 'symbolic' poets (symboliques) and in 1886 continued[...] to do battle for this definition[...] Mindful of the value of the word 'symbol' in the poetry of Baudelaire, he called 'symbolic' the art meeting the requirements formulated by Edgar Allan Poe and confirmed by Baudelaire: an art, that is, significant and 'complex', able to 'suggest' that which in itself purposely remains unexpressed or, at most, is faintly suggested; that is to say, an 'underground current of thought' and, as it were, an 'invisible' world behind the clearly expressed image." (Ivanov 1966: 24.)

We often find symbolism saturated with elements from ancient Egypt, Greece and India including medieval Christian and Kabbalah ideologies. Debussy ignored the typical messages and formulas of symbolism and approached his art through the avant-garde. He also saw music as the superior art because of its ambiguity: colour, words and precision are not of central importance. (Jarocinski 1976: 26, 59, 90.)

Debussy, like other Grand Masters of the Priory, was obsessed with hermeticism. In a famous letter to Ernest Chausson, Debussy wrote the following:
"Music really ought to have been a hermetical science, enshrined in texts so hard and laborious to decipher as to discourage the herd of people who treat it as casually as they do a handkerchief! I'd go further and, instead of spreading music among the populace, I propose the foundation of a 'Society of Musical Esotericism'." (Brown 1993: 141.)

Debussy included Pythagorean mathematics in his music when he used the golden ration to divide his music into balanced proportions. Researchers found the golden ration in Debussy's compositions including Nuages (“Clouds”) from Nocturnes and Jeux de Vagues (“Play of the Waves”) from La Mer (“The Sea”) (Douglas 1950: 245). Studying Debussy, one discovers the paradoxical problem of Debussy's interest in Rosicrucianism, Satanism, Gnosticism and Eastern mysticism contrasting his interest in the Catholic Church. Debussy was especially interested in the revival plainsong in the church. Amongst the various incomplete and abandoned works were Debussy's plans to compose music for Les Noces de Sathan (“The Marriage of Satan”). Debussy also had plans for two operas: Axël (based on a Rosicrucian play by Auguste Villiers de l'Isle-Adam) and Siddharta (based on the life of Siddharta Gautama, the founder of Buddhism). (Dietschy 1994: 232; Goldman 1991: 131; Krüger et al. 2010: 107.)

Vladimir Jankélévitch claims that Debussy's music does not contain arcane formalism but the music is the mystery of existence. Steven Rings further comments, writing: “Chief among the Prélude's mysteries [refering to Des pas sur la neige (“Footsteps in the snow”)], I suggest, is the mystery of time, as refracted through consciousness, emotion and memory.” (Rings 2008: 179, 182.)

The concept of reflection is important in Hermetic philosophy: "As above, so below" (Levy 2010: 60). It is then no surprise that water features in the compositions of Debussy. La Mer ("The Sea") and Reflets dans l'eau ("Reflections in the water") are two prominent compositions that highlights water as subject.

In 1976 Jaroncinski wrote that many letters and vocal works of Debussy were unstudied in private collections (Jarocinski 1976: 110). Baigent et al. (2004: 469) suggest that Debussy set some poems of Victor Hugo to music (linking Debussy with Hugo as the Priory's Grand Master before himself) but no such compositions could be found to date. Debussy did align himself with an important French contemporary: the symbolist poet Stéphané Mallarmé. On Tuesday evenings famous personalities came together for a tête-à-tête at the house of Mallarmé. At these intimate meetings (rarely more than 10 people) Debussy met poets and personalities including Edgar Degas, Lord Alfred Douglas, Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Verlaine, Auguste Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, and Oscar Wilde. (Jarocinski 1976: 89–90.)

Debussy's most famous collaboration with Mallarmé was his setting of the enigmatic poem
L'après-midi d'un faune (“The afternoon of a faun”). Debussy's setting of the poem “articulates a conflict between its seductive, seemingly immediate sonorous pleasure and the esoteric syntax that, in securing those pleasures, demands analytical scrutiny to be fully understood.” David Code suggests that Debussy interpreted the text by associating half-diminished sevenths to theesotericism in Mallarmé's poem. (Code 2001: 493, 508, 518.) Debussy intended to set the entire poem to music but he could only manifest his interpretation of Mallarmé as an orchestral prelude (Jarocinski 1976: 177).

Another famous symbolist work that Debussy set to music was Maurice Maeterlinck's Pelleas et Mélisande (1894). Richard Strauss attended a performance of the opera and described the music:
"There's not enough music in this work. Delicate harmonies, excellent orchestral effects in very good taste. But it amounts to nothing, nothing at all. You might as well be listening to the play of Maeterlinck as it was, without music." (Lockspeiser 1978b: 89.)

Most of the musicians who played at the première were hostile to the dreamy music during rehearsals but they were eventually convinced of Debussy's genius. Debussy frequently commented: “Piano, piano, less loud, I beg you”, emphasising the importance of tranquillity in the music. Despite the scandalous première, Jacques Rivière commented on the surreal qualities the music possessed:
"Perhaps one cannot image just what Pelléas meant to the young people who took it to their hearts at its first appearance, to those who were between sixteen and twenty. A marvellous world, a cherishable paradise where we could escape from our problems... It is quite literally what I say: Pelléas was for us a special forest and a special region and a terrace at the shore of a special sea. We escaped there, knowing the secret door, and the world no longer existed for us." (Dietschy 1994: 114, 121–122.)

When we paraphrase Rivière we can conclude that Debussy evoked an alternate universe where fantasy and grandeur manipulated the emotions of the listener.

4. Conclusion
Debussy was an influential figure, both within and outside of musical spheres. Some of his famous
acquaintances included aristocrats, bankers, publishers, theatrical managers, and various prestigious patrons. Through his connections Debussy gained financial advantages, knowledge of the world and a taste for good living. (Jarocinski 1976: 80.) Through descriptive titles Debussy evoked the mysteries of the East and the West in his compositions. The use of descriptive titles could also be seen as a remnant of the Romantic movement: the 19th century obsession with Memento mori and the cult of the dead remained a frequent subject in the music of Debussy.

Debussy's collaboration with Mallarmé and Maeterlinck tied him with the so-called "French occult revival" (Baigent et al. 2004: 470). Despite numerous acquaintances Debussy avoided public attention and kept to himself in privacy. If he had any part in the Priory of Sion or the Rosicrucian Order it was well concealed from public knowledge. Could the suppressed information in Debussy's letters be the key to his involvement with the Priory of Sion? His "innocent" (albeit veiled) compositions dabbles with concepts that were unknown to the general public. Debussy's involvement in esoteric and hermetic thought through artistic interpretation qualifies him as a candidate for leadership in a secret organisation.

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Brouillard, G. 2009. Discovering the Keystone: Solving the Riddle of The Red Serpent after 40 Years. Cape Town: Griffel.
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Dietschy, M. 1994 [1962]. A Portrait of Claude Debussy, translated from the French by W. Ashbrook, M.G. Cobb. New York: Oxford University Press.
Douglas, J.H. 1950. Golden-Mean Form in Music. Music & Letters, 31 (3): 238–248.
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Péladan, J. 1892. Preface to the catalogue of the Salon de la Rose Croix. The Arti Critic, 1(1): 13–14.
Rings, S. 2008. Mystéres limpides : Time and Transformation in Debussy's Des pas sur la neige. 19th Century Music, 32 (2): 178–208.
Thomas, K. 1973 [1971]. Religion and the Decline of Magic. Middlesex: Penguin.
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Read also The Priory of Sion is back by Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Wat moet Christene in 'n tyd soos hierdie doen?

In hierdie skrywe bespreek ek die Groot Skeiding in die samelewing. Wat is dit en hoe kan ons dit sinvol aanspreek? Ek maak voorstelle oor hoe Christene die speelveld kan verander.

Ons staan weereens by die begin van 'n nuwe jaar. Met die draai van elke die jaar is dit 'n goeie tyd om na te dink. Om 'n bietjie te herkou. Ons kan onsself afvra: Wat staan uit ten opsigte van die afgelope jaar? Wat is belangrike tendense? En sulke nadenke kan lei tot nuwe idees. Tot nuwe voorstelle. Ons kan vra: Wat kan of moet ons in die lig van ons waarneming doen? Mense het allerhande nuwejaarsvoornemens. Maar ons kan gewoon ten opsigte van die nuwe jaar vra: Wat kan ons in hierdie jaar doen om 'n verskil te maak? Christene kan vra: wat moet ons in 'n tyd soos hierdie doen?

Terwyl ek so nagedink het, was daar veral een waarneming wat vir my uitgestaan het. Ek wil dit die Groot Skeiding noem. Dit lyk vir my of daar 'n groot kloof deur die samelewing loop. Alhoewel ons baie skeidings en verskille in die groter samelewing kan waarneem, is hierdie een belangrik omdat dit nog 'n baie groot impak op die toekoms van die evangeliese Christendom gaan hê. Dit het hoofsaaklik met mense se ingesteldheid ten opsigte van die wetenskap te doen. Ons kan dit in meer diepte beskou en kyk wat ons as Christene moet doen om oor die lang termyn 'n verskil te maak.

Aan die een kant merk ek 'n groot groep mense op wat ons as "tradisioneel" kan beskryf. Wat hierdie groep in gemeen het is dat hulle oor die algemeen deel van die tradisionele stroom van denke uitmaak. Hulle staan by dit waarmee hulle grootgeword het. Onder hierdie mense is baie Christene. Baie onder hulle is of negatief of agnosties oor die wetenskap. Daar bestaan by hulle 'n persepsie dat wetenskaplikes die Bybel probeer ondermyn [nota 1]. Dat die Bybel en die wetenskap in konflik is. Baie van hierdie Christene maak 'n bewuste keuse vir die Bybel teenoor die wetenskap. 

Aan die ander kant is daar die groep wat miskien in die verre verlede "verlig" genoem sou word omdat hulle 'n meer kritiese benadering het. Hulle dink krities oor dinge na. Hierdie groep onderskryf die wetenskap en baie staan agnosties teenoor die geloof. Op die markplein van denke behoort  feitlik al die stemme wat in die wyer media as gesaghebbend aangehaal word, naamlik in die daaglikse en weeklikse koerante of op nasionale TV, tot hierdie groep. Hulle is die meningsvormers van die tyd. Waar hierdie groep jare gelede betreklik klein was, beperk tot sommige vrydenkendes by universiteite, is daar vandag 'n groot segment van die samelewing wat hier tuis is. Baie van die professionele beroepsmense bevind hulle hier. Ons kan dit die wetenskaplik-ingeligte groep noem.

Waarom is die Groot Skeiding vir ons as Christene belangrik? Die antwoord is eenvoudig: die jonger geslag is oor die algemeen baie meer gesofistikeerd in hul denke en voel hulleself tuis in die tweede groep. Op skool leer hulle nie meer soos in vergange dae dat die Bybel die belangrikste rigsnoer van ons lewe is nie; hulle leer dat die wetenskap die antwoorde het. Al meer van hulle huldig 'n sekulêre lewensbeskouing. Al meer staan agnosties ten opsigte van die geloof of is selfs ateïste. Soos die wyer samelewing met gesaghebbende stemme van regoor die wêreld bekend raak en wetenskaplik-ingelig is, so raak die eerste groep kleiner terwyl die tweede groep deurentyd groei. Christene bevind hulle al meer op die rand van die samelewing en hul impak gaan in die toekoms al kleiner word. As ons ons kinders verloor, het ons die toekoms verloor.

Die persepsie wat die tweede groep van die Christene het is dat hulle primitief dink, dat hulle ongeloofwaardige posisies probeer verdedig en dat dit wat hulle sê glad nie in die hedendaagse konteks sin maak nie. Alhoewel Christene voel dat so 'n beoordeling onredelik is, is dit ongelukkig waar dat dit al meer 'n algemene persepsie in die wyer samelewing raak. Sommige Christene dink dat die evangelie noodwendig vir die wêreld sal aanstoot gee en dat dit maar die lot van Christene is. Alhoewel dit waar is dat die evangelie vir baie aanstoot gee, is dit ook so dat baie Christene posisies verdedig wat lankal nie meer vir die gemiddelde wetenskaplik-ingeligte persoon sin maak nie. Die probleem lê nie by die evangelie nie; dit lê by die verpakking van die evangelie. 

Wat is die oplossing? Aan die een kant is daar 'n geestelike oplossing, naamlik dat ons die krag van God in aksie moet sien [nota 2]. In soveel gevalle weerspreek Christene se lewens en optrede dit wat hulle predik. Ons het 'n geestelike opwekking nodig. Maar aan die ander kant is daar ook 'n intellektuele oplossing. Christene sal die Groot Skeiding moet oorsteek. Hulle sal 'n taal moet praat wat vir die wetenskaplik-ingeligte mense van ons tyd sin maak. Die tradisionele Christen paradigma en die wetenskaplike paradigma (i.e. waarin wetenskaplikes en baie professionele beroepsmense opereer), praat verskillende tale wat in die algemeen glad nie wedersyds verstaan word of sin maak nie. Vir my lê die wonder daarin dat die Bybelse teks so dinamies is dat dit juis gesofistikeerde interpretasies ondersteun. Ons kan die Bybel op 'n eenvoudige wyse verstaan, maar ons kan ook op 'n gesofistikeerde wyse daarmee omgaan. En sonder sulke gesofistikeerde interpretasies wat die inspirasie van die teks onderskryf (let wel), sal die Bybel dood gewoon nie vir die wetenskaplik-ingeligte groep sinmaak nie.

In 'n poging om sinvolle interpretasies op die tafel te plaas, het ek het oor die afgelope jaar artikels op hierdie blog gepos waarin ek op twee aspekte gefokus het. Ten eerste het ek getoon dat die Christelike wêreldbeskouing - soos die bestaan van die hemel - kredietwaardig is [nota 3]. Alhoewel die wetenskap nie hieroor kan uitsluitsel gee nie, is dit wel so dat die Christenstandpunt gemaklik met die wetenskap versoenbaar is. Agnostici of ateïste wat glo dat ons wêreld tot die materiële aspek beperk is (dat daar geen gees of hemel is nie), moet nou toon dat die wetenskap nie 'n geesteswêreld kan akkomodeer nie. En dit kan hulle nie doen nie. Ek argumenteer dat die geesteswêreld waarbinne die hemel lê maklik met die kwantum realm, wat 'n hoër dimensionele tekstuur kan hê, wat binne die raamwerk van ons materiële wêreld ingebed is, kan ooreenkom.

Ten tweede het ek geargumenteer dat die Bybelse narratief geloofwaardig is. Ek het begin by die boek Genesis, wat vir baie mense problematies is en artikels oor die Skepping asook Adam en Eva gepos. In die komende jaar beplan ek verder ook artikels oor die tuin van Eden, die slang asook die Godskonsep in Genesis 1-3 (en die vraag oor die geldigheid van die bronneteorie van die Pentateug!). So het ek getoon dat die Bybelse teks in Genesis 1-2 glad nie in stryd is met wetenskaplike bevindinge oor die ouderdom van die kosmos en die aarde nie [nota 4].

Christene wat 'n sesduisend jaar oue skepping in Genesis 1 probeer inlees, het enorme probleme om hul siening te regverdig (sien [nota 4]). Wat meer is, daardie siening het tot gevolg dat diegene wat wetenskaplik-ingelig is dink dat dit die Bybel is wat sulke lagwekkende uitsprake maak en daarom totaal irrelevant vir vandag is - terwyl dit eerder waar is van daardie interpretasies wat voortbou op 'n ongesofistikeerde lees van die teks. Alhoewel sommige wetenskaplik-ingeligte mense vanweë die scientistiese invloede in die samelewing ook nie ruimte maak vir dinge soos die opstanding nie (dink maar aan diegene in die Nuwe Hervorming), laat die Bybelse teks ons toe om dit sinvol te verdedig [nota 5]. Gesofistikeerde interpretasies is nie in stryd met die Goddelike inspirasie of wondergebeure in die geskiedenis nie. Vir baie Christene is dit kompromie om die wetenskaplike bevindinge vir byvoorbeeld 'n ou aarde te aanvaar - hulle besef nie dat die Bybelse teks daarmee gemaklik is en glad nie 'n sesduisend jaar oue aarde onderskryf soos hulle geleer is om te dink nie.

Die gesag van die Bybelse teks as die geïnspireerde Woord van God is oor die afgelope paar eeue veral deur Bybelse Kritiek (Biblical Criticism/Bybelwetenskap) ondermyn, eers met hul positivisties-modernistiese en deesdae met hul post-modernistiese aanslag. Alhoewel evangeliese Christene, veral aan sommige universiteite in die VSA, goeie teen-antwoorde gee, weet baie Christene nie altyd hoe om hierdie denke effektief te weerlê nie. In hierdie verband is filosofie een van die mees effektiewe stukke gereedskap tot ons beskikking, in teenstelling met wat baie Christene dink - veral kontemporêre hermeneutiek. Ek het dus ook 'n artikel in hieroor gepos waarin ek Bybelse Kritiek vanuit 'n filosofiese hoek gekritiseer het [nota 6].

Ongelukkig is baie tradisionele Christene negatief oor filosofie. Hulle verbind dit met Paulus se "wysheid van die wêreld" (1 Kor 3:19). Alhoewel dit sekerlik waar is dat filosofie in sigself ons nie op die regte pad kan lei nie, kan dit tog 'n handige middel wees in die verdediging van die evangelie. Paulus self het in Griekeland op die Areopagus met die filosowe gedebatteer en dit is duidelik dat hy in hierdie verband goed in die antieke denke onderlê was. Waar evangeliese Christene (meestal in die VSA) wel filosofie studeer en in debatte benut, fokus hulle ongelukkig meestal op die Middeleeuse Christenfilosowe. Ons kan sekerlik baie by hulle leer, maar ek dink die debat vra dat ons baie meer van die kontinentale filosofie (veral van hermeneutici soos Gadamer asook van Immanuel Kant, wie se filosofie tans 'n groot oplewing beleef) moet maak. Voorts is dit belangrik om kontinentale filosofie te bestudeer omdat dit so 'n groot impak op die kontemporêre wêreldbeskouing het.

Dit bring my by die belangrike vraag: Hoe kan ons as Christene die speelveld verander? Dit is duidelik nie iets wat vinnig sal gebeur nie, maar ek het twee voorstelle:

1. Christene in die akademie moet hulle daarvoor beywer dat sinvolle en gesofistikeerde narratiewe ten opsigte van die Christen wêreldbeskouing en Bybelse teks in die akademiese gemeenskap aanvaar word. Alhoewel sulke narratiewe nooit as die enigste korrekte aanvaar sal of hoef te word nie, is dit heeltemal voldoende dat sulke alternatiewe in die akademiese literatuur erken word. Gesprekke in wetenskaplike en filosofiese kringe syfer uiteindelik tot op voetsool vlak deur. Alhoewel sulke gesprekke en artikels soms baie tegnies kan wees, gebruik baie ander skrywers die essensie daarvan in hul gesprekke en argumente. Dit sal aan Christene die nodige gereedskap gee om effektief op die markplein van denke me te ding.

Dit beteken dat Christene hulleself in die toepaslike dissiplines sal moet bekwaam en bereid wees om vir hul standpunte op te staan. In hierdie verband is dit interessant hoeveel Christene wat deur die eeue 'n groot impak op die geskiedenis gehad het, sedert Paulus, geleerde mense was. Paulus se skrywe was ook vir baie van sy tydgenote moeilik om te verstaan (vgl. 2 Pet 3:15, 16), maar het die intellektuele basis vir toekomstige eeue se gesprek gelê. Sonder Paulus se skrywes sou ons maar 'n baie beperkte insig in die soendood van Jesus Christus gehad het. So het geleerde Christene, en nie altyd teoloë nie, deur die eeue telkens nuwe stukrag aan die kerk verleen (dink aan C. S. Lewis in die vorige eeu) deur die nodige gereedskap daar te stel wat die kerk op daardie stadium vir hul gesprek in die samelewing nodig gehad het. 

Alhoewel dit so is dat baie Christene bang is dat diegene wat gaan verder studeer (veral in rigtings soos teologie en filosofie) deur liberalisme ingesluk sal word - dink maar aan almal wat met 'n brandende hart gaan teologie studeer het net om later die pad byster te raak vanweë liberale invloede aldaar - glo ek dat daar wel 'n oplossing in hierdie verband is. Dit is die daarstel van 'n goeie akademiese inrigting met evangeliese waardes waar alle vakrigtings aangebied word. Ons moet werk vir die oprigting van 'n goeie geakkrediteerde Christen universiteit in Suid-Afrika wat die belange van die wyer Christengemeenskap kan dien - en nie net hierdie of daardie kerk nie. Kritici kan maar sê wat hul wil, maar daar is in die meeste beroepe nie iets soos 'n neutrale posisie nie - en die posisie by die meeste universiteite is sekulêr. So 'n universiteit sal mense in alle beroepe toerus om uiteindelik hul stem op die markplein van denke te laat hoor.

2. Christene moet effektief op die markplein van denke deelneem. Dit sal net gebeur as daar mettertyd 'n wye netwerk van evangeliese Christene tot stand kom wat nie net geestelik is nie, maar ook akademies ingestel is. Hulle kan op 'n wye verskeidenheid vlakke saamwerk om die Groot Skeiding oor te steek en die wetenskaplik-ingeligte groep ook (soos baie ander groepe in die tradisionele groepering in die samelewing en elders) effektief met die evangelie te bereik. As evangeliese Christene mettertyd in posisies regoor die spektrum verteenwoordig is, kan almal in so 'n netwerk saamwerk om sinvolle en gesofistikeerde Christen stemme in die wyer samelewing en media te bevorder.

So 'n netwerk sal net realiseer as evangeliese Christenleiers op een of ander wyse begin saamwerk. En dit sal net gebeur as daar een of ander struktuur of forum is wat so 'n netwerk tot stand bring en dit ook op verskeie wyses bevorder. So 'n forum moet die ruimte skep waarbinne so 'n netwerk kan funksioneer i.e. nie om dit te organiseer nie, maar bloot om die ruimte daarvoor te skep. Daar is soveel verskillende bedieninge en gemeentes wat binne die raamwerk van so 'n netwerk oor kerkgrense heen sal kan saamwerk en floreer.  Maar dit sal ons iets kos. Christenleiers sal van wantroue en trots moet afsien - ons sal ruimte vir mekaar moet maak al staan ons dalk ver van mekaar in ons opvattinge en sieninge.

Dit is eers wanneer so 'n netwerk tot stand kom dat die oprigting van 'n universiteit met evangeliese Christelike waardes 'n werkbare opsie sal word. Die rede hiervoor is dat so 'n netwerk ook die voedingsbron vir so 'n universiteit sal wees. Alhoewel teologiese skole van kleiner kerke vir akkreditering met so 'n universiteit kan saamwerk en teologiese studente hul nagraadse studies daar kan doen, is daar natuurlik soveel ander Christene in verskillende kerke wat nie noodwendig teologie wil studeer nie, maar wat by so 'n universiteit kan studeer. Voorts kan studente wat hul graad daar verwerf weer by ander erkende universiteite verder gaan studeer. Dit sal vir daardie studente die intellektuele basis lê selfs al sou die rigtings waarin hulle verder by ander universiteite gaan studeer as moeilike rigtings vir evangeliese Christene beskou word (dink aan die NG kerk kweekskool).

Daar is ongelukkig baie weerstand onder 'n groot deel van die tradisionele Christengemeenskap teen verandering - veral die soort waarvan ek hier praat. Baie van ons het groot geword in 'n paradigma waar net ons eie posisie as korrek beskou word - terwyl daar tipies verskeie ander soortgelyke en selfs beter posisies elders onder evangeliese Christene aanvaar word. Ons besef nie altyd hoe beperk ons eie insigte en sieninge is nie! Ek glo dat ons in die Christengemeenskap ons harte moet verruim om vir mekaar ruimte te maak. Een van die gevolge van die voorstelle wat ek hier maak sal juis wees dat so 'n gesonde oop gesindheid in die wyer Christengemeenskap bevorder word.

Sommige sal nooit insien dat dit vandag deel van die Goddelike opdrag is dat ons die Groot Skeiding moet oorsteek om mense met die evangelie te bereik nie. Ons moet hulle maar agterlaat. Ons moet nie dat hulle ons terughou nie. Maar daar sal andere wees wat, al gaan hulle nie self nie, ten minste ruimte sal maak vir diesulke wat wel geroepe voel om te gaan. Ons moet ons vir so 'n gesindheid beywer - om 'n netwerk daar te stel waarin ons nie net op verskillende vlakke en raamwerke volgens ons roeping en gawes saamwerk nie, maar waar ons ook ruimte maak dat sommige geroepe is om na die wetenskaplik-ingeligte mense in die tweede groep uit te reik. Ons mense is glad nie toegerus om met diegene rondom hulle wat wetenskaplik-ingelig is gesprek te voer nie - die voorstelle hierbo sal 'n veilige milieu skep waarin dit prakties kan gebeur.  As ons dit nie doen nie, sal die evangeliese Christendom al meer sy stem en impak in die samelewing verloor.

Die voorstelle wat ek hier noem sal net realiseer - en dalk eers oor baie jare - as ons as Christene hieroor nadink, bid en met 'n gesprek onder mekaar begin. As evangeliese Christene wie se harte deur die Heilige Gees opgewek is met geestelike leiers wat na hul mening oop is vir hierdie gedagtes oor hierdie saak gaan praat. As Christenleiers wat die probleem sien, met mekaar begin praat. As sulke leiers moeite doen om met ander wat ook so voel in aanraking te kom en die gesprek oor die forum te begin. Ons sal veral moet besef dat hierdie saak nie net op 'n intellektuele vlak benader kan word nie; dit is bowenal 'n geestelike saak. Dit gaan immers oor die uitbouing van God se koninkryk. Dit is slegs deur baie gebed dat hierdie dinge uiteindelik sal realiseer.

Die realisering van hierdie visie sal ware leierskap vra - geestelike leiers sal ten spyte van opposisie uit hul eie kring 'n besluit moet neem om hulle vir so 'n ideaal te beywer. Ware leierskap is om ten spyte van weerstand, jou op 'n wyse en gesofistikeerde wyse te beywer vir daardie dinge waarin jy glo. As Christenleiers nie in die lig van die veranderende situasie sulke leierskap toon nie, sal toekomstige geslagte van Christene ons verkwalik dat ons niks gedoen het nie. As iemand soos Nelson Mandela nie die groter ideaal van 'n demokratiese Suid-Afrika voor oë gehou het nie, en aan die beswaardes in sy geledere geluister het, sou ons dalk in SA dieselfde konflik gesien het wat lande soos Egipte en Irak kwel.

Ons moet eers besef daar is 'n wesentlike krisis - en dat dit nie voldoende is as ons slegs in die raamwerk van ons bekende veilige omgewing funksioneer en dink nie (ons kan gerus onthou hoe naby 'n groef en graf aan mekaar lê). As ons slegs binne die raamwerk van die kleiner wordende tradisionele groep opereer sal ons nooit die wyer samelewing bereik nie. Ons sal dalk die veraf volke deur sendingwerk bereik, maar in ons eie leefwêreld sal ons 'n groot en vinnig groeiende segment van die samelewing verloor. Christene sal die Groot Skeiding moet oorsteek. Ons moet die mense van ons tyd bereik.

Ek vertrou dat hierdie skrywe so 'n gesprek sal stimuleer.

[1] Sien my artikel: Wetenskap en geloof
[2] Ek het in die afgelope jaar verskeie geestelike artikels op hierdie blog gepos:
 Die profeet
 God hoor
My oordenkinge oor die lewe van Abraham wat op RSG uitgesaai is, is intussen in die boek Begin jou dag met God (Carpediem Media, 2013) opgeneem.
[3] Sien die artikel: Kan ons nog in die hemel glo?
[4] Sien o.a. : Does the creation narrative of Genesis 1 support the idea of a young earth?
[5] Sien my artikel: Om te glo of nie te glo nie...
[6] A Critique of Biblical Criticism as a scholarly discipline

Skrywer: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref. www.
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