Rev. Steve Sanchez

Rev. Steve Sanchez
Swedenborgian Minister

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Nature of Determinisim In the Times Before the Coming Jesus, and Why This Always Appears in Times of Darkness

In the times before Jesus was born on earth the people had become almost completely external in character. This external character extends to all levels of society in the mediteranean, and to all its nations and ethnicities, including the Greeks and Romans. In this article I will focus on one major aspect of the externalization – Determinism. We can talk about other factors in another article. Whenever a people descend into an external nature determinsim appears. A the end of this article I will show how this appears on movies too.
Among the thinkers in the century before Jesus was born there was an assumed determinism that was prevalent in their writing, even when they are striving to philosophize on freedom. Meeks in “The Moral World of First Century Christians” demonstrates this qualitie among the philosophers. For example, there is a famous speech in which the roman stoic Epictetus responded to a young man who considered becoming a cynic. To be a cynic was the most individualistic of ancient philosophical movements, but Epictetus cannot think past the determinism of the times, which is symptomatic of the lack of internal freedom. Meeks quotes Epictetus’s speech:

“You are a calf; when a lion appears, do what is expected of you; otherwise you will smart for it. You are a bull; come on and fight, for this is expected of you, it befits you, and you are able to do it. You are able to lead the host against Illium; be Agamenon. You are able to fight a duel against Hector; be Achelles. But if Thersites came along and claimed command, either he would not have got it, or if he had, he would have disgraced himself in the presence of a multitude of witnesses” (Epictetus, Discourses 3.22.5-8).

       Meeks goes on to comment:

Honor and shame were the reciprocal sentiments that enforced the unwritten rules of these continual transactions. It is enough for Epictetus to say, in his hypothetical example of a man seizing a role which he is unsuited, that Thersites would have put himself to shame before a ‘multitude of witnesses’. For a slave or freedman to put on airs like a freeborn citizen marked him as shameless. For an emperor to give performances like an actor or musician, as Nero is said to have done, was a public shame.

In the Bible the same cultural value is represented when Jesus says:

And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do (Luke 17: 7-10).

Determinism is inherent in the society, because the people are entrenched in an external way of thinking and being. Ancient determinism is very different than modern determinism, because the later is based on the psychological principle that we are formed by childhood experiences, which is a strongly individualistic and inwardly contemplative mode of being that is nowhere in the ancients thinking. Ancient determinism is communal; it comes from the belief that they were born into their life roles and there is nothing they can or should do about it. In their heart the people did not contemplate pangs of conscience, or how they could change their econmic status, their mindset accepted their role and place and tried to improve their status within their strada of society.
This gives an idea how the people were externally motivated in almost all their actions. Everywhee Swedenborg emphasizes the external nature of their worship: “It certainly was not anything internal which affected them, for they did not know at all, nor indeed wish to know, what was internal…”(A.C. 4293). Similarly Malina says, “The New Testament depicts persons and events concretely, from the outside, so to say. They avoid introspection as uninteresting, and evaluate behavior on the basis of externally perceptible activity…” Malina goes on to describe how our western idea of conscience is different than the Mediterranean:

Conscience (for the New testament person) is sensitivity to what others think about and expect of a person; it is another word for shame in the positive sense…This is the group embedded, group oriented, dyadic personality, one who needs another simply to know who he or she is…anything unique that goes on inside a person is filtered out of attention. Individual psychology, individual uniqueness, and individual self-consciousness are simply dismissed as uninteresting, and unimportant (Molina, ).

This mindset at the time goes hand in hand with the general societal resignation to cruelty, and to the acceptance of dark forces. We shall see many examples of this further on. Below is an example from an incidental letter.
In “The Jesus of History”, the author T. R. Glover, gives us a glimpse of how the day-to-day mindset of the Mediterranean is different than today. He quotes from a letter that is dated September 1 AD by a man named Hilarion, an Egyptian Greek, to his wife Alis:

“Know that we are still even now in Alexandria. Do not fidget, if, at the general return, I stay in Alexandria. I pray and beseech you, take care of the little child, and as soon as we have our wages, I will send you up something. If you are delivered, if it was a male let it live; if it was a female cast it out…How can I forget you? So don’t fidget”

Glover comments:

The letter is not an unkind one…And then it ends with the suggestion, inconceivable to us today, that if the baby is a girl it need not be kept. It can be put out either on the land or the river left to the Kite or the crocodile…it is not the exceptional thing that gives the character of an age. It is the kind of thing that we take for granted and assume to be normal that shows our character (64, Glover).

Leaving a child to exposure to die is very common in Athenian comic plays in the third and forth century, recurring over and over in the plots. Plato in his ideal constitution recommended that the marriage between young couples be made by the government, and that if infants were not good enough, they be put away where they will not be found. Aristotle made the same recommendation (65, Glover). These examples of the cruelty of the times only scratch the service. Looking into the life and times of emperors of Rome such as Tiberias and Caligula reveal an incredible depth of perverse cruelty and an insane level of jadedness to death and blood.  The Greek God of the underworld Hades was a dark and cruel figure that was an expression of the cultures obsession with death and darkness.

                   In the latest supeman movie, “Man of Steel”, this theme is a very large part of the back story of Kripton. It is told that the people of Kripton had adapted in such a way that they tightly controlled child birth. Every child was born under  government control with a predetermined purpose, - some workers, some leaders, some trades people and so on. Zod, the military ruler of Kripton, angrily expresses throughout his scenes that his sole purpose for eixstance from birth was to perseve Kripton, and he is a warrior who will destroy everything in his way that would keep him from that purpose. Also, in the beginning of the movie when Zod and his officers are sentenced for their crimes by the counsel, their sentence is forever - no possibility of release or attempt to rehabilitate. This is so because the counsel knows Zod’s purpose, and that he cannot be reformed. This is significant because with the Romans and other mediteranean nations at the time the jadedness toward cuelty was a natural extension of determinism. The belief that they have a pre-determined purpose led to a great devaluing of life. This theme is also in ‘The Terminator’, and the ‘Matrix’.

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