Slouching Towards Bethlehem … Again

The Natural Outcome of Abandoning Civility

By Rabbi Bruce L. Cohen

“A harsh word brings forth anger.” – Proverbs 15:1b

“They have sown the wind, so they will reap the whirlwind.” – Hosea 8:7

“What seed a person sows, that crop shall he also reap.” – Galatians 6:7

 

This might just be the most obvious blog I have ever written: a real “no brainer.”

I am willing to risk being fatuous to effort fomenting public safety.

Unless both sides of America’s main political camps can find a way to dial back from the apocalyptic level of rhetoric they are firing at each other, it seems the recent spate of bomb mailings will most likely be only a beginning.

We can dissent and be civil.

We do not have to demonize to disagree.

Assignment of criminality should always be accompanied by sufficient and suitable proofs for filing of official process. No one should be called a criminal – much less, a super-villian – unless the accuser is willing to provide necessary levels of proof and follow process through to conviction or acquittal.

If name-calling is taught as improper even in the school-yard and debate team, then it has no place in the halls of government; and public assault on people as agents of evil has natural repercussions; especially in people on any opposing side of the argument who may be possessed of lesser or impaired powers of reason and/or self-control.

And if people keep labelling their opponents with epithets like “another Hitler” or “the soon death of the Republic” and other such jibes in order to obtain or retain power ––– then they may find they are signing their own death warrants. 

In a piercing irony, Hillary Clinton was targeted for one of these attempted murders by mail-bomb: and she said only weeks ago,

“We don’t need to be ‘civil’ with an enemy like the present Republicans, when our whole civilization is at stake! We can return to civility after we (the Democratic Party) have recovered power.”

It is chilling to think of the implications of using apocalyptic levels of vilification on one’s opponents. Perhaps even more chilling is to look back on the 2016 election are see the outcome of Mrs. Clinton – certainly one of the bigger brains in current politics – call a huge swath of voting America “a basket of deplorables” – apparently unaware or having lost connection to the fact that no candidate has ever insulted people into voting for him or her.

Unless we all immediately return to the basics of civility we were all taught in school is the bedrock of honorable dissent– there may soon be many fewer leaders to lead their respective camps forward in the good fight for “a more perfect Union.” As Malcom X said so chillingly in 1963, “chickens always come home to roost.” He was reframing the words of Abraham Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural, “it may be that every drop of blood drawn by the lash (of slavery) will be requited by one drawn from the sword (of our Civil War).”

It is time to prefer the teachings of Mr. Rogers over those of Mr. Machiavelli.

The end does not justify the means: and the cost of deliberately sustained, incendiary rhetoric war for votes will almost certainly lead to an inferno of yet undetermined breadth. 

I was around in 1968, when America exploded into barely-contained violence. I have no desire to return to the era having seen – and lost – “Bobby, Martin, and John.” Qualified national and international leaders are too rare to lose for no good reason.

Rabbi Bruce Louis Cohen

© 24 October 2018

Be Sure To Revisit Our Rabbi’s Blog on Shavuot’s Actual Biblical Meaning!

As Shavuout 5778/2018 approaches, why not reacquaint yourself with the actual Biblical meaning of the holiday, and the path by which it was morphed across time into an entirely different focus on the Mount Sinai giving of the Torah (Matan Torah) – a meaning every Jewish scholar freely admits, it is given NOWHERE in the entire Bible. 🙂  BLOG can be found at this link: http://bethelnyc.org/hag-symptomatic-shavuot-invites-a-question

Shabbat shalom, and an early Hag Sameakh! (Happy Holiday of Shavuot!)

A YOM HaSHOAH 2017 ESSAY: DOING vs. TALKING  

talk-is-cheapA YOM HaSHOAH 2017 ESSAY: DOING vs. TALKING

© Rabbi Bruce L. Cohen: (Posted under Blog & State Of The ReUnion™ Menus)
 
“What does God require of you, oh human being? To do/make (לעשות) justice (משפט) …” Micah 6:8
 
“All action leads to benefit; but mere talk leads only to continued need.” –  Proverbs 14:23
 
“It is not hearers of The Word who will be justified before God, but doers of The Word.” – Romans 2:13
 
“Prove yourselves doers of The Word, not mere hearers who delude themselves.” – James 1:22
 
 
WORDS OF GOOD INTENTION vs. DEEDS OF EFFECTIVE REMEDY
 
“Never again!” Is chanted throughout the Western world every Yom HaShoah.
Speeches are made, solemnities are observed in ceremonies and are posted on Facebook.
Collective hand-wringing in public shows the world the group or individual has rightful compassion for the slaughtered and abused.
Much of this activity is actually the kind of altruism motivated at its bedrock by the need for self-esteem: people prove to themselves and the world within their reach that they are “good” people who deplore atrocities.
 
Yet – in what I call the “Biblesphere” – the Scripture-embracing population – there is no more neglected value than what God puts first in His own list of what He requires of people to be human(e):
Justice.
Not admiration of justice, or hope for justice, or any other purely internal mental or emotional vector regarding justice.
Rather, God’s own list of “bedrock humanity” is לעשות משפט – to do, or make justice.
 
JUSTICE AS A BOTHER
 
My own experience in the Biblesphere is that doing of justice is nearly non-existent.
And seekers of justice are hated. Literally hated.
They are seen as black holes, sucking all light, energy, and time into themselves, depleting the universe around them.
This exists in the face of clear teaching in Scripture on this point:
“‘Because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her legal protection, lest by continually coming she will wear me out.’ And the Master said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge said.’” (Luke 18:3-4)
 
judge-with-gavel

“You’re bothering me! Go away!”

For a legal authority to treat an unpowered, needy justice-seeker (like a widow) as a “bother” is unrighteous.

Yet – my experience across four decades in the Western faith-realm is that justice-seekers are treated exactly this way.
Why?
 
There are very specific reasons for this situation: and I seek to address and remedy those causes here, in hope of furthering justice on so sacred an occasion as “Yom HaShoah” – Holocaust Memorial Day.
 
UNQUALIFIED JUDGES FIND JUSTICE-WORK WEARISOME
 
Much of the absence of justice in the Biblesphere is due to heresy – meaning, inaccurate doctrine.
The doctrines seem in large part to be artifacts of avoidance behavior: no kid who has not studied for a test wants to take it. Does the student say so? Rarely. Excuses like “The dog ate my homework” or “the storage media got damaged” abound. Taking the test without knowing the material would definitely be stressful, and most likely, embarrassing.
In this manner, in the Biblesphere, many unqualified leaders offer bad doctrine as excuses to avoid the heavy-lifting of the judicial work Scripture demands of community spiritual leaders.
 
The reading of documents originally penned in foreign languages and foreign, ancient cultures, in order to form sound policy from them is hard work requiring specific skill-sets.  People who lack the training, skills, and gifts needed for the task naturally make mistakes, the same way someone without gifts for numerical calculation and math training would be prone to make mistakes in accounting. 
“Most people are unequipped to form ethical precepts,” wrote Professor Carol Delaney of Stanford in her analysis of fundamentalism entitled, Abraham on Trial: she concluded with the statement, “policy-making is very hard work.”
People in pastoral or elder positions for reasons other than demonstrated and confirmed gifts in analyzing foreign, ancient literatures often read a verse here and an idea there, and via simple mental association processes, form a policy idea such as, “Let the Lord bring you justice: don’t do anything yourself or seek remedy: trust God to make things right for you.” 
This is an anti-Biblical idea.
 

Things are said in support of such ideas like, “The Bible says, ‘Vengeance is mine,’ says the Lord, ‘I will repay.’” – and the justice-seeker is told his or her very desire for justice is proof of unspirituality. Victims of harm in arenas of influence like religious congregations or associations having defining legal documents like Corporate By-Laws expressly referring to judicial mechanisms meant to insure the safety of Members from abuse by power-holders or other Members – are told that using those mechanisms shows lack of faith. Other unrelated verses are recruited into service: they should “joyfully accept the spoiling of their reputations” and “suffer in silence” as the Lamb of God “suffered injustice without opening His mouth.”

 
The problem with ideas like the above is that, while they are supported with a patchwork of Bible quotes assembled by free-association in untrained minds, the quotes are not on-point: inexpert readers and thinkers simply mistakenly believe they have relevance; and, there are other passages of Scripture that are directly on-point, but those are ignored.
 
A CASE IN POINT, RELEVANT TO THE HOLOCAUST
 

Here is an analysis of the above erroneous position on “letting the Lord bring you justice.”

 

Vengeance (נקם – na-káym) is not the same thing as justice (משפט).

 
God does, indeed, reserve vengeance for Himself: and vengeance would be defined as acts of retribution outside human arenas of due process. A believer whose son is beaten and robbed is not to seek out the criminals and beat and rob them, himself; he is to work within the legal authority structure. He is to seek “justice” – not “vengeance.”
Justice is dispassionately and appropriately administered analysis of the deeds, and restorative and punitive acts or requirements visited upon the perpetrators of proven wrongful acts.
So – “vengeance” is something God reserves unto Himself.
Justice, God definitively put into human hands.
 
Foundational among the “Noachide Laws” (Genesis 9:4-6, Acts 15 & 21, TB Sanhedrin 56a,b 57 & Rambam Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot M’lakhim 8:14) seen as the basic moral precepts binding upon all humankind is, “establish courts of justice.” Every era and arena requires judicial processes and arenas, or life decays into a nightmare for the less-empowered.

Judges within any given arena or era are commanded in Scripture, “to make diligent inquiry into any matter of false oath” and administer justice once the facts are ascertained.

For a judge to say to a victim, “Let the Lord bring you justice – and stop bothering us” – is a sin against the office of a judge or empowered corporate officer, as spoken by Yeshua the Messiah, Himself in Luke 18:3-4 as quoted above. An “unrighteous judge” treats a supplicant so.
 
After the Holocaust, much of Christian Europe demanded that Jews – like Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal, and justice-seekers like the State of Israel’s intelligence unit sent to Argentina to bring Nazi mass-murderer Adolf Eichmann to Israel to face trial – forgive and forget. As soon as a decade after the final camp was liberated, Europe was sick of the whole affair, and Jews who insisted the criminals be hunted down, prosecuted, and punished were just not letting the world move on from a pihaveneverforgottenyouainful and embarrassing interlude in civilization’s development.
The victims were a bother.
The victims were made to feel they were the problem.

Imagine: a Jew who had been vivisected by a Nazi camp surgeon, and had organs removed from his still-living body without anesthetic by Nazi physicians who “wanted to see what would happen when this organ was removed” – is told, his pain, harm suffered, and aftermath of such treatment was of no interest to anyone in the judicial world. If he was not a “bad” person, but a “good” person, he would simply forgive, forget, and move on.A man who watched his wife caged in a barrel of freezing water to see how long it would take her to freeze to death; and the saw his daughter suffer the same fate, so the Nazi scientists like Dr. Joseph Mengele could see what the difference in time taken to freeze to death was between a mature mother and her young daughter – is told, his very rage at the deeds and desire the criminals be punished is the problem: nobody cares about the Holocaust anymore – it was more than ten years ago! When are you Jews just going to move on?

These desires appear grounded in centuries of quasi-Christian thinking in Europe. I say “quasi-Christian” because the desire to forget was justified among Europe’s Bible-flavored thought-systems by the idea that total forgiveness is the obligation of everyone who is wronged – which is not an accurate rendition of the Bible’s teaching on forgiveness.

More on that later.
 
THE PATTERN AMONG BIBLE-BELIEVING ASSOCIATIONS AND CONGREGATIONS
 
These Biblically-driven judicial structures and processes are often ignored for the following reasons:
 
Foremost among reasons is simply bad teaching.
The Biblical message is boiled down from its actual complexity to inaccurate simplicity.
 
  • “God is love” is quoted by people living in sin Scripture teaches is hell-insuring (1Corinthians 6:9, Revelation 21:8) to affirm God would never do something as unloving as send them to hell.
  • “Judge not, lest you be judged,” is quoted by people whom Scripture demands we judge diligently (Deuteronomy 19:18, Proverbs 18:17, 1Corinthians 5:2), as a requirement we not judge their actions or motives.
  • “Forgive them as God has, in Messiah, forgiven you,” is misapplied – omitting the fact that without confession and repentance from sin, the sacrifice of Messiah does not do anyone any good. (Proverbs 28:13, Isaiah 59:20, Acts 2:38). 
  • “If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4)

1. The victim is sent the message, “Your complaining is the problem; not the crime committed against you. Everything would be peaceful if you would just shut up and go away.”

2. The fact you are seeking remedy is proof you are “unspiritual:” you should just forgive and forget, because Messiah Himself said on the cross, “Father forgive them, they do not understand what they are doing,” and “You should forgive, just as God has, in Messiah, forgiven you.” The inexpert reader misses that Messiah was praying specifically in regard to the Roman soldiers who were crucifying Him: they were simply soldiers following orders and the laws of their land, and literally did not know there was anything wrong with what they were doing: they were simply executing a duly-convicted capital criminal.
 

Yet – much of the Believing world relates to the message of the Bible as if the absence of conflict is God’s view of the highest good. There is no value higher at present in the Biblesphere, in this writer’s opinion, than “peace” – with peace defined in the Biblesphere mind as the absence of conflict, stress, tension, or controversy. 

Therefore, Believers look first and foremost to avoid creating tension. 
It is a major virus of heresy in the spiritual genetic code of many generation.
If British and American Christians had swallowed this heresy, the world would be empty of Jews, and the entire planet would be blond-haired, blue-eyed German-speakers. 
There are times believers need to suit up.
There are times when conflict is the only moral course to choose.
 
Why then, do Biblesphere dwellers ostensibly driven by moral consciousness, choose to act so anti-morally in regard to the Biblical mandates for justice-making?
 
There are specific reasons for this.
 
UNDER-EQUIPPED AND OVERLOADED
 

One major reason is overloaded leadership.

Qualified leaders are few and far between, and they are largely understaffed and overburdened. “Burnout” among pastoral leaders is a constant topic in most professional clergy journals, and the published statistics are dismaying. Ten-thousands of spiritual leaders leave their profession every year in states of depletion and depression.

Underqualified leaders either burn out more quickly, or take up evasion strategies to survive. In my own vocational sphere of Two Testament Judaism, I have seen many leaders divert from leading congregations into para-congregational efforts like humanitarian aid. This frees them from having to handle the terrible complexities of people – and the reality of the age old adage, “The longer I work with people, the more I love my dog.”  The Federalist Papers (Essay #50) observed, “The governing of other human beings is a sore and thankless task.” Many spiritual leaders segue as unnoticeably as possible into spiritual work other than actual community leadership. 

The worst consequence of the above is that the value of “doing justice” is cast aside.
It is simply too hard.
A cornerstone of healthy Biblesphere life is found in Deuteronomy 19 – echoed many places in the New Testament:

“One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sins: by the mouth of two witnesses, or by the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established. If a false witness rises up against any man to testify against him that which is false, then both the men between whom the controversy exists shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who serve during those days; and the judges shall make diligent inquiry (דרשו היטב): and, determine if the witness is a false witness who has testified falsely against his brother. Then shall you do to the false swearer as he had thought to have done to his neighbor: this way you will expel evil from among you. And the people who  remain shall hear, and fear, and shall in the future commit no more such evil among you.” (Deuteronomy 19:15-20)

These precepts are repeated by Messiah and by Paul in the words of the New Testament. Intra-Body justice is the New Testament parallel of Old Testament policy: two or three witnesses are required (2Corinthians 13:1, 1Timothy 5:19), absolute non-bias needs to be assured (Leviticus 19:15, 1Timothy 5:21), and so forth.
 
God does not ask us to admire justice- He requires of us “la’asoht mishpaht” – that we “do” or “make” justice.
 

I know from direct conversation that the people in the top tiers of the Two-Testament Jewish associations are often people absent the skill or the will to fulfill their required duties as officers designated by their Alliance, Union, or Congregational documents as “the judges of their era” required to “make diligent inquiry” and “render to the harm-doer” in accord with Biblical precept.

I was having a conversation with a top officer of the International Messianic Jewish Alliance (IMJA) in regard to a case before that association, and after some minutes, it became clear to me the man with whom I was speaking knew very little about Biblical judicial process. To avoid misjudging his level of expertise, I said the following to him: “I am sitting at my desk in my office, and directly across from me in my plain sight is a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf – and the entire top shelf, and a good portion of the shelf below it, are populated with books on correct judicial procedure – and I have read all of them in whole or in good part. May I ask you, how many such books are in your own library?” His sheepish, embarrassed answer was, “None.” That reply relieved me of the follow up question as to how many of them he had studied.
He said, “So – you’re saying I’m not up to my job.”
I told him, I would not have put it in exactly those words – but yes. He did not have the knowledge or the skills to judge anyone in due process – it was not an arena of study or experience to which he had devoted any effort of any substance at all.
 

THE COMMUNITY MUST CHOOSE TO RISE TO A BETTER STANDARD

MishpatHaIvriIn his magnum opus, Jewish Law, the Chief Justice of Israel, Menachem Elon explains in regard to judicial appointments, “If unqualified judges are allowed by the community to be raised into office, then the entire community bears responsibility for all the harms done by the decisions rendered by such unqualified judges.”
The wider Two-Testament community has a power I call “the rights of the sheep.”
I am, in fact, working on a book by that title, detailing these powers to the inhabitants of the Biblesphere.
 
The sheep can demand healthy process.
The cornerstone ideas are so very simple: qualification and non-bias.
 
The American Constitution provides that citizens can legally seek remedy for harms done to them by their government; and the legal apparatus of the nation and the states provide mechanisms for seeking remedy for harms done to them by their fellow citizens. These processes are derived mostly from the Biblical patterns and precepts for justice.
Both Testaments refer to physical harm, financial harm, and reputational harm – and how to address them to “make justice.”

Judges need to be qualified.

 

If no qualified judges exist in the local congregation or among the officers of an association, then outside sources for them need to be tapped and employed. No congregation or association is without reasonably accessible resources for qualified judges or mediators: the reasons they are not employed are primarily: (a) self-interest: empowered violators do not want to be found guilty of their violations, so they insure their matters are handled only by associates upon whose good will they can rely to protect them from consequence – which, of course, directly violates the non-bias commandments in Scripture; and (b) expense: the group simply does not consider getting justice for some rank-and-file member worth the expense and time required to access qualified, unbiased judges and allow them to do their jobs.

 
The Members of the Alliances, Unions, and Congregations have the power to change their circumstances.
How?
 
Firstly – they can insist there be specific, written processes for handling sins, crimes, or harms – whether done by the smallest toddler in the pre-school, or the highest officer in the realm. Those written provisions can include penalties for refusal to comply with those mandatory processes: and no power-holder should be exempt from removal due to such refusal.
Secondly – they can vote with their feet. 
If a congregation or association or leader in such will not submit to the Romans 12:17 command to “respect what is considered honorable among all humankind” in regard to civilized justice and remedy-seeking, then they should admit to themselves they are in a cult – and leave. 
“What do you call ‘a leader’ with no one following him?” the old joke goes. “Just a guy out for a walk.” 

A leader who fancies himself God’s gift to the faith-realm will be hard-put to posture himself as such if his flock walks away en masse for the stated reason that he considers himself “above the law.” 

This is, of course, a different case than a leader standing alone for a precept of righteousness, despite lack of support. Moses and Aaron being threatened with stoning, Yeshua being left by all his supporters, Paul being abandoned at his first defense, Sir Thomas More being stripped of all office and reputation and executed on false testimony – all these are instances of righteous leaders being abandoned by their flocks because of their stand for righteousness. Leaders sometimes lose followers because they are standing for the right. However – a leader insisting he be excepted from all due process or accountability processes of any kind not populated by people whose livelihoods and reputations he directly controls – is a matter of tyranny which underlings can help remedy by removing the power-base giving the “leader” standing as a “leader.”

 

The old adage, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” holds true, even among “the faithful.” 

It is significant to notice that the Framers of the American Constitution, all men of extremely high moral commitments, considered themselves “the dangerous ones” from whom the populace needed protection. Villains seldom consider themselves villains. The Mafiosi who steal and murder excuse their crimes as having the main motivation of “putting bread on our tables for our families.” This is a lie. They could put bread on their tables and not steal; but they cannot put Jaguars in their driveways and multi-carat rings on their wives’ fingers: those are the reasons they break the law; not for provision, but for luxury and pride above what their natural gifts would gain them lawfully.

 

A Congregational leader said to me many years ago, when I was researching the formation of my own synagogue’s by-laws, that he would never empower his congregation to form tribunals to examine accusations against himself; and his reason was, “I’ve heard of times when boards like that found against the leader and not the congregant!” I kid you not. His reason for keeping his world clear of accountability structures was, some of them have found leaders guilty, and not the underlings! This idea is deluded, evil – or some combination of the two.

For the record, between 1993 and 1995, I wrote, with the help of a Manhattan religious law-expert corporate attorney of high experience and reputation, the section of the by-laws of my Manhattan synagogue which specifically outline accountability processes for the leaders and rank-and-file, and the provisions by which the less-empowered can remove higher officers or leaders from their posts. I did so for reasons which should be painfully obvious: no one is above the law, and no one is incapable of impropriety. Therefore, no one is exempt from the need for a context of service containing rules for accountability for the use of power.

 
NEVER AGAIN, AGAIN

All victims or witnesses of atrocities, if in possession of any empathy at all, cry out in the aftermath, “Never again.”
Then – it happens again.
Why?
Talk is cheap. “From all action, there comes benefit; but mere talk leads only to continued need.”
 
Fine – fourteen days after Passover every year, let’s all post “Never Again” and “Remember” e-cards on our Facebook pages. Let us also see to it that in our communities and nations, we “do” justice, not merely admire it.

So as genuinely to honor Yom HaShoah, and all it represents, may I respectfully ask that you consider this question: ask yourself, “Of what seriously harmful injustices am I aware – in my congregation, my association, my workplace, my family? And – what actions have I done so as to impel the ‘making’ of justice for those harmed?” Prayerfully seek God about what action is incumbent upon you – in your particular situation as a citizen, as a member, as an officer of whatever level.

And – if you know “the Emperor has no clothes” – for Heaven’s sake – tell him.

Famed twenty-first century mathematician and philosopher Nissim Nicholas Taleb wrote, “If you see fraud, and do not say ‘fraud,’ then you are a fraud. The late American President John Kennedy’s speechwriter, Ted Sorensen, said his objection to normalizing trade with human-rights repressive regimes was, “You are what you permit.”

We are what we permit.
 
Y’hi ratzon – May it be God’s will – Never again.

Rabbi Bruce Cohen
New York City • 26 April 2017

Rabbi Bruce guest on NYU “Multifaithful” Podcast

multifaithful-nyu-podcast-rabbi-bruce-l-cohenRabbi Bruce L. Cohen was the guest on NYU’s “Multifaithful” Podcast in an episode entitled, “De-Mystifying the Messianic: A Conversation with Rabbi Bruce Cohen”

The podcast is available clicking the above active link, or by cutting and pasting this URL into your browser: https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/aae251/episodes/2016-11-02T06_28_55-07_00 ––– You can also get it directly from iTunes.

Please note – some crucial info was edited out of the podcast’s final version. I offer a summary of it here in a comment I posted to the site once it was published. For shalom – Rabbi B
multifaithfulcomment

You will also note the interviewer makes reference at the close to “two stories” that were effective summaries of our most important values: however, those two stories were also edited out. The most important info in them was in TB Berachot 28a telling of the deathbed experience of Rabban Yochanon ben Zakkai, the founder of what we would now consider “mainstream” (Yeshua-disavowing) Judaism – whose version of “Judaism” left him wracked with fear of going into a tormenting eternity. Please read the Talmud passage for yourself. I told my interviewer, that was my own father’s dead-bed experience, which was utterly transformed into shalom after we had prayed together for him to make his peace with God and acknowledge Yeshua’s atoning sacrifice for him. I am very sorry to see this did not make it into the broadcast. – R”B

Marketing Is Not Ministry

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-10-56-46-amMarketing Is Not Ministry

or

The Rise of The Quote-Card Industry

2 Corinthians 2:17  “For we are not like many, peddling the word of God.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote in 1921 “Die Philosophie soll die Gedanken, die sonst gleichsam trübe und verschwommen sind, klar machen und scharf abgrenzen.” (Philosophy should make clear and delimit sharply the thoughts that are otherwise opaque and blurred.” (TLP, 4.112)

This essay is an effort in that spirit to bring clarity to set of increasingly blurred lines regarding the role of social media in the spiritual life of God-followers and truth-seekers.

WEAPONS OF MASS INSTRUCTION

We now live in an unprecedented time. A private citizen can easily and quickly become a mass influence, because anyone with internet access and a computer can reach every other person on the entire planet with that access and some variety of that item. The New Testament precept in James 3:1, “Let not many among you become masters (spiritual leaders)” and the model of knowing one’s teachers personally and well (2Timothy 3:14) are now in mass abrogation through the internet’s presence in everyone’s personal space. The candidacy for the role of an influencer is open to anyone with the hardware and software tools, and the right “how-to” manuals. Having these tools, it can be rendered irrelevant that they might, as Alexander Pope said of his era’s critics, “lack only talent, taste, and sense (judgment).”

Web presence can also be fully automated, an author piling up postings to be published at given times by web-presence engines, creating the illusion the writer is faithfully putting out material relevant to the issues of the day – when a post on any given day may have been entered for web-publication months before the day it goes active.

The mini-video, sound-bite, and quote-card are the tools of the day.

As presence proliferates, and pressure to be up-to-speed mounts, time available for people to read in any kind of depth decreases, and people are naturally driven to be attracted to the most user-friendly, least time-demanding items. These are placebos for being genuinely informed or fed – and like all placebos, they leave the taker without the actual needed nourishment or repair-influence.

What is the result?

We face a webisphere filling up with “spiritual” presences acting like secular marketing efforts, and filling the web with competing aphorisms and market-share increasing media.

PAUL SEES “MANY” IN A SPECIFIC ERROR NEEDING CORRECTION

Paul proudly ( in the positive sense) asserted, “We are not like many, peddling the Word of God.”

“Peddling” is ancient language for sales.

Paul first clarified that his means and methods for ministry were not those of the people whose profession is sales.

Why did Paul feel this particular clarification was necessary?

They key is the word “many.” Paul saw an unacceptably large number in his era who were using what Paul considered sales practices to “market” their version of what they conceived spirituality to be; and create a “customer base” that ended up believing and living in a manner Paul considered an inaccurate version of Biblical life.

THE GOAL OF SALES IS THE SALE

Does anyone remember Arnold Schwarzenegger’s quote from Pumping Iron, saying “getting up a good pump” (working out so hard your muscles fill with an inordinate amount of your body’s blood supply) felt identical to romantic ecstasy? Well – most often, getting up a good pump makes you feel like you have a bad case of flu or vertigo, including vomiting.

Arnold’s sentence was simply not true.

When Arnold was confronted about his words, his response was, “Well – obviously, that was ‘sales language.’ There is a more compact word for Arnold’s description of how pumping iron makes you feel: it was a lie. It was a very successful lie – Arnold Strong (his 1970’s marketing name, since the overtly German moniker “Schwarzenegger” did not play well in a Western world only two decades past World War II) and his Pumping Iron marketing movie made young Arnold a star, and dramatically increased the bottom line of the body-building industry. His “sales language” worked – but it was manifestly dishonest. In Scripture, the goal for godly character is to be without “guile” (Ps. 32, John 1), and speak truth (Deut. 5:20*, Matt. 5:37) in an utterly unequivocal manner.

THE “BLESSED EQUALS SUCCESS” TEST

The test of sound God-following is not whether it is “successful” at making the sale.

The Isaiah 55:11 maxim, “The word of God will not return void, without accomplishing that for which I sent it.” does not mean we always “close the sale” for God.

As the old saying goes, the same sun that melts wax hardens clay. No one seeing clay harden in the sun would say the sunlight “isn’t working.” The hardening of the clay as a response to sunlight makes clear what the clay is: it says nothing about the sunlight that melts wax being different, or better, or more successful. A soft heart melts in the light – a hard heart gets harder. (John 3:20-21) There are times God specifically allows wrong to succeed for the specific purpose of allowing evil people to define themselves utterly and without unclarity as evil. (Psalm 92:7)

Some of the most “successful” God-following in history resulted in loss and death. See the example of Yochanon the Immerser (John The Baptist), whose preaching of the truth to Herod never “closed the sale” – and many other such examples. Even the “faith-chapter” of the New Testament – Hebrews 11 – goes out of its way to point out that worldly success is not the litmus test for accurate spirituality. Yeshua’s closest disciple, John, failed greatly during his lifetime, unable to successfully escape being tortured beyond imagination, and exiled to a desolate rock in the middle of the Aegean Sea. His impact – like that of Mozart in music – came mostly from his written works, and long after his death. Letters of Paul like his note to the Galatians are now seen as major theology influences, but in their original time were written to only a few dozen people in sparsely populated region.

Not to say there is anything endemically wrong with earning a living through religious work. The Scriptures say clearly that “the worker is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:7, 1Timothy 5:18)  and “just as in the Temple system, God has ordained that those who proclaim the news of Messiah (including all aspects of raising up believers and believing communities) should get their living from the work of it.” 1Corinthians 9:14) This Blog is not a diatribe against earning a living from religious work: I do so, myself.

This essay is an attempt to point out that marketing does not de facto equal ministry.

One can successfully market – and not successfully minister.

I know one quite sincere minister whose LinkedIn account publishes a verse of Scripture to the internet every day. This habit – either automated or him doing this posting daily – has created the “boy who cried wolf” situation: when I see his name, I simply ignore it. If someone is speaking all the time … it becomes the same as that person never speaking at all; with one additional complication: “In an abundance of words, sin is never lacking, but the tongue of the righteous is like choice silver.” (Proverbs 10:19-20)

QUANTITY VERSUS QUALITY

The core issue here is superabundance versus wise choice-making. Directly contrary to the old adage about photography, “If you want to take a great picture, take a million pictures” – the idea of speaking well is to speak little – and when one does, speaking should be well-chosen words. “Let your words be few” advised King Solomon, and “Be slow to speak” was the advice of the Messiah’s half-brother, Ya’acov (James).

We need to face the fact that spiritual leadership is taught by Scripture in the context of close and ongoing personal relationship. “The things you have been taught and learned, you should practice, knowing from whom you have learned them.” (2Timothy 3:14)

Yeshua modeled spiritual leadership to us by working closely with a small group and letting them get to know Him exceedingly well across time.

They learned from His instruction and His personal example.

They knew – truly knew – from whom they had learned what they had learned.

Quote card proliferation reduces pastoral ministry to the advertising craft.

It reduces truth-speaking to sales.

Truth needs as many words as truth needs.

Choice-making in regard to words is a spiritual discipline: “Like apples of gold in settings of silver, is the right word in the right circumstances” and “A wise person holds back his words, but a fool vents all his spirit.” is the advice of the wisest Israeli king in history.

Balancing the Bible virtue of verbal restraint, is the willingness to teach as much as is necessary, and in a manner not controlled by sales concerns or populist appeal.

Moses re-taught the entire Jewish nation at great length in Deuteronomy – the “second (telling of The) law” – before we crossed into the Promised Land, because a lengthy review in depth was necessary.

As Rav Saul (Paul) was departing from the city of Troas, he taught at such length that a teenager named Eutychus dozed off and fell out of the window on which he was sitting to listen. We note, he recovered after receiving prayer.

Simon Peter said he considered it no burden at all to be a consistent reminder to those he taught of those things most important they had learned. (2Peter 1:13)

Proliferating words in an unnecessary manner as a mere advertising “presence/footprint creation technique” runs the risk of drifting out of the pastoral profession and into the advertising industry.

Sales standards are not pastoral standards.

Sales goals are not pastoral goals.

We seek to “speak the truth in love,” not win the demographic or make the sale.

We seek new-births, not new members.

We seek turnings to God, not purchases of our materials.

We seek to foster mature spirituality, not customer loyalty.

These things are easy to confuse.

I end with my starting quote from Wittgenstein’s Tractatus: “Philosophy should make clear and delimit sharply the thoughts that are otherwise opaque and blurred.”

Hopefully, these ideas help clarify an increasingly blurry field of spiritual habits proliferating in the sphere of social media.

May it all be for shalom.

Rabbi Bruce L. Cohen

2 November 2016

Page 1 of 1012345...10...Last »