Beit Gamaliel

The House of Gamaliel: The confluence of knowledge and faith.

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New and Improved Religion

As the Hanukkah candles fade, I sit here trying to grasp the desperation and fervor of Judas Maccabees. Under the tyrannical rule of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Jews were ordered to worship the gods of the Greeks as Judaism as a religion was outlawed. About 150 years before Jesus was born, Antiochus IV descended upon Jerusalem, destroying the city, massacring thousands, and desecrating the holy Temple by erecting an alter to the Greek god Zeus in the Temple. He even sacrificed unclean pigs inside the Temple walls. But in all reality the influence of the Greeks upon Jewish culture was so pervasive that assimilation of Greek speech, manners, and culture stretched from the fourth century B.C. through the first centuries.

A priest by the name of Mattathias and his five sons would lead a full scale rebellion again Antiochus. But after the death of Mattathias, his eldest son, Judah Maccabeus would lead the revolt. Outnumbered and out-trained, Judah would use use guerilla warfare tactics to deliver swift and devastating blows to the Syrians, earning him the nickname “The Hammer”. Judah was able to reclaim the Temple and cleanse it , rebuilding the holy altar, and lighting the Golden lamp stand that, according to scripture, must burn continually. That lamp stand is the menorah. Hanukkah is the celebration of that victory and re-dedication of the Temple. The story of Hanukkah does not appear in the Torah because the events that inspired the holiday occurred after it was written. It is, however, mentioned in the New Testament, in which Jesus attends a “Feast of Dedication.”

Today, faith suffers under the same assault. Just as Greek culture had opened an easy door for Antiochus to walk through, pop culture has redefined faith, doctrine, and ultimately theology itself.

Theology is, quite literally, the study of God. Theology is not inherently religious as one can study God from a purely secular vantage. However, in the end of any legitimate study of God, one must concede two basic facts or ideas: 1. Who is God, and 2. What does God want from us? Theology must set itself at the task at defining these two basic ideas. The resulting amalgam is doctrine, or a set of beliefs about who God is (His being, character, personality, and traits) and what God’s expectations are (for His creation, the future, etc…). From the singularly focused Christians of the first century to post -modern religiosity, Christianity has ebbed and flowed from ultra-conservatism to swings of anti-nomianism. The influences of humanism in public schooling to the teachings of tolerance advocated in pop culture, young people no longer think or process information like they once did.

Every generation feels compelled to redefine, or re-vision, God in their own language and terminology. This is not a new idea. It has plagued many faiths over the years. However, in the recent past, questioning God and religion did not result in extreme swings toward the right or to the left. This is likely due to the communal pathos under which children were reared.

Post Kuhnian Era

Thomas Kuhn challenged the scientific world through his writings. He demonstrated that the study of something can be limited by our perception, and in so doing, we fail to see truth because we cannot see beyond our preconceived notion. He called this a paradigm. As an example, take a look at the picture of the duck to the right. It looks like a duck. It has a beak. It has an eye. It has a head like a duck. And, I told you it was a duck. So you see a duck.

But do you see the rabbit?

Of course you do. It only takes a second to re-think the image and concoct a rabbit. But Kuhn points out this significant dilemma. Once cannot see both images simultaneously. The human mind works in such a way that we can only see what we set our minds to see.

In a post-Kuhnian world, one must reject preconceived notions to embrace new definitions. In the areas of faith, and theology and doctrine, a post-Kuhnian mind must reject tradition, Sunday school, and childhood Bible stories and fairy tales. One must shed the trappings of religious restriction to find the truth hidden in the Bible.

While there is some good in Kuhnian ideology, it is but one view. It does not answer objections, nor does it necessarily refute what prior knowledge was known. But a generation of young people are stripping religion of historical doctrines to create new structures, new doctrinal frameworks, that conveniently meet the modern communal pathos, redefining God in purview of humanism, rather than the immeasurable standard that is God Himself.

In the words of the late Dr. E. T. Quanabush, this generation has “learned more and more about less and less. They now know absolutely everything about absolutely nothing.” Shabbot Shalom.

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