The Eternal People

The dreamtime is over.

The Bible teaches us that flesh is temporary. This is bad news for those who distrust God. Flesh is all they have.

Throughout the millennia, families and tribes have recited the genealogies of their past, and struggled to produce enough children to secure a cultural future. The bloodline of unseen ancestors and bright-eyed offspring, past and future, was reinforced, thread by thread, in stories around the fires of “now.” This was not the romantic picture so often painted for us. The struggle for cultural survival also involved blood and fire outside the camp.

David P. Goldman observes that in the ancient world a continual state of conflict would account for a loss of two per cent of the population every year, and that this would also explain the proliferation of languages and dialects. He writes that even in Christianity’s darkest hours (which were simply tribalism on a grander scale), it failed to kill a small fraction of the proportion which routinely and normally fell in primitive warfare. He quotes Nicholas Wade’s Before the Dawn, “a survey of genetic, linguistic, and archeological research on early man”:

Even in the harshest possible environments, where it was a struggle enough just to keep alive, primitive societies still pursued the more overriding goal of killing one another… casualty rates were enormous, not the least because they did not take prisoners. That policy was compatible with their usual strategic goal: to exterminate the opponent’s society.1David P. Goldman, “The Fraud of Primitive Authenticity” in It’s Not the End of the World, It’s Just the End of You: The Great Extinction of the Nations, 90-91.

Of course, we see a similar emphasis on succession in the Old Testament. The fulfillment of the promises to Abraham was directly related to Israel’s continuity.

Goldman’s point is that the “primitive authenticity” taught in modern Western institutions is a fraud. In an attempt to avoid further damage to the environment, our children are being indoctrinated with the idea that aboriginal cultures worldwide, left to themselves, would have been self-sustaining, perhaps indefinitely, in an eternal cycle of life and death:

You have noticed that everything an Indian does is a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything and everything tries to be round.

In the old days all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation and so long as the hoop was unbroken the people flourished. The flowering tree was the living center of the hoop, and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The east gave peace and light, the south gave warmth, the west gave rain and the north with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance. This knowledge came to us from the outer world with our religion.

Everything the power of the world does is done in a circle. The sky is round and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were.

The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. Our teepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.

Black Elk, Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux, 1863-1950

Without exception, European migration around the world devastated tribal peoples. Colonists committed many atrocities, but our children are taught that the cultures in the conquered lands were somehow pristine, natural, balanced, sustainable—eternal.

With a worldview informed by biblical history, and indeed secular history, these “eternal cycles” are exposed as a downward spiral. The gradual degradation of ancient cultures and the loss of even primitive skills within these cultures has been well-documented. Paganism moves in circles, but if the fact of sin and the necessity of redemption are rejected, there is no eternity, not even a carnal “cultural” one. A civilization is a corporate Man. All men die. All civilizations die.

No culture is all good or all bad. For instance, despite its spiritual darkness, there is much traditional wisdom in native American culture. Huguenot adventurer Jean de Lery had great admiration for the natives, who seemed to be more virtuous than Europeans. In many ways the “primitive” worldviews of native Americans in the both north and south are more biblical than that of modern Christians, containing many elements which can be easily traced to their origin in the book of Genesis. However, spiritual history has moved on, and these cultures are merely ancient minds “preserved in amber.” The continuing work of God often leaves our “timeless truths” in the dust.

History moves in cycles, but there is always either regress or progress. Culture moves forwards or it moves backwards. All the indigenous cultures of the world, at the point they had reached when white men arrived, were “backward,” but backwardness is not a solid state. Life was a constant battle to avoid extinction. We can learn from the wisdom of any culture, including the tribal ones, but left to themselves, indigenous cultures would have continued to degenerate to the point of oblivion.

The idea of growth, progress and dominion is a Christian one. The Biblical history moves from family, to tribe, to people, to nation, to kingdom, to empire. When the enormous granite wheels of empire came into contact with the slowing spinning tops of tribal life, there could be no “cog wheel” correspondence. The results were tragic.

Before our white brothers arrived to make us civilized men, we didn’t have any kind of prison.  Because of this, we had no delinquents. Without a prison, there can be no delinquents.

We had no locks nor keys and therefore among us there were no thieves. When someone was so poor that he couldn’t afford a horse, a tent or a blanket, he would, in that case, receive it all as a gift.

We were too uncivilized to give great importance to private property. We didn’t know any kind of money and consequently, the value of a human being was not determined by his wealth.

We had no written laws laid down,  no lawyers, no politicians, therefore we were not able to cheat and swindle one another. We were really in bad shape  before the white men arrived and I don’t know how to explain how we were able to manage without these fundamental things that (so they tell us) are so necessary for a civilized society.

John (Fire) Lame Deer, Sioux Lakota, 1903-1976

When colonists arrived, with their greed and diseases, things changed forever. These were deep cuts, but perhaps the most fatal was the change in philosophy. Cycles were out, and progress was in, a mindset which was born, arguably, of the “marriage-made-in-heaven” of Roman imperialism and the Great Commission. “Modernity” had arrived, and there was no way back. Despite the desperate efforts of tribal elders worldwide, attempts to revive and maintain the ancient animisms and languages have resulted in little more than nostalgic historical records, ornamental subcultural identities, and tourist exhibits.2Goldman also argues that Islamic fundamentalism is not offensive but defensive, a futile attempt by religious leaders to stem the inevitable secularization of modern Muslim nations. The old spirits are gone.

After a backlash by indigenous Australian cultures in the 1970s against the Christian missions, and a return to animism, the more objective Aboriginal leaders are facing the fact that this was a backward step for their people. Whatever the crimes of the colonists, and whatever the excesses of the missions, the leaven of Christianity which they brought with them forces any culture, any people, to rise, to grow up. It calls us from animistic childhood to adulthood, from a world ruled by animals to a world subdued by men. Our eyes are opened in a greater way to both good and evil and a judicial maturity is forced upon us. In many cases, indigenous people were not ready, but a return to the “childish things” of animism is impossible. The Gospel destroys tribal divisions and animistic thinking. Once the Gospel wakes you up, the Dreamtime is over.

John Lame Deer certainly has a case against civilization, but he is judging civilization through eyes opened by civilization. Worse, he is looking through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. John Wesley made a survey of human societies to see if any had overcome the effects of sin. Thomas C. Oden writes:

Among native American cultures with whom he had some immediate experience, [Wesley] observed as evidence of sin their constant intertribal warfare. He was especially disturbed by their practice of torturing defenseless victims. As one of the few English writers of his day who had actually spent time in the immediate environment of native American Indians, Wesley did not share the distantly conceived inflated picture of the noble savage that prevailed among enlightened French literati of the 18th century. Wesley punctured this picture mercilessly, providing a graphic depiction of how these natives were as deeply embedded in sin as the avaricious colonial British.3Thomas C. Oden, John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity, 163.

The preciousness of tribal life, in truth, rendered all life cheap. Tribes were cultures bent on self-preservation through bloody rivalries. A similar insanity might be observed in modern cultures, where the deaths of endangered species make the news but the culling of human lives through various means is considered a matter of survival. Goldman believes the fraud of primitive authenticity, the modern nature worship of environmental “animism,” is the environmentalist projecting his own presentiment of death onto the natural world.

Fear for the irreversible destruction of the natural world … substitutes for the death anxiety of the individual. Post-Christian Westerners confound their own sense of mortality with the vulnerability of the natural world. Sadly, it is not the end of the world. It is just the end of you.4Goldman, 183.

There is a perverse logic to this projection. In God’s wisdom, the flesh of the world and the flesh of Man are bound together by Covenant. Environmentalists believe their own flesh is a cancer upon the flesh of the otherwise “eternal” world, but the Bible tells us that Man and World are bound together for a purpose. The voyage of discovery is also a process of self-discovery. Subduing the world, however destructive it might be, is a positive feature of Man. Man and World are bound together not only for death, but also for resurrection.

By showing us that true eternity transcends cultural longevity, the Gospel of Christ removes the fear of death (Hebrews 2:15). This means that, since the resurrection, the fear of mortality for both the individual and the culture (and indeed, the planet) is now a “drawing back” from God’s desire for us. This is a lesson which Christendom failed to learn, and the factor which subsequently tore it apart.

Goldman observes that many minor cultures facing extinction found cultural transcendence in Christianity. However, their failure to leave pagan superstitions entirely behind perpetuated the old fractures, and led to a desire for nationalistic transcendence in a Christian veneer. Every European culture considered itself to be “the eternal people” to some degree. The American experiment succeeded because the old paganisms and nationalisms were deliberately left behind.

For all its flaws and fecklessness, America remains in the eyes of its people an attempt to order a nation according to divine law rather than human custom, such that all who wish to live under divine law may abandon their ethnicity and make themselves Americans.5Goldman, 372.

America is unique. It is not a redeemed culture but a melting pot of cultures. For Americans to backslide, they had to invent somewhere to slide, hence the liberal agenda and its historical revisionism (including naturalism). It is a manufactured pagan past disguised as a future.

America is not eternal. To keep His promises, God cannot allow it to be. For the sake of greater glory, the American vision is fading. However, the unmistakable success of the American experiment reveals it to be a microcosm for the future of the world—all nations submitting willingly to the Divine Law.

Goldman sees the continued historical perseverance of the Jewish identity as evidence of God’s promise to the rest of mankind, and here is where we part ways.

There cannot be an eternal people, not according to the flesh, because the flesh is obsolescent. Goldman’s God is Yahweh, yet He is a Yahweh of the past, a “Yahweh trapped in amber.” The Yahweh of today is not only the God who was born as the child promised in Eden, but the Man who never married or had children. The blessing promised to all nations through Abraham was not the merely the removal of the curse upon the Land and the womb (territory and offspring) but the removal of the fear of death in the promise of resurrection. These blessings were all poured out in Christ.

How then do we interpret Israel’s stubborn refusal to disappear? Goldman notes that while the Arab Spring will become a Winter (demographically-speaking) within one generation, Israel currently has the only increasing birthrate in the entire Middle East.

America is no longer the future, but the preservation of Israel is most definitely a testimony to something historical, not a glimpse of the way forward. Judaism serves as an antidote to gnosticism for Christianity, a miraculous testimony like the body of Lot’s wife a white, leprous memorial to a judgment in the past. Israel exists only because she is protected by the once dominant Christian nations who drew her under their wings. She too must eventually succumb to the Gospel of Christ or return to the dust.

Flesh is not transcendent. Flesh was designed to be transcended by fire. Israel, and indeed America, will be transcended. All God’s darlings end up on the altar. The promised child—whether it be European Christendom, the American vision, or the hope of Israel—is ever offered on Mount Moriah for the sake of greater promises.

There is no eternal people. All nations are destined for a larger melting pot, a hotter fire. Every tribe, every circumcision, every culture, every nation, every tongue, every familial baptism, every distinction founded on the old birth, is doomed. Hidden in every cultural and lingual extinction, every brutal war, every abundance, every natural disaster, every economic collapse, every trade agreement, every technological advancement, is the leaven of the Gospel. The yeast that continues to consume and assimilate every other culture, every blood, ancient or modern, is the fire from the unseen mountain, the Spirit of Christ. Here, at last, is the eternal people.

This is an essay from Sweet Counsel: Essays to Brighten the Eyes by Michael Bull.

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1. David P. Goldman, “The Fraud of Primitive Authenticity” in It’s Not the End of the World, It’s Just the End of You: The Great Extinction of the Nations, 90-91.
2. Goldman also argues that Islamic fundamentalism is not offensive but defensive, a futile attempt by religious leaders to stem the inevitable secularization of modern Muslim nations.
3. Thomas C. Oden, John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity, 163.
4. Goldman, 183.
5. Goldman, 372.

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