Deeper Waters Podcast 8/8/2015: Win Corduan

What’s coming up on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We all know the story of civilization. That ages ago savages lived in fear of animistic gods. Slowly these gods became more and more dignified and powerful in the eyes of the people with the traditions evolving as it were. Then we get to a polytheistic system like the Greeks and Romans had. After that, society reaches the peak in deities and goes to monotheism. Of course, some think that this goes a step further when the people realize that there is no need for even the monotheistic deity and move straight to atheism. This is the story of the history of mankind that we all know.

Or do we?

According to Winfried Corduan, we have it wrong. Who is he?

Win Corduan

Dr. Corduan was born in 1949 in Hamburg, Germany. In 1963 he moved to the U.S. and in 1970 got a B.S. in Zoology at the University of Maryland. He went on to earn a Master’s in philosophy of religion at Trinity Evangelical Divinity school and got a Ph.D. in Religious Studies at Rice University. From 1977-2008 he was the professor of Philosophy and Religion at Taylor University, and retired on disability in 2008 as Emeritus professor of Philosophy and Religion. He is the writer of books like Neighboring Faiths, No Doubt About it, and In The Beginning God.

The last book is the book that we will be discussing on the show. Corduan contends that when we get back to the earliest traditions of primitive man, that we find that they did believe in one monotheistic deity. Now of course, they could have other beings out there that were non-human entities, like Christians, Jews, and Muslims believing in angels, but only one has the right to be called “God formally and that is the supreme being of these religious systems.

The book is a thorough and entertaining look at the subject and as you can imagine, I have reviewed it here. The reader will not get lost in highly technical details too much and will find that this is a quite interesting area and in many ways, one that we do not really discuss too much in apologetics circles but one that is certainly worth discussing.

I will be asking Dr. Corduan about the history of this kind of research. If we are Christians today, why does it matter how we start out as long as we know that today there is one God? Were the leading pioneers in this area arguing for an original monotheism simply Christians just letting their bias dictate their research? How is it that we can even do so research to get back to what people believed thousands of years ago? Wouldn’t it have changed over the years?

These are all questions on a topic that as I said, we don’t really talk about much, but maybe we should. That will be for you to judge after you hear the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast when I interview Dr. Winfried Corduan. I hope you’ll be watching your ITunes feed.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: In The Beginning God

What do I think of Dr. Winfried Corduan’s book published by B&H Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

“In The Beginning God”. Most of us upon hearing that think “Created the Heavens and the Earth. Yeah. We know. Can we move on?” Dr. Corduan’s book doesn’t want to move on. It wants to stay right there in the beginning, but what beginning? This time not the beginning of the universe, but the beginning of religion. Today, much of the world is monotheistic, but how did we get to that point? Did religion just evolve from a primitive state of animism all the way up to the point where eventually one God came out to be supreme and now many of us today are monotheistic? Or, did religion start out as monotheistic and men moved away from that until later on, we returned to it?

Of course, when we say that religious systems have evolved, it must be clear that this is not saying anything about the scientific theory. For the sake of argument, it could be that scientific evolution of non-life to life in a sort of theistic evolutionary sense could be true and Dr. Corduan’s argument in this book is entirely correct as well. The truth of Corduan’s argument does not rely on that. However, he does want us to realize that evolution being true in one field does not mean that it will necessarily apply in every other field. (In fact, it would seem a whole plethora of gods would be much more complex than one major deity.)

For the research of this book, it will involve looking at the traditions of tribal peoples around the world and seeing what they believed. We will also look at those who have been impacted by Christian missionaries to see if missionaries might have changed any of the beliefs of these people on these major areas. We will also see if the evidence is being allowed to change the ideas, or if the ideas are changing how the evidence is viewed. Corduan will contend that too often the latter is happening. For this, Corduan will rely especially on the work of two in the field, one a Christian and one not. The Christian is Wilhelm Schmidt and the non-Christian is Andrew Lang, though Lang was open to something that would be called “supernatural.” (Regular readers of my writings know that I do not like to use that term.)

Corduan contends in fact that when Lang and Schmidt did the work to show an original monotheism, that their work was for the most part ignored. Of course, it could be for Schmidt that since he wrote around 11,000 pages that few people took the time to read. Corduan also shows that it would be wrong to think that missionaries showed up and changed a central core belief of the people and that the people then left everything else intact. What happens more often is that sometimes other gods can get added later on or other spirits in an animistic sense (Monotheistic religions do believe in other spiritual beings after all like angels and demons), that when you start talking about the one supreme God, that they know who you’re talking about.

Corduan’s book is highly accessible and entertaining. I do wish to thank him also for sending a personal review copy. I had read a recently re-released work of Schmidt’s, but I must say it’s easy to get lost in the jargon of Schmidt and Schmidt wrote as if everyone was familiar with the people in the field. That’s understandable, but it makes it difficult for those of us who do not know the names in the field. Corduan’s work gives you a history of the field and introduces you to the major names. It also ends with the importance that this can have for Christian apologetics with some cautions as well on what we can and cannot say.

I found the work to be highly interesting. If anything, I would have liked to have seen more on what other cultures believed that we don’t hear about regularly, but I know that wasn’t the purpose of the book and probably would have expanded it greatly to an unnecessary degree. For those curious about this kind of area, this is a work that you can enjoy. It’s got good information in it, but you won’t likely get lost in technicalities save for perhaps a few areas.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Origin and Growth of Religion

What do I think of Schmidt’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Chances are you’ve never heard of Wilhelm Schmidt. Neither had I. Why? Because he died around the middle of the twentieth century and wrote about a topic that not many of us learn about frankly. Schmidt was a student of the origins of religion in that he sought to find the most primitive cultures and study them and see what their original ideas relating to the questions of deity were.

Many of our concepts of religion are based on an evolutionary theory of religion. This is not saying anything about evolution in science. Evolution in science could be entirely true and evolution of the kind spoken of in religion could be entirely false. The common theory of religion that we have is that at the start, mankind believed in many gods, such as in an animistic sense, and then gradually religion evolved up to henotheism and then finally moved on to monotheism.

But what if this is false?

Schmidt’s work was to study various people groups of the world and see what they believed about the origins of religion, and this would be apart from what any of us would call special revelation. Through a study of cultures, the goal was to find which ones were the oldest and which beliefs in those cultures were the oldest. Fortunately in some cases, the beliefs had quite likely not changed much over time.

Some might be interested in the Biblical questions, but while there are bits and pieces of that here and there, the book as a whole does not really say much about the matter. However, the overall thesis would prove troubling to those who held to a JEPD theory on the evolutionary origins of the Pentateuch that said that monotheism was a late development.

Schmidt in his studies also determined that many many tribes believed originally in a supreme being who would sound surprisingly consistent (to those who hold to an evolutionary theory of religion) with the God described in the great monotheistic systems. In fact, while there could be images of other gods and perhaps totems and such, this God is often seen as invisible and cannot be imaged.

It goes further. In a polytheistic system, many gods are said to have wives and/or consorts and often times children, but in many tribes, this deity does not have a wife and in fact the idea that He would have a wife is seen as ridiculous. This deity is also seen as all-powerful and all-knowing and all-good. He is the source of morality and the giver of life and the bringer of death.

Included in all of this would be questions related to sin and prayer and sacrifice. These generally do exist in these primitive cultures. There is seen as a place of reward and rest for those who live good lives and a place of punishment for those who lead wicked lives. There is even often said to be an evil being who stands opposed to the supreme being, but this evil being is in no way anything like an actual competitor. His power cannot begin to compare to that of the supreme being.

Students interested in the origin of religion will find this fascinating. It is certainly a bit dated for our times, but it was one of the major works in its day and has now been redone so students can learn from it once more. If this is an area of interest to you, this is a book you need to get your hands on.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Sex, Sanger, and Animism

What has Margaret Sanger to do with Animism? Let’s find out as we plunge into Deeper Waters.

My best man recently told me about a find he made on the STR blog concerning a book by Francis Galton recently released, though apparently in bits and pieces, that involves a dream Eugenics society. For many, that society would be a nightmare, but what my best man was most interested in was that despite the technology, the society happened to be animistic. This sounds like a primitive belief to many, so why would it be in such a great society?

Naturally, that gave me something to ponder, which indeed I did. I do have the fortune, or one might say misfortune, of having read Margaret Sanger’s “The Pivot of Civilization.” Sanger was the one who founded the organization today known as “Planned Parenthood” although it was originally known as “The American Birth Control League.” Indeed, that name is still in the back of my copy of the book.

Sanger was an atheist through and through, but the point we can forget is like many atheists, she was extremely religious. You might think that does not fit well, but indeed it does! Man is by nature a worshiping being and I find that sadly many atheists take the question of God even more seriously than many Christians do. At least many atheists live as if there are ramifications of the question. Many Christians seem to live as if Jesus saved them from their sins and can provide comfort, but apart from that, God doesn’t really play that big a part in the world today.

For Sanger, her religion was sex, much like the ancients of the past who used fertility rites to appease the gods. To be sure, the ancients were onto something. Let us not dismiss the pagans because they were pagans. We dare not say that the pagans loved sex too much. The problem was for them that they loved God and their fellow men too little.

The ancients believed that by using sex, they were tapping into contact with the gods. To go and have sex with the prostitute in the temple was to have sex with the goddess. In many myths, sex was a creative power whereby the gods came into being, and why should this surprise us since sex is the act whereby we repeat creation as it were bringing new life into existence.

There can be no doubt that our American society has a strong fixation on sex today, and again, why should it not? In fact, I would not say this is common to just Americans. There was a reason celibacy was practiced for years and still is today by several who are Christians, particularly in the Catholic faith. Somehow, the vow to avoid sexual intercourse for one’s life was seen as a sacrifice, and why should it be seen as a sacrifice unless it was a great good to be sacrificed? One would not think it a noble sacrifice necessarily to give up playing cards or going fishing or something of that sort, unless one was of course a gambler or a fisherman.

The problem in our society is not the proliferation of sex per se. It is really the ignorance of sex. Everyone knows the basics of sex who has come of age. We know what goes where and we know that this practice can produce babies and we know that it can spread STDs and that it is supposed to be for two people who love each other very much. (Of course, in our society who those two people can be is questioned) If we think sex education is the answer, when it comes to these questions, there is not much more to be said.

Perhaps what we need is the what of sexuality. What is sex? Could it be that the ancients were right in what they said? Could it be that Sanger was right in what she said?

Sanger had a connection with the ancients?

Why yes she did! All one needs to do is read chapter 10 of the Pivot in order to see this. For instance, consider this:

In the solution of the problem of sex, we should bear in mind what the successful method of humanity has been in its conquest, or rather its control of the great physical and chemical forces of the external world. Like all other energy, that of sex is indestructible. By adaptation, control and conscious direction, we may transmute and sublimate it.

Later she says in speaking of a book by Louis Berman she agrees with that:

Our spiritual and psychic difficulties cannot be solved until we have mastered the knowledge of the wellsprings of our being.

Yes. Those terms are being endorsed by an atheist. Sanger believed that we needed to harness the energy of sex to make man into what he fully needed to be. Make no mistake about it, Sanger took sex incredibly seriously. Make no mistake about this as well, she did not take it seriously enough.

Sanger saw sex as a way to build up man to man. We see it as a way of building up man to God, when does as He intended it to be, within the confines of marriage. Sex is to be celebrated as a gift of God. There is a reason the marriage relationship is compared to the relationship of God to Israel and Christ to the Church.

What if Sanger had seen sex in a theological light? She might have understood a lot more than she realized then. She had already cut that way out however. For her, there was nothing above. Therefore, when we look at a eugenics society based on her philosophy, there can be nothing above. There cannot be our monotheism or even the polytheism of the ancients. There can also not be pantheism as eugenics would imply some superiority whereas if pantheism is true, all is one so there can be no superiority.

Animism then I think makes sense, for if we are to bring out spiritual realities, there must be something spiritual, and if this cannot be located above, it must be located within our cosmos and bound by it. If there are to be gods and this cannot be a polytheism above, it must be a polytheism within, which would be more animistic.

And this could get us closer and closer to the ancient pagans as well. If we can allow for god concepts to come back in, we would reach polytheism. In fact, if we are fortunate, we will do this. After all, the pagan is essentially pre-Christian and is beyond the idea that only science has all the answers. He knows that there is a transcendent reality and is seeking to reach it.

Of course, this does not mean that the eugenics program is good, but if we are moved away from a scientism approach, let us not condone the evil that is done but see it as an opportunity to reach our fellow man. I would not be surprised if the bankruptcy of total secularism is nearing as it seems the new atheists could be showing.

Perhaps also then what we Christians need is exactly what Kreeft said we need in “The God Who Loves You.” We need a theology of sex. Christians need to be the ones showing the world that the world in fact does not have sexuality right and not only that, they are not enjoying it the way that they should. Instead of thinking that the popular culture has the answers on sex, the popular culture should be thinking we do. After all, we know the God who created sex. We should be the authorities.

I conclude then that the idea of this leading to animism makes sense, and what it will take is not knowledge of the mechanics of sex, but rather the God of sex.

In Christ,
Nick Peters