Monday, May 14, 2007

Michael Wilson's "Edifice Rex" and Christian Cosmology

I anticipate being away from the Internet for the next four days (though I've been wrong before), so I intend to leave you with some thoughts that I hope will start a discussion in the comments or on your own blogs, which you will carry on without me for a short time.

Archaeologist Michael Wilson has an interesting article entitled "Sun Dances, Thirst Dances, and the Medicine Wheels: A Search for Alternative Hypotheses" in the volume Megaliths to Medicine Wheels: Boulder Structures in Archaeology, edited by Michael Wilson, Kathie L. Road, and Kenneth J. Hardy, from the Archaeological Association of the University of Calgary (1981, pp. 333-370). The article is on the function of medicine wheels, especially the famous Big Horn Medicine Wheel of Wyoming. Just as an aside, don't believe anything you read about medicine wheels on the Internet. We don't know what they were for or why they were built, and they were almost certainly not ancient astronomical observatories.

But I don't want to talk about medicine wheels. Wilson makes some interesting comments at the end of his article about indigenous religions versus modern religions, particularly Christianity--though he seems to have a specific Protestant megachurch Christianity in mind.

According to Wilson, modern religionists treat religion like a once-a-week ordeal during which believers can expiate all the sins of the previous week with a formulaic recitation (thus I say he is presumably not including Catholicism in his discussion, nor Evangelicals who recite no such confession--he means Lutherans, perhaps?). He blames Christians for worshipping "the almighty building fund," which he names "Edifice Rex," as if Christians believed a bigger building would make their religion more worthwhile. Having visited some of the frighteningly huge megachurches in rural Kansas, I see where he might get this idea; and he's apparently not the only one who's gotten it, because he refers to cartoonist F. Sturgeon, who arrived at the "Edifice Rex" pun independently.

Following this, Wilson explains that indigenous religions have a different view. They do not divide the religious and secular spheres. They simply have no secular sphere. They do not personify the inanimate; rather, in contacting nature, they have a sense of being in the presence of a person or of persons; thus, pagan religions depict nymphs and dryads or spirits and gods of nature. I note also that scripture, particularly the books of Daniel and Revelation, depict angels in charge of nations, bodies of water, and so forth. Wilson's positive statements about indigenous traditions also parallel some of G. K. Chesterton's criticisms of naturalism.

If my books weren't all in boxes, I would pull out Radical Ecology: The Search for a Livable World and would look up Ecofeminism, which if I remember rightly, involves among other things rejecting a mechanistic view of the universe in favor of an organic one.

I would also pull out David Standish's Hollow Earth. Toward the beginning of that book, Standish mentions a Catholic scholar from the beginning of the Enlightenment (I'm afraid his name escapes me) who proposed that the oceans cycled: Waters flow to the North Pole where they sink into an underground realm and then disgorge at the South Pole. This constant cycle keeps the oceans from stagnating. Standish quotes a commentator (again, name escapes me) who suggests this scholar pictured the world as a macro-organism, and that this image is in tune with Medieval thinking. Similarly, Ecofeminism (I'll double-check all this when I have my books back) wishes to return to a pre-Enlightenment view of the universe as a macro-organism continuously preserved and animated by the Spirit of God. Incidentally, this image of cycling oceans is largely correct; the oceans do cycle, just not by flowing underground at the North Pole. The cycle is sometimes called the "oceanic conveyor belt."

So used are we now to a mechanistic view of nature that when Christians hear this sort of thing, many write it off as "new-agey." However, there are suggestions here that an organic or even personal view of nature is in tune with pre-Enlightenment Christian thought. Now that many, including non-Christians, are abandoning the mechanistic view of the universe, should Christians who have purposely or otherwise absorbed the mechanistic worldview seriously consider whether another, older view is more valid and more Christian? Could this improve our treatment of the environment? Could it also, as Wilson hints, revitalize religion by making all of life an "I-thou" experience and by eliminating the secular sphere?
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