Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Arcane Acts and Anthropological Apologetics

As I stand in my chasuble at the altar, sometimes it can hit me how odd it must be to an outsider to see someone dressed in odd robes with his back to the congregation muttering words into the wall, occasionally waving a pot of smoke, before holding up into the air what seems nothing more than a bit of unleavened bread and a fancy cup full of wine. I also wonder what it might be like for one who does not understand the liturgy to hear the repetition, week in, week out, of the same old words. If they are aware of anthropology, then they might lump in my actions with that of a tribal witch-doctor dancing frenziedly amid flames of fire to cure a woman of his tribe afflicted with some curse. How can I claim any superiority to the primitive, if I myself am behaving in the same way, attributing sanctity to earthly things and taboo to certain actions.

First of all, I can claim no superiority over any human being. I am not in any way superior to any other person on God's own Earth. I bleed the same blood as any other human being and even as anyone of the past. I know why I stand there in my arcane dress, performing my arcane rituals and arcane ceremonies. I know also that I have arcane arguments to support my arcane views, but the fact is that all outsiders will focus on will be what is arcane

Yet, there is much in this world that I find as arcane as any outsider would find in my life. I don't understand sport with its ritual chants of the crowd when Tottenham Athletic play Manchester Arsenal. What's the point of shaking hands when we no longer carry swords or daggers? Or saluting, if we no longer wear obscuring visors on medieval helmets? One might argue that these social rituals are as obsolete as not walking under ladders or throwing spilt salt over the left shoulder. And yet these social rituals have great worth. The handshake means much when the war is over. The salute is vital to show respect to a colleague killed while saving lives.

If one does not know the military reasons behind handshakes and salutes, nor the chants of the crowd at football matches, then they are arcane. Each element of society has its element of the arcane. The arguments of higher mathematics are incomprehensible to those who know only how many beans make five and live wholesome, full lives without the knowledge of the Contraction Mapping Theorem. Even to the first year mathematics undergraduate, the conjuring up of a fixed point; by fulfilling the conditions of having a complete non-empty metric space together with a mapping of the space to itself which shrinks the distances between points is as much magic and ritual as the technique of walking on fire. To the outside world, this is arcane, to those in the know, this is comforting and edifying, giving meaning to what they do.

Of course, knowledge is not the basis of Christian Salvation, God in Christ is. Each Christian must meet what they find arcane about the Faith head on and wrestle with it. No-one will attain full knowledge until they are given it through perfection and sanctification by reconciliation with the Creator. For the time being we must accept what is arcane, even if it is a scandal to us until we are given the understanding that will allow us to go beyond and find edification and fulfillment.

The arcane is unavoidable in humanity. There comes a point where we realise that we are all performing rituals for reasons that are less than clear. The young text each other with the acronym OMG as an expression of surprise but are unaware that, whether they are atheist or not, they have cried out to God. Every area of life has its technical language associated with it which is only available to those in the know. When we encounter it, we can either accept it has meaning that is not for us, or endeavour to penetrate into that technicality to find what it's really worth and allow it to educate us. Either way, we should not just dismiss it out of hand otherwise we'll never find out what "out of hand" means.

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