THE MONASTIC CYCLE (Part II)
I had finished writing and had a few days earlier posted the first installment of the Monastic Cycle before I got into an interesting conversation that led to the writing of the second.
I was speaking with a friend of mine, an economist and senior lecturer in a private university of repute, and we were discussing the article when the terms “economy of salvation” came up. I had never thought of such a construct before; so I sat back to listen to him as he told me how the concept of the Monastic Cycle I had brought up fit into the science of economics.
Among several other things he said, he said to me- “Suffering is what scarcity is in economics. Scarcity determines value and it is for this reason that need is essential in seeking God.”
I immediately understood what he meant as I had done some research previously on human nature and why it was that we only turned to God in our times of need. That was the basis for the article on the Monastic Cycle in the first place.
The need makes us seek God and along with the material benefits that seeking Him brings there is order, meaning, and some sort of structure that is added to our lives.
However, for most humans there is a tendency to turn away from Him the moment we assume we have achieved or attained the comfort, convenience, or relief that made us turn to Him from the onset.
That turning away brings considerable tragedy, disadvantages and pain for the whole community and society that does so. It has implications for the lives of those who do.
I once heard a person recount a story he heard from someone many years ago. Many decades ago in the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas, that “someone”, a missionary was preaching in a village marketplace; he held up a Book and said to the people- “This is God’s Book!” Then he explained to the people how it would affect every area of their lives. After he spoke, and the crowd dispersed, a man walked up to him and told him the story of his tribe. His ancestors had had a Book they lived by and it produced unprecedented prosperity in their land far west of the great mountains; but one thing led to another and complacency entered. His forebears were then driven from their lands and in a perilous crossing over the mountains to the east they lost the Book.
Generations later the tribe did not know how to live anymore as they had lost the Book that was a compass for every area of their lives.
The man then told the missionary that two weeks prior to their meeting an old lady from his tribe had a dream of a foreigner standing in a village marketplace and holding up the Book. She saw in her dream that if the elders sent someone on that particular day he would meet the foreigner. So the man looked at the missionary and asked a simple question- “Will you bring God’s Book to my tribe so that we will know how to live again?”
In this second part of the “Monastic Cycle” we will take a historical journey through the annals of time and see that there is a common tragedy among different people groups throughout the various epochs in history; the tragedy of losing God’s Book and forgetting how to live. We will see records that clearly reveal that when a critical mass of people have this Book and apply what it teaches in their lives, a nation is transformed; in like manner whenever a critical number of people abandon this Book and stop applying it in their personal lives, that nation begins to destroy itself.
According to Americans for Divorce Reform the divorce rate in the U.S is one of the highest in the world with 43 % of first marriages ending in separation or divorce within fifteen years. America is said to have more than two million inmates incarcerated in prison- the highest per capita in the world. I will not speak much of its alcohol, drug abuse, gambling, and pornography epidemics.
Interestingly, according to the World Christian Encyclopedia, more than 84 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christian.
The apparent contradiction in this is resolved when we consider the results of a 2002 poll by the Barna Group of Ventura, California which shows that only 7 percent of adults aged eighteen to thirty-five make moral choices based on the Bible.
In Western Europe the situation is worse; according to the European Values Study only 21 percent of Europeans say religion is “very important” to them and just 15 percent attend a place of worship once a week. I would wager that a great number of these people that attend a place of worship are likely to be from both Sub-Saharan and North Africa. Europeans increasingly view a belief in God and the concept of religion as an irritant and an impediment to progress.
But it was not always like this. We saw in the first part of this series (Monastic Cycle part I) that Gordon Cosby, the founding pastor of Church of the Savior in Washington D.C, noted a pattern as he studied the evolution of religious orders. Like we said in the first part-
“First, an idealist attracts people with a strong sense of devotion. The devotees then form a community. Usually there are certain behavioral traits that become prevalent in most of such communities. One of such traits is discipline- hence the strict rules of founders of orders like Benedict and Ignatius.
Disciplined groups tend to prosper, this is because discipline creates industry and industry produces wealth, but that very success ultimately undermines the group’s commitment and leads to self-indulgence, and at this point the movement begins to fall apart.
All these happen and then someone comes along to revive the spirit of idealism. After this happens the cycle starts over again.”
In England in the time of John Wesley (1703-1791), the Monastic Cycle was at the bottom phase and English society desperately needed that idealist who would lead the upsurge. The wealthy elite who were products of the revivals that ensued out of the practice of the principles enunciated by the Bible from pulpits of yore had grown complacent and over time had become impervious to the needs of the less privileged. There was no advocate for the poor and the oppressed. There was terrible hunger in the land. The weak and the young succumbed to epidemics of tuberculosis, diphtheria, and cholera. Children of the poor, from as early as the ages of four and five, went working in factories and mines, often working for more than twelve hours a day in hazardous conditions. In textile factories little children were scalped while crawling under big machines to pick up loose cotton; several fell into the machinery and died.
In the mines, children hauled large baskets of coal on their backs. Because animals cost too much to replace owners used small children to work the coal mines. Businessmen took advantage of the poor to build their empires and the Church of England did nothing.
It was against this backdrop that John Wesley emerged.
While studying at Oxford he became disenchanted with what he saw. The disconnect between the Church and society, the low morals and the unbridled cruelty, and the complacency of the clergy. Being a clergyman himself he felt a need to reform those practices and aspects of Church culture that were not in consonance with what he read in the Bible. He felt the need to help make the adjustments that would see to it that the Book produced the transformation in society he knew it could.
Having been rejected by members of the Establishment he began to reach out to thousands of people. As he was not given the opportunity to share in church buildings he went out in open squares and fields, preaching and making converts by the thousands. From them he trained over ten thousand small group leaders and with them discipled the larger body of new believers; they were taught accountability, honesty, leadership, godliness, the value of hard work, and love and respect for one another among other things.
His work led to the emergence of a middle class that moved the economy of England and also produced new innovations and products that led to the transformation of society.
An example of John Wesley’s work was a businessman named Samuel Plimsoll who constantly witnessed the sinking of merchant ships and the subsequent drowning of hundreds of sailors and employees as a consequence of the overloading of the vessels. Most of these merchants were fond of this because they made huge insurance claims and maximized their “losses” in order to make humongous recoveries.
To combat this Plimsoll created a device, since called the “Plimsoll Mark”, which marked a line on the ship to indicate a safe loading level.
Other examples of the Wesleyan Reformation include Florence Nightingale who developed the modern nursing profession, and Elizabeth Fry, who led the reformation of the prison system.
William and Catherine Booth picked up Wesley’s legacy, and having been directly influenced by his writings and teachings they went on to found the Salvation Army, an organization that has done arguably the most work for the poor.
As the reforms that John Wesley produced from the Bible worked in England many of the nation’s elite watched in trepidation as the French Revolution (1789-1799) saw the massive uprising that led to the killings of members of the upper class constituted by members of the French monarchy, it’s nobles, and the corrupt priests who had used religion as a tool of subversion. The movements led by the Wesleys prevented the same outcome from occurring in England.
Earlier, it was a similar position Martin Luther found Germany in. Things had gotten to the bottom, there was a massive wave of corruption and the rot that was a characteristic of the Dark Ages saw to it that there was complete spiritual and academic illiteracy among the masses. The nobles and priests had exclusive authority and the people were kept under perpetual servitude by keeping them ignorant and separating them from truth.
Luther was a young man in 16th Century Saxony who entered a monastery of Augustinian hermits while hoping to find salvation for his soul. After trying everything he could he felt all the more lost as he soon found that no amount of works would soothe the guilt he bore. As he heeded the advice of the leader of the Order of hermits in the monastery he began to search the Scriptures himself. While on a trip to Rome after being sent on an errand by his abbot he came to the “very gates of heaven” as Rome was then called; while there he opted to do more penance by walking on his knees up the stairs as he was instructed; the tradition was that a person could receive a fifteen year reprieve from “purgatory” if he did this. It was as he did this he heard a voice that said to him “The just shall live by faith”, he realized this was a portion of scripture he had seen in the Book of Romans, this scripture made such a deep impression on him after he heard this voice speak it to his heart that he got up from there and walked away.
While in Rome he was further burdened by the licentiousness and greed that was a normal occurrence in the behavior of the priests who supposedly stayed at the “very gates of heaven.” He was completely appalled by what he saw and this first led him to seek personal reformation. Six years after his ordination into the priesthood of the Catholic Church and being a professor at the University in Wittenberg he had a personal conversion experience; he felt the power of God’s Word and His Spirit in such a profound way that he immediately went out to start preaching that salvation was a gift from God and was to be received by faith, it was nothing to be earned.
In 1517, Martin Luther went out to write his famous “ninety nine theses” that addressed issues of repentance, forgiveness of sin, and the greed and worldliness of the church hierarchy. What followed was a storm that took the world apart and caused total transformation as the Monastic Cycle took its course.
As Luther translated the Bible into common language and spread it in the hands of the masses there was mass education as people learned to read and write. They soon found that as they could read the Bible they could also decipher Arithmetics, read Architecture and write Poetry. It is not coincidental that the Reformation practically coincided with that period in history called the Enlightenment.
The Reformers launched reading programs across Germany and other parts of Europe. People were taught to read the Bible and could thus read other things like political pamphlets, news, and books on everything from Geography to Geometry. All kinds of information was then deployed, and this led to the spread of innovations and the release of creative energies.
As Loren Cunningham noted about the renaissance in Germany at this time, “This changed all of history. Before this, there was no generally rich country on earth. Kings and tyrants were individually wealthy. A few aristocrats were wealthy. But not the common people. Individual potential exploded after the people were empowered by the concept of the priesthood of all believers. And as people learned to read, unprecedented numbers began to use their minds ever more broadly, coming up with ideas that created wealth and changed the lives of many. A middle class blossomed, and whole nations became wealthy after a significant number of people applied the Word of God in their lives. The gaining of new knowledge began to pick up speed. For centuries Europe had actually lagged behind the Middle East and Far East in creative development. They forgot much of their inheritance from Greece and Rome, while the Islamic world happily absorbed it and built on it. The Arabs invented the numbers we all use and the concept of zero; the Chinese had many inventions before the West, including paper and gunpowder. But these innovations soon paled in comparison to bright, new discoveries coming out of Europe. ”
Mariano Grondona, a professor of government at the Law Faculty of the National University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, made a remarkable statement in an article “A Cultural Typology of Economic Development” in the book “Culture Matters” after many years of painstaking research.
In listing his discoveries he said no country was a developed nation before the 1600s, neither in the East nor in the West: “It was the Protestant Reformation that first produced economic development in northern Europe and North America.” He then added that today the rate of economic growth in Protestant countries had declined in part because of the cooling of religious fervor.
We find that the effects of the Protestant Reformation and the Bible as a whole in society are not limited to the economy or educational sector.
In the United States Common Law there are Bible verses certain things are premised on, according to David Burton, constitutional expert, political historian, and author of “The Jefferson Lies” and “God in the Constitution”, John 8:10 was the basis for which a person became constitutionally empowered to stand before his accusers, while Proverbs 18:17 was the basis for the concept of cross-examination in Common Law.
We find that the Monastic Cycle played a role through the history of practically all developed nations, and we can also trace the dire straits most of such countries found themselves in to the last few phases of the same Cycle, the point at which they turned their backs on the very factors that paved the foundations of their greatness.