Tom Pittman's WebLog


2018 January 9 -- Control

I'm reading through Deuteronomy, and because I'm reading the Hebrew text, it goes a lot slower than when I read it in English. Chapter 18 has a lot of words that don't show up anywhere else: sorcerers, magicians, diviners, even "cloud-readers" -- I guess that's something like tea-leaf readers, trying (or pretending) to make sense from some random visual pattern in a world full of stuff we do not understand. The Israelites are told that when they dispossess the land God is giving them, they are to drive out all these practitioners of the magical arts. Why is that? Moses didn't say, but I can make a good inference.

The function of a sorcerer or a magician is to control the supernatural. Diviners and "cloud-readers" interpret the incomprehensible and make sense of the unknowable, because knowledge is power and when we understand How Things Work, we can control them. At least that's the thinking. We Americans don't believe in the supernatural any more, but there are scary things in our lives to control, and there are people called "engineers" whose specialty is to control them. A famous sci-fi author offered the opinion that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." It's all about control -- or the lack thereof.

I am a software person. Software is about control: the computer does just exactly what I tell it to do, even if I didn't want to tell it to do that. Except when it doesn't, like today. We call them "hardware problems" and drag in the engineers to fix them.

After telling them to eject the magicians, Moses reminds the people that when they heard the Voice speaking to them out of the fire and smoke on Mount Horeb, they pleaded not to go through that again, "lest we die." God is scary, because God controls everything, and we do not -- we cannot -- control God. OK, as you wish, God will not speak to you directly, that's what His priests and prophets are for. And then he gives the promise of a future Prophet (like Moses), Whom we Christians understand to refer to the Messiah, and he opened up God's Goodness to all of us, Gentiles and Jews alike, the "Light to the Gentiles" that God promised to Abraham, we now have it.

The God of the Bible is Good. Also in today's reading (the 9th day in January) Proverbs 9 invites us to be taught by God's Wisdom, so that things can go well with us, the same promise Moses gave to Israel in the Plains of Moab across the Jordan from Jericho. But you must accept the responsibility to Do Good.

Attributed to that same sci-fi author is the observation that "one cannot have superior science and inferior morals. The combination is unstable and self-destroying." That's probably why modern science came out of the Christian faith and the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation, and not any other way ever. The Bible (forgotten in Christendom for over a thousand years) teaches people to be Good, and when they have achieved that, then they can do science, and not otherwise. Or maybe that's only how it looks to a godless sci-fi writer, and the real issue is control: God controls the universe, and we do not; the best we can hope for is to get connected to the God Who is in control, and then He will tell us how to navigate the treacherous waters of the scary real world around us. Magicians and cloud-readers are frauds; engineers without morals are liars and thieves (same thing), and Clarke was right: they do self-destruct.


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