Recently, I have blogged twice regarding how de facto consensus can be found in social systems. Human beings, as social creatures, are interconnected through a wide variety of communication mechanisms. Generally, we gravitate toward gregariousness rather than being argumentative. One of the social skills we acquire as we mature is the ability to gauge group communication, or even dyadic communication. We usually consider the degree of agreeableness that is involved so that we can decide whether we want to “go along to get along” in the context of conversations and so forth. In short, much of our social energy is expended in mostly peaceful communication. By the way, there is nothing wrong with desiring peaceful coexistence with other people, particularly those with whom we are in frequent contact. See Romans 12:18.
Acculturation is the process of acquiring a deep understanding of a culture – particularly the culture into which we are born. In its essence, acculturation consists of pervasive communication between the person and the culture in which we find that person. The phenomenon provides us with the opportunity to get all the various elements of the culture to be integrated with one another as we live in that culture. In that sense, acculturation is a lifelong process of adaptation to the ways of those people most like ourselves. This provides a mechanism for harmonious agreement and more-or-less orderly change.
It is easier for a person to acquire new social attitudes if the culture is essentially continuous for him. In other words, if we read about a cultural shift in a foreign country, we are not as affected by that shift as we are when the shift is occurring in our own country. Conversely, it is more difficult for a person to reject a cultural shift when it is occurring right where the person lives his or her life.
In general, these things are accurate ideas about how a lot of stuff works between people. In the other two related blogs, however, I referred to a couple of ways in which cultures are affected less smoothly. The two blogs were titled: “Vox Populi” and “Zeitgeist.” Those posts were presented to help us think about how social changes may come about. They both have to do, to some degree, with how social change may be guided by folks who have a particular interest in seeing some social change occur. Social changes are positive or negative depending on the point of view of the various people who are affected by the changes.
In my own case, I remember clearly when the mandatory seat belt laws were coming into place around the various jurisdictions in the United States. When the law made seat belt use mandatory in the state in which I lived at the time, I referred to it as “the crash and burn law.” Now that is a morally neutral law. One may not like it, but it is morally neutral. Its “goodness” or its “badness” was determined more by the mindset of a person with respect to government requiring something than whether it was a bad thing that was being required. Now, I automatically fasten the seat belt without reflection – at least usually.
The point is that both the vox populi and the zeitgeist can be used by various entities to accelerate the process of changes in a culture. We need to be clear, however, that neither of the two guarantees “rightness” or “righteousness” in the change being promoted. More importantly, these two mechanisms (and others) are usually prevalent when the change in question is not smoothly continuous in its nature. Herein is the potential for mischief. If the vox populi or the zeitgeist is strong enough, change can occur that is not morally neutral in its purpose or its consequences. That may be either good or bad.
There was a time when the Israelites were required to come up to a particular meeting place on the knees of Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:12-24) so that God could speak to them. God spoke directly to the people in the outline of a moral code (Exodus 20:10-17). On that day, in that place, the whole nation heard God speak. They heard the voice of God. The Latin phrase “Vox Dei” literally means “the voice of God.” In those moments, the people heard the literal Vox Dei instruct them in some matters that had to do with how He expected them to act as a people. To some extent, these matters were specific to their culture. In fact, He had already told their leaders that He expected the whole people to be a “special treasure” to Him (Exodus 19:5, literal trans.). They were to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6, NASB). Therein, they were to be different from all other nations. They were to be unlike all the other nations. In these words, received directly from the Vox Dei, or more particularly, in proper response to them, could be found elements of Israelite culture that would be different from the cultures of the peoples around them.
Now, some of these tenets of what we call the Ten Commandments are just plain common sense and are fairly typical for virtually all cultures. For example, murder is frowned on in nearly any culture, just as it was in this moral code. Other elements, though, were not so common. For example, they were to be a monotheistic people with the Living God as their only deity. In fact, they were to forego visual representations of His person for any religious purpose. They were to observe and revere a particular day of the week and set it aside to worship Him (Exodus 20:8-11). They were even to be particularly careful to revere even His name (Exodus 20:7). These were among the cultural elements that were to distinguish them from every other nation.
It didn’t matter what the other nations did or felt with respect to these things, they were to particularly mark the culture of the Israelites. And they had it from God’s own mouth. They had heard the Vox Dei, and it was thereafter binding on them if they were to be the favored people who were His “special treasure” or “treasured possession.” Among other things, when people from other nations were among them, these particular behaviors should be obvious to those other people. That is part of how they were to be known for whom they were.
The people who heard these words, who heard the Vox Dei, were somehow bothered by that voice. Their response was to ask their leader, Moses, to get between them and God. Hearing Him was a little more than they really wanted to do (Exodus 20:18-21). They kind of said they were not rejecting what God had to say, they were just too terrified to actually hear it themselves. The Vox Dei was rejected to a degree. However, when Moses received the direct Vox Dei, he was able to accurately relay the Vox Dei back to the people so they would still have the knowledge of God’s desires.
A short time later, maybe a couple of months, the same people decided specifically to reject one of the tenets of their God by making a golden image of Him. It was not to be just any representation. It was to be a representation based on the culture of Egypt which they left behind just a few months earlier. Of course, they had to make their own design because they didn’t know what He looked like. In the absence of any knowledge of the physical visage of God, they had to rely on the zeitgeist they brought with them from Egypt and thought of God as a calf. The people came to Aaron to demand that such a thing be done in the absence of Moses. Aaron listened to the vox populi. Along with the rest of the people, Aaron had heard the Vox Dei at the mountain, but he rejected the Vox Dei and acted as though the vox populi were its equivalent (Exodus 32:1-5). Perhaps he even tried to fool himself into believing the two were the same. Alas, they were not.
In another instance in Israelite history, the people came to Samuel at a place called Ramah. The elders took the vox populi of the Israelites and presented it to Samuel. They (the people) wanted a king “like all the nations” (NASB), which was their way of complying with the zeitgeist (1 Samuel 8:1-9). Even after Samuel took the Vox Dei back to the people, the vox populi cried out for the zeitgeist to prevail (1 Samuel 8:10-22). God permitted that Vox Dei would be overruled by the vox populi speaking under the influence of the zeitgeist. It really isn’t good for us to have our own way, but God will not overrule us, and we have the Vox Dei to inform us.
Often in counselling situations we are told that “God told me this or God told me that” when the thing being reported is not consistent with what is known of God. In such cases, the person claims to have heard the Vox Dei when in fact they really want what they want. We must beware that we do not fall for this trap. Typically when persons present in this manner, they desire a thing out of the zeitgeist and want to be blessed as though they were reporting the Vox Dei. Neither the emotion of the moment, nor the mood of the culture, are gauges of the will of God. Only the Vox Dei can demonstrate His will. Fortunately, as we saw in the Sinai narrative, He is willing to speak to people who will listen to Him. He even provides voices of men to present Vox Dei (Ephesians 4:11) as He did with Moses at Mount Sinai and Samuel at Ramah. Vox Dei can be heard by Spirit-sensitized ears. It is simply superior to vox populi or zeitgeist, and cannot be derived from them. They might be influenced by Vox Dei but can never drive God to say whatever they want Him to say.
At future times, we will examine other aspects of the Vox Dei and the zeitgeist.