Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A Little Ecstasy

Harrell's scholarly history, "All Things are Possible", looks like it was written from a secularistic perspective, although in his preface he says he endeavored to be objective and not to make any theological judgements. Well, that doesn't trouble me that much, so long as he presents his history in a coherent manner, lets the principals and events speak for themselves, and refrains from using them as a launching pad for his own philosophical speculations. However, I did wonder just how perceptive Harrell would be when I came across this howler in a quote early in his introductory chapter:
Ecstatic religion, with its emphasis on divine healing and the physical presence of the Holy Spirit, had long filled and important place in the barren emotional lives of the poor.

The italics are mine. Well, as far as I know, all orthodox Pentecostal, or "charismatic", xtians believe that the Holy Ghost is a spirit, the third person of the blessed Trinity, and consequently, he is not a physical being, who has to sneak in through the front door of the church. Yet if someone went strictly by what Harrell wrote, he would mistakenly conclude that Pentecostal xtians thought of the H.G. as being present in the same sense which the pews they were dancing upon or the tambourines they were shaking are present—to wit, as something physical or material.

Nevertheless, I think that Harrell was simply making a semantical error here or using a poor choice of vocabulary. I suspect that by the word physical he really meant something more like the word actual. But his mistake is a little telling and suggests, perhaps, that only the physical and material can ever be actual or real in Harrell's secularistic mindset. Anyhow, I don't think I shall make a big deal about this point.

Now as for "ecstatic religion": Well, it's not just for the "poor", and Harrell seems to have forgotten his xtian history. There was plenty of "ecstatic religion" going on in the past. Some of it was even quite phenomenal. All he needed to do was read up on the history of some of the saints (just one example being saint Teresa of Avila). Pentecostals believe that God has always been interested in spreading some of the ecstasy around, rather than keeping it all confined to just a few, rare individuals (see Numbers 11:29). Anyhow, excuse me for now, but I'd like to get back to playing my tambourine. And when I get going, you should hear it shake and twirl and jingle-jangle. A little ecstasy goes a long way.