The Levi-Strauss without the Jeans

Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.”  So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron.  He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool.  Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”
When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.”  So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings.  Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt.  They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf.  They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’

  • Exodus 32:2-8

“It is only a slight exaggeration to say that structuralism is the science that Saussure called for, a science whose specific formulation is the creation of the French anthropologist CLAUDE LÉVI-STRAUSS (b. 1908). …
“As an example of primitive thought among the ‘sophisticated,’ one need only consider our attitude toward such cultural icons as ‘the bed in which George Washington slept,’ or perhaps toward Madonna’s bra, or toward the parchment that claims to be the U. S. Constitution.  (It is not.  We would still have a constitution even if the parchment were destroyed.)  Many treat these articles like primitive fetishes.”

  • Donald Palmer, Looking at Philosophy, The Unbearable Heaviness of Philosophy Made Lighter

First, this is my last planned quote from Donald Palmer’s book.  I may return to it or another philosophy book.  Yet, I have skipped so many philosophers, some more noted than the ones that I have discussed.  My goal was to make theological points rather than simply talk about philosophy.  I have no plans for next week’s Tuesday morning submission.  I hope something will arise.

Second, Levi Strauss (1829-1902), first name “Levi”, last name “Strauss”, no hyphen, was a German-born American business.  The huge company that makes Levi jeans is his legacy.  There is no evidence that I can find that Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009) ever wore Levi jeans.  Claude Lévi-Strauss was born in Brussels, Belgium and passed away in Paris, France.  Yet, one could easily imagine that in his travels to primitive societies that he might have packed some Levi jeans.  The anthropologist died after Palmer’s book was published, thus the quote does not give the year of passing.  The mention to Saussure in the quote refers to Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913), a Swiss linguist.

Third, I really did not go into the philosophy of Claude Lévi-Strauss, who is considered the father of modern anthropology.  I am focusing solely on this one paragraph from Palmer’s book.  It followed Palmer’s discussion on the observations made by Lévi-Strauss in underdeveloped (primitive) societies.  Lévi-Strauss observed that slight variations in one species of plant or animal might be insignificant to him or anyone from Western civilization, but to the natives there was a great difference.  Yet, the ecosystem of the primitive culture was limited compared to the knowledge of Lévi-Strauss and western culture.  Thus, he developed his theories of anthropology from those observations, which in turn spilled into his philosophy.

To move onto the subject of primitive thought filtering into sophisticated society, the examples that Palmer gives are excellent thoughts that should conger thoughts in our own minds regarding cultural icons in our lifetime, like the Christmas gift that Penny gave Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory.

I think of my “moon patch,” the Apollo 11 patch given by Neil Armstrong to my uncle to me, when, as an Eagle Scout, I became an “adult” scout leader (not technically old enough and with the leadership title of Den “Mother”).  But I have two boys.  I cannot leave my patch that has been to the moon and back to just one of them and neither of my boys received their Eagle – the Neil Armstrong requirement.  None of my grandchildren entered scouting at all.  It would simply become a fetish that would have no meaning at all, especially the meaning that Neil Armstrong intended.  I wish to give it to the Scout Council where I received my Eagle Scout rank.  That same council has a scout camp with a cabin, possibly among many by now.  The original cabin had a plaque dedicating the cabin in memory of my grandfather, for having donated the land to the scouts to build the camp.  My grandfather had been a logger.  He was offered the job to run the local Veterans Administration office, and he had two plots of forested land from which he was harvesting trees at the time.  One went to the family, eventually sold, and the other was given to the BSA.

Thinking of loggers and my recent haircut, this song comes to mind.

The author, Donald Palmer, as I have mentioned before, draws cartoons throughout his book.  The cartoon that he offers after the quoted paragraph above shows a shrine to Madonna’s bra.  Three people are shown: One man in shock, one woman in tears, and a second man bowing before the bra that is in a glass case.

But did Lévi-Strauss stumble over the concept of original sin, just as Kant backed into his Lutheran upbringing by logically determining that God’s divine Laws were categorical imperatives, argued as such by reason and not divine command in a spiritual realm?

Lévi-Strauss seems to have discovered that no matter how haughty our sophisticated society might think that it is and how little we might need God, we still have a problem.  If for no other reason, we hold to primitive thoughts that things from the past (things, not lessons learned that need to not be repeated) hold significance now or can hold portent for the future.  Are we any different than the Israelites?  Moses went onto the mountain to talk to God, an ever-present visual sign of God being there in reading these chapters of Exodus.  But they had Aaron build them a golden calf, a fetish that they could hold rather than to worship the God that brought lightning and fire down from above while Moses talked to Him, the God who created all things.

Thinking of cherishing old things, my wife and I are sentimental old folks.  I might say “old fools,” as some put it, but we have company.  When we moved to Pennsylvania, we moved the junk of a family of four with us.  Our older son returned to Washington state after about a week or two in Pennsylvania, going to college, his first experiment of being left to his own devices, for better or worse or even worse than that.  Most of his “stuff” was moved to Pennsylvania.  His younger brother graduated high school in Pennsylvania a year later, after a few arguments with the Pennsylvania school system who wanted him to basically repeat high school since he had not been taught in Pennsylvania, thus his education inferior, up until his senior year, maybe two additional years would do.  Our arguments centered around the unmitigated arrogance and idiocy of their argument.  Besides, our son had taken Mississippi history and government while in Mississippi and Washington state history and government while in Washington state.  He was not going to take the Pennsylvania version of the same thing, no matter how arrogant they were.  Once the colleges in the state of Mississippi fought over who would get this musical prodigy, he has lived in Mississippi or Tennessee ever since (besides a few months between semesters or when out of work).

My point is that as I pick up a box of old stuff, I cannot seem to throw out much more than half of it.  Some things are not mine.  Some bring back fond memories.  Some bring back nightmares.  But all of it brings back the past.  Nothing seems to be an omen of the future.  It could all be tossed, and only I would miss it, because I made the conscious decision to throw it away.  And the mortal within me is in pain as a result while the immortal says that it is not worth packing and taking to the next home.

Yet, what is God saying in the first two of the Ten Commandments?  He is saying that we must worship Him, and Him alone.  We must trust Him, and Him alone.  And maybe He is saying, throw it all away and if I want you to remember something from the past, it will be something that brings you into a closer relationship with Jesus, your Savior.  You will not need the trinket that your son made in fourth grade as a reminder.

In this series, we have discussed philosophers who were drawn closer to God or drawn closer to God’s teaching in the Bible by their intellectual endeavors that may have excluded God Himself.  We can learn by their successes and failures in that regard.  Some of these philosophers were Christians and some were not.  One of the philosophers was a Christian leader whose philosophy essentially eliminated any belief in God, but then he “corrected” it, as an afterthought.  Some of the atheist philosophers were included in this discussion due to their pessimistic view of life and how their philosophy led to such bitterness and a lack of hope.  I included them because Jesus is our Hope.

But let us remember the words of the Apostle Paul.

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

  • Philippians 2:12-13

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

  • Ephesians 2:8-10

Are these two statements contradictions?  Absolutely not, yet the doers in the church think the Scripture from Philippians gives them free license to work their way into Heaven on their own goodness.  No, the Philippians Scripture is saying that we must each be philosophers to the extent necessary that we might understand how to express our faith.  While there is an element of blindness within our faith, we must not have a simplistic “blind faith.”  We must work out in each of our minds how God is interacting within us to the extent of our abilities.  In so doing, we might be able to explain the great mysteries of God to those who are our peers, who speak our language, who might be nearer than they think to accepting God’s Grace for themselves – if only they could have that one little question answered…  The answer that God put on our heart to “work out.”

The great philosophers might get their words written down, published, and repeated, for good or for bad, but the words that matter are the words from our own heart, from that little kernel of faith that God gave us as a gift, nothing that we deserved, absolutely nothing that was the product of our “work.”  And we might be the only ones that can communicate those words to a friend that needs to hear the words.

Might they object?  It is possible, but they might not.  We might be the only one that has just the right way of explaining the unexplainable.  It is unexplainable to them, but we have God in our heart.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.


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  1. Downsizing is so difficult. We did so a few years back so we could move into a house half the size. It seems tougher for my husband to let go of things, because he is such a visual person and some of those things can inspire a painting. However, he also has a photographic memory, so like you say, if God wants us to remember something, He’ll provide the memory. BTW we’re ready to downsize again. Where does all this stuff come from”?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Soo much good stuff in this post: History, father of anthropology and you got a Moon patch???? Sometimes I wonder if in heaven we have memorabilia…

    Liked by 1 person

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