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Afrocentrism — How far should we go? A storyteller wove a fascinating tale based on history. Amongst modern writers, particularly those of African-American descent, there is a frequent claim that for years, historians made a deliberate effort to exclude everything having to do with Africa, expunging its history from the common consciousness [i].
Although later in the book, other authors give other names by which African was known. He says this name was used by the Moors, Nubians, Numidians, Khart-Haddans Carthagenians and Ethopians, in other words, fairly widely throughout northern Africa. He does not say at what date this term was used. He also mentions other names by which at least parts of Africa were referred. This academic racism sought to de-Africanize both the sacred story of the Bible and Western civilization.
There are frequent claims that Europeans and other cultures simply borrowed from the more advanced cultures of Africa. There is a corresponding effort to rewrite historical accounts to show that Africa was the center of all things progressive. This movement, this effort , this concept is called afrocentrism. It is the idea that Africa was the cradle of humanity and that its earliest cultures developed there. It is the belief that everything authentic and good goes back to Africa.
It is the idea that the telling of history should be centered around Africa. Ultimately, it is the assumption that African authenticity is the measure of all things.
How should Christians respond to this movement? To what degree should African-Americans and others of the African diaspora accept it and participate in it? Let us analyze this movement carefully. History is a big subject—the sum total of all that has transpired in human experience.
When historians write, it is necessarily a summary of events. It is natural that historians are influenced by their own perspective. All over the world, students study the history of their own country and region. There is not time in a school curriculum to study the history of every country and every culture in the world. Does this mean that schools who study local or national history despise or look down on others? It may only mean that their own history is of special interest and significance to them.
When Europeans and Americans have written histories, is it not natural that they emphasized the history they knew best and that which was closest to them? Is this necessarily bad? If we grant that this is not entirely evil, then of course, the same grace must be granted to those of African ancestry who desire to know more about their own history. Futhermore, since their history intertwined with that of other countries and cultures, does it not follow that everyone can benefit from learning more about African culture?
Thus, to emphasize Africa in the study of history can have many benefits. The question is, how far should we take this? This is an especially important question for Christians, who claim to have the highest authority, the Holy Scriptures, which stands a a judge of all culture everywhere. Edenites—the original people of God.
Eden was a blessing to Adam and Eve before they fell into sin. Their son Seth never set foot in that place, nor did any of their descendants. Then also, geographically speaking, no one knows where Eden was, but our best guesses put it in the Middle East, since, for example, the Euphrates River is mentioned in Genesis 2: Some assume that this must correspond to the modern Euphrates, but no one knows for sure.
So we have no clear assurance that Adam and his descendants prior to Abraham lived in Africa.
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Second, we know where Abraham lived. He was called from Ur of the Chaldees, spent years in Haran, and lived a nomadic lifestyle in the Promised Land which is modern Israel. None of this is in Africa. It is true that Abram spent a short time in Egypt, fleeing there because of a famine in his homeland. However, did this brief sojourn in Egypt make him an African man?
By this definition, then, all Middle Easterners must be considered Africans. I knew that from previous study. However, I had never heard of extending it this far out, and I wondered what boundary around the Middle East would prevent one from extending that land mass concept out to include all of Asia and Europe. To do so, of course, would make the whole definition of Africa as a distinct place meaningless.
However, they neglect to point out that this same area also gave birth to many other peoples who were not godly at all. Were not Noah and his family deemed by God to be the only godly people remaining on earth at the time of the great Flood?
However, this grouping would include many people who hated God and were estranged from His will and His plan.
It would include the villains of the Bible as well as the heroes and heroines. However, sometimes the application of the term goes far beyond the published meaning a group gives it, so we need to consider not only the officially published definition of Afrocentrism, but we need also to look carefully at the way it is used by different groups.
An example of giving a widely acceptable definition but applying it in ways not so generally acceptable is found in the notes to The Original African Heritage Study Bible. Yet its application given by the editors is far, far wider than the definition they give. Christians must decide whether or not the Scriptures are the authority in historical and cultural matters, and thus, whether to look at history, culture and everything else through the eyes of Scripture first, or through the eyes of afrocentrism first.
Thus, for the editors of the notes in this Bible, afrocentrism is the base and the Bible must be interpreted in light of that idea. In the early pages of the Introduction, they talk about Adam and his son Seth and their descendants as if they were historical people, much as all, or at least most Evangelical Christians of all cultures would.
However, later they appear to accept findings of modern theoretical evolutionary speculations: This is because some bones have been discovered at the Olduvai Gorge which by evolutionary interpretation are thought to be evidence of the earliest known humans. The fact that evolutionary theory does away with any single set of parents for the human race is utterly ignored. So, which is it?
Did God create Adam and Eve as the Bible claims, or did we become human gradually through a long process of evolution? If one is true in a real, historical sense, the other cannot be true. We have to decide between the two. Many differences in Bible interpretation may result when one takes an Afrocentric rather than a Bibliocentric point of view.
The Bibliocentric point of view simply takes the Bible as it is, tries to set aside any preconceived notions, and simply ask what it says and what it means.
The moment we adopt an Afrocentric point of view, however, we have already many a presupposition that we will and must find that the Bible centers around all things African. We have already decided what it must say before we ever look at the text, and the only task left for us is to interpret what we find in light of what we have already decided.
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Nowhere is the difference in interpretation between the two viewpoints Afrocentric and Bibliocentric more pronounced and of greater consequence than in the interpretation of the creation of humankind. Bibliocentric interpretation finds significance in our humanity because we were created in the image of God, something that is unique, never said of any of the animals God created Genesis 1: One example of this was when Margaret Sanger, an avowed eugenicist and the founder of the organisation that later became Planned Parenthood, deliberately targeted African-American communities with clinics promoting birth control and abortion in a deliberate effort to reduce the African-American population, which she considered undesirable.
One could give many other examples of wholesale commitment to the concept of Afrocentricity actually working to harm rather than to help our people. Their concept is that since the practice is an authentic expression of African culture, it should not be questioned. The same line of thinking is used by those of us who defend female genital mutilation and all forms of African slavery, modern and ancient. We can decry the slavery that was done to us, but due to Afrocentric thinking, we are forced to defend!!!
The same line of thinking is used to diminish the historical reality of human sacrifice in Africa. I was in a bookshop, browsing, as usual, the section on Africa. See, I am Afrocentric after all! I noticed a beautifully done book for children. Reading it, one might think she was waiting to see if she would be invited to a special feast, or if her parents would buy her a new dress, or if she would be approached by the man of her dreams.
That is surely what the modern reader unfamiliar with the culture would have imagined. But she was waiting on the day of the annual office, and I knew what that meant. On the day of the annual office, human sacrifices were offered by the hundreds in Dahomey to renew the spiritual power of the king for another year.
She was waiting to see if she would be beheaded! Yet the modern retelling was thoroughly cleansed of blood and terror. This is what happens when we begin with the a priori assumption that all things African are good, true and beautiful. We then become unable to judge our own culture correctly. We force ourselves to continuously repeat every error our ancestors have ever made, and this stops our progress in Africa. If only we could judge every part of our culture realistically!
Then we could keep all the good and we would be free to discard the bad. Why should African culture be the only one on earth that denies itself the opportunity to learn from the past, to grow, to make progress?
So then, what is the appropriate starting point for Christians of any race, any culture, any land?
The Holy Scriptures claim to be a God-given authority. If we accept the Scriptures as the base, we will look at everything else in the light of Biblical teaching. We will look at evidence from every field of study in the light of the Scriptures, interpreting what we seek and experience and discover in the light of what God says. We will probably come to dramatically different conclusions than do those who begin with the Scriptures as the unmovable base.
African culture has a lot of good and a lot of beauty in it, a lot to be proud of, a lot to offer the world. But are we sure that any human culture, even our own, is an adequate base for judging and interpreting the Scriptures?
Should not the position of a Christian be to hold to the Scriptures as the base by which everything, including culture, is judged?