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Digital Gurus vs Ancient Rabbis: Who Shapes Your Vision of 'The Good Life'?

Modern Digital Teachers: The New Gurus

In today's digital landscape, I've noticed a growing trend of modern teachers and gurus offering their own paths to the "good life". These digital sages come in various forms, each promising a unique route to fulfilment. 

Wellness podcasters, like Dr. Andrew Huberman with his "Huberman Lab", prescribe specific sleep routines, supplement regimens, and exercise protocols for optimal health and performance. Productivity experts propose intricate systems of time management, note-taking, and life optimisation. Lifestyle coaches like Marie Kondo promise a path to joy through minimalism and organisation. Self-help motivators such as Tony Robbins and Jordan Peterson, blend psychology, philosophy, and personal development techniques, promising pathways to self-actualisation and meaning. 

From cold plunges and intermittent fasting, to habit-stacking and ‘manifesting’ techniques, each of these modern gurus, in their own way, proposes a recipe for success, happiness, or fulfilment in our complex digital age.

The Promise of 'The Good Life'

These gurus are not just asking for a casual follow or subscribe. They're inviting us into a comprehensive way of life: a way of conceiving of reality and a belief system about what the ‘good life’ is and how to get it, complete with specific practices (or ‘protocols’!), beliefs, and values. 

The concept of 'the good life' has deep roots in philosophy, dating back to ancient Greek thinkers like Aristotle. In philosophical terms, 'the good life' refers to the ideal way of living that leads to human flourishing, happiness, and well-being. It's about more than just momentary pleasure or success; it encompasses questions of virtue, purpose, and what it means to live a life of meaning and fulfilment.

Modern influencers and digital gurus, in many ways, are offering their own interpretations of 'the good life'. They present frameworks and practices that they claim will lead to optimal living, much like philosophers of old. However, unlike traditional philosophical approaches that often emphasise reflection, virtue, and broader societal considerations, many modern interpretations focus more on individual success, productivity, and personal satisfaction.

This raises important questions about the nature of 'the good life' in our digital age. Are these modern interpretations truly leading to human flourishing, or are they simply repackaging consumerism and individualism in a new form? How do they compare to more traditional philosophical and religious conceptions of what makes a life well-lived?

First Century 'Good Life' Gurus: Rabbis

In first-century Judaism, the most revered rabbis would select promising students with a profound invitation: "Follow me." This was far more than a casual request; it was an invitation to a life-altering apprenticeship. To follow a rabbi meant to dedicate oneself entirely to learning not just the rabbi's teachings, but his entire way of life.

Students (or disciples or apprentices) would leave their families, jobs, and homes to literally follow their rabbi wherever he went. They would eat what he ate, sleep where he slept, and strive to imitate his every action and thought. The goal was to become so much like the rabbi that they could accurately represent his teachings and way of life to others. This intense form of discipleship was captured in the saying, "May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi," implying that disciples should follow so closely that they would be coated in the dust kicked up by their teacher's feet. 

The Rabbi's Yoke: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times

This all-encompassing approach to discipleship was often described metaphorically as taking on the rabbi's "yoke". The concept of a rabbi's 'yoke' drew from agricultural imagery familiar to people of that time. Just as a yoke joined oxen together and guided them in their work, a rabbi's 'yoke' represented his particular interpretation of Torah that would guide his disciples in living a good and righteous life. This metaphor conveyed the idea that following a rabbi's teachings was both a commitment (like being yoked) and a framework for navigating life's challenges and decisions.

In the bustling marketplaces of first-century Judea, amid the clamour of commerce and debate, a rabbi's invitation to "take my yoke" would have turned heads. This loaded phrase was an invitation to embrace a particular philosophy of life, a roadmap to flourishing in a complex world.

Jesus, standing in this rich tradition, offered His own yoke. "Take my yoke upon you," He said, echoing the rabbinical custom but infusing it with radical new meaning. His wasn't just another set of rules or lifestyle hacks. It was a call to a reimagining of what it means to live well.

Understanding Jesus as a rabbi in this context helps us reframe His call to 'follow me'. It's not merely an invitation to believe certain truths, but a call to apprentice ourselves to a way of life. To follow Jesus is to shape our entire existence around His teachings and practices, just as the disciples of old did. This perspective transforms our understanding of discipleship from a passive acceptance of doctrines to an active, all-encompassing commitment to embody Jesus' way of life transposed into our context and culture.

Fast forward two millennia, and we find ourselves in a digital bazaar of ideas, where modern gurus hawk their own versions of the good life. From productivity ninjas to wellness warriors, today's influencers offer yokes of their own - carefully curated lifestyles promising fulfilment, success, and meaning.

The parallels are striking and, perhaps, unsettling. Both ancient rabbis and modern influencers present all-encompassing life philosophies. Both prescribe distinctive practices and foster communities of devoted followers. Both promise transformation: ‘a better you, a better life’.

But here's where Jesus' invitation offers a unique perspective. While many approaches - ancient and modern - focus primarily on self-improvement and personal achievement, Jesus' yoke balances individual growth with a broader vision of human flourishing. His teachings offer rest for weary souls, not by eliminating effort or optimising productivity, but by reframing our understanding of 'the good life'.

Jesus' way doesn't entirely reject conventional wisdom, but rather reframes and deepens it.  For example: while his society valued community, Jesus radically expands this concept, calling for love that transcends social, ethnic, and religious boundaries. 

He challenges both the individualistic and communal tendencies of his time, emphasising sacrificial service to others as the path to true greatness. Where many teachers of His day promised divine favour through strict observance, Jesus offers meaning and transformation - often found through embracing humility, servanthood, and even suffering for the sake of others and the Kingdom of God.

Navigating Wisdom in a Digital Age

Interestingly, many modern teachers and gurus have been influenced, directly or indirectly, by Jesus' teachings. We often find echoes of His wisdom in unexpected places, from mindfulness practices to ethical business principles. For followers of Jesus, the invitation is to seek wisdom both from His teachings and from modern sources that align with his worldview, values, and belief system.

This approach allows for a nuanced engagement with various 'yokes' offered in our digital age. It might involve adopting certain practices or insights from modern gurus, while thoughtfully adapting or rejecting others based on how they align with Jesus' core teachings. The goal isn't to isolate ourselves from all other wisdom, nor swallow it wholesale, but to develop discernment in integrating valuable insights from various sources into a life shaped primarily by the Way of Jesus.

In our digital age, where new 'rabbis' emerge daily on our screens, Jesus' ancient invitation echoes with renewed relevance. His teachings offer a framework not for rejecting modern wisdom wholesale, but for discerning and integrating valuable insights from various sources. This approach allows us to engage thoughtfully with the 'yokes' offered by today's gurus while remaining grounded in a time-tested philosophy of life. 

As we navigate the dizzying array of life advice available at our fingertips, perhaps the most profound questions we can ask are not just 'Whose content am I consuming?', 'Whose posts am I liking and sharing?', or 'Whose channels am I subscribing to?', but ultimately, 'Whose vision of the good life is shaping who I'm becoming?'

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1 Comment

Brian Mallalieu
Brian Mallalieu
Jul 05

But surely, a fundamental difference between the Ancient Rabbis & Jesus is seen in John 15:16a? And, Ancient Rabbi students had two main objectives: i) Model their lives completely on the Rabbi (1 Cor. 11:1), & ii) Learn everything of their chosen Rabbi's teaching & live and absorb/copy it (Matth. 28:20a). To be Biblical, Digital disciples following Jesus must do the same!

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