Thursday, November 14, 2013

7QT - The Greats: Lincoln, God, and Dr. Who



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I finally watched Lincoln, in the wee hours of this morning. Loved it. I hate politics and how they are corrupt and so often practically useless. I love justice and the effectively administered law that protects it. Abraham Lincoln is one of my heroes. Equal rights to ALL under the law is one of my ideals. Just as there were likely "good" people and "bad" people on both sides of the Civil War, the end result of the conflict rendered freedom for each person to live accorrding to his or her values, so long as in doing so, no one else's right to do the same was violated. I hope to see a day when all people truly share all the same freedoms under the same law that, when functioning as it should, prevents free people from oppressing others. I am not a fan of politics, but I am a fan of just and unbiased law. It is how human civilization works and prospers.
 
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One of the things I loved about the movie's portrayal of Mr. Lincoln was his tendency to tell a story. It illustrated his ability to remain calm and diffuse tension through humor.
 
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A while back I started reading Lincoln's Melancholy by Joshua Wolf Shenk. Like I do often, I read about half of it and didn't finish. So now I'm all inspired to pick it up again. Today I read a little, and since it contained bits about Abe, theology, history, suffering, and psychology (all favorite subjects on this blog), I thought I'd share a particularly interesting excerpt (I hope that's legal).
"In 1840, a group of reformed drunkards in Baltimore began to meet and offer each other support and fellowship. They decided to take their message to other drunkards, and chapters sprang up around the country. They called themselves the Washington Temperance Union. Soon a chapter formed in Springfield [IL]. On the occasion of George Washington's birthday in 1842, the members invited Lincoln to speak to them. He took the opportunity to explain why 'old-school' temperance efforts had failed and why the Washingtonians had so much success. To denounce drunkards 'in the thundering tones of anathema and denunciation,' Lincoln argued, was not only unjust but impolitic. It simply worked better to reason with, coax, and convince people, he said. Quitting drinking was a good thing, he continued, because people could work and support their families better sober than drunk. The Washingtonians got reformed drunkards to speak about these advantages and to encourage others by the force of their example. In contrast, Lincoln said, harsh condemnation could no more pierce a man's heart than a rye straw could penetrate the hard shell of a tortoise.
"His references to 'Old School' Calvinism and 'Hard Shell' Baptism were subtle, but Lincoln was not subtle about his critique of the old theology. Calvinism saw human beings subjected to a harsh and wrathful God [and predestination]; Lincoln proposed that people could shape their own lives by the exercise of will. Of the Washingtonians, he said admiringly, 'They teach hope to all - despair to none. Denying the doctrine of unpardonable sin, they teach, "While the lamp holds out to burn / The vilest sinner may return."' Drunkards, Lincoln said, should be 'pitied and compassionated, just as are the heirs of consumption and other hereditary diseases.' Their failings ought to be treated as a 'misfortune, and not as a crime, or even as a disgrace.' 
"He made the same point about melancholy. ...Suffering was not a punishment from beyond or a malevolent infestation of the soul. Like the earth turning on its axis or energy passing through a conductor, it was a part of the natural world, to be studied, understood, and, when possible, managed."
See why I love this guy?!

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And now, to completely change the subject...let's take a little trip inside my head, shall we?
 
Have you heard of Christian Agnosticism? Here's a brief little argument for it from the Huffington Post.
 
I have always believed in personal relationship with God. But if we're being real (and we are), there are also times when I debate with myself whether it's all in my head (prayer works because of the placebo effect, etc.). I can, in fact, almost completely rationalize away any belief in God or anything supernatural. But there are a few things that I think give the idea of a divine Creator some credence that is more difficult to rationalize away...like, I think humans are comprised of more than biology - they also have a immaterial aspect known as the soul and/or spirit. Synergy or no, I don't think that comes from chemical reactions. Also, humanity's affinity for beauty, as has been argued by such great thinkers as C. S. Lewis and N. T. Wright, and their longing for justice and a sense that things in the world are just not quite right, or are broken...I agree that these things point to something higher than evolutionary human moral ideals. So: I believe in God.
 
Next - the more I learn, the more I believe that a lot of harmful theology has evolved from cultural, flawed (or limited) perspectives on what is "good" or "right"...and who benefits from these assessments (patriarchy, caste systems, etc.). Basically, there are a lot of interpretation of "truth" out there - even the same truths come out looking different to different people (i.e., people's interpretations of the Bible). Does this mean there is no accessible knowledge about God? I don't think so.... I think less is known about Him than most Christians profess. But I think there are some things we can know about Him because of what we can see - evidential pointers to His nature. For instance, He must be just and loving and good (because of the things I mentioned in the previous paragraph, and because these things exist within and are the highest ideals for human character; humanity's Creator must be greater than humanity, that is simply a deductible fact). So: I believe some things can be known about God.
 
Then - if so there is so much that isn't definable about God, and if there is hope for humanity despite the things we don't know, then is there really any need to share the Gospel? I have always believed so, but lately I have wondered. I am slowly coming to a position on it, though. I read a blog today or yesterday by a retired missionary to Rhodesia. At one point she says, "The villagers were so mesmerized by Glyn’s explanation about Jesus who loved them enough to die for them, that they did not stir when the scorpion rushed to its sudden death. These villagers were accustomed to bondage and fear of their heathen Gods and to be told that they could worship a God who forgives and loves them unconditionally was hard to comprehend." This is one of the arguments for sharing the Gospel, even if you believe eventually all people will be redeemed and spiritually "saved". The love of God is restorative to humanity. So: I believe in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.
 
Why did I include that here? Well...because it is some things I have been thinking about long and hard, and I felt like I had a little bit of clarity on them this week. So I'm sharing what I came up with in case there's any other person out there in the blogosphere who thinks a little bit like me. :)
 
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I realized this week that I have not yet taken a walk to enjoy the beautiful sights and colors of Fall. So I did that today. Most of the leaves have already fallen, but a few are still clinging half-heartedly to their branches, and I got a few pretty pictures :). As I was walking in the woods I began to think about the concept of "nature," (as in trees and leaves and wildlife, etc.) in relation to what we consider to be "human nature" and "God's nature". Nature is just a nutshell term for the default state of the environment, I think, if we want a simple definition. And that default state changes from season to season and with passing time. The nature of the human individual, too, changes some (though, perhaps less, in ordinary cases...?) with age and experience. But what about God's nature? Does it change through time, or as He interacts emotively with His creation? James 1:17 says (in the version in which I learned it, KJV): "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." The NIV says, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." It comes down, again, to how God relates to time, and, in fact, how God relates to nature. He is the "Father of lights" - the Creator of the Sun and moon and stars, the author of time and the changing seasons (see Genesis 1:14, 15).
 
I asked a question on Facebook a few days ago: "When people say 'God is faithful', what exactly do they mean?" I think it means He is dependable, and His nature doesn't change. When all else is out of our control; when we don't know which way is up; when we don't know what we believe anymore; we can take comfort in the knowledge that God is the same. He is there. He knows all the things we don't know and therefore cause us to fear. He created it all and nothing is getting away from Him. He is faithful. He is our peace.
 
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On a lighter note...unless you take Dr. Who very seriously (and there's nothing wrong with that)...I came across this today: an illustrative timeline of the last millennium of Dr. Who history.

 
---7---
I am starting another job on Monday. I will have two full-time jobs for a little while. Not sure how that's going to go; I'm sure it will be difficult. But, hopefully by next Fall I will be enrolled in a new degree program, somewhere, and this will give me a chance to save up for a move.
 
Have a good weekend, everyone! Thanks for stopping by. :)
 
For more Takes, visit Conversion Diary!


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