Archive for September, 2011

Night Nose Report

While walking the dog tonight, yet again, around the block – a true story. He snoofs the ground, I, the air.

Dryer sheets. Someone uses Bounce “Outdoor Fresh”, just like I do.
It carries so far on the warm air out the exhaust. It behaves less like fabric softener and more like perfume for your neighborhood.

Diesel fumes from an immense pickup truck. He’s pealing out like nobody could possibly be sleeping at 11:30 PM. Now they’re not.

At the next house, I can’t smell the alcohol, but I can hear it. A party is commencing, with the front door wide open and the lights bright. A woman is laughing impossibly loud at everything being said. But nobody is really that funny, and you’ve never laughed that hard. Not even at that old Adam Sandler stand-up album with the Hanukkah song on it and the routine about the goat. All the plates parked in front of the party house say Oregon on them. Who knew Idaho was such a drinking destination?

Turning the corner, I know what to expect: the smoke of pungent cheap cigarettes. They’re out on the porch smoking, with the TV blaring through the screen door behind them, like it always is. It’s a rental.

Three doors down is another rental, this one full of young Christian men. They’re out on the patio smoking expensive sweet pipe tobacco. My wife says I shan’t have a pipe until I’m old enough to not look silly with it. She’s probably right. I’m pretty sure the dog will be dead by then. And maybe the next one too.

“One will never be a good economist, who is only an economist.” Tomas Sedlacek comes up with this self-described “liberal paraphrase” of a quote by John Stuart Mill to introduce his recent book, The Economics of Good and Evil.

“A person is not likely to be a good political economist, who is nothing else.” is the original.

I believe this phrase is mightily true. You can say it about any field. Is there anyone more guaranteed to be a tilted theologian than one who is only a theologian? This is why the best pastor is likely to be a 50-year-old man who has raised a family and worked for a living for thirty years. The young bible-school grad in his mid-twenties has no business attempting to serve in this capacity at all. Perhaps he may as part of a larger team of elders, but definitely not by himself. That would be a terrible idea, regardless of how talented he is.

The same thing goes for musicians. I’ve had the opportunity to rub shoulders with a lot of professional guest musicians that have come through to play classical gigs in this university town. Some of the conservatory types, usually east coast or eastern European it seems, are, well, how do I put it? They are often not well rounded people. And it shows. They radiate strangeness when they walk into the room and when they talk, and even when they play, full of technical mastery though they may be. Many of my favorite musicians that have come through town have been, on closer acquaintance, turned out to be mothers, fathers, businessmen, scholars, inventors, teachers, writers, etc., even bartenders. The ones who do nothing but music – it almost seems as if at a certain point their hyper-specialization backfires on them and they are unable to grow emotionally/mentally/artistically past a certain point. I’m generalizing terribly here and lots of faces fly through my mind as I mull this over. As a whole though, it seems to confirm, as far as I can tell, the above quoted notion again.

Back to the book at hand – the author is writing a book about economics, but it is really a history book. A history book that draws in a fair amount of psychology, science, ethics, and even theology.

In today’s modern academy, this is called “Interdisciplinary” scholarship. Woopie. As opposed to the established norm of never leaving your own house? I believe that this sort of scholarship needs to be the norm across the board. Indeed, much of the best scholarship has ALWAYS been interdisciplinary. That we now have to designate it as such to stand out from the pack does not shed positive light on the state of the university during the past half-century.

One might wonder at the title of this post since Google tells me that by far one of the most popular things that I ever written on this blog was a post called “Interdisciplinary Studies: The Latest Junk Degree”. Yet even there I praise interdisciplinary studies. My criticism is of the contemporary university’s handling of it as a “choose your own adventure” story with a lucrative career waiting for you at the end.

I am learning to enjoy more things than ever before. Last year was the first time I ever read an entire straight-up history book – and I loved it, though I used to think that I hated that sort of thing. Hot sauce and beer have been reconsidered. Gosh, I even listen to country music sometimes. Dare I even admit that in print? All of them are expanding and stretching how I approach the things that are old hat to me. I love it and wish to continue. I hope that I can transmit some of this diverse joy to my children as well.

For theodicy to work, you always have to think of the big picture.

The defining nature of evil seems to be that it is temporal. It is parasitic, secondary, and fleeting. The good designs of the creator are everlasting.

As nature heals itself from an oil spill or a plutonium spill, God’s design shakes off the stains done to it by small passing rebellions.

 

Another $1 find at the used bookstore, I picked up a small paperback “Lives of the Saints”. It included The Voyage of Saint Brendan and Bede’s Life of Cuthbert. As I find early Britain pretty interesting (these are both set in the sixth and seventh centuries), I decided I should check them out. I had also never read an old-school hagiography before. These are my misc notes.

Some background history

What do we see in the history of the Roman Church? It’s so dang big that the geographic fringes of it are often completely out of control and develop quite a bit different.

What is “Celtic Christianity”? Christians from Syria and North Africa, some of them disciples of the mystical “desert fathers” sailed across the Mediterranean, around Spain and established churches in what is now Britain and Ireland. They were small and not a dominant force. The old pagan religion (think druids) was still around. As in all contexts, some of the folk religion was absorbed into Christianity there. This was really early on and the Celtic church developed independently from the authority back in Rome. They chose their own leaders and had a lot of monastic communities.

The Roman ecclesiastical structure was in many ways a copy of the Roman empire’s governance structure. It seemed to work pretty darn well, until there was no longer an empire. The Celtic church didn’t know about this and for a long time was much more pluralistic and democratic, for better or worse. Later, Rome sent some folks to clean house, throw out some of the odd practices and establish proper Latin-school bishops. According to the translator’s introduction, the Celts were never considered to be theological heretics. Rome’s main quibble was with how the authority structure was set up and also what day Easter was celebrated on.

From this flavor of Christianity we get the word “Anmchara”, or “Anam Chara” as it is usually seen today. It means, literally, “soul friend”. This person served as a spiritual director of sorts in helping other Christians grow in their spiritual disciplines of meditation, fasting, service, etc.

In describing the writing tradition of the time:

“Wholesale borrowing was not plagiarism, but the mark of wide reading…” (p.17)

Just like musicians will pay homage to other composers by “quoting” a musical phrase in their own work, these early writers would “steal” whole passages from other books to give their original authors a nod. Remember, this is in the 600s. Books are very rare. Quoting or even stealing from other authors was a way to show how much of the body of literature you were familiar with. It wasn’t plagiarism, but openly acknowledged homage.

I think it’s funny that today people copy other people’s work because they are NOT widely read!

(See my notes on the demonic possession of Christians from yesterday. It deserved it’s own post.)

In the Voyage of Saint Brendan, he and about 15 monks build a boat and sail around to a variety of fantastic islands for 7 years. It reads a lot like The Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor.

Anyway, what struck me as odd about the voyage is it doesn’t feel like they ever leave the monastery. They keep all the hours of the daily office. The book often describes how they eat and sing psalms at the same time each day and all the dates and times given are in reference to the church calendar. (We will stay on this island until the end of Holy Week, etc.) It almost didn’t feel like they were travelling.

Vocab:

Whit Sunday – “White Sunday”, the old British/Celtic way to designate the day of Pentecost.

Soporific: Sleep inducing.

Cincture: A belt

Picts: Early Celts that lived in what is now Scotland. Remained Pagan a while longer than the rest of Briton.

Thaumaturgy: Wonder working, the practice of working miracles.

Seen in this book: “unthaumaturgic”, that would be a biography that doesn’t include lots of miracles. (This one in fact, did.)

I noticed several features of St. Brendan’s islands that seem to make it straight into Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. There is an island with a stream that is forbidden to drink (it will make you go to sleep for days, as some of the monks do.) There is an island with a huge flock of magic birds who are really angels. There is an island with a hall and a large table where a feast magically appears each day for the guests. There is also a sea serpent, but he gets warded off by another sea monster seconds before attacking the boat. There is also a dark island full of smoke and evil men that is the gates of hell. Another island is fairly well inhabited and they have a host who treats them well as guests. Finally, there is an undying island of paradise.

In fact, now that I write them down in a list, it seems obvious to me that Dawn Treader must be loosely based on St. Brendan’s voyage. Lewis would certainly have been familiar with the tale. I personally haven’t ever heard anyone mention the connection before. (As if Lewis just pulled all this stuff out of thin air? He never does that.)

Pause…

Wikipedia says that Dawn Treader draws on a long tradition of Irish fantastical sea voyage tales called “Immram”. The Voyage of St. Brendan is actually one of the (chronologically) later ones, written in Latin. Interesting.

Out in the middle of the ocean, who do we find? Judas Iscarriot! His punishment is to be tortured in hell, but because Jesus had mercy on even him, he is allowed, one day a week, to spend tied to a rock out at sea with the waves splashing on him. Apparently this is a lot better than his usual days. In Dante we find Judas at the very bottom of hell, getting the worst of things forever. Here, he gets a bit of a break.

I often wonder if God’s large scale plan for all of creation involves some sort of redemption for Judas, outside the scope of what is revealed to us in scripture.

It seems as if each religious sect beats their pet doctrine into the ground, to the necessary exclusion or at least glossing over of many other things.

I saw this first hand when taking a history class at the charismatic church I was part of in college. The timeline went:

Jesus (33 AD) -> Apostles (90 AD) -> Montanists (~150 AD) -> Azuza Street Revival (1906).
Wow, that’s cool but what happened to everything else?

With these early Celtic saints, ecclesiastical children of the desert fathers, their absolute favorite topic was fasting and asceticism. Being a non-eating monk is about the most freaking awesome thing a man can aspire to! Along these lines, God does miracles all the time, chiefly providing them magic food, like Elven Lembas, that sustains them for weeks with just a few bites. Their favorite Bible passage? Elijah being fed by ravens. Sorry folks. I don’t see any gospel in much of this at all.

When Cuthbert’s hospitality, service, and preaching are described, he sounds like a pretty neat guy. When he says stuff like this though, I just get annoyed:

“If,” he would lament, “I could live in a tiny dwelling on a rock in the ocean, surrounded by the welling waves, cut off from the knowledge and the sight of all, I would still not be free from the cares of this fleeting world nor from the fear that somehow the love of money might snatch me away.” (p.83)

For several reasons, I really liked this passage.

Many who had the faith had profaned it by their works. Even while the plague was raging some had forgotten the mystery conferred on them in baptism and had fled to idols, as though incantations or amulets or any other diabolical rubbish could possibly avail against a punishment sent by God the Creator. To bring back both kinds of sinners he often did the rounds of the villages, sometimes on horseback, more often on foot, preaching the way of truth to those who had gone astray. It was the custom at that time among the English people that if a priest or cleric came to a village everyone would obey his call and gather round to hear him preach. They would willingly listen and even more gladly put his words into practice as far as they had understood them. Such was hi skill in teaching, such hi power of driving his lessons home, and so gloriously did his angelic countenance shine forth, that none dared keep back from him even the closest secrets of their heart. They confessed every sin openly – indeed they thought he would know if they held anything back – and made amends by ‘fruits worth of repentance’, as he commanded. (p.84)

I love how the people, in reverting to pagan practices, had “forgotten the mystery conferred on them in baptism”. This angle approaches the sinner from a place of hopeful humility, not a position of power in which to dump more law on them. The gospel then is one of, “Hey, look what Jesus already did for you, look what you were baptized into already!” instead of, “Hey losers, you had better get off your butts and shape up or this plague is going to get even worse.”

The ability or perceived ability (I think it can be completely real) of prophet/preacher types to be able to discern hidden sin is a common one. Here, people are not afraid of this power, but it rather leads them to repent anyway because they will be greeted with forgiveness and kindness. William Branham comes to mind especially. The saint is channeling the love of Jesus here. The kindness of the Lord leads us to repentance. (Romans 2:4)

Hyberbole:

“So full was he of sorrow for sin, so much aflame with heavenly yearnings, that he could never finish mass without shedding tears.” (p.93)

Oh, give me a break.

It’s interesting how a number of the miracles that Cuthbert experiences involve building materials. They need wood to build a hut and some perfect two-by-fours wash up on the beach after they pray. (p.99)

They are always starving out in the winderness, so they are always praying for food and shelter. We are praying for… parking spots?

After Cuthbert died, his belt was passed around as it had magic healing properties. After several people wear it and are healed of their disease though, God makes it disappear.

“This was God’s doing: by those two miracles of healing he manifested Cuthbert’s holiness to the faithful, and then removed the cincture lest it should lead the faithless to doubt such sanctity. Had it been allowed to remain, the sick would have flocked to it and if anyone through lack of merit were left uncured, the fact would be taken not as a proof of that person’s unworthiness but as a reason for disparaging the relic. So, as said, by a merciful dispensation of Divine Providence, first the belief of the faithful was strengthened, and then all danger of disparagement by the envious or unbelieving was removed.” (p.101)

In giving the benefit of the doubt, I do not question the legitimacy of divine healings per se. However, when they are institutionalized as some sort of crowd-drawing event, things virtually always go south really fast. Some of the people organizing these “revivals”, thinking they are doing everyone a favor, should perhaps take Bede’s advice and take it easy.

Just like Augustine, Cuthbert had to be physically drug out of his house to be made bishop. He really didn’t want the high ecclesiastical office. It is likely that these folks probably make the best leaders. It’s like the complete opposite of running a U.S. Presidential campaign.

“He protected the flock committed to him by constant prayer on their behalf, by wholesome admonition and – which is the real way to teach – by example first and precept later.” (p.105)

Yes, yes, yes!

The monks in these accounts are often found eating geese. This seems unusual to me since goose is not something you can get at the grocery store over here. I quick search discovered that, just like certain cows are sacred to Hindu, geese were considered a sacred animal by Celtic paganism. So eating a goose was an especially Christian thing to do in early Briton!

Finally, Protestants are often annoyed by some of the antics surrounding the cults of the various Christian saints. It seems that Cuthbert himself was also troubled by this and, while on his death-bed, urged his followers to bury him somewhere discrete so lots of pilgrims wouldn’t flock to his body and make trouble.

“But it is my desire to rest here [out on this island]. What is more, it would be less trouble for you if I did stay here, because of the influx of fugitives and every other kind of malefactor which will otherwise result. They will flee for refuge to my body, for, whatever I might be, my fame as a servant of God has been noised abroad. You will be constrained to intercede very often with the powers of this world on behalf of such men. The presence of my remains will prove extremely irksome. If you feel you must go against my plans and take me back there, I think it would be best to make a tomb in the interior of the basilica – then you will be able to visit it yourselves whenever you wish and also to decide who else from outside may do so.” (p.119)

 

 

In chapter 15 of Bede’s Life of Saint Cuthbert, we find a good Christian man and his wife who are fairly well off and zealous for good works. They give a lot of money and hospitality to the poor and everyone in town loves them. Suddenly, however, the woman is “possessed of a devil” and descends into a severe bout of mental illness. The husband is shocked and seeks Cuthbert’s help, but the man is ashamed to admit what has happened.

The bitterness of his anguish was apparent from the floods of tears. He was afraid that when Cuthbert found she was mad he might think she had served God up to now only in feigned faith. But the man of God gently soothed his fears.

Do not weep. Your wife’s condition will not astonish me. I know, even though you are ashamed to admit it, that she is afflicted by a demon. I know too that before I arrive the demon will have left her and that she herself will come running out to meet us as sound as ever. It is not only the wicked who are stricken down in this way. God, in his inscrutable designs, sometimes lets the innocent in this world be blighted by the devil, in mind as well as body.’

This is very interesting to me and runs contrary to contemporary evangelical theology. Cessastionist protestants functionally deny the working of demons in the modern world – almost entirely. Most evangelicals don’t take such a hard line though and admit the influence of demons, but adamantly state that it is impossible for a “real Christian” to ever be “possessed” by a demon. “Oppressed” perhaps (whatever that means), but not possessed. I have never really liked this position. It seems rather invented and not based on scriptural evidence. There is some wordsmithing going on to be sure. It also runs contrary to hundreds, if not thousands of real-world accounts. It seems that Christians indeed can run into trouble with evil spirits.

I think the problem with this position is that it (along with much individualist revivalist evangelical theology), attempts to paint a very thick line to differentiate who is really a Christian and who isn’t. It has trouble handling the grey area. If demons are affecting your life, then, hmmmmm, maybe you’re not really a Christian. If you sin a lot then maybe you’re not really a Christian, ’cause everyone knows Christians don’t sin and demons can’t touch them because they “have Jesus in their hearts”. Some even go so far to say that if you are sick or physically disabled, you must not have enough faith – you’re a second-class Christian.

I think Cuthbert’s position here is much more in touch with reality: “God, in his inscrutable designs, sometimes lets the innocent in this world be blighted by the devil, in mind as well as body.” That’s it. You can spin that with Calvinist phraseology or Catholic language, I don’t really care.

A related idea to this came to me while reading Tolkien’s Silmarillion. In his creation account, the Ainulindale, the devil figure, Melkor, has his fingers in creation, breaking things, before the coming of the “free people” – elves and men. At first, I thought that this was in contrast to the Genesis account, in which the devil’s tampering seem to be made active only THROUGH the fall of man. Now I’m not so sure though. Satan’s first act couldn’t have been the tempting of eve. He existed before then, causing trouble. In Job we see him working independently to cause much bloodshed. In the gospels, we see Jesus dealing with evil spirits left and right. Jesus always deals with the demons firmly, but with the people, gently.

In Acts 16, we find a young slave girl who is possessed by a demon. Through her, the spirit appears to tell the future or at least hold some sort of occult sway over customers. The slave girl’s owners make a lot of money off her as a fortune teller. When Paul casts the demon out of her, the owners are really pissed off, since they have lost their source of income. So what happened to the girl? Was it “her fault” that she got possessed by a demon in the first place? Luke doesn’t mention it but the fact that she is described as a slave implies that in this situation, she is relatively innocent. It is likely that after the incident she was converted to Christianity. Paul didn’t preach to the girl and tell her to have more faith, rather he released her from chains in the name of Jesus. The demons in the New Testament are depicted as independent, outside forces, not limited to only working through a willing body. In the same way, Satan can actually, autonomously cause trouble on earth, not just through willing God-image-bearing mediums.

What this means is that all the bad stuff that happened after the fall isn’t entirely man’s fault. To be sure, man cursed himself with death and the bulk of human strife and misery is the result. But I think that saying every terrible thing that has ever happened on earth is Adam’s fault gives him, us, way too much credit! Imagine if Adam had not fallen. The devil was still lurking in creation. But Adam, with God’s wisdom, would have subdued him, just like he subdued the rest of creation. Instead, he allowed himself to become subdued. This is why Jesus, the 2nd Adam, came to crush the head of the serpent.

I think that in America, we often neglect having a very well-developed demonology at all as part of our theology. This is, as others have pointed out, undoubtedly a mistake. Missionaries who take the Word to Africa and East Asia know better. What I am suggesting here is that, in the spirit of the “good news”, we, as Jesus did, treat demons firmly and people gently.

This whole passage on miracles is pretty fascinating.

One should beware of taking Bede too seriously in the preface to Cuthbert when he protests the trustworthiness of his material; he was writing, as he himself says with unconscious irony, ‘iuxta morem’. The references to miracles in his theological works bear out the view that in filling the Life of Cuthbert with wonders Bede was satisfying the demands of genre-writing rather than those of faith. In the commentary on the Gospel of St Mark he writes, apropos of Chapter 16: ‘Miracles were necessary in the early days of the Church. She was nourished with them in order that she I might grow in faith. When we plant bushes we water them I until they begin to stand firm, but once they have taken root the watering ceases. For this reason St Paul says the gift of tongues is a sign intended not for the faithful but for unbelievers’ This is a completely orthodox viewpoint, that, in fact, of the fathers of the Early Church who sought to stress the invisible miracles 0f grace within the soul rather than extraordinary visible wonders. Cuthbert’s miracles are nearly always didactic, sometimes pointedly so, and illustrate the remark in Chapter 21 (‘It is hardly strange that the creation should obey the wishes and commands 0£ a man who has dedicated himself with complete sincerity to the I Lord’s service’); but they are intended as much to adorn a tale as to point a moral. They record tradition and satisfy popular demand.

J.F. Webb, Introduction, Lives of the Saints, (p.25)

And so the recorder of a book full of miracles explains his mildly cessationist stand on miracles!

It’s interesting that the church fathers thought that tails of miracles (some of them certainly considered 100% true, but many not so much) would strengthen faith and convince people to become Christians. In our post-enlightenment age, the opposite is pretty much true. To make a claim of miracles is to automatically disqualify yourself in the minds of many listeners. We are limited to only discuss what “Jesus did in my life”. Testimonies must be highly personal to be above reproach. The charismatics have (rightly I think) wanted to highlight how the power of God is something that changes things “out there” too! I think we must break out of the personal box in another direction as well, that is, with testimonies about how God impacts, is impacting, whole families, communities, economies, art, and more.

A couple weeks ago, I read a short biography of Isaac Newton by someone calling himself “E.N. da C. Andrade”. A good $1 find at the used bookstore. I scribbled down a few things of misc interest to me.

As a child, Newton apparently built many of the machines he found described in a book called The Mysteries of Art and Nature, by John Bate. The biographer describes it as “a good boy’s book”. This actually looks really cool. It was printed in 1654 and has lots of engravings. You can get a reproduction on Amazon for $20.

It seems to me that making things with your hands leads TO book learning – not the other way around with boys. They need to hit the books later after the hand is established.

Newton was not a child prodigy and though his mind was at work on great things in his early twenties, he didn’t publish anything until he was almost 30.

I always like to hear about guys that bloom late ’cause I can be like them too, right? Ralph Vaughn Williams, one of my favorite composers, is in the same boat. He didn’t write anything good until his thirties.

After some prodding, his school master convinced Newton’s mother not to force him to become a farmer and instead go to University. He paid his way through by working as a teaching assistant, something that richer students didn’t need to do. This still happens today. How many of us were jealous of our rich classmates that didn’t have to balance study and part-time job to pay the bills? They sucked!

While on break from college during the plague (yikes!), he stayed at home for 18 months. He was 23. We must have “accomplished extraordinary things brooding alone”. In fact, the bulk of his future work was just writing down what he figured out during that time.

In reading Newton’s Biography, the thrill of the “truly original idea” assaulted me! This passion is reflected in the movie A Beautiful Mind, where Russell Crowe plays the real life John Nash, a brilliant mathematician. This is contra many of his colleagues who simply wanted to look good and score political points in academia by working on mediocre ideas and recycled research. Newton had some of this same contempt for scientific “posers”.

I love this quote comparing Newton with John Wallis, another great mathematician.

“Had Newton set out to record his mathematics with the open-handed liberality of a Wallis, who delighted in revealing not only the finished results but all his tricks methods and who taught as he wrote, how different would have been the sequel…” – Mathematician H.W. Turnbull (on p.49)

This is what I’m talkin’ about! I have got to get a teaching job. Seriously.

Another good quote, when asked why he built all his own scientific instruments (grinding lenses to make telescopes, etc.)

“If I had stayed for other people to make my tools and things for me I had never made anything of it.”

You definitely find this with computer programmers. If you want something created that doesn’t exist, well, you got to build the dang thing yourself!

This passage highlights a key distinction in Newton’s approach to science that was different than nearly all his predecessors.

“You sometimes speak of gravity as essential and inherent to matter. Pray do not ascribe that notion to me; for the cause of gravity is what I do not pretend to now…” People sometimes ask, “What is electricity?” and say that nobody knows. What kind of an answer they expect or have in mind it is hard to guess. Probably if Newton had written on electricity and had been asked this question he would have replied that he did not pretend to know, that he was concerned with how electricity behaved, with the mathematical laws from which you could deduce the measured electrical forces and effects. this attitude of Newton’s is that of modern science, but it was new in his time and was one of the things that people trained in the old philosophy found hard to understand. (p.79)

Newton doesn’t ever try to answer the question “What IS it?” He only sets out to answer “How does it work?”. I think he would be pretty disgruntled with some of the ridiculous conjecture and extrapolation with goes along with contemporary research.

The biographer again and again praises a handful of certain scientists who, besides their intelligence, were able to discern between “what does matter and what does not.”

He is observing that academia is full of smart people, but many, if not most of them spend their time and energy pursuing thing things of little to no value. Exactly what his criteria is for what “matters” and “does not matter” is not ever given. I think he is appealing to common sense. You’ll know it when you see it!

The author also talks often of Newton’s “correspondence”, that is the letters he exchanged with other thinkers around the world. We don’t use that term much anymore. This seems odd to us today as they are all a phone call or an email away. It makes me wonder though if the formality of a hand-written letter might convey with it a seriousness and sincerity that is lacking from today’s quick emails or “social media” (a phrase I am not fond of). They are so easy to send, it also makes them easier to ignore. I have had been able to email some of my favorite authors and scholars. Some of them have graciously answered my questions later that same day! Others have completely ignored me. Perhaps a physical letter would be “special” enough that it would be harder to ignore? How easy is it to ignore a “poke” on Facebook? Despite the internet, in some ways are we more constrained now than before. Our circles are wider, but our face-to-face circles are often smaller. Our imaginations could stand to grow…and shrink.

Amazingly, Newton was not exactly a specialist. His enthusiasm was equally divided between:
1. Exact science
2. Administration of the mint (his well-paying day job)
3. Religious matters (theological studies)
4. Chemistry and alchemy

Very interesting. He didn’t seem to find it necessary to have a job in academia to participate in it. His scientific work was certainly more than a hobby. He still spent a lot of time on it as well as his other studies. He wasn’t married, so he didn’t have a wife and kids to take care of. Still, it wasn’t his actual career. It’s funny that today he would not be qualified to even apply for the job he held as a public administrator. He would need a pointless MBA for that. By all accounts though, he was very good at running the mint.

Newton was a Christian and an Anglican, but he quietly denied the 39 articles. Why? He didn’t believe the doctrine of the trinity – such a common hang-up for intellectual types. It continues to make me wonder how necessary it is to the core of the creed. I believe in it myself for certain and I know that disbelief in it has far-reaching negative implications. Still, it seems that it’s a confusing enough theological topic that having an unorthodox belief about it should not immediately make your practice of Christianity illegitimate. The Syrian church was a significant Christian presence for centuries and they were Nestorians, not proper Trinitarians. Today, the Oneness Pentecostals are still undeniably Christian as well, despite the fact that they would get a low score on certain parts of the theology quiz. Still, at the end of the day it seems like a pretty important thing to have in the creed, though I can sympathize with those who get hung up on it.

The author suspects that the greatest scientists are able to intuitively figure things out and then start their experiments and proofs in close to the right direction from the beginning. They are not simply exploring haphazardly. They have a secret compass or sorts.

It is possibly true that all very great men of science have a power of, as it were, smelling out the truth, divining what is behind scientific appearances: they do not argue things out to begin with in the nice, clean, tidy manner in which in which they afterwards present their findings to the world. Newton, perhaps, possessed this power of scientific foresight, correct scientific surmise, to a greater extent than any other man. (p.128)

Equivalent in the arts I think is a musician-composer who begins with an improvisation and only later sets out to write it down and orchestrate it. Pierre Bensusan has stated explicitly that this is how he composes. I think that’s probably what Bach did for everything too. He wrote at the keyboard, not at his desk, using the organ as an instrument to be transcribed, not as a tool to assist in his writing. There is a big difference between the two.

Consider:

1. Atheism (There is no god – just me and the cosmos.)

2. Theism (There is a god.)

3. The Fear of God (There is a God and I respect him and care what he thinks because it must be important and I believe it has something to do with me.)

4. Calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ

5. The belief in the Triune God. (Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit of Christianity)

These are all milestones on a continuum of “right belief”.

The one in the middle, the “Fear of God” is peciliar. Versus the utter arrogance before it, this is a dream of immortality and primary creation – acknowledging the boundrieds of time, the fear of death and darkness.

It does not seem that God is impressed by mere theism, but the “Fear of God” seems to be very valuable in His eyes, even lacking proper articulation.

Look at Jethro in scripture. He was the “priest of Midian”, not of Israel.He clearly feared and worshiped the one true God. But how well could he articulate it? He knew nothing of the divine law that his son-in-law Moses would later deliver. He knew nothing of the prophets or of Jesus Christ. There is no question that he was God’s man though.

I think about all the people I work with. There are quite a few agnostic materialists. There are also several Mormons, a Muslim, and a couple of Ba’hai as well as a Roman Catholic and several different flavors of evangelicals. This “fear of God” is what we share with some of our brothers and sisters in other faiths despite their technical rejection of Christ. Lewis seemed to think there was something to this as well if we remember the young Calormen in The Last Battle. I don’t think that he was implying that all religions lead to the same god, but that perhaps God may pull people to Himself despite their religion!

At the day, I am left concluding that it is good to desire that God reach down and pull us to him. Our variety of self-generated right belief will not propel us closer to him. We love him because he first loved us. (John 4:19) At the same time, I believe more than ever that Trinitiarianism completely rocks the house dope y’all.

Poor guy. The two dogs tied up at the Food Co-op bike rack looked well-groomed and wore expensive harnesses. But they barked their heads off and snarled, three short feet away from the Frosty delivery guy, as he unload several cartloads of bagged ice into the chest freezer in front of the shop. Some chilling out needed to happen. One had the need, the other, the means.

Reasons why I am not as worried about the particulars of baptism right now:

1. The legitimacy of crypto-Christianity
Reading about the history of north Africa and the middle-east made me realize that there are a host of reasons why people may keep their Christianity a secret. I used to think that NEGATED their Christianity – that to not declare the Lord in public was to disown him. But to protect your wife, you children, your friends, would you keep quite? This really did happen in the face of much Muslim conquest. A lot. I think God has mercy on these people. Look at the huge underground church in China. Are they not legitimate Christians because they lay low in the face of oppression? Some people are destined to be martyrs, for sure, but many more are meant to survive at the roots of the grass. For all of these people, throughout history, a highly-public splashing baptism might have not seemed like the best idea ever.

2. The legitimacy of the Christianity of those with diverse beliefs about baptism!
I believe that paedobaptists, credobaptists, sprinklers and dunkers and all real Christians. So I’m not going to expend too much energy on getting then to do it “just right”, even though I think there is room for all of us to improve in our understand and practice.

3. The illegitimacy of theology quizzes for establishing ones place among the “elect”.
What is in your head does not change what the water does. Thank God. The Lord does the real work.

4. The inability to follow through with some of my own current beliefs on the matter due to cultural and familial pressure and the strong feeling that to raise a stink about it would be unnecessary, or worse, sin.
The short of it is that I now lean toward infant baptism being the more proper practice, with catechism as they grow. But, my own children will end up being baptized later, just like I was and that’s OK. It will be interesting to discover if my new adopted daughter (just a few months away from finally bringing her home!) was baptized already in the Ethiopian Orthodox church. Interesting, but I’m not giving it too much thought.