March 3, 2005

Lincoln's Land Without God

THERE ARE MANY MOMENTS IN MY LIFE, now more than before, when I wish I could hear within myself a clear call to an abiding faith. But I would be a hypocrite to claim that I do. I've listened deeply for a long time, but I just don't hear it.

That said, I understand that many, many people do hear it and live by what they hear. That's why it strikes me that this continuing assault on various icons such as the Ten Commandments by the transnational secularists of this country must be seen as a deep insult by both people of faith and those of good will. It's all part of the unremitting assault on the few remaining islands of our shared nobility that can only be seen as mean-spirited, small-minded, petty, controlling, feeble and nasty.

The fact that these "issues" can be manipulated up to the attention of the Supreme Court by the soul-less and the unscrupulous says volumes about the spiritual quadriplegia that grips the legal system. That the Supreme Court would descend to take on such a case and deliberate it on its "merits" in our grandest temple of justice


that bears this above its back door makes me think that even the Supremes has been infected by the virus of nihilism.

What if the country itself had long been infected by the virus of nothingness? Would Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural at the time of the country's greatest crisis read like this:

Neither party expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same NOTHING; and each invokes NOTHING aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just NOTHING's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The NOTHINGs of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The NOTHING has NOTHING'S own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!" If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of NOTHING, must needs come, but which, having continued through NOTHING appointed time, NOTHING now wills to remove, and that NOTHING gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living NOTHING always ascribe to NOTHING? Fondly do we hope--fervently do we NOTHING -- that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if NOTHING wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the NOTHING, are true and righteous altogether."

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as NOTHING gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

If it had in that long ago year of 1864, would we now have an America with the motto of Ozymandius:
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Many would say that this tedious argument of insidious intent leads to the overwhelming question of whether or not God exists. I think that's shallow since it is not given to us to know the answers to such questions. We pays our money and we takes our choice. It's called Free Will. What is really at issue here on the human plane is whether or not this nation can endure once it is officially based on NOTHING. I am of those Americans who say it can not. Myths matter to a person and to a nation. Remove them and they cease to exist. This is especially true when you are dealing with a nation like America which is not based on either blood or land, but on myth alone.

It is easy, very easy, to become wrapped up in the whirling news of the day and not to think a 'decay of a colossal wreck' as the bill that is always paid for believing in NOTHING, but it is. And that bill always falls due and always must be paid.

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Posted by Vanderleun at March 3, 2005 3:00 PM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Now, I don't think much of my thoughts re this subject. But I tried. You succeeded.

Posted by: Steel Turman at March 3, 2005 3:41 PM

Gerard, I would like it if you posted your thoughts on existentialism. I always say I'm an existentialist, but somehow, the way my life tosses me here and there without my permission, I feel I betray my belief. Existentialism has no victims. It is that which appeals to me. I like this article you've written though I was given pause by your assertion that this country is 'alive' because of myth. I believe there is much more than myth that makes our country what it is. However, I love the line with - "It's all a part of the unremitting assault on the few remaining islands of our shared nobility..." Our shared nobility. How beautiful are the words and the thought they generate. What if we all lived by a credo based on 'our shared nobility'? What astounding pleasure in the very idea.

"The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible." Bertrand Russell

Can you imagine a 'widespread belief' in a shared nobility? It would surely not be foolish. Mythical, perhaps.

Posted by: Amy at March 3, 2005 4:02 PM

Thank you, Amy.

I would only respond that we all do live by a credo based on shared nobility. It was there at the absolute beginning.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

That's the whole thing. Right there. We rewrite at our peril.

Posted by: Gerard Van Der Leun at March 3, 2005 4:39 PM

"I see America, not in the setting sun of a black night of despair ahead of us, I see America in the crimson light of a rising sun fresh from the burning, creative hand of God. I see great days ahead, great days possible to men and women of will and vision."

---Carl Sandburg---

Posted by: ellen at March 3, 2005 4:50 PM

Gerard, What a lovely thinker you are! Yes, I know our self-evident truths. And yes, your premise was of our Supreme Court pondering the basis of those truths. But with lovely thinkers like you, you offer so much more to the reader than a mere singular premise. I responded first to your personal search for a belief system; I've been there and have come out as you have. Your gracious intellection of the necessity of tolerance followed and I was caught up in that. I agree. But then you opened the thought processes and I found myself on one of those 'few remaining islands' you mentioned, and the truth is, from my perception, is that we don't all live by the credo of shared nobility. If we did, there would be no islands. But I really went far beyond that in my 'lovely' thinking and became kind of universal in the whole idea of shared nobility. And I say again, how wonderful if we truly lived by that credo. Don't even need a religion for that.

I once had to write a speech for a state Latin competition. The subject was: Nobility is the Greatest of All Virtues. We could agree or disagree, and we had to deliver the speech before a most august panel of snots. There were about 150 kids there from all around the state. Two people of those 150 chose to disagree. I was one of them. I said that we are born with self-love, and that we die full with self-love. I went on to say we must live with self-love before we can attain any of the more noble virtues. I credited nobility as one of the higher virtues but not before self-love. With self-love there is no need to descend and embrace those petty qualities you used to describe those who would assault our shared nobility. I won first prize.

You can see now where your thoughts lead me. I get knocked out by words, and 'shared nobility' washed me down the most exquisite river of hope. I went way past your 'absolute beginning'. Into Neverland, I suspect....however sublime.

Thank you. And yes, of course, back to a more literal plane, you are right. We rewrite at our peril.

Posted by: Amy at March 3, 2005 5:23 PM

Vanderleun, I have good news. (Maybe you would you prefer Good News?) You express sincere concern that you have yet to hear "a clear call to an abiding faith" when, in fact, you have. You assert that America "is not based on either blood or land, but on myth alone". This statement, along with the bulk of this blog entry, makes it clear that you've 'heard the call' of the myths found in most American History textbooks. (I hope you follow up on your Spiritual Birth in this blog so that I may monitor your progress in hopes of someday taking proper credit for bringing the faith you've unknowingly harbored all along to your attention.) I also have bad news for you. The Supreme Court isn't concerned with islands but serves an entire nation consisting of as many people as there are varying concepts of nobility. All should be acknowledged or none. By the way, the absence of Christianity, or of religion for that matter, isn't NOTHING.

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main" - John Donne

Posted by: JMW at March 3, 2005 6:14 PM

It's not so much religion or faith (a totally different thing) or spirituality (an even more totally different thing) that's the real issue in my view.
You have a very elegant way of putting your point of view, that the building of your nation was until this century at least done from a firmly religious perspective. Presidents before and after Lincoln expressed such noble thoughts mostly in terms of the christian god and indeed his words would look pretty strange without it.
But basing a nation's identity on the christian faith, and basing your laws on it are very different things.
Very few people outside of the hard-line christian zealots who currently hold the reins of power would suggest a return to old testament's relevance as a system of jurisprudence passed away about 3,000 years ago. It makes no more sense to adopt it (for example) than to suggest we go back to the greeks' system of city states as a way of arranging civil affairs.
In fact most of the aforementioned zealots would have no concept of old testament law..the ten commandments are just a symbol of using a system of belief as the basis for ruling people and to be seen to be differentiating themselves from Islam (not even realising just how similar they are and their common old testament roots).
This is not to say that it's wrong to do this. Systems of government change constantly to adjust to "the affairs of men" and there are plenty of examples to hold up as a sign of the decay of religion as a social influence over the past few hundred years. But turning back the clock in a whimsical attempt to go back the when things were not so complex and the world wasn't so instantly connected, and the US business community and politicians hadn't so corrupted the political fabric of your country, is not the answer either.

Posted by: mikemudd at March 3, 2005 6:47 PM


Nobility is an ideal and has no graduations.

One's perception of nobility is moot, much like
'good or evil.' We ALL know it when we see it.

Posted by: Steel Turman at March 3, 2005 6:50 PM

JMW: John Donne was one of the metaphysical poets. This quotation you've cited is about death, not that a single man cannot exist on an 'island' of individuality. Man is 'a part of the main' in that we all die.

It would be impossible for The Supreme Court to deal with the country in an all-or-nothing fashion. Too many little islands of individuality out there to contend with, you know. They have to pay attention to the main in all its vagaries of perception. There are no varying concepts of nobility, by the way.

Posted by: Amy at March 3, 2005 7:32 PM

This may sound cynical; it isn't:

It is convenient that there be gods, and, as it is convenient, let us believe there are.


Posted by: Dave Schuler at March 3, 2005 7:46 PM

You took the words right out of my mouth.

I'd like to think that we could become a nation actually based in the shared delusion that there really are certain "unalienable rights" and that those rights are inherent in our very existance as human beings, regardless of our source or origin.

But for the time being, I'm quite happy to live under a system where the majority identifies that source/origin as a divine being.

It beats the hell out of not believing in anything.

Posted by: Kevin Baker at March 3, 2005 8:14 PM

Very few people outside of the hard-line christian zealots who currently hold the reins of power would suggest a return to old testament's [sic] relevance as a system of jurisprudence passed away about 3,000 years ago...

I don't know. Most people would consider that five, and perhaps six, of the ten commandments are still relevant and valid.

As for the rest of your 'observation': since I can't say anything civil in response, I won't.

Posted by: P.A. Breault at March 3, 2005 9:50 PM

Interesting. I truly admire atheists. to believe you evolved from a rock takes a faith far beyond religion. Myth is a lame non sequitur proposed since I was old enough to know the difference. Your belief system is no mystery to Christians; you believe man created God and not the other way around. Existentialism, in and of itself is an excercise in futility. There again it assumes man created God and therefore "the truth is out there". Does it ever strike you odd that God has a generic, as opposed to specific namesake? Yes, he is called Jehovah in the Bible but how can one name an entity that was, before anything.

The Dead Sea scrolls have revealed mysteries beyond our comprehension. He (God)is often referred to as the invisable one. If you understand that your only purpose in life is a proving ground for God's benefit; if you learn that all your knobs, buttons, cars, homes, money, drugs, sex and anything else material is pointless beyond survival; then you really understand that myth is an obsolete term for a grandeur beyond your comprehension.

Read Revelations sometime Geraud (the NAB in your case). The prophecies of the Bible have all been fulfilled (no post/retro fulfillments) but one. That's from a guidebook written 2,000 years ago.

While you do string a nice set of words together, you are in way over your head if you sucker in to Myths and folkways.

Posted by: Ron at March 3, 2005 10:00 PM

Ron, methinks you are the one that is a bit under.
The Bible is a fine work. Much the same can be
said for the predictions of Nostradomus.
Your (human's) ability to devine either is a matter
of faith. And if that brings solace ...
good. But neither are based in science. Facts,
are inescapable. Myth is open to interpretation.
I happen to know 'Geraud' (sp) is a man of some
religion. I won't presume to know the depth of
his faith. But I am comfortable in saying he is
more read of the Bible than you. As might I be.
Might I suggest you put some years under your
belt before you deign to spout? Faith is a thing
best held close to heart. 'Tis a fraud to demand
your faith from another.

Posted by: Steel Turman at March 4, 2005 1:36 AM

Ron, You want to know why existentialism is an exercise in futility? Because there are no answers. Not even the Bible can answer the existentialist's attempts to decribe our desire to make rational decisions despite existing in an irrational universe. But at least the existentialist queries the unknowable and tries to find himself and the truths of his existence to give meaning to his life. Life might be inherently meaningless for the existential atheist, or it might be without a meaning he can understand for the existential theist. Either way, the human desires for logic and immortality are futile, and the Dead Sea Scrolls don't provide any answers. Read Beyond Belief by Elaine Pagels. It's about the Gospel of Thomas. He was cast out because he knew spirituality was something one could carry inside himself and not be beholden to any religion. You can suspend reason and buy into the myths of Christianity or Islam or Zoroastrianism, but in the end, if you believe in free will, you will be forced to define your own meanings, knowing they might be temporary. In our present existence the individual defines everything. You get to choose because you have free will. If you choose to fetter your thinking with mythical revelations from the Bible, then I believe you've given up your self.

Posted by: Amy at March 4, 2005 8:22 AM

Ron, you wrote: "If you understand that your only purpose in life is a proving ground for God's benefit...."

You know, you're the second person in my life who has tried to explain to me the purpose of this supposed grand experiment in just those terms. The first was an Assemblies of God pastor who was out witnessing to the heathen, so to speak.

(Sorry if I'm hijacking your comments Mr. Van Der Leun, but this is a topic that piques me.)

I asked him if God was omnipotent. He said yes. I asked him if God was omniscient. He said yes. I asked him then that if God knew what the outcome of the experiment was going to be (and Revelations seems to so indicate)? He said yes. I asked, then what was the purpose? This reflects your comment that our "only purpose is a proving ground for God's benefit." If God knows all and sees all, what benefit is there to running a "proving ground" when He KNOWS what the final result, and every intermediate result will be? (Omniscient, remember?)

He told me that when Satan revolted against God and was cast out of Heaven, some of the angels went with Satan, and some remained loyal to God and some remained undecided. Earth was created to show the undecided the price of opposing God vs. worshipping Him. That would seem to be your position as well, since we're just crash-test dummies on His vast "proving ground."

That answer didn't sit with me well then, and it doesn't now.

Posted by: Kevin Baker at March 8, 2005 7:00 PM
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