June 27, 2006

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 consistently. Grace and belief for me seem to be always approaching or alwys retreating and while I wish they would linger longer, they seem born to roam as far as my soul is concerned. I am, however, mindful and grateful that they do seem to arrive when I need them the most.

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 June 27, 2006 6:52 AM | 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.

Grace and belief play peekaboo with a lot of us. Maybe faith is the stubborn hope that they'll come back again every time they go missing.

If these people believed in nothing and only nothing, perhaps we'd be better off. The scary thing is, they believe in themselves, the chosen few, to hector and harass and legislate and manipulate and maneuver the rest of us into believing in them too.

They are jealous, jealous of the Almighty. Kicking against the pricks in a world where they can only hope to be servants of one another, never the Lord of the Manor. They remind me of swaggering, puffed-up teens, shouting their mastery out the windows as they drive around - in Dad's car. In their childish fits of temper, they will tear down our house if we let them.

Posted by: AskMom at June 27, 2006 8:16 AM

I once got into a rather involved discussion with someone who told me that they couldn't accept a God that created a world with so much pain and injustice. All I could say was "So, God owes you, ...WHAT?"
I think that our 'social betters' main gripe with religion is God didn't ask their opinion before he started.

Posted by: ed in texas at June 27, 2006 10:55 AM

I believe in God. I have to, I pissed him off.

Is God responsible for the world as it is? No. The world is as it is, or we're responsible.

In other words, The world has been having earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, predation, and bad smells since the beginning. The rest of it is our doing. We are responsible for our behavior, and for the results of our behavior. No one can share the blame.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg at June 27, 2006 12:56 PM

"All knowledge, of whatever sort, goes through two countervailing processes: the annunciation from noise into fact, and the disintegration back into noise again. The driving process is the drawing of ever finer distinctions. The consequence is an endless chain of theoretical catastrophes. The residuum is faith."

-- James Blish. --

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto at June 27, 2006 12:57 PM

Oh, but you do have an abiding faith. You constantly seek and affirm truth and truth is a facet of the Godhead. As a matter of fact, "Truth", and thus God, is added to and made more of an attractor by the brilliance your works produce.

And all the people said, Amen!

Posted by: John Hinds at June 27, 2006 2:44 PM

That's got to be one of the most interesting, respectful, and thoughtful posts about open discourse, "religion," and cooperation that I've read in a long time. Bravo! And if I might add, do it again! Thanks.

Posted by: Todd Bensel at June 27, 2006 5:21 PM

"The Declaration of Independence dogmatically bases all rights on the fact that God created all men equal; and it is right; for if they were not created equal, they were certainly evolved unequal. There is no basis for democracy except in a dogma about the divine origin of man."
-- G.K. Chesterton --

Man is designed for broad day but lives in twilight. When I'm too tired to recall the sun fully to mind, contemplating full night usually brings faith rushing back. Gotta be careful though. Fear of the dark isn't always irrational.

And please do be careful; you're one of our treasures.

Posted by: Matt Burchett at June 27, 2006 6:22 PM

The attempted removal of the allusions to God in the public square under the absurd guise establishment, can only serve to weaken this the greatest nation in history. It is indeed a slippery slope we're on, the ACLU double black diamond slope.

As for the concept of amazing grace dwelling in us rather than occasionally blowing through our lives, something occurs to me: Could it be that each of us must decide, after tasting this grace, whether we are willing for it to come and abide in and change us, as it inevitably will? Are we willing to pay that unknown price? Most of the time, the answer is sadly no.

C.S. Lewis writes his dazzling allegory illustrating the point in "The Great Divorce," about a busload of souls transported from the dreary nederlands to the gates of Heaven where each spirit is given a choice. Most are not willing to give up the known for entry into the unknown transformation proces leading to heaven...except, that is, for the man with the pet lizard on his shoulder....

Posted by: Webutante at June 27, 2006 7:53 PM

Billy Schnieder asked me if I thought God existed. We had just polished off a couple of bottles of Robitussin AC and were walking on a beautiful starlit fall evening from Mitchell Gardens to the Horn & Hardharts in Flushing to cap our evening repast with a few Doriden's and some tea with lemon and honey.

I explained to him that God had to exist because it was impossible for anything to exist. The only thing possible was nothing, I forget the name of the smallest known particle in those days, 1961 or 62, Quarks? Neutrinos? Billy got it when I said, "OK a mote of dust!", after I explained mote. Even a mote of dust could not exist. Billy agreed and thought that was cool.

Approximately twenty years later I discovered there is a universe between knowing and believeing and by God's Grace I can be grateful for every breath I take. I could be, but I'm not. I need a lot of work, this spiritual stuff ain't easy, yet so much easier than everything that came before I believed.

One benefit of this peace, a lot of people might panic or at least become frustrated walking into the bathroom and forgetting why they were there. I just take a leak while I'm there on the off chance that's why I came in there and if it isn't at least it not a wasted trip.

The last quote is for you Gerard.

"Time after time mankind is driven against the rocks of the horrid reality of a fallen creation. And time after time mankind must learn the hard lessons of history—the lessons that for some dangerous and awful reason we can't seem to keep in our collective memory." —Hilaire Belloc

"The Christian and the Materialist hold different beliefs about the universe. They can't both be right. The one who is wrong will act in a way which simply doesn't fit the real universe. Consequently, with the best will in the world, he will be helping his fellow creatures to their destruction." —C. S. Lewis

"The Modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; but their truth is pitiless. And thus some humanitarians care only for pity; but their pity is often untruthful." --G.K. Chesterton

"God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn't. In this trial he makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down." --C. S. Lewis

Posted by: Dennis at June 27, 2006 8:30 PM

Of course, most of those advocating the removal of all things religious from our civic life would never admit to believing in NOTHING. What they believe in, they would say, is love, respect and freedom for all men and creatures. They would ask the old question whether it is possible to be a moral person without believing in a higher being -- and would answer resoundingly "yes."

Your thoughts about belief in NOTHING would not so much as dent their armor. If fact, they would find you inferior for even suggesting that some quaint superstition had anything to do with morality at all.

And THAT is why we're in this fix: they cannot see that they believe in NOTHING.

Posted by: Pdquig at June 28, 2006 7:43 AM

"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."

Beautifully said! Thank you.

Posted by: katzxy at June 28, 2006 4:43 PM

For myself, in a crisis of faith, I find I bring it on because I am not really listening, or I am dumb enough to believe I alone have the "magic power" to change something or someone. But usually, I'm not seeing the forest because I'm too busy concentrating on the damn tree ahead. V, ignore the tree. Whether you think so or not, faith is at work in you. Otherwise, you'd still be working for the other side............
Like it or not, you are proof God is.

Posted by: moondog at June 28, 2006 7:11 PM

I think the problem with faith is people don't want to believe in the Christian (or Muslim etc) or the "religious" God. They want to believe in a generic, non-religious, non-denominational "God" and then feel depressed when they don't find him.

How many of these people who claim that they want faith actually go to Church and find a really knowledgable Priest to go over their questions with them, actually read the Bible and other Christian books, and actually try to understand what the Christian God is like?

How many of these people actually deconstruct their own world view and philosophy (everyone has one) to see how prehaps it is based on inherently atheistic assumptions, and educate themselves to see that there are alternative points of view?

God isn't going to beam down on you with a flash of light. We're not all as lucky as St. Paul. As far as I see it, faith is an act of the intellect and will. The scholastics were right, the moderns wrong. Faith is not a feeling, emphatically! You must educate yourself and then make a decision to believe, and you can't do those things unless you make an effort.

Posted by: Matthew Schrank at June 29, 2006 3:08 AM

Christ and Nothing, by David B. Hart.

As modern men and women—to the degree that we are modern—we believe in nothing. This is not to say, I hasten to add, that we do not believe in anything; I mean, rather, that we hold an unshakable, if often unconscious, faith in the nothing, or in nothingness as such. It is this in which we place our trust, upon which we venture our souls, and onto which we project the values by which we measure the meaningfulness of our lives. Or, to phrase the matter more simply and starkly, our religion is one of very comfortable nihilism.
And so, at the end of modernity, each of us who is true to the times stands facing not God, or the gods, or the Good beyond beings, but an abyss, over which presides the empty, inviolable authority of the individual will, whose impulses and decisions are their own moral index.

Posted by: Donald Sensing at June 29, 2006 9:27 AM

Dear Mr. Vanderleun:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer commented in The Cost of Discipleship about those who say that they can not believe. He wrote, "Those who believe, obey; those who obey, believe." He advised those having difficulty believing to concentrate on obeying the commandments set forth in scripture, because obedience leads to belief. How this should be so is somthing of a mystery. Ephesians 2:8 suggests that faith itself is a gift from God, rather than our own achievement. When a father brought his sick son to Jesus in Mark 9, "Jesus said unto him, 'If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.' And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, 'Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." Jesus healed the child, thereby implying that the father's prayer for faith was first answered. So, a prayer for faith is in order for him who discerns the goodness of faith but cannot detect the presence of faith in his heart.
Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America that he found the reason for America's greatness when he saw that, in America, "the pulpits flamed forth righteousness." For more than 100 years, the elite classes and intellectuals of American society have tried everything but righteousness and faith in the God of the Bible. Their choices have been, and are, truly foolish and destructive, and threaten the continued existence of America. The time has come for us, as individuals and as a society, to lay hold of that faith and the righteousness that it demands of us.

Posted by: Bengoshi at June 30, 2006 8:29 PM

we want to have a specific answer about "would their be morality without man"

Posted by: ma.kristine untalasco at July 17, 2006 10:58 PM
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