Tag Archives: science

The Jefferson Attitude

The New York Times ran an article by historian David Williams about Thomas Jefferson’s more or less Christian attitude and how taking a similar stance might allow the Democratic Party to win over those who find Democrats essentially secular and deaf to the concerns posed by their Christian beliefs.

According to Mr. Williams, Jefferson believed in the teachings of Christ but didn’t accept the “mysticism”, by which Jefferson apparently meant the outrageous claim that Christ was God and as such performed miracles including his return from death, thereby providing evidence for his assertion that believers could achieve eternal life.

Now, I would certainly prefer that Democrats took the teachings of Christ seriously, no matter how they feel about “mysticism”. While I spent some time at a seminary in Tijuana, a very intelligent member of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity told me that part of his admiration for the Mexican poor was that even most of those who didn’t believe in Catholic doctrine, having grown up in a mostly Catholic culture, had learned to be humble and selfless, as Christ would have them be.

Would that we all were humble and selfless, no matter what we believe.

But whether or not this Jeffersonian template, based largely upon the Beatitudes and the admonition to love our neighbors, would win at least some swing votes to Democrats, it’s quite a dangerous course to chart. In fact, I would call it hogwash except, perhaps because of my ties to Christian culture, I would rather play nice.
In defense of my objection, I will call upon Feodor Dostoyevski, widely held to be among the greatest novelists ever.

In the recent work of a far lesser writer (Ken Kuhlken, alias me), we find a precocious thirteen year old discussing a criminal case with his attorney uncle:

“Tommy asked, ‘Well, do you want to hear something Dostoyevski thought about bad guys like Luz? [boss of a Tijuana cartel.]’

“’Read on.’

“Tommy’s source was The Brothers Karamazov, which he opened to a book mark.

“’This is Rakitin, who’s pretty much of a nitwit, talking about Ivan, who is mighty smart: “Did you hear his stupid theory just now: if there’s no immortality of the soul, then there’s no virtue, and everything is lawful?”’”

Dostoyevski devoted much of his art to dramatizing this very question: if we remove God from the equation, why should we act in accord with any moral standard other than the pursuit of our own benefit?

If we take a secular stance and dismiss the possibility of what Jefferson deems mysticism, why should we hold anyone’s well being above our own; why should we sacrifice; why should we try to love better?

Over a hundred years ago, that question drove Dostoyevski’s two most profound and compelling novels. Before his time and ever since, some mighty intelligent writers and thinkers have tried and failed to come up with a convincing answer.

So, regardless of the fact that a long lost girlfriend of mine argued that Christianity would be preferable if blood weren’t one of its abiding themes; and my Unitarian friends would have us consider the teachings of Christ in the same category as those of the Dalai Lama; and many folks I know believe that heaven is a swell concept but hell is simply not Christ-like … regardless of the opinions of those good people, the notion that we can legitimately pick and choose from a historically fixed set of beliefs is a fool’s paradise.

Which brings me to the role of us writers in political, social and spiritual discourse.

Sure, those of us who believe in Christ ought to let our readers know that, like Jefferson, we adhere to the values our Lord set down and hope people follow them whether or not they believe in the “mystical” stuff. But if we believe in that “mystical” stuff, we also ought to insinuate our belief that creation is more than what the Bernards would have us believe.

For a definition of “Bernards,” I once again call upon the precocious Tommy. Jodi, The novel’s narrator, is telling about a drive along Highway 395 in the Sierra Nevada:

“Once when Tommy laughed and I asked what about, he said, ‘Dmitri, one of the brothers, he calls science guys Bernards. Bernard was some knucklehead French writer.’

“’Dmitri calls scientists Bernards?’

“’Not exactly scientists, but guys who think science is the answer to everything.’

“’So, Tommy,’ Mystery [Jodi’s daughter] said, ‘if not science, what is the answer to everything?’”

To find the answer to that last and ultimate question, you’ll need to read the novel.

Thanks for reading, Ken

The Necessity of Hope

I can’t seem to make myself stop beginning the day with a dose of world news. This morning I read about the many political assassinations in Russia, and about the thousands of deaths and nearly unfathomable misery the people of Syria and Syrian refugees are suffering.

It’s not like such horrors are unfamiliar. I was born a month after we bombed Hiroshima, and my earliest years were often tainted by stories of the holocaust and of Stalin’s purges.

All my life, the world has been, for many, many, people, a hideously tragic place.

After my morning dose of news, I drove to a restaurant to meet my son for breakfast and on the way listened to an old Andre Crouch song, “Jesus is the Light of the World” and felt as if a boulder had risen off my shoulders. Because belief in Christ and the God he proclaimed gives me hope that all this tragedy will get redeemed; that people who die young, suffer in unimaginable ways, or have very little chance of living in anything like contentment, will at last find peace and joy.

In my favorite of all novels, The Brothers Karamazov, brother Ivan admits that even though God may redeem all the tragedy and suffering, he cannot forgive God for it all. I am neither as bright nor as sensitive as Ivan. Perhaps that’s why I can accept that God has motives far beyond what I can begin to comprehend.

I worry about people who reject God out of hand, who take as gospel the Darwinian world view and essentially contend as did the skinny wrestler in the film Nacho Libre, “I don’t believe in God, I believe in science.” I wonder how these people can live with the world’s tragedy. Maybe they compartmentalize and lock the grim facts away in some dark corner of their minds. If not, how do they accept such a world? Have they become so callous?

I’m a fan of science. My Zoe is a lover of science and I encourage her to follow science as a career, since it offers so many exciting opportunities in so many fields. But to take science as the answer to everything is to ignore the very simple fact Plato portrayed about 2500 years ago in “The Allegory of the Cave”: we only perceive what our senses allow us to know, and our senses are limited.

Though I am glad my belief gives me hope, hope is not the basis of my beliefs. That would be nothing but wishful thinking. Reasons that led me to believe are given in Reading Brother Lawrence.

I suspect only people whose hearts are damaged or turned off can look at the human condition and fail to be driven to actively search for a reason to hope in some destiny more fair and beautiful than what our senses perceive.

Coincidentally, or providentially, take your pick, about an hour after I wrote the above, Pastor Jason in a message at Journey Community Church offered this insight: “One of the central symptoms of our sickness as humans is a rock hard shell of callousness, exhibited in self-absorption, belief in self-sufficiency, and consequent apathy that numbs us to God and people around us.” He attributed it both to the fall (the one in the Garden of Eden) and to defense mechanisms we create out of fear. He also mentioned God’s promise to Ezekiel. “I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

My prayer is that God will extend that promise to me and mine and to us all.