There will always be “glass half full” and “glass half empty” people. Both will always be right. Personally, the thing that keeps me more on the half-full side are all the half-empty people that spoke and wrote in the past. It is those who accurately described catastrophic events or put their finger on unwelcome changes that give me hope that we will see the other side of whatever happens.
As a believer, I should add that “we” may not include “me.” Unless one considers the “other side” that which is beyond death. But humanity and cultures will survive. Maybe not the ones we are familiar with today because things change. It is fine to resist a little. It is OK to be a little concerned. It is natural to be angry or confused. It is fine to argue for or against. The one thing I believe that we must exercise the most self-control over is our fear.
This is where history, and the history of faith, is so important. This is why many rightly lament the utter lack of seeing history on its own terms and allowing those from the past to speak for themselves in their context rather than imposing our current sensitivities and social understandings on those who lived in the past. This is the reason much of the Bible is so misconstrued. I need not speak of the current issues we are having with important (whether one likes them or not) historical figures in our nation’s history.
There are laws in the Old Testament that sound utterly barbaric to us today. However, at the time they were massive advancements in the humane treatment of others. I, for one, do not want my life and decisions to be judged by some unknown future generation that has no idea what life is like now — even if they do read the books. There will always be books, right?
The world is always undergoing changes in the way we think about the world, religion and other people. Every few generations the way we process information changes, which makes documents that were written in a previous milieu more difficult to grasp without a little homework. I am not a philosopher and only dabble enough to be dangerous and show my ignorance in the subject.
I will venture to say, however, that we have moved from a rationalist view of the world and religion (which I might argue is the source of our founding documents and had a profound impact on our traditional denominations) to a post-modern view.
In 1865 (note the year), Dr. John Fletcher Hurst, the first chancellor of American University in Washington, D.C., wrote a book about the effects of Rationalist thought on Christianity. He was not happy about the changes he saw in this new approach to theology and the Bible. Even today I tend to agree with him.
Here is what he said about music. “The old chorals, which had been lingering in those renowned gothic temples ever since the days of Luther, were so altered as to stand upon the same footing as the hymns themselves. All sentiment was extracted, as quite out of place, and sublimity was made to give way to a more temporal and stoical standard. In due time the Rationalists effected their purpose. Secular music was introduced into the sanctuary. ... The oratorios and cantata of the theatre and beer-garden were the Sabbath accompaniments of the sermon. The masses consequently began to sing less. ...” It all sounds strangely familiar.
I found this concluding remark in his chapter about the effects of skepticism to be particularly fascinating. “Our civilization is undergoing complete revolution. The field is newly ploughed by events of the past few years, and it becomes the Church to scatter the seed of truth with unsparing hand.” It is worth remembering again that this is 1865, which means that much of this was probably written during the Civil War.
I have no doubt that the war influenced everything. There was nothing said that was not interpreted without “the war” in mind. We are in a similar time of heightened sensitivities. Everything is about virus or -isms. What is remarkable here is his continued focus on faith. What he saw was faith under attack from within and without. It always has been and always will be.
This is not only true of Christianity. The better parts of most faiths are always on the defensive because right now we are encouraged to judge the whole by the worst or most perverted examples. We must do better. Things will always change. Things will always feel like they are falling apart. Been there. Done that. Speak your mind, be tenacious, but do not fear the change. That is how we make things better.
Sean Niestrath lives and ministers in Madisonville. You may contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.