Monday, April 28, 2008

A Letter Concerning Toleration (John Locke)

It's pretty well agreed that the principle of religious liberty in American tradition is founded on the thinking of John Locke. It really helps, in understanding things, to go back to where an idea got started, because that determines the thinking even of people who have no idea where their thinking came from.

For instance, when I read Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion some years ago, I saw that Calvin made sense about a lot of things. but I found one subtle error in his thinking - he failed to distinguish between weakness and sin. In his work, it looks like a small theological booboo. But the consequences for the Calvinist tradition have been disastrous. The cruel severity, contempt for weakness, and admiration of the rich and successful that plagues all Calvinist societies quite obviously got its start right there. For instance, the slave systems of Surinam, South Africa, and the United States were more consistent and relentless in their denial of the humanity of their slaves than, say, that of Roman Catholic Brazil. The inclination of American Protestant religion to despise the poor and the weak - figuring that they are poor because they are sinners and that the strong and worldly successful are virtuous - clearly grows out of Calvin's original mistake.

No marvel that the spiritual and godly preacher in American Christianity wears fancy clothes and drives a nice car, and is paid good money by his big church with a fancy building, while the one that lacks these things is despised. It's a lot easier to discern our errors today and why we're so deceived when we see just where we got them.

Returning to Locke's Letter Concerning Toleration, I never realized that there is some solid theology there, which today's American Christians would do well to ponder, who pray for the success and safety of violent aggressors who supposedly defend us from the Muslim bad guys by murdering people in other people's lands so that imperial America can subdue them to its will and rob them to feed its insatiable lust. Consider this:

For whatsoever some people boast of the antiquity of places and names, or of the pomp of their outward worship; others of the reformation of their discipline; all, of the orthodoxy of their faith - for everyone is orthodox to himself - these things, and all others of this nature, are much rather marks of men striving for power and empire over one another than of the Church of Christ. Let anyone have never so true a claim to all these things, yet if he be destitute of charity, meekness, and good will in general towards all mankind, even to those who are not Christians, he is certainly yet short of being a Christian himself. "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them," said our Saviour to His disciples, "but ye shall not be so." [Luke 22:25] The business of true religion is quite another thing. It is not instituted in order to the erecting of an external pomp, nor to the obtaining of ecclesiastical dominion, nor to the exercising of compulsive force, but to the regulating of men's lives, according to the rules of virtue and piety. Whoever will list himself under the banner of Christ must, in the first place, and above all things, make war upon his own lusts and vices.

Read the whole letter here:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Passover (pesach)

Gayle bought some charoseth in Whole Foods when she was in Illinois, and it was good, so she thought she should make some. We spoke of it, how it is made for the Passover meal to remind us of the mortar used to put the bricks together in Egyptian bondage - deriving from the Hebrew for clay - cheres. Let the goyim know that the "ch" in these is like in Bach, not like in chicken!

Our regular Sunday night Bible study was Passover, so as long as we were going to make charoseth, we needed the rest too. So we made everything for the Passover meal - the matzo, the bone, the bitter herbs, eggs, and salt water, and I'm probably forgetting something.

We went over the first Passover, in Exodus 12, and the last one in the Bible, in Matthew 26. We all learned and were helped, and we had a couple of guests not usually there, which made it even better. It was doubtless not done exactly according to the ordinance, but the word of God was heard and taken to heart, which is the true food - and that is certainly ordained.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

"He sent a man before them - Joseph was sold as a slave" (Psalm 105)

Having bragged - in perfect truth - a couple of weeks ago of the faithfulness of the Lord to those who trust in him, I had to get to whining to him about how forsaken I seemed to be myself. Having set this question before God, by chance I came to Psalm 105.

Remember his marvelous works which He has done, His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth.

He then recounts God's works to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying:

When they went from one nation to another, from one kingdom to another people, He permitted no one to do them wrong; yes He rebuked kings for their sakes.

Well, yes, but when we read the fine print, it didn't really look that way from day to day. Abraham had to fear what Pharaoh would do to him, and more so, too, because of his own folly (Genesis 12). Isaac found himself being robbed again and again of wells that his father had dug, wondering when they would let him keep his own (Genesis 26). Jacob had his daughter seized and raped at Shechem, and then had to be afraid that all would gather against him because of how his sons avenged this insult (Genesis 34). And finally, God drove them out of the land with famine. He had sent Joseph before them to prepare the way, but not so elegantly - his own brothers had sold him there as a slave, so that God rescued them by means of their own malice.

Then God freed them from Egyptian bondage. But that didn't feel too glorious to begin with:

He turned their heart to hate his people, to deal craftily with his servants.

That's a pretty harsh way for the salvation of God to turn up in your life!

But that's the way it is.