Monday, July 13, 2009

Nostradamus, Hitler and the Salem Witches

My daughter, Tiffany, writes a blog that has become widely read. I can see why; she is one of the best writers around. Not only do her words dance and perform all sorts of intellectual acrobatics, she actually says something; and that’s refreshing these days!

Both of my daughters are believers, thanks be to God. They attend church faithfully and are raising my grandchildren in the faith. However, each of them struggle with American Evangelicalism’s current flight from the arts and sciences. They are not theological liberals, so its not an option for them to attend a church that is not committed to an orthodox expression of biblical faith. On the other hand, they often feel they must hide their interest in social concerns, philosophical questions, art, science – well, much of life that currently falls outside of the interest of many American Evangelicals.

In her latest blog, Tiffany muses about the relationship between Catherine de Medici, wife of King Henri II, and Nostradamus. She dips her foot in the swamp of history, fantasy, myth, fear and fascination that surrounds the old soothsayer. Then she raises the question of whether he actually was a soothsayer/wizard/devil-inspired spiritualist. She does this because she discovered that he saved lives during a plague by proscribing rose hips, which is of course a potent source of vitamin C.

The issue of Nostradamus leads her to wonder whether he was misjudged by his generation of believers simply because he made eerie predictions about the future. (For example, he predicted the rise of an evil European leader he called “Hinster” who would murder millions of people.)

Well, I don’t know. My knowledge of Nostradamus is limited. Like most of you, I realize that New Agers and the like find him fascinating. Through the fog of centuries he appears sinister and altogether mysterious.

But that’s not her point.

Her point is that church people have gotten it wrong a few times and have attacked (and even killed) people for witchcraft or heresy who were actually just intelligent. She names Galileo and Michelangelo and raises the specter of the Salem Witch trials.

Probably Nostradamus had a better grasp on pharmacology than others. Not knowing about vitamin C, he nonetheless intuitively grasped that something in rose hips could help people fight disease. As for his prophesies, why would that frighten any Christian? After all, don't we read daily from a text full of such predictions?

Tiffany is circling around what I think is probably the answer: Nostradamus was both an intellectual and a Charismatic.

Not good, especially now.

One must be either spiritually alive or intellectually curious...but not both.

Intellectuals and Charismatics are enemies; each expels the other from their camp. Therefore, if you are an intellectual and discover that you have Charismatic gifts and interests, you better hide that side of yourself from your intellectual friends. If you are a Charismatic who develops an interest in the intellectual life, you will have to hide that interest from your Charismatic friends.
An anti-intellectual mood has swept over Evangelicalism in the last few years that resembles the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the sixties. A couple of generations have grown up believing that fidelity to the Word of God requires a return to the nineteenth century. The Christian liberals’ capitulation to modernity has been met with a conservative retreat from the arts, science and social justice.

It leaves some of us with no place to go.

I grew up in an extremely conservative Christian home. We never had a television (we read books!)

We heard bible stories every single day. We prayed. We fasted. We cared for poor people. We did the stuff of spiritual life in a socially conservative context. However, I never once heard anyone ever claim that the earth was six thousand years old. I never heard anyone rebuke my boyhood interest in dinosaurs. No one yelled at me for reading Freud when I was a teenager.
My parents encouraged me to develop intellectually and welcomed my questions about life and reality.

I was thirty when I first heard an intelligent Christian man claim that the earth was six thousand years old. I thought he was kidding!

He wasn’t.

He was my first encounter with a growing tide of American believers who had declared war on all aspects of modern life; except for its technological toys.

Before this blog becomes a book, I must somehow wrap up my thoughts.

Truth, Goodness and Beauty exist. Believing that separates me from modern and post-modern thinkers.

I believe that a dead man rose from the dead and that He was God made flesh. That conviction destroys any intellectual credentials I might otherwise be allowed to establish.

Perception of Truth, Goodness and Beauty differs from person to person; from culture to culture and from generation to generation. That statement separates me from the current mood of many conservative Christians. Reality and the perception of reality are not the same things. That is why we must quest for all three of those eternal qualities. The quest begins in awe and humility. It cannot begin in a naive certainty that my family, my church, my culture and the age in which I happen to be living, gives me a privileged view of reality. That would be the doctrine of immaculate perception! Continental drift occurred; its not a theory or a speculation. That provides us with a visible proof of an earth that is the product of untold ages and cataclysmic (as well as incremental) change.

Quantum mechanics has uncovered truth that no previous generation ever considered: that our concrete world rests upon a constant motion of particles and energies that have only probable existence.

Relativity –now proven through numerous experiments – reveal a universe in which there is no fixed point, or for that matter, any fixed flow of time.

And there is more, but I must conclude.

Creatures who live for the briefest moment against a backdrop of infinity, ought to be humble. As St. Paul says, “We know in part and prophesy in part and see reality as in a glass, darkly.”

Nostradamus startles us by depicting a coming European monster centuries in advance, alluding to machines that would fly and rain down fire that would consume entire cities. However, he called the European monster “Hinster”. That’s really close! But not quite right.

We see in part and prophesy in part.

He discovered that vitamin C had potent powers to heal the sick. However, he had no explanation for what he had found, at least one that would satisfy his contemporaries.

The Salem witches were apparently smart women who were trying to discover ways of keeping their families alive with things they learned from Indians – that some roots and berries have medicinal properties.

Galileo tried not to see what he had seen in order to maintaining his community with those he loved. “And yet,” he was heard to mutter as he left the church, “the sun does move.”

The scripture commands us to “comfort the feeble minded.” We are forbidden to ridicule or mock those who struggle with mental deficiencies.

Why then do we feel free to ridicule or mock those who exercise their minds to discover the wonders of the world?

I don’t know. But it isn’t right.

If you want to read the blog that provoked this diatribe, here’s the link:


Lisa said...

I have always enjoyed hearing your sermons, that is, hearing you preach. To me you have ALWAYS been BOTH intellectual AND spiritual. It is probably what i have enjoyed most about your books, your preaching and now your blog.

Kimberly said...

I'm so thankful to have also grown up in a family where we read books. We were forbidden from so much - music, television, movies, art, and even science were sensored and restricted; but there was no restriction when it came to books. I could check out anything I wanted from the library and was exposed to so many wonderful ideas through those books. What a blessing!

Bill Whites said...

Hello Pastor,

I read this blog about 2 days ago and there is part of it that has bothered me since I read it. While I agree that the church has gotten it wrong at times and been closed minded to certain things in the past, I don't think having intellect necessarily has to mean being schooled. I have a problem with the current establishment of secular learning that seems to want to discount God in learing, especially in Science.

After watching the Truch Project I was affirmed in my beliefs and also troubled by the Scientific community's lack of being open to any view outside of evolution. To consider something a scientific fact based on circular logic without any real foundation is not science in my opinion. I have to admit, I am not well versed in literature, so I can't really speak to that, but what has happened to science has really disappointed me. Early scientists seemed to believe that science was a way to learn about God and his creation because it was looked at from a Biblical world view, or at least from a view of having a creator. Even Darwin himself was open about the many difficulties with his theories.

My other issue is that some of the most intelligent people I have known have been farmers and business owners who didn't even finish high school. In the intellectual community they would be looked at as backward country people who are ignorant. But I would contend that the ignorant ones are the ones who don't see the wisdom that these people have to share.

I agree with you that we shouldn't stop learning and looking at other sources to see what they have to offer. I don't think using our minds is a bad thing. I just think in today's environment we need to be careful what we take in and make sure it is all tested against God's Word, because if it doesn't line up with God it isn't truth.

Thank you for writing this. I miss listening to you on a regular basis. You always make me think.