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Title: Blog by Novelist William S. Frankl, MD

Archive for the ‘Culture and Religion’ Category

Spinoza/Philosopher/Theologian

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

Benedict Spinoza was born on November 24, 1632 in Amsterdam. He was a philosopher, the descendent of Portuguese Jews who immigrated to the Netherlands seeking religious tolerance. Young Spinoza studied Hebrew, the Old Testament, the Talmud, and Cabalaist traditions of mysticism and miracle. Fluent in five languages, Spinoza wrote in Latin, which he learned from Christian teachers who introduced the young scholar to mathematics and philosophy.

By age 24, Spinoza had developed his own ideas. He asserted that everything in the universe was made from the same divine substance, possessing infinite characteristics. He defined God and the laws of nature as one and the same, a part of this infinite substance. All of this was too far-flung from the dominant vision of an almighty, singular godhead for Spinoza’s religious contemporaries to tolerate, and Spinoza was excommunicated.

This did not deter him from his intellectual pursuits. He said, “Do not weep; do not wax indignant. Understand. He left Amsterdam and supported himself grinding lenses while writing books of philosophy. He lived in solitude and studied the work of Bacon, Boyle, Descartes, and Huygens. Spinoza published three books while he was alive, though more of his writings were published later by friends. The only book that named him as an author was Principles of the Philosophy of René Descartes (1663). He withheld much of his work because he feared retribution from a group of theologians who had publicly accused him of atheism.

For more than a century after his death, Spinoza’s work was widely considered heretical and atheistic. But toward the end of the 18th century, his ideas underwent a revival. Thinkers called him holy and a man intoxicated with the divine. He influenced philosophers such as Goethe, Herder, Lessing, and Novalis. According to the philosopher Hegel, “to be a philosopher, one must first become a Spinozist.”

Spinoza said, “The highest activity a human being can attain is learning for understanding, because to understand is to be free.”

And, If you want the future to be different from the present, study the past.”

 

C.S.Lewis/Great Anglo-Irish Writer

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

C.S. Lewis was born on November 29,1898 in Belfast, Ireland. He was a great novelist and Christian apologist. His full name was Clive Staples Lewis. He grew up in a big house out in the country. He said: “I am the product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstairs indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes, and the noise of wind under the tiles. Also, of endless books.” He was particularly fascinated by Norse myths and old Scandinavian epics.

Lewis became an atheist after his mother died, and his atheism deepened after he fought on the front lines in France during WWI. He studied at Oxford University, and then became a professor there. After he had been teaching for about a year, he went to an Oxford faculty meeting and met a young professor of Anglo-Saxon named J.R.R. Tolkien. Lewis described Tolkien in his diary: “He is a smooth, pale, fluent little chap […] thinks all literature is written for the amusement of men between 30 and 40 […] No harm in him: only needs a smack or two.” Despite his initial misgivings, Lewis and Tolkien became good friends when Lewis joined Tolkien’s newly formed Icelandic Society. Lewis wrote to his best friend from childhood: “You will be able to imagine what a delight this is to me, and how, even in turning over the pages of my Icelandic Dictionary, the mere name of a god or giant catching my eye will sometimes throw me back 15 years into a wild dream of northern skies and Valkyrie music.”

In 1929, Lewis converted from atheism to theism (but still not to Christianity). He described how for months he felt God’s presence in his room each night, and finally, he gave in. He described himself as “perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” Two years later, he invited Tolkien and another friend to dinner, and afterward they spent hours walking along the river on the Oxford campus and discussing Christianity and myth. A few days later, Lewis officially converted to Christianity, riding on a motorcycle on the way to the Whipsnade zoo with his brother. He said, “When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did.”

It was around that time that Lewis and Tolkien began meeting regularly with a group of friends who became known as “The Inklings.” The Inklings met for 16 years. Each week they gathered midday in a back room at the Eagle and Child pub (which they called the Bird and Baby) for food, cider, and informal conversation. The serious literary events occurred each Thursday evening in Lewis’s apartment, which was not particularly clean. Lewis flicked his cigarette ashes directly on the carpet, and as one member pointed out, it was impossible to tell whether his gray chairs and sofa were gray originally or were just dirty. The Inklings would arrive slowly between 9 and 10:30 p.m., someone would make a pot of strong black tea, and they would take turns reading aloud from whatever they were writing. Over the years, Tolkien read The Lord of the Rings, and Lewis The Screwtape Letters (1942)his book of fictional advice letters from a senior demon, Screwtape, to his nephew Wormwood.

One day Lewis sat down to write a story for his goddaughter, Lucy. He said it “began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. The picture had been in my mind since I was about 16. Then one day when I was about 40, I said to myself: ‘Let’s try to make a story about it.'” That was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950), which Lewis followed with six sequels, known collectively as The Chronicles of Narnia.

Among Lewis’s many other books, Mere Christianity, Surprised by Joy, The Screwtape Letters, and The Magicians Nephew were the most popular.

St. Augustine

Saturday, January 5th, 2019

On November 11,354),  Saint Augustine was born in Tagaste, Numidia, a part of North Africa that is now Algeria. He converted to Christianity as an adult and wanted nothing more than to settle down to a quiet life of thinking about theology and writing books. But when he moved to the port town of Hippo to set up a monastery, he was forced to take over the duties of the local bishop, and he regretted for the rest of his life that he had to spend so much of his time delivering sermons and running a parish, when he could have devoted all that time to writing.

He still managed to write more than 90 books in his lifetime, but he wasn’t taken very seriously by other theologians. He couldn’t read or write in Greek, which was the language of intellectuals, and he lived in a backwater part of the Roman Empire. But by living on the edge of the empire, he was intimately familiar with all the pagan influences that were threatening Christianity, and he devoted himself to debunking all the popular new-age religions. His most famous book The Confessions (c. 400) is in part the story of how he converted to Christianity after living for years as a pagan himself.

In the last years of his life, Augustine was witnessing the fall of the Roman Empire. His city of Hippo was besieged by vandals, and it was destroyed soon after his death. But somehow Augustine’s library survived, and all his ideas about resisting pagan influences became doctrine within the church. It’s partially due to his writings that the Catholic Church survived the medieval period and did not break up into separate churches for another 1,000 years.

 

Jesus and the Migrant Crisis

Wednesday, December 26th, 2018

 

WASHINGTON EXAMINER

Jesus doesn’t fit your political narrative

by Nicole Russell

| December 23, 2018 08:00 AM

 

Since the migrant crisis in Europe began in 2015, it has become a common occurrence to see religious figures and publications combine incorrect theology with the political narrative of the day. For example, Pope Francis recently tweeted this:

Others have said similar things in recent months:

Whether evangelical or Catholic, many denominations try to encourage Americans to be friendlier toward migrants or refugees by insinuating that they should be like Jesus — and after all, Jesus himself was a refugee. This is entirely false and not only that, but this bizarre focus on Jesus as a “refugee” misses the entire point of the Gospel.

First, the concept that Jesus might have been a refugee comes from the fact that He was born in a stable after His parents, Joseph and Mary, could not find any room in the inn, following a lengthy journey from Nazareth, via donkey, to Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph were not going to Bethlehem because they had no home, nor did Joseph lack relatives in Bethlehem. The reason he went, and that there was no place to stay, is because the Caesar was a greedy, demanding ruler who demanded everyone return to their hometowns to participate in the census: “All went to be registered, each to his own town” (Luke 2:3).

I’m not saying the journey was pleasant and not without peril, and indeed, following Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph feared for Jesus’ life because King Herod wanted to kill him. This wasn’t as much a political agenda as a personal one: Herod didn’t want another king to take his spot. The family fled to Egypt until Herod died. But even this did not make Jesus a refugee in the sense that he was seeking respite from political persecution, although I can sometimes see where people might interpret it that way. The Bible says in Matthew 2:15: “[Jesus] remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.'”

Mary, Joseph, and Jesus did not travel to Bethlehem or ultimately flee to Egypt fearing persecution or seeking asylum status. They originally went to Bethlehem because Rome demanded it and they fled because they wanted to evade Herod’s thumb — this also fulfilled prophecy.

The larger and more important picture is that Jesus was not some kind of victim, wandering in utero with his parents all over the Middle East just searching for a place to be born. Christians believe God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent, sovereignly in control of all world events: from the donkey Mary rode to Bethlehem on to the fact that there was no room in the inn.

This is not a political statement but a spiritual truth to the Jews and the Gentiles of the world: A savior has been born. He has come from humble beginnings, but He will save His people from their sins. Without the simple humility of the idea that even the savior had no place to rest His head, His incredible sacrifice later on the cross would be difficult to accept. Still, because He was God in the flesh and was willing to become fully human — without which atonement for sins could not have occurred because a perfect deity cannot atone for sins — the gift of salvation is that much more a picture of grace.

This does not mean Jesus does not care about refugees or Middle Easterners more than he cares about Americans or atheists. It just means that the story of salvation is far bigger and more incredible than any political narrative, on the Left or on the Right.

Nicole Russell (@russell_nm) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. She is a journalist who previously worked in Republican politics in Minnesota.

 

 

Julius Caesar

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

July 12 is the birthday of (Gaius) Julius Caesar, born in Rome around 100 B.C. He was the great military leader who managed to capture for the Roman Empire most of what became France and Great Britain.

In a series of dispatches from the battlefield, Caesar became his own war correspondent. Unlike many of the Roman poets and historians of the era, Caesar wrote short descriptive prose that was easy for ordinary people to understand. His stories of military victories turned him into a national hero, but the Roman Senate increasingly saw him as a threat. It passed legislation requiring him to lay down his military command and return to Rome.

But Caesar realized that he had the largest and most battle-tested army in the empire under his command. And if he returned to Rome, his political opponents would end his career. And so, on January 10, 49 B.C., Caesar crossed the Rubicon River with his army, directly challenging the authority of the Senate. The result was a civil war. Though he was outnumbered in many of the major battles, Caesar won the war. And he was extremely merciful with captured military leaders, because he wanted them as his allies. That might have been his biggest mistake, since it was a group of those men he spared that began to conspire against him.

He was an absolute dictator of Rome, with ambitious plans to redistribute wealth and land. But a group of senators, led by Brutus and Cassius, wanted to bring back the old republic. So they organized an assassination on the steps of the Senate.

The Roman republic never returned. Instead, Rome would be ruled by a series of emperors for the rest of the empire’s existence.


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