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Archive for the ‘History’ 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.”

 

H.G.Wells/ Great Sci-fi Writer

Thursday, January 31st, 2019

 September 21,1866 was the birthdate of H.G. Wells , born Herbert George in London . He is the sci-fi writer most known for The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, and War of the Worlds. Wells wasn’t the first to write about time travel or alien invasions, but his brand of sci-fi was uniquely realistic. He wanted to make the made-up science as believable as possible. Wells called this his “system of ideas” — today we would call it suspension of disbelief. Wells said: “As soon as the magic trick has been done the whole business of the fantasy writer is to keep everything else human and real. Touches of prosaic detail are imperative and a rigorous adherence to the hypothesis. Any extra fantasy outside the cardinal assumption immediately gives a touch of irresponsible silliness to the invention”. H.G. Wells died in 1946.

 

Writers Almanac

van Leeuwenhoek

Thursday, January 31st, 2019

In September 17, 1683, Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek wrote a seminal letter to the Royal Society, sharing his discovery of “animalcules,” or what we know as bacteria. He was untrained in science, and had had no higher education at all, but he was acutely curious about the world around him. Starting in about 1668, he had been experimenting with lens grinding and making his own simple microscopes. He hired an artist to draw the things he saw through his lens, and he started writing informal letters to the Royal Society in 1673, describing things he’d discovered. Ten years later, on this date, he wrote a letter describing his study of the plaque found between his teeth, and the teeth of other subjects. “I … saw, with great wonder, that in the said matter there were many very little living animalcules, very prettily a-moving. The biggest sort … had a very strong and swift motion, and shot through the water (or spittle) like a pike does through the water. The second sort … oft-times spun round like a top … and … were far more in number.” Leeuwenhoek was one of the first to observe animalcules. The Royal Society was skeptical of his discovery at first, and there was much discussion about his mental status, but today he is considered “the Father of Microbiology.”

Leeuwenhoek never wrote any books, but he wrote letters to the Royal Society for more than 50 years. During that time, he shared his discoveries: blood cells, sperm cells, nematodes, muscle fibers, and algae. He wrote his letters in Dutch, which was the only language he knew, and his letters were translated into English and Latin before publication. He wrote right up until his death at age 90, and his last letters were detailed observations of his own final illness.

 

The Writers Almanac

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.

 

 


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