Oh, the cleverness of me…

…when I was a freshman in college. Or so I thought.

I am college freshman. Fear me.

I am college freshman. Fear me.

I’ve posted things from my college days before — this piece I wrote for the Hillsdale Collegian, for example — and I’m doing it again now. I’ll make the same caveat now as I made then, mostly to myself:

Judge not thy past self, lest ye be judged by thy future self!

Sure, I see thoughts that are only half-formed in my past writings, along with hasty or sweeping generalizations, straw men, a general lack of nuance, comma-splices, and (horror of horrors) split infinitives. At the same time, however, it’s neat (if a little narcissistic) to read such writings and remember what it was like to have the light really turn on for the first time about a question I had been pondering. And wasn’t that what college was all about? That wonder? Well, not all about. Really, though, I think it is mostly about that — and that’s an assertion I will not now attempt to support.

So, thank you, Hillsdale College, for enkindling in me wonder. It is a gift that I seek to pay forward every day as I teach young children.

And now, without further adieu, I present to you…

Something that I found on my external harddrive entitled “Latitudinarianism and Dead Parrots,” written on February 2, 2007. It was not a piece of formal writing, I do not think, nor was it a letter, which leads me to surmise that it must have been something for my illustrious Xanga page…

Oh, dear. Xanga.

I think I must not have finished it ever, as neither of the themes in the title are so much as touched. Hmmm. Like I said — oh, the cleverness of me…

“Latitudinarianism and Dead Parrots”

More and more, I am seeing just how much modern evangelical Christianity’s quest for novelty has its roots in the Renaissance.

Dr. Sundahl described Renaissance Humanism as the Good, the Bad, and the sometimes Ugly. Lately I have recognized a lot of the ugliness I observe in the culture as ultimately having come out of the Renaissance. To be honest, I have never thought of it that way before, but many of the cultural problems we’re facing right now are less unique to our age, less modern than we think. Man still being same old sinful man, this makes sense. Reading Hamlet under the direction of Dr. Sundahl has really made this clear.

In many ways, Hamlet’s speech and actions bring to mind the turmoil that I see in a restless Christian Church constantly seeking to define itself. When I put it that way, it makes it sound like this animated blob having an identity crisis…which, actually, isn’t half bad! But I digress, I myself struggle with defining my faith, and really trying to figure out how I ought to relate to God. But that right there is the crux of the issue…what will my struggling bring about? Something better? Probably not.

Hamlet comes back from Wittenberg College, a locus of Renaissance learning and humanism, a changed man—bitter, brooding and blasé. Life to him is drudgery. “How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable are the uses of this world…’tis an unweeded garden, that grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature possess it merely.” His primary concern with the world is not its standalone sublimity, but rather how it relates to him, whether or not it thrills him, interests him, titillates his senses in any way. This new self-centered attitude comes straight from the playbook of Renaissance humanism, in which man is the measure of all things and the final course of study. Hamlet does not care about the world unless it offers him novelty. This is where I really see the connection to modern Christianity. More and more I see evangelical Christianity’s quest for novelty reflecting what we see in Hamlet, even in the sense of how we relate to God. We are growing more concerned with God and how he relates to us rather than God and who he truly is. It’s man centered. Humanist. Even the language we use to talk about faith is couched in loaded terms, “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” being one such phrase. Sure, the way we relate to our Savior is and ought to be personal. But does saying that is ought to be personal say that we can make Jesus whoever we want him to be? Jesus is my Savior; he will never be my homeboy. I can relate to him only as my Savior. My faith is not about how Jesus makes me feel, it is about what Jesus did. I may feel better about Jesus from one day to the next, in the same way that I have good moods and bad moods. But how I feel about Jesus, “my relationship with Jesus” is not the measure of faith. In Act II, Scene 2 of Hamlet, when Hamlet dismisses the book he is reading as mere “words, words, words,” he is saying something about himself, not the book. The book has meaning whether or not he is able or willing to see it. And our participation in a relationship with God has meaning, whether or not we feel differently because of it and not because we made it meaningful. Like Hamlet, we as Christians seek change, dynamism, novelty, trying to make our relationship with God unique, because we want to feel validated. It is not enough for us simply to trust God when he said “I have called you by name you are mine.” We want proof! We may deny that we’re evolutionists, yet we stake at least as much value on feeling “proof” of our faith evolving into something better as evolutionists do in gathering fossils and “evidence” confirming the evolution of the species. There’s this double standard…it’s like we’re Baconian in the way we regard our faith, not content to wait for our reward in heaven, we want to feel saved now! So we constantly seek after this dynamism, this novelty, instead of walking by faith.

We talk about getting closer to God…how can we do that? Can we get closer to Him? Catholics would say yes, but I don’t see evidence for that in Scripture. God came down to us and He died for us on the cross. Now he lives in our hearts. We are close to Him because of what he did for us. We are as close as we are ever going to get in this life; all we can do is thank Him for that fact. The relationship, therefore, is what it is. I’m not sure I believe in a relationship to God that gets better or worse. We may feel better or worse on a day to day basis, but that doesn’t make the relationship any more or less saving. I’ll admit, if someone can explain to me what they really mean by a “relationship to God getting better,” I might buy it. It just seems like part of a modern Christian tautology which seeks to explain something divine with loaded terms. If the relationship is good, then it need not change, right? If that is the case, then one should merely continue to participate in, um…the good. That sounded really Hillsdalian. But my point is this: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Novelty for novelty’s sake is foolish.

My point is this. If we’re sinful—we’re not going to get closer to God, not until we’re in heaven. God is holy, yet He came down to us. Unless God moves again…

+VDMA

3 Comments

  1. Hi there young nephew. My first time to your little web-garden. Directed here by your mom to read the memorial to Aunt Marje (Marge?), and found this as well. Very good, I thought. Will likely not be able to read Hamlet again, without seeing the parallels with the apostate church. And (without attempting any one-upmanship, and for your eyes only) a common error: without further ado (fuss, flurry, hubbub, etc.), rather than adieu (goodbye) Love you, Uncle Jim

    • Hey Uncle Jim!

      No, no — I bare my errata to the world…

      …but what if I was being cleverly ironic and punning on “adieu,” as in “no more prolonged adieu to my college-aged self”?

      And (perhaps more importantly) what if I decided that I was being cleverly ironic in retrospect?

  2. I used to have a Xanga, too! And it was pretty well populated.

    Thanks for posting this. I often feel weary and Hamlet-like. Any thoughts for fighting that feeling?

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