Without Intent

After sitting on my shelf for about a year, I finally dusted off The Unintended Reformation; How A Religious Revolution Secularized Society,  by Brad S Gregory, a professor of Early Modern European History at the University of Notre Dame.  I quickly became engrossed. However to read it is one thing, but to digest it is another. I finished the reading about three weeks ago, but my mind is still attempting to comprehend its full meaning.

For me to write anything approaching a decent review would take more time and space than  I‘m prepared to give today. I’ll leave reviews to others. So I will approach the book in bits and pieces, chew a little on it, then let it rest until the next time.

As the title makes clear, Gregory does not question the intent of the reformers. The argument of the book is

“that the Western world today is an extraordinarily complex, tangled product of rejections, retentions, and transformations of medieval Western Christianity, in which the Reformation era constitutes the critical watershed.”

The book develops the claim that “incompatible, deeply held, concretely expressed religious convictions paved the path to a secular society.” To do so he uses “a wide-ranging, multifaceted genealogical analysis of the Reformation era” ….

The first chapter is entitled “Excluding God.” To do this he points to changing philosophical arguments that actually began before the Reformation, but eventually provide bases for much that follows.

The traditional Judeo-Christian view of God is that of being radically distinct from the universe as a whole; one who created what came to be ex nihilo. Such a God cannot be explained and is thus beyond our comprehension without intervening revelation. This God cannot be fitted into intellectual categories. The Christian view is that this is the unfathomable God who raised Jesus from the dead, thus ratifying the incarnation, and who himself was the very God of creation. Gregory points out that “It is self-evident that a God who by definition s radically distinct  from the material world could never be shown to be unreal by empirical inquiry”….

However philosophers sought out and found a way to help explain God. It is beyond me to explain the intricacies of such thought.  John Duns Scotus believed that he could show that God’s being did not differ from everything else that exists. Thus, according to Gregory, he paved the way for the eventual taming down of God.

William of Occam, a student of Scotus,  went much further. He rejected the traditional way of speaking about God as being incomprehensible. According to the thinking of Occam “’God’ had to denote some thing, some discrete real entity”…. This came about as the result of a philosophical argument that became known known as Occam’s razor. Thus, according to Gregory, “the intellectual pieces were in place, at least in principle, for the domestication of God’s transcendence and the extrusion of his presence from the natural world.”

After wading through this argument, Gregory uses the remainder of the chapter fleshing out the explanation as to how this has informed both religion and science as time progresses.1

Gregory’s book has ignited opinion, both pro and con. Some excellent commentary by various scholars can be found at: The Immanent Frame.

  1.  Brad S. Gregory, The Unintended Reformation; How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012)
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From the time I was small I loved walking. This is no accident, because some of my earliest memories are of walking with my father. At one time — World War II era 1940’s — we lived in a small West Virginia village, and were without a car. We walked to the grocer, barbershop, bus stop, and school. One of our parents might be with us on these trips, but it was also quite safe to walk around town alone. On some the best walks my father would take us into the surrounding hills and woods. These walks always felt long to me. We would walk and talk. And the best part of it was that we were with him. We enjoyed each other. He knew the woods, and exactly which path to take.

This habit — this love for walking into the woods — or anywhere for that matter, stayed with me into my teen years. In the summer or on Saturdays and Sundays, I’d sometimes go into the woods near our home, and walk around the hill, along the edge of some cliffs, and then further into the woods. If I were going to the nearby city, and didn’t have a car available, I never hesitated to walk. Also through my early teens I had a morning paper route, so had to get up before daylight in the winter months, and  and sometimes walk to deliver my papers along a hilly, dirt country road. I remember one particular morning when I was about fourteen. The morning was pitch dark and I had trouble seeing the road in front of me. I’d been over this road many times before, so  knew the way in spite of the darkness.

Many years later, in my late forties, I went through a personal crisis. It was hard on me, and I felt at wits end at times. I visited my father, who lived over two hundred miles away. He asked me to join him on a walk. We went through the fields, and once again walked and talked. What I remember most is the encouragement he gave me.  I do miss those walks.

I am old now, but I still walk when I can. Now I’m almost always alone. However I’m an amateur photographer, so my camera  goes with me. Landscapes are my favorite subjects to photograph. One day it suddenly dawned on me just how many of my pictures feature a pathway of some sort, as the focal point.

It seems that walking is always a part of me, even my dream life. One recurring dream is being on a pathway that never gets shorter. I walk and walk, but never reach the destination. These are not the most pleasant  dreams, and I’m happy to wake up. However there’s another. In this one I walk to a destination high atop a mountain. It seems to be the place of ultimate destination. The strange part of it is this: I see myself at the peak, which seems to be place of perfect peace and beauty. It gives me great satisfaction to have reached it.  I know its where I belong, and I know a Presence is there with me. But — as yet I’ve never seen  the other side. I haven’t had this dream often, but with longing, want to revisit it. I can’t help wondering about that view on the other side.

One of the places I do a lot of my walking is the Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College, a few miles from home. On the following page are a few photos of the trails I explored in the fall of 2014: Autumn Trails at Merry Lea Environmental Center

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Beginnings and Middles

Hello to everyone. My hopes for this blog are not profound. I simply want a place to work out some thoughts that form as I read, listen, watch, and talk with others. I believe that these, after all, are what eventually work themselves out into the narrative of life.

In our world life is increasingly complex. Up to this point I have lived out 77% of a century. During this time profound changes have taken place. When I was born the Great Depression was still lingering. World War II was gaining momentum. When I was seven year old, the atomic bomb was invented, then used on Japan. Since that time many momentous events have taken place. The Soviet Union erected the Iron Curtain; a few years later it fell, along with the Berlin Wall. The computer was born, matured, and continues to revolutionize every single thing in our lives.  Change continues to take place at a rapidity that to me is beyond all comprehension.  God created the world — and then took time to rest. But so many of us dare not take time to pause, let alone rest. So what I want to do is pause for a bit of time — to think — to write — and to share.

The page that any of us start with is far from blank. Over time there are many influences that make up the persons we are today. The totality of these influences in my own life cause me to describe myself in certain ways. They all influence what I think, what I am, and what I say. They also influence what others know about me and think about me. Scary thought. And, of course, the decisions I make.

By reading the About page, and by examining the links on the right, you will start to get an inkling — to form an opinion of my beliefs, concerns, and tendencies. But of course these are not the whole story. They just point in a direction — a place where the narrative lingers for a moment or two. They are hints and signposts, but not the story itself.

Any comments that are made, with respect and civility, will be received and treated as same. Do not be afraid!

In the course of time I hope to comment on what I have been interacting with in life: Reading books, papers, journals, and blogs.  Being entertained through television, movies, and music.  Observing nature, environment and ecology. And having interest in subjects such as church, theology, history, biography, and politics. Through all of this, interacting with those around me, such as my wife, children, members of my church community, and neighborhood. And lastly photography, by sharing some of my pictures, seeing this is one of the great motivators of my life.

I will probably skip some days, but hopefully not too many in a row. So — until next time —

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