Sep 21, 2014

I Met an Old Friend Today

Over my birthday weekend, I spent part of a day perusing the first book that established my “old books” collection. The title of that special book is The Journal of John Woolman, with an Introduction by John G. Whittier published in 1871. 

John Woolman was a Quaker that lived from 1720 to 1772. He was born in Northampton, New Jersey, on October 19 of 1720. He discovered a love for God's Word so early in life that he recollects sitting beneath a tree after school as a young lad to devour the final chapter of Revelation, capturing a glimpse of heaven. I know Christian adults today who say they can't handle that book. In his adult years, he was known for two main things: his tenderness toward all people, all life; and his actions in exposing and subduing the evils of slavery. Emancipation for the slaves would not come for almost another 100 years, but his writings, including his Journal, his lectures, and even his business practices spoke loudly and effectively. He and another minister travelled in the North American colonies preaching and teaching, and everywhere he stayed, he would get to know the slave owners and discuss the moral issues with owning human life. More often than not he was persuasive enough that the slave owners would free their slaves! The Journal of John Woolman was a primary source of inspiration for rising abolitionists, which of course ultimately lead to full emancipation. Further reading tells me he was also an advocate for the Native American as well.

One Saturday, DH and I decided to go for a drive up in the mountains. We came across a little town in North Georgia called Talking Rock that has little more than a short strip of antique stores across from an old train station. In one of those quaint little shops, I picked up a small, plain-looking book with the name John Woolman on the front. I noticed it, put it down, and moved on. A few minutes later, it was as if that book was whispering my name, so I found it in my hands once again. 

When I first saw it in the antique store, I had no idea of its literary value; I had never heard of John Woolman. I had no idea it was listed as one of Charles Eliot's choices of literature which belong on the infamous five-foot shelf of a liberal education, later to become the Harvard Classics. What made me fall in love with the book other than my initial interest in its antiquity was this: I noticed as I flipped through the pages that I saw the beautiful Name of Jesus Christ on literally every single page I saw. The Lord of Heaven was so much an integral part of this man's life that His Divine Presence permeated his life's record. Oh, to have Him so pervade my life that way! 

However, in a true lapse of judgement, I left the book on the table on which I found it. And I left. I really couldn't tell you why; it was just $10. I suppose I tend to use "need" versus "want" as a decision-maker when it comes to spending money, and it wasn't a "need." Or so I thought.

The next week was Vacation Bible School at our church, and I was helping in one of the rooms full of kids. The other teacher in there, Lisa, and I got to know each other that week, and we began talking one day about something that reminded me about that book. So I told her about it. And by the end of that morning, I had decided that I would gather up my kiddos and head back up to Talking Rock to get that book!

And that's exactly what we did. All the way back to that remote little town, I prayed that it would still be on the top of the stack. Anyone who thought that highly and lived so close to the Lord's presence, I wanted to get to know - even if he did live 250 years before me!

I was elated with my purchase. The smell of the old pages captivated me, and the few underlinings with a dip pen transfixed me. Whoever made those underlinings throughout the book was left-handed, like me. 

In the front is this inscription: “Charles E. Shepard, Fond du Lac, 1873.” 

Today I got curious, so I got my Sherlock on.

Because if you didn't already know, Google is a very powerful thing. 

I discovered one Charles E. Shepard who lived in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, in 1873. Who knew there was such a French influence there? Turns out some of the same Frenchmen who claimed much of the extreme north of North America also settled in Wisconsin. Anyway, Mr. Shepard was a lawyer there for a time.

I found a scanned copy of the History of Seattle from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, written by Clarence Bagley in 1916. On page 587, I found that Charles' mother, Catherine Colman Shepard, was the granddaughter of Nathaniel Rochester, the namesake for Rochester, New York. Charles E. Shepard was born to Catherine and her husband (Charles E. Shepard, Sr.) in 1848.

Shepard Jr. attended the Dansville Seminary and Canadaigua Academy, followed by Yale University. He relocated to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, in November of 1872, the year before dating my book. While he lived there, he joined a law firm with his brother and another attorney. During that time, he also served as the library commissioner (he loved books, too!) and was elected to serve on the state legislature for a two-year term. Charles married Alice Galloway in 1881, and two years later they moved to Milwaukee where he continued to practice law until 1891, when ill health caused him to seek out a different climate.

Shepard then moved to Seattle, where he soon recovered from his illness. He was very active for many years in Seattle, but I think it's interesting to point out that he was a candidate for supreme court judge in 1910, and although he was defeated by the incumbent, ran a very good race.

At some point, the Shepards moved to Spokane, Washington, where he died on March 31, 1928, at a well-seasoned 80 years old.

This is the man who wrote his name in MY book, y'all. He was 25 years old one hundred years before I was born.

I've had this copy of Woolman's Journal in my collection for over a decade, and I have studied the handwriting on the first page many times. I wondered who he was, where did he live, and what kind of man was he?

Even though it sounds contradictory, thanks to Google, I feel like I met for the first time an old friend today. Very pleased to get to meet you, Mr. Shepard. I will treasure your tiny book all my days.

Sep 3, 2014

Value of Life

Notes on Apologetics study from On Guard by William Lane Craig, Chapter Two, Part Three
(*Use the "On Guard" category to the right to see all posts related to this book*)

Recap: Chapter Two of Craig's book is entitled "What Difference Does It Make If God Exists?" In this chapter, Craig asserts the logical conclusions that follow if God does not exist. Based on what we know about energy and the nature of the universe, and since all life had a beginning, it is inevitable that all life will eventually cease. If all is doomed and there is no life beyond death, then ultimately, life has no meaning, value or purpose. All things done (good or bad) will ultimately become nonexistent. Here is a link to a rather helpful article regarding the first and second laws of thermodynamics and the impending "heat death" of the universe.

In my last post on this chapter, we looked at the meaning of life in this regard. If everything in the universe is to ultimately meet its utter end, then life itself is objectively absurd, and thus has no objective meaning. This creates a problem for the atheist because he can live neither happily nor consistently under this axiom. Just because a person ascribes his or her own meaning to life doesn't make it true.

If you ascribe a certain meaning to the universe and I supply a different meaning, which meaning is correct? Remember we are talking about objective truth, not subjective truth. This is a "what is two plus two" question as opposed to a "what is the best flavored ice cream" question. One is true in reality (applies to all people), the other is a personal opinion (a personal truth). So if you and I each ascribe a different objective meaning to life, which one is actually correct? To the atheist, the answer of course is neither; the universe without God is objectively meaningless for there is no one outside the universe to impute that meaning.

This brings us to the next section of the chapter dealing with the value of life. In a previous post, I shared with you that Craig defines the value of life as having to do with good and evil, right and wrong. The value of life refers to our moral do we know what is right and wrong, and how should we behave because of that knowledge?

"If there is no God, then objective right and wrong do not exist. As Dostoyevsky said, 'All things are permitted.' But man cannot live this way. So he makes a leap of faith and affirms values anyway. And when he does so, he reveals the inadequacy of a world without God." (pg. 42)

Under this banner of "all things are permitted," we are subject to all kinds of living hell. Rape is no longer a violation; child molestation is nothing but a fetish, a preference. The most heinous murder is in reality just as morally justified as paying it forward in the drive thru. Sound ridiculous? But if there is no God, then there is no one to define ethical absolutes. All things become subjective. Nothing is right. Nothing is wrong.

The problem comes when we must admit that there are certain things that seem "right" to us. Craig uses several examples to show this, and one of those is modern atheist Richard Dawkins. "For although he says that there is no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference, he is an unabashed moralist." (pg. 43) He condemns all manner of offenses against homosexuals, indoctrination of children, etcetera ad nauseam, but is apparently blind to his own inconsistency of ethical relativism which says that there can be no absolute right or wrong.

Just as in the meaning of life, I can say what is "right" for me, and you can say what is "right" for you, but that doesn't make it intrinsically right or wrong. If it did, we could easily justify the brutal rape as a moment of intense passion and wanton desire. Child prostitution could be argued to be as innocent as teaching grooming or good table manners. Thievery is not "wrong" but simply a symptom of need. All things are permitted.

Most atheists can not and do not live under such pretenses. They still see some things as intrinsically good and evil, but do not want to admit that someone must be the definer of such concepts. We have already established that man cannot adequately be that definer - that leads to "might makes right." Who else but God?

Discussion question: Imagine a world where everyone believed that moral values and duties aren't real, but are just subjective illusions. How would it affect our legal and justice systems? Countries involved in warfare? Our social relationships? World business and commerce?

Without moral objectivity, the laws which govern our legal and justice systems would need to be constantly evolving and morphing as the culture moves through moral relativism. I believe this is the single most often used tool in the arsenal of the social liberal. It's the reason we take so many polls, surveys, and social media quizzes. This is how we (as a society) tend to find out what is "morally right" on many issues.

Apart from a God who provides moral objectivity, we are left to decipher for ourselves what is right and wrong. So if society says that homosexuality (social relationships) is acceptable, then under this banner of subjectivism, laws should be changed to reflect that. If enough gather together to say that perverted relationships with young children are acceptable, then it's time for the laws to change again. Should society (even a relatively small portion of it) decide that our government should be trusted enough to provide for our every need - even in exchange for personal freedoms - then the very foundation upon which this country was built would be ripped from its place in society and be replaced with whatever our culture has bought next. That's a very unsettling thought to me, but I fear it's where we're headed.

Countries involved in warfare would be governed by the same "might makes right" mantra, which always leads to the oppression of those who are not in charge. In thinking about the Middle East region and the war over land in Israel, my mind immediately is drawn to Israel's determination to strategically target the known safe havens of the enemy only after they can confirm there are no civilians in the area. Their respect of life is owed to their respect for God. If they were to operate under "might makes right," then they would behave more like their enemy...who seeks out death.

Next time: Purpose of Life