On Thanksgiving, Abraham Lincoln urged the American people to offer, “Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
Barak Obama omitted all mention of “God” or “prayer” in his message to the nation.
By contrast, Donald Trump declared America “blessed,” referred to “my prayer” and ended with “God bless you all. God bless America.”
I just wonder if this might be the start of something good, something wholesome and restorative?
“Thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)
I could spend all morning quoting biblical texts at you in which the Old Testament prophets admonished an erring and straying people and urged them to return to their God. They added that the people would live in peace and prosperity if they followed God’s Commandments; but that they would inevitably end up in trouble if they did not.
But the Bible was written a long time ago in the days when people actually believed in God. Surely, four hundred years after the Enlightenment, we have outgrown such superstition? Dietrich Bonhoeffer – an Enlightenment man if ever there was one – declared that 20th century people had “come of age.” He neglected to mention the gifts reserved for age: two world wars, the most destructive wars in history. Man come of age perpetrated more slaughter in the Second World War than in all previous wars put together. In the same century, there were the genocides of the pagan Hitler and the atheists Stalin and Mao.
I have noticed modern man’s famous difficulties with belief in God all my life and I am sure that these difficulties arise because modern man first invents a god in his own image – a cartoon god, an unbelievable god – and then rightly and logically this belief. What if, instead of the cartoon god, we were to say something like this:
Unless you hold that there are absolute values by which your conduct is measured, by which you try to live, you are bound to live a morally incoherent life. Enlightenment nostrums and wonderfully progressed discoveries in mathematics, physics and biology will enable you to cure diseases, to live in warm houses, to construct an atom-smasher and even fly to the moon.
But no science, no technology, however advanced can give you guidance how to live.
Life requires absolute values. Relative values which change to accommodate our convenience and our shifting fashions and prejudices are not real values: there needs to be something definite, something absolute by which our lives are measured. The biblical word for this is “judged.”
As the great Enlightenment philosopher himself, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) put it: “The starry heavens above and the Moral Law within.”
Personally, I would want to go further than this theologically.
But will it do – for a start?