"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Monday, May 16, 2005

The Bible: A Cultural Force Without Peer

Part of me wants David Gelernter to get back to revolutionizing our electronic lives, but if he can continue to produce articles like this, I don't mind his writing.

The formidable Ivy League computer scientist has become terribly interested in history and religion. The Weekly Standard seems to have been encouraging him because they publish all of his stuff (and it's good stuff). The latest piece ponders our Biblical illiteracy. Here's a nice bit:

Here is a basic question about America that ought to be on page 1 of every history book: What made the nation's Founders so sure they were onto something big? America today is the most powerful nation on earth, most powerful in all history--and a model the whole world imitates. What made them so sure?--the settlers and colonists, the Founding Fathers and all the generations that intervened before America emerged as a world power in the 20th century? What made them so certain that America would become a light of the world, the shining city on a hill? What made John Adams say, in 1765, "I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in Providence"? What made Abraham Lincoln call America (in 1862, in the middle of a ruinous civil war) "the last, best hope of earth"?

We know of people who are certain of their destinies from childhood on. But nations?

Many things made all these Americans and proto-Americans sure; and to some extent they were merely guessing and hoping. But one thing above all made them true prophets. They read the Bible. Winthrop, Adams, Lincoln, and thousands of others found a good destiny in the Bible and made it their own. They read about Israel's covenant with God and took it to heart: They were Israel. ("Wee are entered into Covenant with him for this worke," said Winthrop. "Wee shall finde that the God of Israell is among us.") They read about God's chosen people and took it to heart: They were God's chosen people, or--as Lincoln put it--God's "almost chosen people." The Bible as they interpreted it told them what they could be and would be. Unless we read the Bible, American history is a closed book.

3 comments:

Tlaloc said...

I absolutely agree in studying the Bible as a work that has had a huge historical impact. I have three sitting on a shelf next to the Analects of Confucius and a couple different translations of the Tao Te Ching. I'd love to get a Quran, a Talmud, and the Bhagavad-Gita to really help round out the collection.

With regards to Manifest Destiny it's worth pointing out that this concept that God wanted us to have a nation of course became the rationalization for the massacre of the Native Americans. Perhaps the Bible should not only be read but seen in the context of how it has been abused time and time again.

James Elliott said...

David Gelertner? DAVID GELERTNER?! Of all the conservative writers you could have picked for your mini-paean, you picked HIM?

I mean, come on! As much as I disagree with Irving Kristol, the man can write. Or Andrew Sullivan, who at least strings coherent clauses together. Or Jonah Goldberg who, despite being an intellectual midget of a man, at least writes something readable. Lauding Gelertner's writing is like lauding Ann Coulter as the soul of wit: It's demeaning to half-wits everywhere.

Take Gelertner's latest pieces in the Los Angeles Times for example. Whatever his qualifications as a computer scientist, his writings are the half-baked rantings of a blogger-who-would-be-pundit without half a hair's worth of the charisma of Sean Connery or Michael Caine (if that's not too obscure a film/Rudyard Kipling reference). His arguments are derivatives from blog posts (he admits as much by citing Michelle Malkin as a source, twice!) and his conclusions tenuous at best. His latest op-ed, "Let's Get Rid of Public Schools (May 13, 2005)," is merely the latest piece of drivel as he walks down the far-right talking points.

Are you really saying that you're willing to overlook his faulty and short-sighted logic merely because you agree with his subject matter? An education professional who believes that school's primary function is to socialize instead of educate? A man who blithely ignores the paucity of logic in his conclusions?

You come across as a very well-educated guy. You can do better than this.

Hunter Baker said...

I have to respectfully disagree about Gelernter. I haven't read the LA Times piece to which you refer, but I have read several of his longer pieces for Weekly Standard, including one about Benjamin Disraeli that was pretty special. I think he writes very well.