Some Standard Wisdom on Brain Pickling

One of the recurrent themes in the articles that caught my eye while reading through the 1880 editions of the Christian Standard was the confidence with which they trumpeted the scientific knowledge of their day. Looking at the science of a bygone era, in edition to being tremendously amusing, ought to give us pause today about our own scientific hubris and force us to wonder how future generations will perceive our cutting-edge thought, particularly as it filters down to the popular level. This piece was copied by the Standard from Scientific American, which is still in publication.

[…], by far the greatest anatomist of the age, used to say that he could distinguish in the darkest room by one stroke of the scalpel the brain of the inebriate from that of a person who lived soberly. Now and then he could congratulate his class upon the possession of a drunkard’s brain, admirably fitted from its hardness and more completed preservation for the purpose of demonstration. When the anatomist wishes to preserve a human brain for any length of time, he effects that object by keeping that organ in a vessel of alcohol. From a soft pulpy substance , it then becomes comparatively hard, but the inebriate, anticipating the anatomist, begins the indurating process before death, begins it while the brain remains the consecrated temple of the soul while, while its delicate and gossamer-like tissues still throb with the pulse of heaven-born life. Strange infatuation this, to desecrate the God-like. Terrible enchantment that dries up all the fountains of generous feelings, petrifies all the tender humanities and sweet charities of life, leaving only a brain of lead and a heart of stone.

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Some Standard Wisdom on Ministers’ Wives

After a couple of weeks of more serious excerpts, it is time to return to more lighthearted fare. This offering, entitled “The Minister’s Wife” was intended, almost certainly, as a sarcastic critique of the unrealistic expectation that congregations had for the spouses of their leaders. Still, I can’t help but read it and think that, hovering just beneath the surface, is an genuine wish.

The minister’s wife ought to be selected by a committee of the church. She should be warranted never to have a headache, or neuralgia; she should have nerves of iron; she should never be tired or sleepy, and should be everybody’s cheerful drudge; she should be cheerful, intellectual, pious, domesticated; she should keep her husband’s house, darn his stockings, make his shirts, cook his dinner, light his fire, and copy his sermons; she should keep up the style of a lady on the wages of a day-laborer, and be always at leisure for “good works,” and ready to receive morning calls; she should be secretary to the Band of Hope, Dorcas Society, and the Home Mission; she should conduct Bible classes and mothers’ meetings; should make clothes for the poor and gruel for the sick; and finally she should be pleased with everybody and everything, and desire no reward beyond the satisfaction of having done her own duty and other people’s too.

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Thinking Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln has always loomed large in the American consciousness, as martyr president’s have a tendency to do. Interest has peaked in recent years, however, with a number of major insertions of Lincoln into the popular culture. Bill O’Reilly’s best selling book stands out, as does the Oscar-winning Spielberg film Lincoln. Better than both of those, as far as I’m concerned, is the highly plausible revisionist history film, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. In each case, and throughout history, there has been a tendency to glorify the dead president, a pull that even historians have trouble resisting. While there is no need to disparage Lincoln, contrary voices needed to be heard and praise needs to be qualified by critical analysis. Consider, for example, the following quote from the New York Evangelist written in the midst of Lincoln’s first term:

A year and a half of very difficult administration has shown our President to be a plain, good man, honest in heart, pure in intention, but certainly not those rare geniuses, who are born to “ride in the whirlwind and direct the storm.” We have taken a plain country lawyer out of his village and placed him at the head of the Government, and imagined him to be a great man, and because he does not quite measure to the character, were ready to censure and complain. Might we not rather reprove ourselves for our unreasonable expectations?

Here we have a laudatory account of the “good,” “honest,” and “pure” president from a friendly source, but consider how great a leap it is for the mind in 2013 to transport into a context in which Lincoln would need to be defended against detractors not by stressing his monumental works but by emphasizing his mediocrity. We should not be so enamored for Lincoln that we forget that even his friends did not perceive him to be one of “those rare geniuses,” a status he would assume indelibly after his death.

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Some Standard Wisdom on Invisible Gas

This weeks thought from the Christian Standard was borrowed from the New York Evangelist and, like last week, illustrates just how little things have changed, if not in the way Christianity is actually treated by society than at least how Christian perceive their relationship to the broader culture.

Invisible Christianity seems to be a favorite doctrine with many people. The doctrine, it would appear, is this: that you may be saved and nobody know of it. You may get to heaven nicely without any “ado”—so quietly, in short, that nobody will suspect where you are going. Such is a fair statement of the doctrine so many people like. By all means get to heaven, they say, but don’t alarm anybody about it. Keep it all to yourself—the quieter you go to heaven the better. This is the doctrine of invisible Christianity.

I wonder what the world would think if some man told them he had invented invisible gas? Why, they would say the man’s mad—the very thing gas is for is to give light; it must be visible. And, strange to tell, this is just what God says of the Christians—that is, of the soul that’s saved. “Ye are the light of the world,” He says. What could be plainer? But is the light to be seen? Hear what God says, “A City that is set on a hill can not be hid” (Matt. V. 14). “Can not be hid.” That’s what God says about the man or woman that’s saved. Invisible Christianity is not in the Bible. Quite the opposite. If you are saved, your light will be easily seen by the world as a city built on a hill.

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Some Standard Wisdom on Asceticism

We pick back up our quotes series from the 1880 Christian Standard with some thoughts on asceticism, which appeared to have the same negative connotation in nineteenth century American Protestantism that it has today.

Too much is said in these days against “asceticism,” but the danger of the Church does not lie in that direction. […] in cloaks are more in vogue than “hair shirts.” Daily food is a lawful indulgence. But fasting is sometimes profitable to both body and soul. Many luxuries of domestic life are lawful in themselves; to give them up in order to have more money for benevolent uses, or in order to discourage social extravagances, is a dictate of pure Christianity. John Wesley had a right to own silver plate, yet he nobly refused to possess more than two or three silver spoons “while so many poor people were lacking bread.” An excellent man in my congregation sold his carriage just as soon as he found that his horses were eating up his charity fund too fast. My friend is no ascetic. He is a very sensible and sun-shiny Christian. If the same spirit which actuated him were more common in the church, there would be fewer luxurious equipages, fewer wine bottles, fewer card tables, fewer sumptuous evening parties; but there would be more missionaries in the West, and more Bibles in China and Japan. Self-denial soars above them.

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Feast of Franz

Today we take a break from our regularly scheduled wisdom from the Christian Standard in order to observe the feast day of Franz Jägerstätter.  Not on your calendar?  Perhaps it should be.  Jägerstätter was a German Catholic who refused to take up arms during World War II.  He offered himself for non-combatant service, but the Nazis cared even less for conscientious objection during the nationalistic global wars than Americans did.  Instead of allowing him to work as a military paramedic, the Nazis sentenced him to execution by guillotine. On the day of his death, he penned these words:

If I must write… with my hands in chains, I find that much better than if my will were in chains. Neither prison nor chains nor sentence of death can rob a man of the Faith and his free will. God gives so much strength that it is possible to bear any suffering.

His story would remain largely untold, until academics uncovered him and offered him to the world. In 2007, the Roman Catholic Church recognized him formally as a martyr and beatified him, making May 21st his feast day. Jägerstätter is a reminder both of the unconquerable power of the human will invigorated by the divine and of our certain ignorance of the countless stories of brave, pious fortitude that might inspire us if only we knew the half of them.

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Creation vs. Evolution vs. Catholicism

The Barna Group, commissioned by BioLogos, has just released an intriguing new study about sharp divides among “today’s pastors” about science, faith, and the origin of species. The study shows an almost even split between those who believe in Young Earth Creation and those who do not, with the do not group being divided between proponents of theistic evolution and progressive creationism. Young Earth Creationists have their stronghold in the South, while theistic evolution is most common in the Midwest. Most clergy think that questions of faith and science are important, but, at the same time, a majority fear that disagreements are distracting from the greater Christian witness.

There is little there to shock, unless you realize one glaring omission: Catholics. While the survey of Protestant ministers actually excludes both Orthodox and Catholic leaders, the Orthodox have only about one million members in the United States, making their omission excusable (at least from a statistician’s point of view). Catholics, on the other hand, are no minority to be trifled at. As the largest single Christian denomination in the United States–one in four Americans belongs to the Roman Catholic Church–their absence from a survey about the origins of life suggests an array of possible biases, all of them disturbing. It is likely that, in lockstep with history, that Catholics are still being treated as second class Christians or (perhaps implicitly) not real Christians at all. It would not be the first time the self-proclaimed Protestant establishment drew a sharp line between Christianity and papism–even if it can no longer express the dichotomy in those terms in our politically correct age. Equally possible, Catholics may have been excluded because their presumed answers would have tipped the scale away from a picture of conflict between conservative and progressive thought on origins. The Roman Catholic Church never engaged in the kind of systematic anti-evolution campaigns that so many Protestants did at the turn of the twentieth century in response to Darwin. In fact, for more than sixty years the official Catholics position has been that there is no conflict between evolution and Christianity, leading to a de facto triumph of theistic evolution among leading Catholic divines. Admitting Catholics into the dialogue would throw off both the slim majority of Young Earth Creationists and the geography of creationism (with the South and Southwest being an area of significant Catholic presence).

Or maybe the Barna Group just never thought to include Catholics. But would that really be better?

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Some Standard Wisdom for Managing Canals

In 1880, long before the canal would come to fruition but while it was certainly in the minds of many, the Christian Standard came out in favor of the Panama Canal. At the time, the French were preparing to build a canal, and in fact would make an expensive and deadly attempt at it in the following decade. The Christian Standard was very much opposed to this, for reasons that display the editors’ profound naivete and almost criminal patriotism.

It is nevertheless clear that the United States government, the only considerable government in the world, not committed to the war policy should guard this great highway of nations. Every such international work, however, is a great preserver of peace. The greater the interest of each nation in all other nations, the greater the interest of that nation in the preservation of peace. And there is no work in which all civilized nations would have a greater interest than in this canal. It is commerce that rules the world now, and it is commerce that always suffers in war. Therefore we may assume that a work in which the commerce of the world is directly concerned will diminish the possibilities of war. Let it be in the hands of a nation whose policy is peace, and no limit need be put on its influence on the affairs of men.

Funny. I always thought it was people, not commerce, that suffered in war.

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Some Standard Wisdom for Hiring Help

Continuing with the amusing theme of anti-Irish racism picked up in the Deseret News, this week’s tidbit from the Christian Standard has it all: racial, class, and religious chauvinism.

The people who need house servants find the Chinese more serviceable than any others they employ, and they have relieved them from the tyranny of the Irish girls. Mr. James Redpath says, “The real secret of this outcry against the Chinese is that the Catholic Church can no longer levy a tax on every Protestant family on $5 a month, which used to be added to the Irish girl’s wages; and the Irish girls openly avow it.”

The world has changed so much. Whereas once Americans advocated switching to Chinese domestic labor, now Americans are content to let the Chinese stay in their own country and do American labor (all the while, of course, complaining that no labor is domestic anymore).

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Good Ol’ Fashioned Racist Humor

Reports the Deseret News, December 26, 1855:

An Irishman, on arriving in America, took a fancy to the Yankee girls and wrote to his wife as follows: “Dear Norah–These few lines are to inform you that I died yesterday and I hope you are enjoying the same blessing. I recommend you to marry Jemmy O’Rourke, and take good care of the children. From your affectionate husband till death.”

Those Irishmen. Scamps, every last one of them.

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