Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Daniel 10 – Another vision in the days of Cyrus – a vision of a “great conflict” that comes to Daniel in a time when he is doing sustained acts of penance. By the banks of the Tigris he sees a “man dressed in linen clothing, with a belt of pure gold around his waist. His body looked like a precious gem. His face flashed like lightning, and his eyes flamed like torches. His arms and feet shone like polished bronze, and his voice roared like a vast multitude of people”(10:5-6). There are others near Daniel, but no one else can see the vision; they feel great fear though and run away. Daniel is left by himself. “My strength left me, my face grew deathly pale, and I felt very weak. Then I heard the man speak, and when I heard the sound of his voice, I fainted and lay there with my face to the ground” (10:8-9).
“Just then a hand touched me and lifted me, still trembling, to my hands and knees. And the man said to me, ‘Daniel, you are very precious to God, so listen carefully to what I have to say to you. Stand up, for I have been sent to you.’” (10:10-11)
Daniel feels a sense of being overwhelmed and weak. He can hardly breathe. “Then the one who looked like a man touched me again, and I felt my strength returning. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ he said, ‘for you are very precious to God. Peace! Be encouraged! Be strong!’ As he spoke these words to me, I suddenly felt stronger and said to him, ‘Please speak to me, my lord, for you have strengthened me.’” (10:18-19). He explains that must leave to “fight against the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia, and after that the spirit prince of the kingdom of Greece will come. Meanwhile, I will tell you what is written in the Book of Truth. No one helps me against these spirit princes except Michael, your spirit prince” (10:20-21).
From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Why this friend’s disapproval was so powerful to me when the disapproval of my father and older sister had been ineffective in undermining my faith over the years, I do not understand. I think it had a lot to do with just needing her as a friend, needing friendship and connection with people generally. She made me want to be close to people—not just “mankind.” She made me want to experience things I hadn’t experienced, dare things I hadn’t dared. But it was also true that the faith I had was not very well grounded in me. The rational difficulties with which faith always contends suddenly mushroomed into insurmountable barriers.
The disdain of religion that my friend communicated to me was not a disdain confined to her. It was more and more the voice of the era. My own family had spoken with this voice for years, but by 1965 it could be heard everywhere. It had even been an integral part of my own mental make-up—the skepticism of it, the political and social dimensions of it. For a while it had lived side by side with this other part—this mystical part that saw God everywhere. But now the doubt drove out everything inconsistent with itself. It astonishes me even now to remember how quickly and completely I cast aside all the proofs I had been given of God’s reality—the experiences I had had of him, all the interest I had been given in religion, all the joy and nourishment I had drawn from it as a child and young adult.
In the place of faith, I set up ideology. I quickly embraced the political and psychological ideas my sister had been trying to get me to accept over the years. According to these theories, I had been drawn to religion because of the brokenness of my family situation. God was the father I had never had and all the talk of heaven and God’s providence was only a form of wishful thinking—projecting human attributes and qualities out onto the universe. Marx and Freud were the ones who could help me make sense of these things—they, along with the intellectuals who built on their insights, were the resources I would turn to in the next years of my life.
The only good thing I can say about the turn away from religion in my life was that it did help me to overcome the isolation I had drifted into. My abandonment of religion was accompanied by immediate efforts on my part to get closer to friends at college. I started to go out at night to small restaurants where students drank beer and smoked. I began smoking and drinking within weeks of losing my faith. I don’t mean to say by this that religion itself had been any kind of a bulwark against these vices in me. It hadn’t been. It was just that jettisoning religion brought me closer to my peers and these were the things one did with peers in college. Not to partake would have seemed priggish.
The summer between my junior and senior year, which I spent in New York City, also saw the end of my sexual innocence and my introduction into the new world of “hippies”, drugs, and generalized rebellion against “the establishment.” I spent the summer on the West Side of Greenwich Village in New York. I started going to anti-Vietnam War demonstrations in Washington. I drifted into dreaming about the prospects of revolution, toyed with the idea of organizing a chapter of Students for a Democratic Society on the campus of my college, and just generally got into the late sixties scene.