Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Daniel 6 – The king they talk about here is not historical according to a Jerusalem Bible note. It is probably supposed to be the first Persian king, Cyrus, but he is called Darius. Daniel is granted an important position in the king’s court. Other satraps and “state presidents” try to discredit him but despair of it.
They go to the king and suggest he institute a requirement that every local leader be required to NOT worship any god other than the king. If he does, he should be thrown into a lions’ den. The king signs off on this. Daniel, of course, continues his daily prayers towards Jerusalem. The other leaders turn Daniel in, but the king is determined to save him.
In the end, he tells Daniel it will have to be his God who saves him. He is thrown to the lions – the king is so distressed he cannot sleep that night. The next morning, the king hurries to the lions’ den and cries out “in anguish, ‘Daniel servant of the living God! Was your God, whom you serve so faithfully, able t rescue you from the lions?’ Daniel answered, ‘Long live the king! My God sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, for I have been found innocent in his sight. And I have not wronged you, Your Majesty.’” (6:20-21).
The king sends for the accusers, and they are thrown in along with their wives and children and devoured. After this, king “Darius” sends a letter out proclaiming his devotion to the God of Daniel. “’I decree that everyone throughout my kingdom should tremble with fear before the God of Daniel. For he is the living God, and he will endure forever. His kingdom will never be destroyed, and his rule will never end. He rescues and saves his people: he performs miraculous signs and wonders in the heavens and on earth” (6:26-27).
From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
In my last two years of high school, I became very interested in other literature as well, through English class and other outside reading. Some of what I was drawn to was also to play a role in the development of my thinking and my faith. One was James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The whole theme of Stephen’s search for a father touched me in a vulnerable place. Joyce did not intend his writing to draw readers to Catholicism, and little in the book is positive about the Catholic Church, but it drew me anyway—the searing identity it impressed on Stephen, the inescapable claim of it over him. I did not respond to it immediately, but I know it played a role in how I felt myself bound to it later on. But by far the most important piece of literature I was exposed to in high school was T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. We read the opening segment of it in English class my senior year:
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future.
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
It wasn’t an easy poem, and poetry wasn’t really my “thing” then or ever. I might never have even remembered reading it in high school had I not rediscovered it a few years later in college. But when I did, when it did become important, I remembered it as having come into my life in high school. Grace works in this way, unheralded and almost unperceived in its entries into our lives.
But religion and the pieces that made up religion for me was only one part of the person I was in high school and in later life. Because of the strange shape of my family life, there was a kind of fault line that ran through the landscape that I had to negotiate, a philosophical and emotional fault line that separated the worlds of my parents and my grandparents. The fault line ran through me as well—on the one side, the conventional religion and politics my grandparents fostered in me; on the other, the political and philosophically radical outlooks my parents fostered.
My visits with both my father and my sister were always extended conversations on everything that was going on in the world at that time: developments in science, psychology, and culture, understanding the dynamics of human life and history, the events of the day—civil rights, the cold war, the Cuban Revolution, the presidential campaign of 1960. From them I learned that you couldn’t necessarily trust what you saw on the television or read in the daily newspapers. You had to keep in mind the interests your source of information was out to serve, where they got their money, what they were trying to convince their readers of, and where they got their information. And my father and sister tried to get me to see that the government could sometimes do very bad things—like try to murder Fidel Castro or undermine the revolution he had brought to Cuba. They also tried to get me to see that most of the things most people believed most fervently—their religious hopes and patriotic idealism—were things that mostly benefited the rich and powerful but did not necessarily serve the interests of the poor and oppressed. I didn’t know until later in my life that my father was a member of the Communist Party—or had been. To this day I am not sure when he was. I know he joined and eventually quit, but not the details. The closest he came to admitting it to me was when I told him that I might someday like to run for Congress and he advised, laughing to himself, that I perhaps should keep my relationship with him a little quiet if I did. But it wasn’t the politics of communism we talked about. It was the philosophical underpinnings—the dynamics of history, seeing through conventions, unmasking the illusions bourgeois society generated to hid the ugly economic underbelly or reality.
My mother and sister also did their best to bring me over to that side. The few memories I have of visiting my mother in New York involve not only memories of bubble baths and walks to the park but also tirades against President Eisenhower for the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, talk of the street demonstrations protesting it, or other angry remarks about the country. My sister was among the first group of American students who went to Cuba after the revolution in 1960. She came back a complete convert, full of enthusiastic stories about the new society Castro was bringing about in Cuba, the hope it represented for all the poor countries of Central and South America, and the challenge it represented to American capitalism and imperialism. She had pictures of the new housing going up for the poor in Cuba, the preschools that were being started, the medical care that was being provided for free. Everything she told me, I believed. I carried copies of my sister’s pictures of Cuba to school with me and argued with teachers and others in my classes about what was going on there. My parents and sister seemed so much better informed than anyone else I know about politics and current events that it was just not possible to disbelieve what they told me.
But I didn’t let them disturb the other side of my own inner fault line, not yet. My interest and involvement in my church, my love of the Kennedys—these loyalties and loves were in some little compartment of me that was beyond the reach of other people’s doubts or criticisms, even my father’s. He seemed to accept that. He didn’t challenge me seriously on my lack of consistency. I think he understood that I was living in two worlds, that I was learning different things in the different places of my life, and that it would take time for me to resolve the inconsistencies. He believed his views were true, and that if he was patient, I would come around to seeing things his way. And I would, for a while.