It may be lost on some people who have only a shallow and surface knowledge of Christianity or other faiths that religions change all the time “to remain relevant amidst new intellectual developments and new social contexts,” as Michael Farrell in National Catholic Reporter quoted Jerome Baggett, professor of sociology at Carroll College in Helena, Montana. Baggett pointed out that 11th-century pope [Urban II] helped initiate the crusades, and John Paul II asked forgiveness for them.
While one of the appeals of religion is its constancy, steadfastness and enduring eternal truths, religious historians will tell you that the faith of our ancestors is not necessarily the same as contemporary faith. They interpreted things far differently than we do, in entirely different cultural and social contexts. Some examples:
In these anxious times, it is easy to feel constantly wrought up. A friend writes that his maiden aunt who has died alone at the age of 92 had long ago found the secret of contentment, and quoted the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Chapter 4, verses 11-12 “”…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
My mother often spoke of a faith that gives “a peace that passeth all understanding,” which is a quote from the same letter from Paul. Beautiful sentiments.
Catchy tune by Kansas. Everybody probably feels this way sometime. But it sure is a depressing and nihilistic view of life, eh? Kansas Youtube Channel.
I close my eyes only for a moment, and the moment’s gone
All my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity
Dust in the wind, all they are is dust in the wind
Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea
All we do crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see
Dust in the wind, all we are is dust in the wind
Now, don’t hang on, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky
It slips away, and all your money won’t another minute buy
Dust in the wind, all we are is dust in the wind (all we are is dust in the wind)
Dust in the wind (everything is dust in the wind), everything is dust in the wind (the wind)
Then there’s this famous Peggy Lee song. A bit more optimistic, perhaps. If that’s all there is, “let’s keep dancing. Bring out the booze and let’s have a ball.” In the Youtube.com comment section, a commentator posts the following:
“My sister, after being diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer, aged 64, used to spend some weekends with me and my husband. One morning during breakfast, she took out her phone and played this song, I was shocked, but it is only now, 10 months later since she died that I understand what she was trying to convey to us. I play this video over and over.”
And yet, to combat the feeling that we humans are insignificant, here on this earth for a short time before turning to dust and forgotten, what matters most is to love, to work, to worship and to serve, to engage in causes larger than ourselves, bigger than any of us as individuals.
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death.” — Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize speech, 1986.
“Our years come to an end like a sigh . . . so teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90.
I have been “numbering my days” since I was 13 — keeping a diary or journal — and numbering my ancestors’ days by digitizing and archiving family photos since the 19th century. The value of this hobby seems to increase with age and the fading of memory. It almost seems like a sacred act.
For family and friends, I can recite names, dates, movies, TV shows, books, acquaintances they may have forgotten long ago. I encourage my students to keep diaries or journals as well. Who knows if their journals might one day — a century from now — become heirlooms, like my grandmother’s travelogue from cruising to Europe in 1914 and witnessing the outbreak of World War I, which was not nearly as interesting to her as the cute boy sitting nearby?
Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin: “My parents died when I was young — my mother of a heart attack when I was 15, my father when I was in my 20s. I think it made me want to tell stories of people who were dead to somehow bring them back to life. I didn’t think about it at the time. But it is stories that keep people alive. That’s where my ambition for history came from.”