Facing The Unknowable Music

Only once have I been in Alaska. My stay lasted no longer than forty-five minutes, yet it made an indelible impression on me. The beginnings were inauspicious. Our plane had stopped to refuel at Anchorage, and after exhausting the diversions offered by the airport lounge I picked up a local newspaper to help while away the remaining forty minutes.

Immediately my eye was caught by the editorial. “We do things differently up here on the frontier,” it modestly admitted, “but this is ridiculous.…” What was ridiculously different, it emerged, was that a prisoner had escaped from the Fairbanks calaboose fifty-two days earlier, but his absence had just been noticed. The editor went on to wax justly indignant, but it was his conclusion that I liked most: he speculated on what other dark disclosures might be made if the citizenry but knew what was going on.

C. S. Lewis somewhere points up the diabolical dangers that confront a man cooped up alone with a free-ranging imagination. In this case I got to thinking of the Alaskan editor’s words, and decided he was probably righter than he knew. That is, of course, if we think in terms of the Unknowability of the Constant Factor—a concept with which classical readers of this journal will naturally be familiar.

The latter involves an old and honored bit of reasoning, the original purpose of which was to prove the existence of God. Found in an ancient myth about the music of the spheres, this held that the heavenly bodies combined from all eternity to produce the most ravishing of music. But since to human awareness the music has had neither beginning nor ending nor intermission, it has never been heard by human ears. Only as its opposite can enter in and be contrasted with it can there be any perception of it. Thus when all other sounds are stilled, we in our ignorance call what remains silence.

Whatever we think of the myth, the principle behind it is nonetheless sound inasmuch as it points up the eternal unknowability of anything that, existing before us, is constant, continuous, and universal. The person who asks “What’s going on around here?” might on this basis be on to a pretty meaningful question after all.

Anyway, keep thinking on it, for it has the makings of a thoughtful sermon wherein some incisive allusions to the mindfulness of the eighth Psalm could be coupled with exposing the limitations of the eighth Apollo.

If you should find the going sticky, slip along to the Anchorage airport lounge and derive the benefits of its stimulating atmosphere. Oh, and while you’re there, you might inquire whether they ever caught up with the escaping one. I never heard the sequel to that, but I can’t help wishing him well.

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Gun Shots

I read with interest your editorial regarding “Gun Control and Crime Prevention” (Feb. 28). I applaud your action in taking a stand on this problem. But the question I am concerned with is whether a permit and registration law would be a solution to the problem.…

During the last two years I have lived in a territory of the United States (Guam) where registration of all firearms has been mandatory and enforced by the police department for several years. Yet during this two-year period there were several murders of innocent civilians, one policeman and one sailor. Investigation revealed that the guilty parties were from the criminal fringe of the island population. These murders were committed with firearms, notwithstanding legal controls, and these weapons were stolen or unregistered.

St. Paul, Minn.

I am deeply disturbed by your editorial on gun control. It seems to me that you are now advocating stronger government control over our lives, as if we do not have enough now. Perfect control is not the answer to perfect freedom! More government control is not the solution, or else Hitler and Stalin had a utopia and we failed to recognize it. More government control can only lead to a dictatorship.


Keene, Tex.

With many of my neighbors I share the fear that gun-control legislation is one of the greatest dangers to our freedom. Any criminal with only a slight mechanical ability will be able to make a crude but efficient gun for robbery or murder. More swift and severe penalties for such crimes will surely do much more to curb crime than to simply prohibit one form (out of many) of lethal weapons.

Broadway and Madison

Church of Christ

Springfield, Mo.

The statement which to me is so offensive is that “Christian citizens have a high stake in the prevention of homicides, so many of which are caused by hand guns.”

Is this not the liberal, modern approach? The object used is evil. If we can remove the object, man will be good. Did not Christ teach that all evil proceeds from the heart of man?

The man who hates enough to kill has always done so with hand, rock, stick, rope, or whatever tool is at hand. Only the nation that fears and does not trust its citizenry denies them the right to bear arms.

Let us turn to the real cause of violence—man—by seeking to bring him to know Christ.

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Kingsport, Tenn.

I think the thing that bothered me the most was the insinuation that if you are a Christian you will support the present trends in gun legislation. There are many sincere and intelligent Christians who do not support the present gun legislation and who can only be alienated by this kind of journalism.

I hope the editors of this valuable periodical will resist the temptation to make papal pronouncements in the fringe areas.

Leoti, Kan.

Believe it or not, there are a goodly number of evangelical “born again” Christians who are not fanatics, as you imply, but are level-headed thinkers who oppose further gun control by either private registration of guns or melting them down into pruning hooks.

You presume too much by pleading that Christians should write their congressmen to counteract the powerful lobbyists who oppose further and picayune legislation against private ownership of firearms. You write as you feel—I’ll continue to support them, so help me God.

The Roman Catholics suffer from this dictatorial journalism but we evangelicals don’t buy it.

Youngstown, Ohio

I have been reading CHRISTIANITY TODAY for several years. I have been a Christian for fifteen years.… Now for the first time I have come to find that I am a “fanatic”.… Really, now, I don’t enjoy being called a fanatic any more than you do, and I don’t think that I am any more a fanatic than you are.… In the interests of honesty, fairness, and Christian charity I request your apology in print.

Pontiac, Mich.

Many Christians fall for the line that “passing a law” will solve all crime problems. If we are not more careful, we shall legislate into criminality a lot more people who merely wish to be free and to be able to defend themselves, their family, and their property against criminals.

Moreover, if those Christians who write these type editorials would spend their time, effort, and other resources in their field of competency—trying personally to “lead” people to Christ, witnessing, and proclaiming the Gospel—the effects on our society would be much more in evidence now, and certainly infinitely more enduring.

Glen Burnie, Md.

In your editorial on gun control you imply that restrictive legislation would keep guns out of the hands of criminals. You use the same argument that the Prohibitionists used to get the Eighteenth Amendment, but if you know any history, you know that the prohibition law was respected only by decent, law-abiding citizens. The gangsters, criminals, and bootleggers went right on making, drinking, and selling whiskey. In fact, they made so much money from the sale of it that they almost gained the powers of government—money talks.

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Surely we are not going to be naïve enough to think that gun-control laws will keep guns from criminals. Only law-abiding citizens, who need no restriction, would be affected by such legislation.

St. Mark United Methodist Church

Northport, Ala.

The most significant thing about your editorial was an omission. You cited no Scripture to support your contention that the Christian—and even the law abiding non-Christian—should have his rights to own arms infringed upon by the federal government as a so-called deterrent to crime.

No doubt the “argument that gun-control laws won’t stop criminals from getting and using weapons” is “tiresome” to you because it makes a lot more sense than your statements that “restrictive legislation … would keep guns … away from criminal elements” and that strong gun-control legislation will “measurably” affect the crime rate, which is unsupported by facts or even sound reasoning.

Secretary-Treasurer Southern States Industrial Council

Nashville, Tenn.

Fcc’S War

Allow me to peek from behind my Southern fundamentalist label far enough to observe that you are taking a dangerously short-sighted view in commending to one and all the FCC’s war on the dreaded brown-leaf weed (“Waging War on the Weed,” Feb. 28).

Aside from the constitutional question of free-speech infringement, you are falling for the very old line of allowing a good “end” to justify some very questionable “means.” I hold no brief for the tobacco companies, but to allow five men—and those appointed rather than elected, as the FCC is—to decide what is “good” for the people is a very dangerous precedent indeed.

Their next decision could say the public is best served if all religious radio time is provided “free” by the broadcaster to the “major” denominations; or that second-class mailing privileges should be suspended from religious periodicals such as CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

Erroneously, many people believe hard-liquor ads are banned by FCC fiat—not so. It is a self-imposed regulation of the broadcasters and to my mind a far more effective approach to the problem, not to mention much less dangerous. Let the public get after the weed-sellers, otherwise you’re wasting your effort anyway.

As for the FCC’s promise not “to proceed against any other product commercials”—doesn’t anyone remember government’s ironbound assurance that the income tax would never, never go above a rate of 2 per cent? Try that on your friendly IRS man come April 15.

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Press Secretary to

Washington, D.C.

Campus And Church

Lawing’s cartoon about the church and protesting youth (Feb. 28) was unfortunate. It suggests that the vocal youth have nothing to say to the Church, and that the Church has nothing to say to them. For how can we speak to them without speaking with them? And when did self-righteousness and complacency become acceptable?

Dearborn, Mich.

I was disappointed in your editorial “Ending Campus Chaos” (Feb. 28). The actions you simplistically advocate seemingly fail to recognize that the status quo on the campus may not represent the best atmosphere for academic pursuits and that illegal demonstrations, however disruptive they may be, sometimes accomplish the purposes of bringing the problems to the attention of many people and prodding administrations into constructive action.

On a deeper level, simply expelling dissatisfied students who demonstrate, especially minority groups, is not likely to offer any lasting solutions to the problems of our society which often evoke these frustrated responses. Arbitrary punitive action may not create an atmosphere conducive to bringing the powerful implications of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to bear on these problems. I am not sure that Jesus’ healing of the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath was any less offensive to the Pharisees than the action of militant students in taking over college buildings is to most evangelical Christians today.

Durham, N.C.

A personal thank-you for your sane and penetrating editorial on “The Student Revolution” (Feb. 14). This warning is extremely timely.

Secretary of the Board of Education

Bethel College and Seminary

St. Paul, Minn.

I was greatly disturbed and disappointed by your editorial “The Student Revolution.” The whole thing was “irresponsible journalism” at best.

The question that came to my mind immediately as I saw the title, which I am afraid perhaps never crossed your mind, was, “How many hours, if any, did you spend at the secular campuses before such an editorial? How many, if any, at the campuses where unrest was taking place?” There seem to be quite a few assumptions which I think should be left to the “prophets” and not the editors, such as the “probable” cause of death of the president of Swarthmore. How about the figures such as “a small minority”—where did you get that? You also generalized and concluded that they “have no intrinsic interest in [securing an education]”.…

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I fear that the secular campus, just as other aspects of our complex society, is doomed not because of the “revolutionaries” but because Christians choose to pass judgment instead of facing the facts and expect God to use us to do our share in his total plan of redemption.

Maywood, Ill.

I wish to take exception to your analysis that this “student war is fought by a small minority of irrational revolutionists.” Irrational elements may be present in this unrest. But the cause of this turmoil lies deeper in a nihilistic despair that pervades many a college campus.…

The problem on campus lies in the blurred relationship of the student to the governing administration, not in academic deficiencies per se. The school exists for the student. His demand for change and participation in university government reflects a desire to help mold and shape his own education. This is nothing new. In the early history of the university the students hired the teachers to lecture about subjects chosen by the students.

Rather than casually and despairingly dismissing the student unrest as a “threat to our educational system,” let us at least give these students an ear. Perhaps they are not always wrong! For the Church to minister to these students it must get down to their world and guide the student in his “growing moral consciousness.” Things are going to be different on campus and in the world at large. The power of Christ’s love and justice must be related in manifold ways to change and renew the university. The Church’s opportunity is there. Do we dare to get concerned with the issues and dilemmas of the student? Or will we stand on the sidelines with disdain and miss our opportunity to speak relevantly in the love of God through Christ?

Christian Reformed Church

Iowa City, Iowa

Sympathy For Czechs

I must take issue with your editorial of February 14 in which you brand the “strange silence of some of Czechoslovakia’s leading Protestant churchmen” as shameful. Your editorial is inappropriate and unhelpful for two reasons. First, it is misinformed about the situation. Leading Protestant churchmen in Czechoslovakia did vigorously protest the invasion. They did this both in their own country and abroad.…

The second problem with your editorial is its unchristian lack of willingness to sympathize with the tragic problem of the churches in Communist-dominated countries. It would be much more appropriate for a journal of your influence to protest totalitarian tendencies which we see all about us in this country.

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Associate Professor

of Church History

Bethany Theological Seminary

Oak Brook, Ill.

Mind And Heart

May I thank you for the strikingly relevant article by Elton Trueblood on “Rational Christianity” (Feb. 14). As a campus pastor, I am painfully aware that we are in a battle for men’s minds as well as their hearts, and that evangelical efforts to emphasize “faith alone,” without a complementary intellectual foundation for Christian belief, produces an extremely vulnerable situation, in which students, by slow erosion or quick demolition, may be swept away permanently from their moorings in evangelical Christianity.

University Reformed Church

East Lansing, Mich.

Elton Trueblood’s essay was commendable. It does seem, however, that in his argument to link faith and reason inextricably he concedes a point that tends to dull a more aggressive apologetic.…

A forceful apologetic would stress that the same finitude of human knowledge that allows for the confirmation of God’s existence also disallows the rational retreat from belief to unbelief and atheism, since a negative judgment can only find its logical sanctuary in the context of universal knowledge. Thus the case for God’s existence, beyond the pursuit of evidence, always remains a viable and rational option while the defense of atheism is irrational and absurd.

Crystal Lake, Ill

Books And The Clergyman

It strikes me, in response to your question in Marvin Wilson’s article (Feb. 14), that study is perhaps the most significant way the rabbi, pastor, and teacher can maintain his self-respect. No study—no growth … for the clergyman or for his congregant. So-o … you must study, and that means you simply make the time for it. I block out several hours each week and take no calls during “my time” with the books. If your congregation knows you study, and if you share the results with them, either through sermons, forums, or writings, then they will insist that you do it consistently. Nothing pleases me more than the congregant who says, “I want to pick your brain about Judaism,” because that means I’ve got to be sharp and that challenges me to more study.…

Next to our religious school, our library is top priority.… We urge our congregants to donate books to our library, or to make a contribution to our library fund in honor or in memory of a friend or relative. In this way, we are building a fine library in a short time, which will benefit everyone. We also subscribe to many periodicals, both Jewish and Christian, so that we may be aware of developments on all fronts.

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Someone once said, “Wisdom is the principal thing. Therefore get wisdom.” There’s only one way to do it—study.

Temple Sinai

Atlanta, Ga.

More Power

Allow me to offer my congratulations … on what must be one of the best magazines of its kind in the world today. Naturally I would like to see a bit more space for Australian news.…

As an ex-journalist myself, I say more power to your arm in your fight for the faith.

Reformed Church

Moe, Australia

For a publication with the all-embracing name of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, you people sure do not seem to be aware of what is really going on in Christianity today.… I suppose church history would show that the orthodox group always has been the last to hear what God is doing.

Dolores, Colo.

I find myself reading the entire issue as quickly as possible. It inspires, challenges, probes, convicts, and yes, it preaches too. I thank God for your work.

Houston, Tex.

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