Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Gift of Thinking

In the summer of 2008, I was reading a manuscript to my ninety-year old father, Dr. Emmett Clair Rankin. He has failing eyesight. At one point he interjected, and said, “You know John, as a little boy, you were always thinking.”

And I have been thinking about that ever since.

What a remarkable gift – the freedom as a child to think, to wonder, to dream. And it was fully possible in my case, because of the blessing of growing up in a loving and stable home, where I had an uninterrupted childhood. No intrusions of poverty, illness, death, war, divorce, fratricide etc.

My father grew up Presbyterian, but due to his adult experience of judgmentalism in a local Presbyterian church, and hypocrisy in a local Congregational church, he migrated to the Unitarian Universalist church. There, my third grade Sunday School teacher was agnostic and taught us to be skeptical of the Bible - saying that miracles could not occur, and that Genesis is a myth. So I thought, why cannot miracles occur, and if Genesis is a myth, why bother?

I was skeptical of skepticism, and as I told that to my aged father, he laughed heartily in agreement.

Skepticism is good if used in pursuit of the truth, but it can also become an idol if used as an excuse to flee the truth. I was given the gift of good skeptical thinking, which is intrinsically biblical, where the love of hard questions is a central reality.

As an eight year old, I wondered about space, time and number. Where do they end? Can they end? Search the world over – in every religious, philosophical, literary or scientific idea ever spoken or published – and you cannot find any idea or deity that is not also limited by the boundaries of space, time and/or number.

Except for Yahweh Elohim, the LORD God of Genesis 1-2, whose very name in the Hebrew means the One who is greater than space, time and number, whose power is unlimited, whose nature is good and whose purpose in making man and woman in his image was to bless us; who in the person of Jesus, is the eternal I AM who came into our finite world to love and save us, and who gives the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our lives, and the lives of nations.

In the summer of 1967, at age fourteen, I was in Boy Scout camp where chapel was required. One Sunday in August, as I was getting dressed for chapel, a fellow Scout was not getting out of his bunk, so I asked him why. He said he did not have to go to chapel, and all I had to do to get out of chapel was tell the Scoutmaster that I was an atheist. So I asked him, “What is an atheist?” He said, “Someone who does not believe there is a God.”

I thought about it a second, and said, “But I don’t know.” So off to chapel I went, a positive agnostic before I knew what the word meant, someone skeptical of skepticism, someone not fleeing the truth but seeking it, someone given an unsullied gift of thinking from my earliest childhood, someone who thus ran into the very Presence of the Creator some ten or twelve weeks later in prep school. Of that, I write elsewhere.