Friday, October 05, 2007

Great Presidents, Little Women, Little Houses, and Christianity

This is an interesting post, Our Forefathers and Our Spiritual Roots, that I came across on a blog that I bookmarked for its beautiful pictures of Appalachia as well as ugly pictures of and a call to action against mountaintop removal. (We really need to build those solar thermal power plants that can supply 99% of our electricity needs soon.)

The interesting part was the proclamation by one of our great American Presidents, which shows how much more Christianity was a part of life, and government, a century ago. Yet even at that time, the author reminds us that "we have forgotten God." Here is a PDF version of the proclamation by Abraham Lincoln, published by the New York Times in 1863: The National Fast, Proclamation by the President of the United States.

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

Whereas, the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God, in all the affairs of men and of nations, has, by a resolution, requested the President to designate and set apart a day for National prayer and humiliation.

And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.

And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do, by this my proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th. day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain, on that day, from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.

All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this thirtieth day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty seventh.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward, Secretary of State.

Thinking back on some of my favorite classic children's books, Little House on the Prairie, and Little Women, Christianity played a large role in those stories, although it wasn't so apparent while reading them as a kid. Interestingly, both of the authors, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louisa May Alcott, lived at the same time as Abraham Lincoln. Also interestingly, both stories are to some degree autobiographical and both families have four sisters with the second oldest being the protagonist and author.

The girls in Little Women each receive a "guidebook" as a Christmas gift, shown in some of the film adaptations as Pilgrim's Progress, but only mentioned as a "guidebook" in the novel. According to the collective knowledge of Wikipedia, there are many allusions to Pilgrim's Progress in Little Women. I had no idea until looking it up recently that Pilgrim's Progress is a Christian allegory.
Jo was the first to wake in the gray dawn of Christmas morning. No stockings hung at the fireplace, and for a moment she felt as much disappointed as she did long ago, when her little sock fell down because it was crammed so full of goodies. Then she remembered her mother's promise and, slipping her hand under her pillow, drew out a little crimson-covered book. She knew it very well, for it was that beautiful old story of the best life ever lived, and Jo felt that it was a true guidebook for any pilgrim going on a long journey. She woke Meg with a Merry Christmas, and bade her see what was under her pillow. A green-covered book appeared, with the same picture inside, and a few words written by their mother, which made their one present very precious in their eyes. Presently Beth and Amy woke to rummage and find their little books also, one dove-colored, the other blue, and all sat looking at and talking about them, while the east grew rosy with the coming day.

(Little Women)

Another blog I've been visiting has some interesting posts about observing the Sabbath, a forgotten practice. Here is a description of observing the Sabbath in Little House in the Big Woods:
When Grandpa was a little boy, Laura, Sunday did not begin on Sunday morning, as it does now. It began at sundown on Saturday night. Then everyone stopped every kind of work or play.

Supper was solemn. After supper, Grandpa’s father read aloud a chapter of the Bible, while everyone sat straight and still in his chair. Then they all knelt down, and their father said a long prayer. When he said, ‘Amen.’ They got up from their knees and each took a candle and went to bed. They must go straight to bed, with no playing, laughing or even talking.

Sunday morning they ate a cold breakfast, because nothing could be cooked on Sunday. Then they all dressed in their best clothes and walked to church. They walked, because hitching up the horses was work, and no work could be done on Sunday.

They must walk slowly and solemnly looking straight ahead. They must not joke or laugh, or even smile. Grandpa and his two brothers walked ahead, and their father and mother walked behind them.

In church, Grandpa and his brothers must sit perfectly still for two long hours and listen to the sermon. They dared not fidget on the hard bench. They dared not swing their feet. They dared not even turn their heads to look at the windows or the walls or the ceiling of the church. They must sit perfectly motionless and never for one instant take their eyes from the preacher.

When church was over, they walked slowly home. They might talk on the way, but they must not talk loudly and they must never laugh or smile. At home they ate a cold dinner, which had been cooked the day before. Then all the long afternoon they must sit in a row on a bench and study their catechism, until at last the sun went down and Sunday was over.

(Little House in the Big Woods)

As time passes and we get farther and father away from the events recorded in the Bible, is it inevitable that we forget more and more, and society loses its religion?