Thursday, July 9, 2009

(2) Pilgrimage

It all started to shift when I took a small vacation, visiting a friend
who taught at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He taught
an interesting class which he called "Reason's Envoys." Much to
my surprise, some of these envoys were the Founding Fathers of
our nation. Right off, my friend mentioned Thomas Jefferson who
was also the founder of the University of Virginia. There was also
Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, John Adams, Paul Revere,
Thomas Paine, and--gasp--George Washington!

It turned out some these gentlemen were not only colonial
conveyors of the European Enlightenment but also products of
a Classical Education that surely included the ancient philosophies
of the Greeks, such as Platonism and Stoicism. They, too, were
pragmatic, some very much interested in Science and Nature.
As for Religion, well some spurned it altogether, others
accommodated themselves to such, and some even tried to
re-write the Bible (like Jefferson).

Yet, none of these envoys of Reason seemed outright atheists.
Rather the term "deist" might be a more appropriate mantle for
them, though some still attended church. It has been said that
Thomas Jefferson never missed Sunday services. It's just that he
held to his opinions rather than going with the traditional line of
the Church of England that held sway in Colonial America. My
historian friend also mentioned that George Washington also
continued attending church, though it has been said that
somewhere along the line he stopped taking Communion.

So what did these envoys of Reason really believe? Mainly they
believed in the power of Reason and their own individual approach
towards the Greater Reality that some call "God." These colonial
aristocrats leaned towards what some moderns call "Natural
Theology." In other words, they were not only looking at the
Book of Scriptural Revelation but also the Book of Nature!

Well, I had to admit that my historian friend had really given me a
lot of "food for thought." But I have to attribute a special eureka
experience towards turning me in the direction of Metaphysics.

While visiting the university's Rotunda, the first university building
designed by Jefferson, I noted the skylight atop its dome. Though
it had burned out during a fire in the 19th century, it was rebuilt
according to its original specifications. As my historian friend
pointed out, if one wishes to imagine, this skylight converges into
a round dark area that brackets the rest. The rumor is that
Jefferson likened this circling skylight and its dark center as the
"Eye of God."

And there I stood, nearly directly under that "Eye". I got the erriest
feeling, strange but not frightening, that God was looking straight
at me. Maybe that is what Jefferson intended? Standing there
unusual thoughts were entering my mind. Thoughts like God wishes
to be better known. That the Contour of God can be found in his
Creation. I was mesmerized by these thoughts--that seemed so
different from my own.

Dizzy looking up for such a long period, I finally shook away the
grasp of this "Eye" and walked down the steps of the Rotunda,
out onto the main campus. I told my historian friend about this
strange experience that I just had. And, thankfully, he didn't laugh
at me. Indeed--he said that perhaps I had undergone an eureka
experience. Perhaps "God" was lurking behind all of our recent
scientific discoveries about Nature, about the Universe, and was
just waiting for us to "catch on."

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