Why I Take My Toddler To Restaurants

“Habba da inna diggal ea CAR!” my 18-month-old son, Nate, yells at the window.  On the other side of the glass, another car pulls into the diner parking lot.  Nate leans in his booster seat to put his hand on the aluminum window frame.  “BEEP BEEP car!”

“Shhh,” I tell him, putting a finger to my lips.  “Use your inside voice.”

Nate grins at me, and puts his hand to his own lips.  “Ssssss,” he says, imitating me in a stage whisper.  “Oh da ganna sssss habadda.  Ssssss.”  That works for a few minutes more, though, before he starts yelling again — not crying, but exuberant, joyful, full-voiced toddler yelling.  I switch tactics, going for our Bag of Tricks, to find some toy or snack to distract him until our food (or check) arrives.

This is not an uncommon scene for me and my family.  We eat out, with toddler in tow, about once a week on average.  And while I and my wife are careful not to let our son prevent other patrons from enjoying their meals, we are aware that a toddler is certainly louder and more distracting fellow-patron than, say, your typical middle-aged woman, or your typical elderly man.

We aren’t going to let that stop us from taking him out.  In fact, I think it’s vital that we regularly expose him to restaurant environments from an early age.

How else will he learn how to behave in a restaurant?

Earlier this week, a woman’s review of a Maine diner went viral.  She claims that the diner’s owner screamed in the face of her 21-month-old, a reaction (she says) was disproportionate to the amount of disruption her daughter was creating.  The diner’s owner fired back, claiming that the parents let their daughter cry for 40 minutes, and castigating the parents for… ordering pancakes for their toddler?  I was a little confused by that part.

Diner1 Diner2

The mother’s op-ed

The issue is very much a your-word-vs.-mine scenario.  Without having been there, I’m not sure who was at fault, or what the toddler was really doing.

What I can address, however, is the comment sections on these news stories.  “KEEP YOUR KIDS AT HOME!”  “The Parents shouldn’t expect others to be okay with their brat.”  “I have the right to eat my meal without having to hear your child.”  “Parents need to teach their kids how to behave in restaurants, and if they can’t behave, don’t go out!”

Here’s the thing, folks: If the solution is for me to never take my kid to restaurants, then years from now, whenever I finally do take him to one, he won’t know how to behave there.

If you want to teach your dog to leave the cat alone, the last thing you want to do is lock the dog away from cats and never let it see one.  No, you expose the dog and the cat to each other while under supervision, maybe through a gate or fence, until it is no longer a new situation, and until the dog knows what is expected of it.  Kids, I hate to say, are not much different.

So if you want me to “teach [my] kid how to behave in restaurants,” I’m going to have to bring him to restaurants.  I’m going to have to hush him when he gets loud, and show him how to keep the food on his plate, and reprimand him when he does something inappropriate, until he knows what is acceptable restaurant behavior.

Yes, if he throws a fuss and won’t stop, which he occasionally does, I will remove him, and have my food boxed — but realize that this still means that you, my fellow-patron, will hear my kid fussing for a minute or two.  I’m sorry for that, but quarantining me and my kid will only prolong the problem.

(And keep in mind, when I say “restaurant,” I mean a diner, an IHOP, or a Panera.  These are not establishments known for their quiet, classy, baby-free atmosphere.  I am resigned to the fact that for the next decade, I will not be getting into any classy eateries without the aid of a babysitter, and I’m fine with that.)

So, I will continue bringing my toddler to restaurants, because one day, when I tell him to hush and use his inside voice, he will be able to do so for the entire meal.


Why Do We Pray? (Part One)

Why do we pray?  Does it change God’s mind?

Did the Holocaust happen (or my flat tire) as a result of unanswered prayer?

Does the Christian paradigm allow for random chance, happenstance?  If it does, is God still in charge?

What should we pray for?

Discuss!  (My answers are forthcoming.)

Impending Fatherhood and Texas

Impending fatherhood affects one’s perspective in several ways. Let me walk you through a personal example.

At 4 weeks — 5 out of 6 pee-sticks agreed that we were pregnant.
At 5 weeks — Jess went for a very early sonogram. We saw a tiny-white-blur-inside-a-tiny-dark-blur, with the former being the baby and the latter being the amniotic sac.
At 6 weeks — Another sonogram: we could see a pulsing that was the baby’s heartbeat. (An embryo’s heart is pumping blood through a closed circulatory system by 21 days after conception.) Facial features start to form. Buds form that will become arms and legs.
At 7 weeks — We could *hear* the heartbeat on the sonogram machine. The heartbeat at this point was about twice as fast as an adult’s. By this point, with the right equipment, we could have detected his or her brain waves.
At 9 weeks — We watched the little minion kick his or her legs. He or she had a head, feet, arms, all the usual things. Eyes are visible. By this point, he or she has all the equipment necessary to feel the sensation of pain.
By 11 weeks — The baby looks very baby-shaped. The baby also reacted to the feel of the sonogram, bouncing and kicking off the walls. He or she also gave a smile of sorts, probably just a grimace as he or she experiments with muscle control, but still. Typically, genitals begin to develop by this point.
At 13 weeks — We watched the baby suck his or her thumb and “wave.”
At 14 weeks — The little minion starts forming his or her own fingerprints.

With me so far?

Then I find out that all this fuss in Texas is about whether the deadline for an abortion should be moved from 24 weeks to 20 weeks. Knocking it back from 24 to 20 is being spoken of as a gross violation of rights.

Wait, what? Come again for Big Fudge?

24 weeks is still over two months away for us. We’ve known about this little minion for months already. If this was *not* something we wanted, if we were pro-choice and wanted to abort this baby, what possible confluence of circumstances would lead us to wait that long?

By 24 weeks, he or she can hear, can swallow, has a startle reflex, has a hairline, has a sleeping-and-waking cycle, makes faces, can respond to the sound of your voice, can survive delivery with today’s medical technology… If she is female, she already has begun developing her own uterus and ovaries… Not that these things add or subtract intrinsic value to a human, but to wait even 20 weeks seems unnecessarily cruel.

I believe that open dialogue leads to understanding of the other side of an argument, even if disagreement continues. In this case, however, even assuming the pro-choice postulates, I still do not understand the pro-choice conclusions. If I was not pro-life before, impending fatherhood has made me doubly so.

World War Modesty

It began here:  the designer of a series of “modest” swimsuits gave a presentation on the cultural evolution of the swimsuit, asking if modest could make a comeback.  The Modesty debate emerged in Christendom again!  People are once more arguing over how much responsibility a Christian woman holds in keeping her brothers from “stumbling.”

It continued here, in a blog post by Rachel Held Evans, who I thought responded graciously and eloquently while pointing out some of the flaws in the standard Christian stance on “modesty.”  She writes, I remember feeling bad for the tall girls who were sent home from my Christian school because their shorts were millimeters too short. I remember the tear-stained faces of little girls turned away from swimming pools because their bathing suits had two pieces. And I remember trying desperately to cover up the shape of my breasts, which despite all my turtlenecks and layers and crossed arms insisted upon showing up early. When I caught a male classmate’s eye on them, a wave of guilt would rush over me—Oh no, he noticed me! I’ve made him stumble.  To this day, I have to deliberately avoid folding my arms in front of my chest because I made such a habit of it in my youth.

My primary  issue with the “modesty” stance is that it seems to assume that men are the only creatures capable of lust, that women are not equally sexual creatures.
If women must cover up their legs, cleavage, figure, etc., not out of their own personal sense of propriety but out of fear of “causing a brother to stumble,” how come the same charge is never leveled at men? (Answer: because it is assumed that women aren’t as sexual, that “good girls” don’t ever have “dirty” thoughts. Rubbish.)

And yet many men I know even in conservative Christian circles often have no compunction about standard swimwear, even when some male swimwear by definition shows more skin than a bikini could.

Imagine if the “modesty” debate was truly egalitarian! Christian men would be exhorted not to wear
–shorts that are shorter than fingertip length?
–bathing suits without a shirt over the top?
–form-fitting jeans or slacks?
–shirts that are too open in the front? (Looking at you, Tom Jones!)
–shirts that show too much bicep?


Perhaps men would even be encouraged to wear Scottish kilts, to show off the shape of their legs and butts less than slacks do.  (Don’t lie, ladies–for many of you, a well-shaped male butt is as appealing as a well-shaped female butt is to me, amiright?)

This is not to say that I’m trying to argue that men should wear burquas, either.
I’m saying instead that lust is always the problem of the luster, not the lustee, and that no sexy outfit worn by a member of the other sex can “make” you sin. I’m saying instead that both men and women should be free to choose clothing that they feel reflects who they are, without being afraid of their brothers or sisters in the church. I’m saying that there needs to be less body-shaming in the Church, that nobody should feel that they have to “frump up” or “cover up” to protect themselves.


Modesty proponents frequently talk as though men are literally incapable of controlling their sexual urges.  In the comments on Rachel Held Evan’s post, one commenter wrote regarding swimwear, “The only choice available to a godly man is to not look, and if he must look, to somehow not allow stimulation turn into lust.”  “Somehow,” as though it were a nigh-impossible task.

But the fact is, just as it is possible (and frequent!) for a woman to be visually aroused, it is also possible for men to control their tendency towards lust.  Yes, the stereotype says that men are visual creatures–show us an inch of skin and we’ve gone into hump-everything-in-sight mode.  But you know what?  Maybe that’s just an insulting stereotype.

I was trained as an artist in college, and took several figure drawing classes, most of which involved nude models of both sexes. I remember what a culture shock this was for me, raised in a conservative Christian bubble as I was: how would I keep from lusting after the female models? Surprisingly easily, actually. Once I remembered I was there as an artist, my vision changed, and I saw those human bodies in terms of light and shadow, shape and line. It took a little practice, especially for a hormone-riddled college student, but I learned that it IS possible to look even at a stark naked woman in a way other than sexually. The difference is in where one allows one’s mind to wander. “Take every thought captive,” right?

And beyond artists: what of doctors?  Male doctors often have to see their patients naked, even the attractive ones.  Male doctors often have to perform breast exams, some gynecologists are male, etc.  If men were really as uncontrollable as the stereotype says, how could a Christian be a doctor without sinning?

The answer is, of course, that lust is always an active thing, not passive–you can’t control your attraction, but you can control what you allow your mind to focus on.

And it is this control that Christians must exercise, rather than expecting everyone else to “cover up” for their benefit.


Also, I can’t help but point out… even if you convinced every Christian woman to “cover up” in a burquini to keep you from lusting, do you think the nonChristian women are going to do so as well?  I wouldn’t expect so.  So won’t you still have the same problem?  Doesn’t it make more sense for the bastion against lust to be your own mental control, rather than the reduction of external stimuli?

One day the cat got into the dairy and twenty of them were at work moving all the milk out; no one thought of moving the cat.”  –C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Weary Hands

Hwaet!—now weak    are weary hands

that hardly hold    the hilt of sword.

Hoar-frost on beard,    hoard-silvered head,

and vellumed skin    all sing the tale

of far-fled youth.    Full fifty winters

have I sat     with  crown-ringed brow

since Heardred’s death,    and costly weregild

claimed by spear    from Sweden’s son,

Onela king.    

Then last I drew

a blade from belt   in battle-blood.

Many a battle     won I when young;

now I am old.     I used to swim

all armor-clad     for countless nights,

so strong was I.     I could not now.

And do the sceopes    sing hero-songs

of how the king,    Ecgtheow’s bearn,

sits aging here?

                                    These harrowed nights,

when sweat-soaked dreams    drive waking cries

from shadowed sleep,    I oft bethink

that kinder death    had lingered there

in Grendel’s maw,    or had the hag,

the demon’s dam,    drowned me deep.

Age is more cruel,    a grimmer gaest,

that spills no blood,    yet makes a king

but half a man.

                                    I wait alone.

There is no Cain-kin    left to kill,

and every steadt    is stale with peace.

E’en the wyrm     of Earanaes

a sleeper is,    unsoured by dreams

of youthful years    and waning strength.

My byrnie rusts,    and Naegling’s blade

sticks to its sheath,    as unused as

my fighting arm.

When final breath

escapes my lips,    and leaves me lying

ashen-white,     who will welcome

Geatland’s king,     conquered by years,

overcome by time,    no sword in his hand—

No battle-dirge,    no bloodstained shroud,

no wealth of foes    beneath his feet?

What barrow shall board    this broken body

that fails with age?

                                    Be it not so.

I’ll turn on Time,    that dauntless devil,

and like old Grendel    tear his arm.

He shall not claim me.    To the North,

to Earanaes,     I’ll thrust my thrall

that he may plunder    the wyrm’s warren:

my end be writ     in wrath and fire

before I’ll bow     to Man’s decline.

Drag up the drakon,     the deep-sleeper

from golden bed,    and let us dance.

Sherlock Holmes and Victorian Culture

“A Victorian To The Bone”:
Sherlock Holmes and the Cultural Norms of Victorian England

    When crafting a recent television series featuring the iconic fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, the writers chose to set their adaptation in contemporary London, complete with all the technological advances and cultural changes of the present day, rather than the Victorian (and later Edwardian) London that was the setting of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Holmes stories.  Writer Mark Gatiss said of this decision, “What appealed to us about the idea of doing Sherlock in the present day is that the characters have become almost literally lost in the fog…  And while I am second to no one in my enjoyment of that sort of Victoriana, we wanted to get back to the characters…” (Thorpe).  In other words, by divesting the story of its Victorian setting, the writers hoped to connect their audience to the characters of Holmes and Watson in a deeper way.

Indeed, the Victorian era is now far enough in the past that it often seems alien and exotic to modern readers of the Holmes canon, particularly non-British modern readers.  The character of Holmes himself can seem similarly exotic, blurring within a haze of gaslights and hansom cabs, deerstalker caps and smoking jackets, and other such period accoutrements which may be more setting than character.  Yet I believe that the ideal way to understand Sherlock Holmes is to understand him as he stood within the time and place he was written into.  If we want to understand Sherlock Holmes the man, we must first understand Sherlock Holmes the Victorian.

    In what ways was Sherlock Holmes a Victorian, and in what ways did he depart from the prevailing culture of his day?  Were his behavior, speech, dress and mannerisms typical of the day, or were they atypical?  Was he an oddity in the society of London in the late 1800s, or did he fit in?

    Class was an important aspect of identity in Victorian London, if not the most important aspect.  People seemed to define themselves almost exclusively by occupation and status.  Everything the Victorians did, every manner of dress or speech they affected, was class-conscious (Keating 7).  Sherlock Holmes was no exception to this.  It is tempting, sometimes, to treat our fictional heroes of eras past in an anachronistic manner, placing the words of present paradigms in their mouths, but Holmes does not permit us that liberty: his behavior demonstrates an acceptance of the class system he inhabits.

    To begin with, Holmes himself is not an upper-class Victorian (Harrison 13).  He is not landed gentry, and he cannot speak of his inheritance in terms of how many pounds per year he can withdraw.  We know that he is not rich: the entire reason why Watson and Holmes are introduced to one another (in the novel A Study In Scarlet) was because Holmes needs a flatmate to help him afford his rent (Doyle 16).  But neither is he poor, “working-class,” though he can affect the dress and dialect of a rough lout or out-of-work groom when the situation calls for disguise (Doyle 167).  Holmes maintains a lifestyle that includes dining out, violin concerts, holidays in the countryside, and other such luxuries that few cabbies or grooms could afford.  Holmes speaks of his ancestors as having been “country squires” (Doyle 435), “who appear to have led much the same life as is natural to their class.”  In several stories, too, he displays what some have interpreted as a “reluctance” to discuss money, “…all that reluctance to consider—or even to discuss—money which is the universal and enduring neurosis of the English middle-middle-class” (Harrison 13),  at one point rebuking a Duke for bringing up the subject of his fee.  He seems to have “this absurd, but almost understandable desire to pose, not only as the Compleat Professional Man, but as one who has small need to earn his bread” (Harrison 14).  This would place Holmes firmly in the middle class of Victorian society, a professional gentleman who must keep up an appearance of relative wealth while not being wealthy enough to avoid the need for an occupation.

    Holmes seems to style himself a “gentleman,” and indeed seems to take such a status very importantly (Keating 10-11).  In “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans,” Holmes berates the murderer they apprehend because of his class: “How an English gentleman could behave in such a manner is beyond my comprehension” (Doyle 930).  Holmes holds “gentleman” to be a high standard to which he aspired, as many of his contemporaries did.

“…However concocted, the ideal of the English gentleman was a very real one…  impressed on the hearts and minds of men who by the thousand went out from their country and set an example to the world.  …It was one to compare with that of the noble Roman or of the chevalier sans peur et sans reproche.  It was looked up to, admired and imitated all over the globe, that strange, indefinable yet quite clear notion of always and in all circumstances ‘doing the decent thing’…  It was an ideal embodied in the person of Mr Sherlock Holmes as if he had been created for this and no other purpose.”  (Keating 11)

    Living as a middle-class English gentleman in Victorian times was not always easy.  For one thing, it was a financial tightrope.  “For a man wishing to keep above the level of the working-class, the world of 1881 was not a cheap one” (Harrison 92).  The rent that Watson and Holmes share would have probably been about four pounds a week, and would have been about as cheaply as the pair could live without damaging their social standing (Harrison 92), but we know that Watson’s army pension is only “eleven shillings and sixpence a day” (Doyle 15), about 3.8 pounds per week, while Holmes’ employment is sporadic.  No wonder the doctor and detective are each looking for a flatmate!  Add to their rent the cost of the various forms of social entertainment they engage in as much to keep up their social positions as for personal enjoyment (dining out, going to violin concerts, playing billiards), and it becomes clear that the reason Holmes saves and re-uses his dottles (charred, foul-tasting tobacco found at the bottom of a pipe after it has been smoked) might be out of financial necessity (Harrison 92-95).

    Clothing was very important to the Victorian gentleman—so much so that in Ward’s Prose Quotations the entry under “gentleman” said, “See Christianity, dress” (Keating 10).  It is certainly important to Watson, our narrator, who repeatedly identifies “gentlemen” characters by what they are wearing (Keating 11).  Clothing seems no less important to Holmes himself, who affected a “quiet primness of dress” (Doyle 386).  Holmes may treat his belongings with “contempt,” leaving his sitting-room in a slovenly state, pinning papers to the mantle with a knife, keeping tobacco in a Persian slipper, even shooting up his apartment’s walls with a pistol—but he maintains a personal cleanliness (Harrison 43), even going so far as to make sure he still has a “clean collar” when roughing it out on the moors in The Hound of the Baskervilles (Doyle 741).  In film and stage, Holmes is often portrayed as wearing a long tweed coat and a deerstalker cap—even when in London.  But in the original stories, while Holmes is indeed described as wearing an “ear-flapped travelling cap” in “Silver Blaze” (Doyle 335), that was an adventure taking place out on the moors.  This would not have been his everyday mode of dress.  “Now, it is obvious that a man so careful of the sartorial conventions as Holmes must have been would wear that tweed outfit only when travelling: at other times, he would wear the dress that custom, no less than fashion, ordained, so as not to embarrass either the world or himself” (Harrison 58).  At other times Holmes wore frock coats, top hats, waistcoats, and all the customary clothing of an urban Victorian gentleman.

    Nor did Holmes seem to deviate from Victorian norms in politics, except in a few minor ways.  He seems to be a very patriotic person, marking his sitting room’s walls with a “V.R.” (Victoria Regina) in “The Musgrave Ritual” (Doyle 386).  In “The Last Bow,” near the end of his life, Holmes undertakes a spy mission for the British government on the eve of World War One, and on several other occasions he performs detective work for high-ranking government officials.  In “The Noble Bachelor” he even uses the rhetoric of Empire to an American, stating that “I am one of those who believe that the folly of a monarch and the blundering of a Minister in far gone years will not prevent our children from being some day citizens of the same world-wide country” (Keating 57), meaning that he feels that the British Empire and the United States will merge.  Perhaps the only political stance Holmes holds which is notable for his culture is that he is an enthusiastic supporter of compulsory education, praising the Board schools as “lighthouses” and “beacons of the future” (Doyle 447), though this was not necessarily a popular stance (Keating 15-16).

    It is in Holmes’ own education that he begins to depart from Victorian norms.  In all we have examined so far—in class, in finances, in dress, in politics—Holmes has not varied from the culturally acceptable, even the usual, but his education is a somewhat unusual one, as unusual as (though not as intensive as) the childhood tutoring of philosopher John Stuart Mill.  Holmes is still an undergraduate in college in “The ‘Gloria Scott’” (Harrison 1).  Holmes later mentions that he was “at College” for two years (Doyle 374), which “means that Holmes shortened his stay at the University by at least one year” (Harrison 2), leaving without a degree.  By the time Watson meets Holmes, years later, Holmes is already established as a private consulting detective, but is also pursuing research at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital: Watson at first thinks he is a medical student, but his friend Stamford says he doesn’t know “what he is going in for.”  “His studies are very desultory and eccentric, but he has amassed a lot of out-of-the-way knowledge which would astonish his professors” (Doyle 16).  He did not “appear to have pursued any course of reading which might fit him for a degree in science of any other recognized portal which would give him an entrance into the learned world,” yet “within eccentric limits his knowledge was so extraordinarily ample and minute…” (Doyle 20).  So in essence, Holmes was a college drop-out who continued to audit classes and pursue his own academic path.

    When Watson first becomes Holmes’s flatmate in A Study In Scarlet, he is curious about this unusual education that seems so specific without having a readily apparent aim, and so he decides to catalogue Holmes’s knowledge—and his ignorance.  “Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know nothing,” Watson notes, adding that after he had quoted Thomas Carlyle, Holmes “inquired in the naïvest way who he might be and what he had done” (Doyle 21).  Holmes’s knowledge of astronomy is also nonexistent, right down to not knowing that the earth revolves around the sun.  “That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to me to be such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it” (Doyle 21).  To Watson’s mind, a Victorian gentleman should have basic knowledge of such things—it is not “civilized,” and says something about a person’s identity, to be ignorant of astronomy or philosophy.  Yet Watson also recognizes Holmes’s specialties, such as being able to tell what part of London a soil sample came from, or knowing all about poisons (Doyle 22).  This unusual set of specialized knowledge is, of course, what Holmes uses to solve the mysteries he is hired to solve: essentially Holmes creates a field of study for criminology—a career which, at the time, was not yet in existence.

    It may be that Watson’s initial assessment of Holmes’s education is erroneous, or it may be that as Holmes’s career develops, he becomes more widely read.  Either way, by later stories Holmes is no longer as ignorant of areas that did not apply to his specific occupation (Hall 46-47), demonstrating knowledge in archaeology (in “The Devil’s Foot”) and biology (in “The Lion’s Mane”).  The same man who had to ask who Carlyle was in A Study in Scarlet later comments that Carlyle is the “brook” to Jean Paul Richter’s “parent lake” during a conversation in The Sign of Four (Doyle 121).  By the middle of his career Holmes was as familiar with the philosophers and statesmen of his time as society expected him to be.

    Many would think of Holmes’s use of narcotic drugs as departures from Victorian norms.  Throughout the stories, Holmes uses cocaine and occasionally morphine as stimulants when he does not have a mystery to keep his mind occupied.  This, however, was not necessarily a departure from what was acceptable.  “…there was, at the time when Holmes began to take cocaine, no popular prejudice against drugs or drug-takers” (Harrison 154), at least not the drugs which Holmes indulged in.  Watson disapproved, but not as much as he disapproved when he worried that Holmes had begun to indulge in opium (Doyle 232), apparently a less socially-acceptable drug, as an opium addict is described as “an object of mingled horror and pity to his friends and relatives” (Doyle 229).  It seems less so with Holmes’s cocaine.  “In Holmes’s day, not only was the purchase of most ‘Schedule IV’ drugs legal: Madeleine Smith and Mrs. Maybrick bought their arsenic; De Quincy and Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson, their laudanum; with no more trouble than that with which they all purchased their tooth-powder.”  (Harrison 154).  So here we have no deviation from what the Victorians found acceptable.

    It is in the area of sexuality that many would question Holmes’s adherence to Victorian culture.  It is commonly believed that in Victorian society, sex was so taboo that it was almost nonexistent, and that many Victorians were sexually repressed (Seidman 46).  Even if this is an exaggeration, Victorians certainly “felt compelled to desensualize sex or to erect elaborate barriers to contain erotic desires” (Seidman 49).  Some, however, see Sherlock Holmes as challenging this Victorian ethic by (in their perception) openly living in a gay relationship.  This perception is prevalent enough that it requires some examination.  Was Holmes homosexual, and if he was, how would this have been perceived by the culture of his day?

    To begin with, an openly gay relationship is not something that was within the tolerances of Victorian society: it was, in fact, a criminal offense (“Sir Arthur Conan Doyle”).  The very subject was taboo: “the word ‘homosexuality’ did not appear in print until 1897” (Keating 78).  Doyle himself may have lost political connections for his associations with Sir Roger Casement (“Sir Arthur Conan Doyle”), and in 1895 Oscar Wilde went to court with the Marquess of Queensberry over a public accusation that Wilde was a “somdomite” (Linder), which ended with Wilde serving two years in jail.  So if Holmes is a gay man, he cannot be living “openly” as a gay man in Victorian London and still maintain his friendly rivalry with Scotland Yard.

    It is doubtful anyone can argue that Holmes was not ambivalent towards women.  He showed no desire for any sort of romantic entanglement with women, except possibly once: for Irene Adler, the antagonist of “A Scandal in Bohemia.”  Even then, Holmes seems only to harbor a sort of intellectual infatuation for the woman who outwitted him (not unlike John Stuart Mill’s infatuation with his wife’s qualities (147)).  He may wear the sovereign she gave him on his watchchain, and treasure her letter to him, but “Holmes seemed never to wish to have a relationship with a woman more direct than that of cherishing these two keepsakes” (Keating 78).  He may have a “remarkable gentleness and courtesy in his dealings with women,” as Watson comments in “The Adventure of the Dying Detective, trying to paint a picture of Holmes’s “chivalry,” but even Watson must admit that “He disliked and distrusted the sex” (Doyle 932).  In “The Greek Interpreter,” Watson claims that Holmes’s “aversion to women” is “typical of his unemotional character” (Doyle 435).  In The Sign of Four, Holmes says to Watson, “Women are never to be entirely trusted—not the best of them” (Doyle 129).  And most tellingly, later in the same novel, when Watson becomes engaged to Miss Morstan, Holmes says, “I really cannot congratulate you.  …love is an emotional thing, and whatever is emotional is opposed to that true cold reason which I place above all things.  I should never marry myself, lest I bias my judgment” (Doyle 157).

    It is this last quote that seems to refute the idea that Holmes is a sexual rebel, a champion of repressed sexuality against the rigid Victorian social norms.  Holmes is not rejecting heterosexual love in favor of homosexual love, but rejecting love wholly together.  This is in keeping with earlier descriptions of his character as cold, almost unemotional, sometimes bordering on the inhuman (Simmons 42).  Stamford says that Holmes “…is a little too scientific for my tastes—it approaches to cold-bloodedness.  I could imagine his giving a friend a little pinch of the latest vegetable alkaloid, not out of malevolence, you understand, but simply out of a spirit of inquiry in order to have an accurate idea of the effects” (Doyle 17).

    Add to this that, while those who read Holmes as a gay character often see him being in a sexual relationship with Watson, Holmes is generally as cold towards Watson as he is towards others.  There are two times in the series when Holmes demonstrates some affection towards Watson, and both times Watson refers to the event as unusual.  In “The Devil’s Foot,” when both men nearly die from an experiment with a flammable toxin, Holmes says to Watson, “I owe you…an apology.  It was an unjustifiable experiment even for one’s self, and doubly so for a friend.  I am really very sorry.”  Watson is taken aback, telling the reader that he had “never seen so much of Holmes’s heart before” (Doyle 965).  And again in “The Three Garridebs,” when Watson is shot (only grazed) by a criminal, and Holmes has a brief emotional outburst (“…say you are not hurt!”), Watson comments, “It was worth a wound—it was worth many wounds—to know the depth of loyalty and love that lay behind that cold mask…For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain” (Doyle 1053).  If Watson is so taken aback by an emotion as basic as concern for his life, and if this was “the one and only time” he had such a glimpse of Holmes’s emotions, then Holmes showing affection for Watson had to be a very rare event (Simmons 42).

It may be that to read a sexual relationship in 221b Baker Street is to project a twenty-first century understanding of sexuality onto the nineteenth century.  “If Holmes were a man of the late twentieth century we could hardly fail to conclude from this evidence that his sexual drive was directed to the male…  But Holmes was a man of the nineteenth century, a Victorian to the bone…” (Keating 78).  And being that he was a Victorian, it seems it would be better to find a Victorian explanation for Holmes’s emotional distance and his seeming asexuality—such as the neglect of emotional development described by John Stuart Mill in his Autobiography.  A brilliant intellectual, like Holmes, Mill experienced an unusual and intensive education, but which left him unprepared to deal with the emotional aspects of human existence.  “…the habit of analysis has a tendency to wear away the feelings,” Mill writes, “…when no other mental habit is cultivated, and the analyzing spirit remains without its natural complements and correctives” (114).  Mill claims that his intensive education, and his long-cultivated habit of analyzing everything, “undermined” his desires and pleasures, leaving him cold and distant, to the point where he had trouble finding enjoyment in simple things (115-117).  Mill comments that this separation from one’s feelings seems to be a cultural tendency: “…The English character, and English social circumstances, make it so seldom possible to derive happiness from the exercise of the sympathies, that it is not wonderful if they count for little in an Englishman’s scheme of life” (123).  Thus we could hazard that Holmes’s emotional disconnect—to whatever degree it exists—is an exaggerated form of the disconnect all Victorian “gentleman” cultivated to varying degrees: the distrust of emotion, regarding feelings as “necessary evils” (123).

Perhaps the most interesting facet of Victorian culture to explore in Holmes’s life is Philosophy/Theology.  The late 1800s were a time of philosophical change.  The works of Charles Darwin’s On The Origin of Species had been published in 1859, the year Arthur Conan Doyle was born (Frank 337); Darwin’s book The Descent of Man, which challenged the religious understanding of the origins of humanity, and thus, challenged religious paradigms themselves, was published in 1870—three years before 1873, when the earliest of the Holmes stories is set (Keating 18).  Christian faith had previously been a given of Victorian life, but now many Victorians found themselves challenging established religion in favor of a more scientific, rationalistic, empirical approach to the world.  The Board schools which Holmes praised produced a generation which understood the tools of scientific inquiry and how to apply them (Keating 15-16).  Arthur Conan Doyle himself wrote of the impact Darwinian thought had on him when he was at Edinburgh University:

“…I found that the foundations not only of Roman Catholicism but of the whole Christian faith, as presented to me in nineteenth century theology, were so weak that my mind could not build upon them. It is to be remembered that these were the years when Huxley, Tyndall, Darwin, Herbert Spencer and John Stuart Mill were our chief philosophers, and that even the man in the street felt the strong sweeping current of their thought…” (Frank 338).

Doyle had a hard time reconciling his Catholic upbringing with the “scientific desire for truth” (Owen 66), and so became an agnostic (67).

    It is in this post-Darwin upheaval that Holmes lives and thrives.  Holmes himself is a reader of Darwin: in A Study In Scarlet he quotes from Descent of Man about how the power of producing music has existed in humankind before the power of producing speech (Doyle 37, Keating 38).  Holmes has a rationalistic, deductive approach to life, using the tools of scientific inquiry to aid in his career (Keating 20), which would have seemed anachronistic in a pre-Darwinian age, but which was cutting-edge thought in the Victorian era.

In a striking link to Darwin, Holmes even seems to place great emphasis on biology and descent, favoring nature over nurture in his explanations for criminal behavior.  He explains the evil of Professor Moriarty by saying that the Professor had “hereditary tendencies of the most diabolical kind… a criminal strain ran in his blood” (Doyle 471).  Likewise with Colonel Moran, Moriarty’s right hand man: “I have a theory that the individual represents in his development the whole procession of his ancestors, and that such a sudden turn to good or evil stands for some strong influence which came into the line of his pedigree” (Doyle 494).  In The Hound of the Baskervilles, when Holmes discovers that Stapleton is a Baskerville, he comments that “…it is an interesting instance of a throwback… A study of family portraits is enough convert a man to the doctrine of reincarnation” (Doyle 750).  And even regarding himself and his own skills, when Watson asks if Holmes’s powers of deduction come from his training, Holmes does not seem to believe so.  “To an extent…” he says, but then talks about his ancestry, particularly his grandmother who was sister to “Vernet, the French artist.”  “Art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms” (Doyle 435).

Out of Holmes’s science-driven philosophy comes a rejection of superstition.  Holmes always seeks a material explanation for even the strangest of occurrences (Hall 11).  In “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire,” Holmes is approached with what seems to be a vampire attack, but refuses to even consider such a possibility.  “Rubbish, Watson, rubbish!  What have we to do with walking corpses who can only be held in their graves by stakes driven through their hearts?  It’s pure lunacy.  …The world is big enough for us.  No ghosts need apply” (Doyle 1034).  Likewise in The Hound of the Baskervilles, Holmes dismisses the legend of the Hound as interesting only “to a collector of fairy tales” (Doyle 676), and comments that “I have hithero confined my investigations to this world,” preferring to focus on the real and material footprint than on supernatural speculation (Doyle 681).  In this instance he stands in contrast to Dr. Mortimer, a fellow “trained man of science” who nevertheless has “quite gone over to the supernaturalists” in his explanation of the Hound, showing perhaps that the naturalistic approach has not fully permeated even as scientific a field as medicine (Frank 340).

In this rejection, Holmes stands shoulder-to-shoulder with many other great minds of the Victorian Age.  John Stuart Mill writes of his own rejection of religion as a casting-away of “superstition” (146), rejecting any morality derived from “a matter of blind tradition, with no consistent principle, nor even any consistent feeling, to guide it” (52). 

This is not to say that Holmes is necessarily an atheist as Mill was.  Holmes rarely speaks openly about his beliefs, but from what little he says we can infer a theology of sorts.  We can assume that he had a religious upbringing, as many Victorians had: he comments in “The Crooked Man” that his “Biblical knowledge is a trifle rusty” (Doyle 422), and mentions having been on his way to chapel when he was in college—though chapel attendance may have been mandatory (Rosenberger 50).  Despite this, however, he does not seem to be an adherent to any organized religion: only once do we see Holmes in a church, when in disguise he follows Irene Adler to her secret wedding (Keating 135).  He refers several times to the “God of justice,” seeming to reflect a belief that a deity does aid in the redressing of wrongs (either in this life or the afterlife) (Rosenberger 52), saying at one point, “If there is not some compensation hereafter, then the world is a cruel jest” (Rosenberger 54).  Holmes seems to arrive at his theological beliefs through pure inference, rather than from the received text or doctrine of any faith.

“There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion…  Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers.  All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance.  But this rose is an extra.  …It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”  (Doyle 455-456)

This seems to echo one of the earlier chapters of A Study in Scarlet, when Holmes claimed that “From a drop of water… a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other” (Doyle 23).  Holmes seems to feel that his beliefs are logical inferences rather than leaps of faith.  And yet at other times he seems frustrated at the limits of human reason.  In “The Adventure of the Cardboard Box” he claims that the mystery must have an answer, “or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable.  But what end?  There is the great standing perennial problem to which human reason is as far from an answer as ever” (Keating 135).
In this, Holmes is again within the tolerances of Victorian society.  The middle of the 1800s was a time when religion was very important, when church attendance was expected and when the “day of rest” was compulsory (Keating 6).  By the beginning of the 1900s, however, religious publication had dropped (Keating 125), and alternative beliefs such as atheism or agnosticism were tolerated more (Mill 54).

One thing that is interesting to note, as regards the interaction between Sherlock Holmes and the supernatural, is that Doyle’s readers seemed to seize upon the fictional detective as a champion of rationalism.  Holmes’s adherence to science and the material, even in the face of events that seemed supernatural, hit a cultural nerve.  In the early 1920s, when Arthur Conan Doyle (a spiritualist by this time) “championed” the Cottingley fairy photographs, a series of photographs of two young girls playing with what seemed to be supernatural creatures, the public was surprised.  “His espousal of the fairies dismayed many of even his most ardent admirers” (Owen 48).  Doyle wrote repeated articles and editorials about the photographs, certain that they were authentic; a disbelieving public could not believe that the same author had created the scientifically-minded Sherlock Holmes (Owen 67).  A political cartoon around that time showed a “scowling” Holmes shackled to Arthur Conan Doyle, who had his “head in the clouds” (Owen 67).  If nothing else, this demonstrates what the Victorians and the children of Victorians had come to see Holmes as representing: a rationalism they felt more comfortable with than with a belief in ghosts or fairies.

“No man is an island—especially in Time,” writes Michael Harrison.  “Each man is a part of the society in which he lives: he has a hand in giving it its peculiar flavour, and he has been moulded by it” (46).  This may perhaps be less true of fictional characters than of historical personages, but it is certainly true of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.  Many of the aspects of Holmes’s character that readers today find exotic—his dress, his mannerisms, his habits, his love life, even his scientific approach to observation—are in fact inextricably bound within the era that the Holmes stories were written through and set within.  While there are many ways that Holmes astonishes the more conventionally Victorian Watson, Holmes is never so far from the social expectations of his day as to make of himself an outcast or rebel.  On the contrary—Sherlock Holmes was very much a Victorian himself.

Works Cited

Doyle, Arthur Conan.  The Complete Sherlock Holmes.  Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc.,  1930.  Print.
Frank, Lawrence. “The Hound of the Baskervilles, the Man on the Tor, and a Metaphor for the Mind.” Nineteenth-Century Literature 54.3 (1999): 336-372. Print.
Hall, Trevor.  Sherlock Holmes: Ten Literary Studies.  London: Gerald Duckworth & Co. LTD.,  1969.  Print.
Harrison, Michael.  In the Footsteps of Sherlock Holmes.  New York:  Drake Publishers., 1972.  Print.
Keating, H.R.F.  Sherlock Holmes: The Man And His World.  New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.,  1979.  Print.
Linder, Douglas O.  “An Account of the Three Trials of Oscar Wilde.” Web. 8 Dec. 2011.
Owen, Alex. “‘Borderland Forms’: Arthur Conan Doyle, Albion’s Daughters, and the Politics of the Cottingley Fairies.” History Workshop 38 (1994): 48-85. Print.
Rosenberger, Edgar S.  “The Religious Sherlock Holmes.”  Sherlock Holmes by Gas-Lamp: Highlights from the First Four Decades of The Baker Street Journal.  Ed. Philip A. Shreffler.  New York: Fordham University Press, 1989.  48-57.  Print.
Seidman, Steven. “The Power of Desire and the Danger of Pleasure: Victorian Sexuality Reconsidered.” Journal of Social History 24.1 (1990): 47-67. Print.
Simmons, George.  “Sherlock Holmes—The Inner Man.”  Sherlock Holmes by Gas-Lamp: Highlights from the First Four Decades of The Baker Street Journal.  Ed. Philip A. Shreffler.  New York: Fordham University Press, 1989.  42-47.  Print.
“Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Biography” The Official Web Site of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Literary Estate.  Web. 8 Dec. 2011.
Thorpe, Vanessa.  “Sherlock Holmes is back… sending texts and using nicotine patches.”  The Observer. 17 July 2010.  Web. 5 Dec. 2011.

Beyond Scripture

Can God speak directly to us?  Should we be listening for a “still, small voice,” not necessarily an audible voice but a mental voice, to direct our lives?  Should “listening” ever be a part of our contemplative prayers?  Or is the Bible the only way that God will ever speak to us, and is listening in any other way a dangerous practice?

I think that any mature Christian worth his or her salt (pun intended) will be wary of what extra-Scriptural direct revelations he or she receives.  God, after all, is not the only voice out there.  However, I have been startled lately by just how many Christians believe that revelation is completely closed, now, and exists only within the bounds of Scripture.  I have heard lately that we are wrong to think that we can hear directly from God, at least in any way other than cracking a Bible.

This concerns me.  Allow me to explain why in a long-winded and circuitous manner. 

Part One: The Nature and Purpose of Scripture

It’s not my purpose in this blog to make a ground-up argument for the divine inspiration of Scripture.  If you’re reading this, I’m assuming that either you’re a Christian who already believes that Scripture was divinely inspired by God, or you are willing to temporarily posit such a stance for the sake of argument.

The Scripture was given to us in waves.  First, the five Books of Moses were given, which became revered by the Jewish faith as the Torah.  Then, centuries later, the writings of various prophets slowly became accepted as authoritative and scriptural.  A few more centuries later, a collection of various historical and poetic writings (including the Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, etc.), which were already revered as important historical documents, became officially accepted as Scripture by the Jewish faith.  (Their acceptance was not official until after the time of Jesus: in the Gospels you will often see Jesus refer to “The Law and the Prophets” but not to “The Writings” as well, though he does quote from them.)  Around the same time, as Christianity branched out from and re-interpreted Judaism in the light of who Christ was, the letters written by the apostles became accepted as scriptural, though their official recognition would not be for another two hundred years.  Then the gospels, as they were written, and the other New Testament writings, with Revelation and Hebrews being in dispute until they were finally accepted via church council.

During each of these waves, as new revelations were given by God, God’s direct revelations coexisted concurrently with existing Scripture.  That is, though the ancient Israelites had the Torah, they also had prophets bringing specific messages from God, and people (even wicked people) would receive visions and dreams–or hear voices–that were sent from God.  And again in the early church, although they had the Torah, the K’tuvim, and the N’vim, as well as the writings of Paul (which were already being accepted as Scriptural, see 2 Peter), still had an active ministry of prophecy.  Paul twice describes “prophets” in his list of the spiritual gifts, and Luke describes several prophets functioning in the church in the Acts of the Apostles.   So, at least while Scripture was still being created, direct revelation was occurring.

Several writers of Scripture speak of that which was already considered Scripture at the time of writing.  It is good to look at these passages, as the way that Scripture writers handled and uses earlier Scripture is logically indicative of how we should use and handle Scripture today.  When the New Testament authors spoke of the Old Testament, they spoke of it as though it were the directly revealed Word of God (see Acts 4:24-25, 2 Peter 3:2).  In addition, several New Testament writers wrote of their own works, or the works of other New Testament writers, as being authoritative, even at one point calling them “scripture” (1 Corinthians 14:37, 1 Thessalonians 2:13, 2 Peter 3:14-16).

One of the best passages which explains the purpose of Scripture within the Church is 2 Timothy 3:16-17.  “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”  So the primary purpose of Scripture is to teach, train, and equip the Christ-follower.

Another important passage is found in John.  Jesus, speaking to a disbelieving Jewish crowd, exclaims, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”  Here is a crucial concept: that Jesus is on every page of Scripture, and that the purpose of Scripture is to point to Jesus.  Jesus himself is often referred to as “The Word of God,” the same title given to Scripture–and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.  The purpose of Scripture is to show who Jesus is.  John underscores this regarding his own gospel in John 20:31 — “These things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

So Scripture is revealed by God, but it is a revelation with a specific purpose.

This is important to note.  It is not Scripture’s job to be the comprehensive revelation of God, the complete and total revelation of God.  In fact, there are many things which are deliberately NOT in Scripture–such as the time of Christ’s return, or what the seven thunders said in the Revelation.  The Bible has a specific purpose, and it tells us things toward that purpose, but this does not mean that there are not other revelations to be had.  Deuteronomy 29:29 reads, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”  And John 20:30 tells us that Jesus did and said many things that did not make it into the gospels.  God reveals things to us in Scripture specifically for our instruction.  Scripture is not the exhaustive Word of God, though it is sufficient for salvation.

Part Two: Direct Revelation in Scripture

Scripture records many ways in which God revealed things to humans–in other words, ways which have functioned as vehicles for God’s Word.  Those ways include

–With an audible voice (Genesis 2:18, 15:18, 1 Samuel 3:4, Revelation 2:1-2)
–Through the casting of lots (Proverbs 16:33, Acts 1:26, Exodus 28:30)
–Through dreams (Genesis 20:3, Numbers 12:6)
–Through visions (Isaiah 1:1, 2 Corinthians 12:2)
–Through angels (Daniel 10:12, Luke 2:10)
–Through prophets (Exodus 4:12, Ephesians 3:5)
–Through actual writing (Daniel 5:5)
–Through the test of signs, now often called “fleeces” (Judges 6:37, 2 Kings 20:9)
–Through the messages embedded in nature, particularly in the stars (Psalm 19:1-4, Matthew 2:2, Romans 1:20)

Scripture not only allows for the existence of God’s direct revelation, but knowing that miracles can be faked and prophecies can be false, Scripture provides us with the guidelines for how to test alleged revelation.

For instance, 1 John 4:1 tells us, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.  By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.”  So the first test that we place against any claim of hearing from God, any claim of prophecy, is who the prophecy says that Jesus is.  Notice, however, that if all direct revelation was going to cease with the formation of Scripture, why would John not have said, “Do not listen to prophecy”?  This warning presupposes that the Christian *may* hear from the Spirit of God.

Not only can a direct revelation not contradict the nature of Christ, it cannot contradict the Gospel.  Galatians 1:8 tells us, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.”

No revelation, no matter how many miracles accompany it, may promote a god other than God.  Deuteronomy 13:1-3.

Here’s an important one: if the prophecy involves signs or future events, the prophecy MUST be completely accurate.  In ancient Israel, if it was not completely accurate, it was at the expense of the prophet’s LIFE.  There was a zero-tolerance policy for fakers.   Deuteronomy 18: “But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.”

Direct revelations must be evaluated by the congregation, and must proceed in an orderly fashion: 1 Corinthians 14:29-33.  Prophecy seems to be a regular part of the early church: 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21.

As the sufficient (but not exhaustive) Word of God, Scripture is held in a place of prominence: thus, no revelation from God can go against, negate, or contradict Scripture.  God does not lie or contradict himself–it’s against his nature.  And thus, no voice from heaven, no message from an angel, no handwriting on a wall, no sign or wonder, no dream or vision, no prophecy or revelation should be heeded if it does not agree with what we know God has said before.

John Wesley says it best (thanks Nic!):

“Do not hastily ascribe things to God. Do not easily suppose dreams, voices, impressions, visions, or revelations to be from God. They may be from Him. They may be from nature. They may be from the devil. Therefore ‘believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they be of God.’ Try all things by the written word, and let all bow down before it. You are in danger of enthusiasm every hour, if you depart ever so little from Scripture; yea, or from the plain, literal meaning of any text, taken in connection with the context; and so are you, if you despise, or lightly esteem, reason, knowledge, or human learning; every one of which is an excellent gift of God.”

Yet in all these cautions there is the assumption that a thought, voice, spirit, vision, dream, message, or prophecy *may* be from God.  If it were not so, we would not be instructed to test, but rather to reject all.

In fact, because the New Testament talks so much about how direct revelation (such as prophecy) should be used within the church, in order to reject all direct revelation outside of Scripture, we would have to ignore much of Scripture.  Without a Scriptural injunction to do so (as with Acts 15 and the kosher laws), that would be counterproductive to a Sola Scriptura approach to Christianity.

God speaks to us in many ways.  God, who used the voice of a donkey to speak to Balaam, can use whatever means at his disposal that he sees fit.  And while he has given us the gift of Scripture in which we can find his sufficient Word, and while we can hear him speak by simply reading from that Word, it would be presumptuous on our part to say that this is the only way in which he will speak.

Part 3: Counter-Arguments — the Passing of Prophecy

There is an argument that, while God used these other methods of direct revelation in the past, during “bible times,” he will not do so now, because we now have the Bible itself and don’t need direct revelation.

I find several flaws in this argument, not the least of which are the two Scriptures used to support it.  You will find no Scripture that says, “And God will not speak directly to humans anymore once the Bible is finished being made.”  However, many supporters of such an idea appeal to Hebrews 1 and 1 Corinthians 13 for their support.

The Epistle to the Hebrews begins as follows:
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”

When I memorized this passage fifteen years ago, it was in the KJV, not the ESV, and there was no “but” between the two thoughts.  I suppose I could go to the Greek, and start digging to see if there should be a conjunction there at all.  I do not believe this would be necessary, however.  Look at what this passage says, and what it does not say.

It says that God spoke through prophets to “our fathers.”  And it says that he has now spoken “by his Son.”  It then goes on to talk about that Son and his attributes.

It does not say, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, which he will never have to do again now that the Son has been sent.”  To read it as saying so is to ignore the context of the passage.  This author (unknown, but I always like to think Apollos) is writing to Jewish Christians about a particularly Jewish understanding of Christianity.  So what revelation is he talking about in these “diverse and sundry manners”?  The Jewish Scriptures!  He’s linking the revelation of Jesus’ teachings as being firmly within–and the fuller completion of–the revelations found in the Old Testament.

This is a statement of unity with Old Testament Judaism, not a statement regarding the end of direct revelation.

This can be further seen in that Hebrews was written before the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, pre-70 A.D.  The Revelation of John was probably not written until later, at least 95 A.D.  In fact, many books of the New Testament were perhaps not written yet.  Prophecies were still occuring in the early church.  If we are to read Hebrews 1:1 as meaning that all prophecies will cease now that the Son has come, then we would expect to see no direct revelation occurring post-crucifixion.  This is not what we see in the New Testament.

Now let’s look at 1 Corinthians 13.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing…  Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.”

This passage, so often read at weddings, has also been used to say that several of the spiritual gifts (prophecy and tongues in particular) have passed away.  I have heard it argued that “the perfect” is the completed Bible: that now that the Bible has come, direct revelations such as prophecy and tongues are no longer needed and no longer in effect.

My problem with this is that again, it’s taking a verse away from what the author was driving at.  Context is key, and if you want the context to this talk of things “passing away,” keep reading the passage.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

I do not think anyone will argue that the coming of the completed Bible is tantamount to knowing God “face to face,” no longer seeing in a glass darkly.  No, this is not speaking of the finished Bible, but of the second coming!  When we can see and speak with Jesus face to face, of course then prophecies will cease, when we no longer need other people to tell us about him!  When He who is Perfect has come, then all those gifts will pass, and our childish understanding of him will mature, and all will be swallowed in love.

And here is the problem.  Without any other passage which says that “direct revelation will cease with the completion of the Bible,” I would argue that making such a claim is extrabiblical.  And if it is extrabiblical to say that there is no longer any extrabiblical revelation, then either such a doctrine is man-made and false, or it is self-disproving.

Part Four: The History of Direct Revelation in the Church

An Orthodox friend of mine wrote, “Mysticism cannot be separated from Catholicism. Or Orthodoxy, for that matter.”  I would agree wholeheartedly.  (I’m going with Wikipedia’s definition of “mysticism,” “knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, i.e. levels of being, beyond normal human perception, including experience of and even communion with a supreme being.”)  The belief that God can still directly reveal something to a person’s heart has been accused of being mysticism, but I would argue that, as Christians are supposed to commune with the Supreme Being, one can hardly be Christian without being mystic.

Not all Christians receive direct revelation, of course.  There are, however, several notable examples of Christians who have.

I am particularly fond of the Catholic Encyclopedia’s statement on prophecy:  “The prophetic spirit did not disappear with the Apostolic times, but the Church has not pronounced any work prophetic since then, though she has canonized numberless saints who were more or less endowed with the gift of prophecy…”

A few notable examples of Christians who are alleged to have received direct revelation from God (either through voice, dream, vision, or otherwise) include:

–Caedmon, 680, heard a voice telling him to sing.  He was illiterate, and protested that he did not know how or what to sing.  The voice told him to sing of Creation, and Caedmon found himself able to sing.  The result is the oldest poem we have in the English language.
–Edward the Confessor, 1066, received a vision while has been interpreted (after the fact) as prophesying the split of the Anglican Church from the Catholic Church.
–Abdullah (pseudonym), 1998, Muslim who, after a series of troubling dreams, heard an audible voice which told him, “I am Jesus.  I am the way to heaven.”  Subsequently converted to Christianity, and was almost executed for it.

The fact is, there is a strong history of direct revelation within Christianity.  We should treat such revelations with caution, and always place them alongside Scripture for analysis, testing them for accuracy, but they can and do exist.  To say otherwise, I’m worried, might be placing words in God’s mouth–the very thing that those who reject modern direct revelation are trying to avoid.

Plus, I like to remember that direct revelation is a promise given for the eventual future:

“And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.”