Eutychus’ Law

Every great thinker would like to leave mankind a simple, easily remembered principle. Besides the good it does, such a principle helps ensure his fame in perpetuity.

Pythagoras, for instance, left a theorem since known to every schoolperson: “The sum of the squares of the legs of a right angle triangle is equal to the square of the hypotenuse.” That is a trifle stiff, but manageable. The unfortunate German biologist Häckl, however, muffed his chance with “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” (or was it “Ontology recapitulates philology”?). It has a certain lilt, but the common person cannot understand it; hence it is quickly forgotten, and Herr Häckl with it. Likewise the famous philosopher Hegel and his “Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht,” which can’t even be translated in less than a paragraph.

Fortunately modern thinkers have been more straightforward with their laws. The great Parkinson propounded one that even the simplest mind can understand: “Work expands to fill the time allotted.” Among scientists and engineers it is the terse and rememberable Murphy’s Law, with its bitter-sweet realism, that appeals: “If anything can go wrong, it will.”

Gresham’s Law originated among economists, but everyone lives by it, whether consciously or not: “Bad money drives out good.” When the late President Johnson began debasing the coinage in 1965, no one required the silver dimes, quarters, and half-dollars to disappear. But disappear they did, driven out by cupro-nickel “sandwiches” according to the inexorable working of Gresham’s Law.

Now, with no thought of securing a niche in history but with purely altruistic intent, Eutychus wishes to share with his readers Eutychus’ Law: “When good religion goes out, bad religion comes in—with worse religion hot on its heels.” Regrettably, this simple principle (which might be considered a variant of the better-known “Nature abhors a vacuum”) has generally gone unheeded among American law-makers and educators. In Washington, D. C., for example, after scrupulously excluding Christianity from federal life, patriots and other well-wishers proceeded to erect not only pseudo-Grecian temples (paganism, i.e., bad) but a psuedo-Egyptian obelisk (if anything, worse) which they would have surrounded by a Pantheon (“temple of all the gods”) dedicated to “revolutionary heroes” had they not run out of money in the nick of time (Gresham’s Law to the rescue). Under the leadership of Chief Justice Earl Warren, prayer and Bible-reading (good) were banished from public schools. Now, hardly a decade later, there are courses in transcendental meditation (bad) and witchcraft (worse).

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Now there is a move afoot to get rid of the Christian relics in Congress (chaplains), the Supreme Court (“God save … this honorable Court”), and the armed services. One who realizes the truth of Eutychus’ Law will not hesitate to predict the results: In a few years Congress will have soothsayers to read the omens, the Court will be opened with incantations, and the armed services will paint themselves blue and take druids and fakirs as chaplains.

Those disposed to scoff should remember that government economists scoffed at Gresham, too. Seen any silver quarters lately, anyone?


What Requirements?

I was more amused than amazed to find myself characterized in CHRISTIANITY TODAY (“ ‘Revolt on Evangelical Frontiers’: A Response,” June 21) as biased “toward the general acceptability of the present American economic and political system” and as holding “a rather paranoid and unbalanced view of socialism.” The main issue—whether evangelical Christians should be post-American or supra-American in their national commitment—I shall discuss on the eve of the Chicago Thanksgiving/74 Workshop in my November “Footnotes” column.

I don’t want to waste words over Jim Wallis’s misrepresentations or misunderstandings of my review of Rich- and Quebedeaux’s The Young Evangelicals in my essay “Revolt on Evangelical Frontiers” (April 26). Wallis uses the columns of CHRISTIANITY TODAY to proclaim that I have “misrepresented much of its basic thrust.” That may be Mr. Wallis’s view, but Mr. Quebedeaux has written me that he considered the review “very fair” and numerous young evangelicals have written that Wallis inaccurately represents their view of the Bible.

Wallis goes on to emphasize that what he rejects in Marxism is “its epistemology and eschatology; … its ethical failures over the question of ends and means; … its inadequate view of the human condition.” Nobody, to my knowledge, has charged him with endorsing those aspects of Marxism. The question is, which elements of the Marxist economic program does he consider expressive of “a Christian’s basic allegiance to the kingdom of God”? What “balanced view of socialism” does Wallis require us to baptize as biblical?


Arlington, Va.

Business Advantage

You have suggested that during the Bicentennial (“Bicentennial—The Personal Touch,” June 21) we emphasize the “spiritual dimension in America’s founding.” All devout Americans would agree, but we must be willing to face the fact that in the beginning the spiritual dimension was not very strong. Financial investment was the dominant motive, beginning with Columbus. Religious dissenters in Europe simply took advantage of the door which business interests opened, and these dissenters became a part of the commercial venture. Only 6 per cent of the early settlers were church members.

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It was the Great Awakening just before the Revolution which filled the colonies with religious fervor and made the spiritual dimension an important historical phenomenon. This widespread revival movement made salvation strictly personal, dependent on personal spiritual experience rather than institutional devices, and multiplied the number of dissenters in the colonies. The Great Awakening helped to undermine and force the collapse of the tyrannical colonial theocracies, and religion thus was given the freedom which is essential for its effective practice and survival.


Director, Exploration II

Americans United for Separation of Church and State Silver

Spring, Md.

With No Excuse

I thank you indeed for Harold M. Best’s “There Is More to Redemption Than Meets the Ear” (July 26). Although no music specialist, I heartily agree that “the need for developing a scriptural aesthetic has still to be met” (and as a layman I appreciate the author’s commitment to the nonmusician’s needs). In fact, CHRISTIANITY TODAY is the only Christian publication I have read that has observed (more than once) that much Christian “art” is merely an excuse for presenting the Gospel.


Tampa, Fla.

Harold Best’s call to Christian responsibility in music provides a desperately needed counterpoint to a growing evangelical view that sound and beat are neutral and only lyrics determine the suitability of music for worship. Granted that a single note (or even a single chord) cannot be considered the Devil’s property, collections of sounds can and do reflect philosophical opinion.… Evangelical musicians display an abysmal metaphysical ignorance when they try to detoxify counter-culture music with a dose of Jesus talk. Music consciously composed to reflect a fragmented, meaningless universe and to facilitate raw hedonism can only dilute and distort a Christian message superimposed on it.


Department of Systematic Theology

Evangelical Congregational School of Theology

Myerstown, Pa.

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Attacking God’S Glory

I applaud the article by Martin LaBar in the July 26 issue, “A Message to Polluters From the Bible.” We are all polluters, and we must face up to this fact as sin. Sin demands repentance but also a walk in renewal of attitude and action. To the fine list of Bible passages quoted by LaBar, I should like to add Isaiah 6:3. Whereas the Bible insists that the glory of God transcends the universe (see Psalm 113), the seraphs surrounding his glory chant in antiphonal song these words: “Holy, holy, holy, is Yahweh of hosts, the fulness of the whole earth is His glory” (see NASV margin). Since the earth is a reflection of the glory of God, pollution is not only a debasing of man—it is in fact an attack on the glory of God. The issue of pollution is not one which we dare leave to our more liberal colleagues. It is an issue of sound biblical theology.


Assistant Professor of Old Testament

Language and Exegesis

Western Conservative Baptist Seminary

Portland, Ore.

Invoking Dominoes

In the same issue (July 26) in which you published Dr. Martin LaBar’s excellent article on ecology … you have done … a disservice to the population problem. Writing editorially on abortion and euthanasia (“A License to Live”), you seem to overgeneralize your fears and align evangelical Christianity with irresponsible reproductive permissiveness. People are able to make much more subtle distinctions than you appear to give us credit for—a foot in the door does not necessarily mean an elephant in the living room.

In the research of my Population Psychology class at this Baptist college done last January, students expressed as much concern with the population problem and planned no more children than a group of students at a California state college. However, this student body overwhelmingly diverged from the secular norm in opposing abortion as a form of birth control in any circumstance. Similarly they favored voluntary limitation of family size to two children (mean 7.7 on a 0 to 10 scale) and tax incentives to limit family size (mean 6.2), yet they strongly rejected a modest proposal of mandatory sterilization after “a given number of children” (mean 2.2 on the same scale).

Obviously the domino theory has not held true, and the people do not seem to be in any danger of succumbing to grossly dehumanizing forms of population control. Of course, if all people, Christian and otherwise, do not exercise responsible control over their reproduction, we may be forced by physical rather than political realities to endure suffering and death more hideous than abortion and passive euthanasia. I wish you had taken care to draw responsible distinctions rather than invoke maladaptive domino theories.

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Chairman, Psychology Department

Georgetown College

Georgetown, Ky.

Your July 26 editorial characterization of me as a “virulent anti-Christian” is grossly inaccurate, unfair, and defamatory. As a religious person in a leadership role in a religious social-concern agency, I am pleased to work with Christian and Jewish leaders in promoting interfaith harmony and in bringing ethical and religious insights to bear on social problems. Your use of slanderous epithets seems inconsistent with the ethical injunctions of the Scriptures you profess to follow.


Silver Spring, Md.

• Edd Doerr signed the “Humanist Manifesto II” and is a contributing editor of the journal The Humanist. The sentence in question was meant, not to characterize Mr. Doerr, but to refer readers to an article of which he was a co-author for further information on our assertion that “some virulent anti-Christians … exulted” at the Supreme Court decision on abortion.—ED.

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