What Daniel Defoe Can Teach Us About Fate, Democracy & Faith
Before You Get Too Depressed About Obama Coming Back, Read This
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American society has increasingly become a place where people believe in essentially blind forces creating our world. For example, we explain the birth of the universe by appealing to the Big Bang’s Deus Ex Machina (“God from the machine”). We likewise describe the rise of life as a lucky game of dice, arising out of the primordial swamp by blind forces and pure chance. In other words, we are a people increasingly at a loss to give a rational explanation for historic events erupting in our midst, such as the recent re-election of a seemingly unelectable figure, Barack Obama. This confusion does not have to be our approach, given most Americans self-identify as Christians.
In fact, the biblical worldview offers a more complex, and intellectually persuasive explanation for the twists and turns of political and historical developments, as seen in the life and works of Daniel Defoe. He did not accept that life was a random series of events which had no direction or meaning. Instead, he assumed he had a purpose in his life and work, and refused to ever compromise his religious principles. Defoe committed himself to engaging in the battles of his day, producing a great deal of excellent writing upon various important topics.
Contra, our present society views life with cynical fatalism, such as found in various Eastern religions, as well as Islam’s remarkable reliance on kismet, or fate, which is the opposite of the Bible’s viewpoint. A proper appreciation of God’s sovereignty and His will are bracing and wholly enriching to the human psyche under duress. An informed conviction on divine sovereignty is a wholly beneficial response to the disappointments of life. Given somewhere near 80% of Americans claim a Christian worldview, these ideas ought not be set aside for the characteristically unpersuasive claims of Eastern religions or Marxism’s blind, magically efficient forces. Instead, America must return to its first love if we are to have any hope for restoring our economic and cultural vitality which now seems just a distant memory.
I. General Explanations of Fate or Will
A. Islamic Fate: Kismet
There are various methods for explaining the twists and turns of history. For instance, Islam proposes the notion of Kismet, or fate, as the guiding force in everything. According to one source, “A doctrine called Kismet (fate) is taught, but is not required of a Muslim. Kismet is the belief that all things are foreordained by Allah.” In Timelessness and the Reality of Fate, Harun Yahya states,
Allah has defined, determined and created every moment of time in timelessness. This is what underlies the essence of the reality of “Fate,” which materialists fail to comprehend. All of the events that have been experienced in the past and that will be experienced in the future by us, are within the knowledge and control of Allah, Who is not dependent on time, and Who created time from nothing.
Patai also delves into the extremely sensitive issue of the nature of Islam in a particularly prescient manner. He views the fatalistic element inherit in Islam as an important factor in providing great strength to Muslims in times of stress or tragedy; in normal or better times, however, it acts as an impediment. Given their pervasive belief that God provides and disposes of all human activity, Muslims tend to reject the Western concept of man creating his own environment as an intrusion on God’s realm. This includes any attempt to change God’s plan for the fate of the individual. Certainly one can point to numerous exceptions. But, having worked for long periods with Arab military units, I can attest to their often cavalier attitude toward safety precautions, perhaps reflecting a Qur’anic saying, heard in various forms, that “death will overtake you even if you be inside a fortress.” Just observing how few Arabs use seat belts in their automobiles can be a revelation. This manifestation of Arab fatalism is often misconstrued as a lesser value put on human life.
Dalya Cohen-Mor, in A Matter of Fate: The Concept of Fate in the Arab World as Reflected in Modern Arabic Literature, states that the ancient concept of fate in Islam retains its vitality and importance in Muslim thought today. And this reliance on fate well explains many of the chronic problems found in the Middle East today.
B. Christian Views of Human Free Will, Fate & Divine Sovereignty
The issue of whether humans have free will, or instead their decisions are controlled by an outside power is a perennial topic of philosophers and theologians. The problem is obvious—If God is all knowing and all powerful, how can mankind make his or her own decisions, or be held responsible for such actions?
While there are different positions in various Christian denominations, the general biblical outline is clear—that while mankind has some variety of “free will,” all human decisions are overshadowed by God’s sovereignty. For example, if man becomes “saved,” or a believer in God—it is because God, in His mercy and grace has allowed such a choice to be made.
Further, God has preordained certain events in history. While some disagreement exists over how exactly individuals are saved, nearly all agree that God has pre-designed the events leading up to such prophesied occurances as the Battle of Armageddon, the identity of the Anti-Christ, and the end of the world. And all human activities must work for these things and all other preordained events.
Yet this does not equate to the Muslim position of Kismet which is sheer fatalism, meaning regardless of what any man decides to do, God’s Kismet will decide the outcome. This is opposite the Christian view which claims that humans do have a kind of free will which is used inside the larger will of God. In this view, God uses the just and unjust decisions of men to achieve his ultimate goals. For example, while God may oppose the activities of the Anti-Christ, He still will still use his evil activities to cause the end of the age (eschaton) to come.
II. Daniel Defoe on Life’s Challenges
For an example of the kind of adaptability proper theology affords, let’s examine the great British writer Daniel Defoe (1660-1731). He was author of the world’s best-selling novel—Robinson Crusoe—and inventor of both the modern novel and the first example of modern journalism. He was also a Reformed dissenter and a believer in the sovereignty of God. In fact, Defoe was described by Richard West in Daniel Defoe: The Life and Strange, Surprising Adventures as having an unbreakable faith in God and his sovereignty, despite whatever his circumstances, which West called “Passive Courage.” Defoe refused to surrender despite what hand he was dealt in life.
In other words, Defoe refused to give up despite all of the many difficulties he encountered, including being sent to prison for expressing political opinions, money problems, sickness, and the need to feed his wife and six children. Defoe is said to have been the only Englishman ever placed in the public pillory, yet to emerge even more popular than before. Further, Defoe’s brilliance as an essayist shone in his various works, some fiction, others scientific, many on economics, and yet more on politics. He contributed something lasting to each genre. For example, his writing on rights theory is considered some of the most important in British history. Consider this description of Defoe’s life:
Daniel Defoe was born in London in 1660. Initially, Defoe spent time at Morton’s academy for Dissenters preparing for the ministry, but became a hosiery merchant and married. It was not until the late 1690s, however, his first important works appeared. Defoe’s ironic pamphlet The Shortest Way with Dissenters (1702) got him imprisoned. This unfortunate circumstance turned out to be a triumph for the writer, however. While he stood in the pillory for three days, the crowd bought copies of and then chanted his “Hymn to the Pillory”, a mock-Pindaric ode, he composed in prison. A Tory politician, Harley, got Defoe a pardon, offering new employment as a secret agent, which he held from 1703-1714. He was imprisoned again for anti-Jacobite pamphlets in the early 1700s and convicted of libeling Lord Annesley in 1715.
It was in his later years, however, that Defoe wrote the novels for which he is now justly famous. They were perhaps the first books that conform to the term “novel”, and brought him great success, such as 1719’s Robinson Crusoe, and others like Moll Flanders (1722) and A Journal of the Plague Year (1722). These novels were extremely influential and showed a journalist’s interest in realistic description. Defoe’s simple but effective prose style ensured him widespread popularity and he is seen as the father of the English Novel, as well as the first journalist of great individual merit. He died in his lodgings in 1731.
So what was the secret of Defoe’s indomitable spirit? Certainly his great faith was the core. He refused to give up, nor was he consumed with self-pity. After becoming bankrupted in business, he merely invented the modern novel in Robinson Crusoe, which became the best selling fiction of all time.
Given the repressive religious tenor of the times, it is not surprising Defoe preferred to couch his ideas in fiction and satirical pieces. His love of subterfuge is seen in his frequent use of pseudonyms and work as a government secret agent. According to West, in his enthusiasm over the preaching of John Collins in London—recording his sermons word-for-word—we see in Defoe a love of we would call today Evangelical doctrine. He expressed support for straightforward preaching which extolled a heaven for believers and a rightful hell for those who rejected God and His Son Christ’s sacrifice. In his doctrine Defoe was thoroughly Calvinistic, stressed the sinfulness of man and his neediness for salvation.
But Defoe’s works are surprisingly modern, despite being 300 years old. He writes perhaps the first scientific journalistic piece on the Great Storm, is a huge pamphleteer for liberty and freedom of speech, and also an unyielding advocate for capitalism and free markets. To claim Defoe was a visionary is not to overstate the case.
III. Love of Men Growing Cold: Socialism Over Common Sense?
So after our government loving, incompetent president’s reelection—is is it over for the American Dream of Life, Liberty, Defense of Property and Happiness? Looking around our debauched and politically unhinged nation, one might think so. For example, the present American age appears to be what the New Testament writers described as one of the aloof and cold, as described in 2 Timothy 3:1-7:
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,
Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,
Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
So what can we do? Giving up is not even on the menu, dear patriotic friends. Instead, let’s take a page out of the book of the life of Daniel Defoe. Instead of telling ourselves we must sacrifice our deepest convictions and go along to get along, why not do the opposite? Let’s do like Daniel and take all our mistakes and use them to motivate ourselves. Let us practice the art of resilience and take our failures and turn them into opportunities. The old saying says, which bears repeating—If life gives you a lemon, turn it into lemonade.
For the eighty-percent who claim the God of the Bible, it’s time to repent and trust the God of Defoe and the Pilgrims and Founders and reclaim our place as the true Americans who built this great land.