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Billy Graham and Günter Blobel

Billy Graham died today, February 21, 2018. He entered the 1950s at the age of thirty-one filled with an evangelical fire that I found annoying, but pleasing me was not his mission. He was without need of artificial flourishes. He appeared honest, real and to his point. He was a Southern Baptist with a polished manner. With a weekly radio program, Hour of Decision, Graham attracted the attention of people across the nation and across denominational divisions. Graham built a good organization. He expanded to television and to stadium crusades and overseas crusades, going to Korea one year, to Brazil another year, and to Taiwan the year after that. He preached to more people in the world than any Protestant before him.

Graham integrated seating at his meetings in the South before the integration movement was well underway, and he opposed resistance to school integration in Little Rock. He was imperfect. He must have died knowing it. But he wasn't cynical, nor publicly weepy about it.

He was religiously conservative insofar as he believed in the devil. He said he believed in the devil because he saw the devil's work everywhere. That was his kind of empiricism — not social science despite his BA in Anthropology. He was not a theologian but made attempts at it. God, he said, allowed the devil and all his designs in order to help God's great plan. He reduced all of humanity's problems to sin. He didn't claim to be a philosopher, but he preached that life without Christ was meaningless. In one of his sermons he spoke of people trying to have a good time, going out on a date or drinking. "You have a good time for a while," he said, "but soon it wears off. It's gone." He was and he thought of himself as a preacher.

Some evangelists thought Graham insufficiently fundamentalist and running from Biblical truths in order to be popular. Graham visited the Soviet Union as a tourist in 1959. A Baltimore Sun editorial described him as having made a "fool of himself" by "attending a propaganda show." Europe's press responded to the visit to Russia favorably. Graham stuck to his conviction that he was doing right, and in 1982, while Reagan was President, Graham attended a peace conference in Moscow. He was attacked by some other evangelists for being naive or for appeasement. Graham returned to the Soviet Union in 1984 and assured the Russians that the US and President Reagan wanted peace.

His fame was partly his doing and partly the culture into which he was born. He was humble enough to realize, I'm sure, that there were others with a different view of life who had made contributions to society and deserved a respect at least equal to what is given him.


Three days ago in New York, Günter Blobel died at age 81. In 1999 he won the Nobel Prize in Physiology for discovering that proteins have intrinsic signals that govern their transport and localization in the cell. According to The New York Times he put us on a course of "understanding the mechanisms behind cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer’s disease, leukemia, schizophrenia, the virus that causes AIDS and other immune-system deficiencies, hereditary conditions and cellular aberrations, including cancers."

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Copyright © 2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.