Child sacrifice and drama (Agamemnon)

It has been a great pleasure to continue to work my way once more through these Greek dramas as part of the Great Books of the Western World reading plan. There is so much here that it is difficult to know where to begin.

One aspect of drama itself that has long interested me is its ties to religious ritual. In ancient Greece, the drama grew out of the worship of the gods. Throughout the classical period, there was an altar in the center of the stage, lest the roots of the drama in worship and sacrifice be forgotten. When drama declined following the collapse of the Roman Empire (though I would aver that it declined long before that), it was largely replaced by Christian liturgy. One can see, for example, evidence of this in the frequent calls of the early medieval Church Fathers to avoid the theater in favor of attendance at the services of the Church’s liturgical cycle — matins and vespers, mass and compline, and so on. And rightfully so, I might add; St. John Chrysostom’s condemnation of the theaters is hardly a form of proto-puritanism. It is, rather, a recognition that the theaters — far from being the place of presentation for great literary achievements — had become showplaces for pornographic nonsense. It’s often forgotten today, but there is an indubitable relationship between concern for the mind and concern for morals (witness, as a case study, Bertrand Russell’s inability to develop a coherent philosophical justification for his general outlook, closely related to his begin a philanderer).

Drama was not to remain dead, however. It, like philosophy, art, music, and the other liberal and fine arts, was merely waiting to be reborn in the high middle ages in a form purified by the crucible of Christian faith. As in ancient Greece, drama grew once again out of ritual. The liturgical worship of the Church gave birth to the mystery and, later, the moral plays of the middle ages and, eventually, formed the trajectory that led to Shakespeare.

Aeschylus’s plays, and the Agamemnon in particular, stand out to me as particularly fascinating exemplars of what seem to be holdovers from primitive Greek ritual. In particular, Agamemnon seems to me almost certainly to feature some remnant of rituals of child-sacrifice. Agamemnon himself, of course, is guilty of sacrificing his daughter Iphigenia. And then there are the other child-murders in his family, such as the famous child-murder and cannibalism in the story of Thyestes. There are some biblical scholars, so I have read, who believe that the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac is a sort of dramatization of the Israelite abandonment of child-sacrifice, a practice that remained quite common in the ancient world, including among those peoples who lived around and among the Israelites. The story of Agamemnon seems to be such a moment in the history of the Greeks as well. Of course, infanticide was never abandoned by the Greeks, and it may be argued that this makes them different from the Israelites in an important way, and it does. Yet, it also seems that there was, especially by the Roman period, a certain unease with the practice and a shame that attached to it.

I am reminded here of the arguments of Chesterton in his Everlasting Man, one of which concerns the Roman abhorrence of the Carthaginian practice of infant-immolation. This is, says Chesterton, proof positive that while the Romans worshiped gods, who may be angels or God misunderstood, the Carthaginians worshiped demons. And hence the Roman Empire became, eventually, the vehicle for the destruction of Carthage and, later, the spread of Christianity. If this is so, and I think Chesterton is right, it all begins with the Greeks.

Book Review: The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton

Chesterton has taken up a tremendous task with this book and spectacularly accomplished his goals. Here, he sets out to explore and explain the nature and history of man in relation to the central event in the history of the species: the Incarnation of God as man in the Person of Jesus Christ. To accomplish this goal, Chesterton begins with the beginning of man in prehistory and proceeds through to the rise of Christianity. His goal along the way is to demonstrate the singular uniqueness of man among the animals coupled with his simultaneously insufficiency in the accomplishment of his own salvation.

The points that he demonstrates along the way include the great difference even the most primitive of man shows when compared with any of even the highest members of the animal world; the preparation for the Gospel that took place in the religious thought of the Jews, the philosophy of the Greeks, and the military and political domination of the Romans over the Mediterranean world; and the essential difference between Christ and all other teachers and religious figures the world has ever seen. And all of this Chesterton argues with his characteristic wit and wisdom, stringing together his paragraphs and chapters out of aphorisms rather than sentences in the dry, academic sense that word has taken on.

This book is a book that will have one of two effects upon the sensitive reader: it will either lead him to a conversion (or to a deepening of faith, should he already be so convinced) or it will lead him to irrevocably harden his heart against ever converting to Christianity. Either way, it is a book that will have a permanent effect on those who read it well. And that is indeed the mark of a great book.

The heresies of pacifism and simplicity

Leo Tolstoy spent the second half of his life expounding a doctrine of Christian pacifism and renunciation of all things worldly. He used his literary talents to argue against the lifestyle of the bourgeois (as in The Death of Ivan Ilyich), against the cruelties of military service and the luxuries of the aristocracy (“After the Ball”), and against the avaricious wealthy landowners of his period (“How Much Land Does a Man Need?”). His infatuation with a simple, pacific lifestyle led him to condemn what he saw as excesses in the Russian Orthodox Church, including the ornate cathedrals, iconography, worship rituals, and even its most central doctrines. While remaining a strong adherent to the ethical teachings of Jesus, for example, he denied his divinity, stating “I believe that the will of God is most clearly and intelligibly expressed in the teaching of the man Jesus, whom to consider as God, and pray to, I esteem the greatest blasphemy.”1 Ultimately, in denying any utility or necessity for grandeur or majesty to man as a whole, he found it necessary to deny it also to the single man whom he ostensibly respected most, Jesus, and therefore stripped him of his divinity.

The great error of Tolstoy, the recognition of which might have saved him from allowing his laudable focus on spiritual poverty to degrade into a sickly and feeble pseudo-Christianity, was in his insistence that human nature is monolithic and stagnant rather than pluriform and dynamic. G.K. Chesterton, in his Orthodoxy, insightfully revealed this error of “the Tolstoyans” as the belief “that when the lion lies down with the lamb the lion becomes lamb-like. But that is brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb. That is simply the lamb absorbing the lion instead of the lion eating the lamb.”2 One can see Tolstoy’s insistence, for example, through the words of the character Ivan in “After the Ball,” that the punishment a military leader inflicts on a soldier caught deserting is irredeemably evil because it involves one human being harming another. One might justifiably wonder just what Tolstoy thought should be done with such a soldier, whose actions had compromised the integrity of his unit and the safety of his entire nation? Lions are as necessary as lambs, to use Chesterton’s terminology, borrowed, in turn, from the Prophet Isaiah, as it is the lions who must protect the lambs. Chesterton goes on to identify “the real problem,” which is not that one nature should swallow up and replace the other, but “can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity? THAT is the problem the Church attempted; THAT is the miracle she achieved.”3

Indeed, it is a miracle that was achieved in the Russian Orthodox Church itself more than 300 years before Tolstoy’s life. In the early 16th century, the Russian Orthodox Church was faced with a conflict between two groups, the Possessors and the Non-Possessors, whose argument began with a conflict, as the names of the respective groups indicate, over whether monastic establishments should possess land and the serfs attached to the land. The issues at stake, however, were much wider. The Possessors, led by Joseph of Volokolamsk, favored a close relationship between the Church and the State as well as society as a whole. They believed that it was necessary for the Church, including the monasteries, to own lands, serfs, and other sources of wealth so that it could beautify its churches and provide services such as hospitals and soup kitchens. The Non-Possessors, led by Nil Sorsky, argued that the Church, and especially the monasteries, should instead possess no wealth whatsoever and should remove itself from secular affairs entirely.

Interestingly, the original issue which caused the division between the Possessors and the Non-Possessors, namely the ownership of land, was also taken up by Tolstoy in his “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” There, he tells a morality tale in which a landowner causes his own death in his avaricious acquisition of larger and larger landholdings. The moral of the story is that one should be content with a small plot of land which provides just enough food to provide for oneself and one’s family and should not go beyond this. While his condemnation of avarice, one of the most overlooked but most insidiously destructive sins, reflects some insight on Tolstoy’s part, his apparent condemnation of all desire to acquire something greater than one currently possesses goes too far.

This was precisely the decision the Russian Orthodox Church reached when considering these issues during the controversy between the Possessors and the Non-Possessors. The Church would eventually attempt to adopt a middle course between the two in a recognition that both sides had their benefits and their errors. While the Possessors ran the risk of allowing the Church to become too worldly through entanglements in economic and social affairs, the Non-Possessors, many of whose arguments often sound like those of Tolstoy, put the Church at risk of becoming alienated from the life of the average person. A life of absolute poverty and renunciation, whether for a single individual such as Tolstoy or entire monastic communities like the Non-Possessors, is a life that separates those who adopt it from the bulk of mankind and makes him or them unable to serve their needs. To insist that all people adopt this lifestyle, as did Tolstoy, is nothing more than tyranny, even if it is the tyranny of the lamb. Instead, the Russian Orthodox Church accomplished its Chestertonian miraculous reconciliation between the lion and the lamb by canonizing both Joseph of Volokolamsk and Nil Sorsky as saints. It also allowed both of their ideologies to influence the Church’s practices, as the Church extended its blessing to both the poor hermits in their small sketes in the countryside as well as to the large and ornamented cathedrals of Moscow with their elaborate services.

In his denial, for example in The Death of Ivan Ilyich, that there is anything finally redemptive or meaningful in an unexceptional middle class life, Tolstoy extended his tyranny of the lamb even to his fellow lambs. He insisted that human life must be monolithic. In Tolstoy’s “After the Ball,” the character Ivan admits that perhaps those who approved of the cruelty he witnessed being inflicted on a military deserter “must have known something I didn’t” but that he was perpetually unable to discern or understand what this might be.4 The heart of Tolstoy’s great error is here, in his inability to appreciate the fact that others might want to live their own lives differently from how he chose to live his. Centuries before its excommunication of Tolstoy and his vitriolic response, the Russian Orthodox Church had prepared its answer to those who would insist that there is only one way to live a human life by placing its great seal of approval on a diverse variety of lives rightly lived, from that of Joseph of Volokolamsk to that of Nil Sorsky, and from that of the warrior and prince Alexander Nevsky to the brothers Boris and Gleb whose pacifism led them to renounce their positions in government. It had already reconciled the lions and the lambs, without either swallowing up the other.

1 Leo Tolstoy, “A Reply to the Synod’s Edict of Excommunication.”

 2 G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Ch. 6.

3 Ibid.

 4 Leo Tolstoy, “After the Ball.”

When God became an atheist

Early in Ray Bradbury’s novel Dandelion Wine, Douglas, the 12-year-old central protagonist of the novel, has an experience in which for the first time in his short life he realized the beauty and significance of his own existence in a profoundly and deeply felt way. So feeling, he thinks to himself, “I’m really alive! … I never knew it before, or if I did I don’t remember!” The novel that follows a series of events which occur around and to Douglas during the Summer of 1928. These events lead to Douglas’s realization near the end of the novel that someday his life, which he only so recently learned to fully appreciate, will eventually end. Young Douglas struggles to accept this newfound knowledge of his own mortality, finally even becoming so ill as to be dangerously close to death. Upon emerging from this sickness, he wanders into his grandmother’s kitchen pantry where he discovers a jar labelled only “RELISH.” When he discovers this jar, he feels suddenly “glad he had decided to live” through his illness. He decides at this to relish the many joys of life while accepting the inevitability of its end.

The story that is told here is another version of the only story ever told. It is the story in which the protagonist “dies” (or undergoes extreme hardship nearing death) and is revivified to a more complete life or otherwise grows in an important way in the end. This story is, of course, best told in the biblical account of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. This biblical telling is also unique in an important way, namely, that the protagonist who undergoes the process is not a human being in the usual sense but is, rather, God-become-man. As G.K. Chesterton pointed out:

Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete. Christianity alone felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king. Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point — and does not break.

In the recapitulative work of Christ, the redemption-narrative of death and rebirth is itself redeemed and sanctified. It is then set forth as the archetype to which others must adhere. Without the crucifixion and burial on Good Friday, there is and can be no Easter resurrection and Paschal joy. The narrative repeats itself throughout the Christian life, such as in the rite of baptism in which “we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4, KJV). It, in fact, defines, the Christian life as a whole, which is a process of dying to one’s self and sin in order to live a life in Christ, who is the fullness of life.

I cannot remember the first time I experienced a recognition of my own mortality. I believe it was probably a gradual process, as it must be with most people. I can, however, remember the first time that the full meaning and inevitability of my own death came to me. It was the first time that I celebrated Easter as a Christian. Growing up in a non-religious household, throughout my childhood Easter had meant nothing more than a few extra days off from school and a basketful of candy on Sunday morning. As a result, I entered into my first Holy Week expecting very little. What I found, however, was an experience through which I came to understand myself better than I had at any point previously in my life. In contemplating the suffering and death of Christ on Good Friday, I found a God who is, as Chesterton once described him, the “only … divinity who ever uttered … isolation,” the only “God [who] seemed for an instant to be an atheist.” In other words, I found a God who became as I had been. As the journey continued, however, and I shared for the first time in the joyful proclamation of the risen Lord on Easter Sunday morning, I found a man who had become as I desired to become.

Through contemplating and, in a sense, experiencing the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Lord, I came to understand more truly than ever before the inevitability of my own death and to place my hope more fervently than ever before in the resurrection to come. It is only through coming to terms with my death and placing my hopes in this resurrection that I began to approach the state which Douglas had found after his sickness, an experience of the joy of being and the desire to relish each moment of life.

Review: Orthodoxy

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you pay attention, this book will change your life.

This is, simply put, one of the most amazing and underrated books ever written. In it, Chesterton traces out his own intellectual journey from childhood through to the time he wrote the book, detailing his movement from agnosticism to Christianity. Rather than giving us a dry, self-important autobiography, however, Chesterton instead leads us through his thought processes, showing us the means by which he reached the conclusions he reached, and giving us the opportunity to reach the same. The result is a great work of Christian apologetics and a solid set of arguments against the great assumptions of modernism and materialism.

The book is truly engaging and delightful to read. Chesterton’s arguments are clear, challenging, and always interesting, even when you disagree. His characteristic wit is sprinkled on every page.

I recommend this book for everyone.

View all my reviews

Sins Against Philosophy

Philosophy is the primary pursuit proper to man. I have no use, however, for either pies in the sky or for their ostensible opposite in pessimistic pontifications on the utterly hopeless situation of man. While rejecting philosophy as too heady, too complex, or too impractical is the mistaken notion of those who have rejected philosophy, the greater sin against philosophy has been committed by those who have professed to adopt it and to nurture it. It is the greater sin because it has been committed by those who have been the most intimate with philosophy1 and because the commission of such a sin by these intimates of philosophy has driven away so many who would have been among its greatest lovers.2

Throughout the greater portion of its history, nearly since the Socratic spirit entered it, the proponents of philosophy have engaged most frequently in the former abuse, focusing their intellectual endeavors upon the utterly transcendent and the entirely theoretical, and therefore the ultimately meaningless. Perhaps the most notorious instance of this concern for the superfluous which has become nearly synonymous with philosophy in many modern minds is the infamously medieval debate over how many angels can dance upon the head of a pin.3 Philosophy, however, is not synonymous with conjecture about the unknowable and the unnecessary, no matter how adamantly some may insist that this must be the case.

Modern philosophers, by which terminology I hereby designate those of and since the Enlightenment, have tended to view themselves as having transcended their predecessors’ concerns for such matters. On the contrary, however, rather than replacing superstition with reason moderns have instead substituted reason as their greatest superstition. The modern mind has trained itself to see past what scientist Carl Sagan famously referred to as “the demon-haunted world” of so-called “primitive” man, but has instead cultivated new blind spots and new beliefs without foundation (i.e. superstitions). Perhaps the most obvious modern superstition is really a continuation and modification of the old and human, all-too-human, habit of assuming that one’s own viewpoint is the most natural and the default viewpoint. This, of course, breeds the kind of incredulity that leads nearly in a straight line to the spirit of the Holy Inquisition. Just as the medieval Christian could not fathom how the Jew, equipped with the Sacred Scriptures and the Mosaic traditions, could possibly fail to see that Jesus the Christ was undoubtedly the Messiah foretold in the Law and the Prophets, the modern secular man cannot understand how anyone anywhere could believe differently than he believes about the world, about himself, and about the nature of things. “What is the matter with you? Can’t you see it? It is so obvious! – to me.” It is so obvious that one could only miss it if one is either altogether stupid or if one is not missing it at all but is in fact in active and conscious rebellion against it. Through this reasoning, the Jew becomes insidiousness incarnate, the Christ-despising deicide who abducts and consumes Christian children for his Passover motzah and poisons wells with the bubonic plague. Through this reasoning, the man of ardent faith who refuses to concede to the program of eugenics, to the possibility of concocting a workers’ paradise, to the inherent desirability of “progress,” to whatever agenda happens to be fashionable among men without chests who build their houses on sand, becomes the misguided, the ignorant, the obnoxious, the dangerous, the one upon whose blood the architecture of the future can be built. This spirit, the spirit of the Inquisition, pervades the minds of modern man. Sometimes, it leads to concentration camps and gulags. In tamer periods, such as our own (at least within the confines of the so-called “First World” as well as large portions of the former “Second World”), it makes dialogue often arduous and sometimes impossible. One need only read the comments section on nearly anything published online as evidence of this.

Simone de Beauvoir saw to the root of the superstitious pseudo-reasoning in man’s assumption of the masculine perspective as natural and default and the feminine perspective (that is, the perspective of nearly any female whatsoever on nearly any subject whatsoever in any instance whatsoever in which said female’s opinion happens to run contrary to that of any given male whatsoever) as inherently subject to and circumscribed by her femininity. What he fails to realize, de Beauvoir aptly points out, is that he too has “glands;” he is, in other words, equally a body and equally subject to the influence of hormones, equally trapped in a subjectivity that can never be escaped and that perpetually governs his consciousness and his interactions with the world and with others. No one has a direct connection with the world; the world is, rather, experienced through the lens of each individual’s perceptive and cognitive faculties; there is no escaping our own subjectivity.4

An appreciation of this fact-of-the-matter is the first step toward a meaningful dialogue across intellectual paradigms. Modern man must no longer indulge in the superstitious belief that his assumptions are the most natural assumptions. On the contrary, as G.K. Chesterton, David Bentley Hart, T.S. Eliot, and many others of a similar bent – men and women with a good knowledge of history, a keen eye for observation, and an even keener mind for drawing the necessary inferences – have pointed out and exhibited time and again, there is no post-Christian society that was not first a Christian society. There is hardly an idea regarded with admiration or interest in the modern world which does not have Christianity as its parent or at least its grandparent. The political institutions, the social ideals, the ethical predispositions – all of these smell like Christianity; it is often a watered-down, heavily sedated Christianity, but it is Christianity nonetheless.

Let us take up the case of equality, an idea – even an obsession – beloved by modern man. It is the idea that has led to most of the great revolutions of the last several centuries, including the American and French revolutions, with their disdain of the monarchical and aristocratic orders of the so-called colonial and feudal eras; the movement against slavery which became the movement against racial segregation and inequality; and all of the great movements of feminism in the 19th and 20th centuries. All of these movements have taken as their motto and underlying basis the idea most succinctly expressed by Thomas Jefferson that it is “self-evident that all men [and women] are created equal.” But is this really “self-evident”? Not at all! Clearly, the very opposite assertion is the more self-evident. What about the great mass of humanity makes each particular member of it ontological equals? Human beings are of greatly varying intellectual, physical, artistic, musical, etc. (ad nauseum) abilities; there is no natural or observable equality among them. Early generations “knew” this as much we “know” the contrary. Plato, Aristotle, and the Twelve Tables of Roman law – in short, all of the great authorities of the ancient Western world and those outside of the so-called West as well – stand as authorities on man’s inherent inequality and on the necessity of destroying or at least making marginalized and castrated subjects of those that are so unequal as to make a society itself weaker.

Erudite intellectual historian Thomas Cahill offers succinctly the reason for the modern man’s love of equality: “There is no way that it could ever have been ‘self-evident that all men are created equal’ without the intervention of the Jews.”5 At its root, this modern notion of and emphasis upon equality has entered the realm of ideas through the influence of a specific system of thought, namely Judaism via the Hellenic-Jewish synthesis achieved in the medieval Christian Church; in shorthand, it is the biblical worldview which has given birth to and placed emphasis upon this idea. Separated from this context, the idea lacks foundation and quickly crumbles when subjected to the slightest interrogation. In the perpetually poignant words of Friedrich Nietzsche, perhaps the keenest observer of and thinker on the state of the emerging post-Christian world,

When one gives up Christian belief one thereby deprives oneself of the right to Christian morality. For the latter is absolutely not self-evident: one must make this point clear again and again, in spite of English shallowpates. Christianity is a system, a consistently thought out and complete view of things. If one breaks out of it a fundamental idea, the belief in God, one thereby breaks the whole thing to pieces: one has nothing of any consequence left in one’s hands. Christianity presupposes that man does not know, cannot know what is good for him and what evil: he believes in God, who alone knows. Christian morality is a command: its origin is transcendental; it is beyond all criticism, all right to criticize; it possesses truth only if God is truth — it stands or falls with the belief in God.6

In order to achieve a real and meaningful dialogue across paradigms, in order to achieve any meaningful thought whatsoever, modern thinkers must conquer, subdue, and eliminate the spirit of the Inquisition which begins with this superstitious belief that one’s ideas can be taken for granted. All ideas must be subject to question, all ideas must be interrogated, and no idea can be safe from this investigation. Our first step must be to uncover and expose the genealogy of all ideas.

Included in this investigation and exposure must also be the very reason which modern man depends upon as his primary tool for the investigation and exposure. In other words, man must doubt his own doubting and very rational faculty which he uses to doubt. What reason is there for man to rely upon his reason that is not itself given by reason? But any logician knows that a thing cannot justify itself; this is circular reasoning, this is question-begging. Yet man must have faith in reason. Detached from reason man is no longer man; apart from reason, man becomes an animal. Faith in reason is essential not only to the possibility of dialogue, but to humanity itself. We must, however, be aware of the limitations of reason, aware of our own bodies (our “glands” and “hormones,” as De Beauvoir phrased it), and aware of the trust we place in reason. The implicit must be made explicit.

The next step in overcoming the errors of others, past and present, in this our grand process of restoring life to philosophy and philosophy to life, will derive naturally enough from this process of making the implicit become explicit. In addition to specific ideas, modes of thought and movements of concept must also be discovered and exposed. A modern thinker who has done much in this direction is Jacques Barzun. One example among many is his discovery of the roots of genetic determinism in earlier Calvinistic conceptions of predestination.

In this single example we find a clear demonstration of perhaps the greatest sin against philosophy committed by modern thinkers. In a nearly equal-and-opposite movement against the pies in the sky and angels dancing on pinheads of the medieval philosopher, the modern philosopher has adopted a pessimism he imagines to be more “realistic,” a more accurate description of the reality of things. But we have seen already the flaw in this sort of thinking; in his belief that his negative assessment of the way of things is closer to how things really are, modern man is committing the sin of believing himself to possess a closer and clearer connection with the world than did men of earlier times. In fact, he is assuming that his connection is closer and clearer than it actually is or is capable of being – he is forgetting about his perpetual imprisonment in subjectivity.

He is also committing the same sin as those medieval philosophers who insisted on debating the numbers of angels who could dance on a pinhead. He is committing perhaps the greatest sin that can be committed against philosophy, the sin of irrelevancy. It has absolutely no relevance to the life of any particular human being to insist, as does scientist Steven Weinberg and so many along with him, that “the more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.”7 It is, in fact, less than relevant, because it is a distraction that has the potential to depress and even destroy the mind which is not trained to recognize it as irrelevant. Any deterministic scheme, whether that of the Calvinist or that of the geneticist, also belongs to this category. If the way of things really is predetermined, if man’s free will really is an illusion, it does not need to be stated. It is really quite absurd to think it at all, much less to say it. It is irrelevant. Whether anyone believes it is true or not makes no difference to anything at all. If you believe it, you believe it because you were predestined to believe it; if you disbelieve it, you disbelieve it because you were predestined to disbelieve it. Even if you argue it and debate it and try to convince others of it, you are merely doing what was predestined. All activity becomes useless on this theory; all determinism inevitably becomes fatalism. I have no use for what is useless. I want only what is relevant, what is human.

It is only once the sins of philosophy are recognized and overcome that we begin to approach philosophy properly.

1 “And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.” – Luke 12.47 (New King James Version).

2 “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.” – Luke 17.1-2 (NKJV).

3 Although I mention this subject as an example of meaningless debate in philosophy, the particulars are in fact fictitious. The charge was brought against the scholastic philosophers by the philosophers of the Enlightenment, who saw their own movement away from the superstitions of religion as the adoption of a more reasonable stance and saw fit to therefore mock the unreasonableness of their philosophical predecessors. In reality, historians have been unable to uncover any evidence of this debate aside, perhaps, from a few scattered comments by various philosophers of the High Middle Ages which yet bear strikingly little resemblance to the charge as filed. In fact, the entire debate seems to run contrary to the spirit of scholastic and medieval thought on angels, which insisted upon their being incorporeal and intellectual bodies lacking altogether the possession of the gross, the material, and the carnal. Interestingly, this is itself an example of a point in philosophy which may seem superfluous at first gander and yet reveals itself, when finally considered in depth, to possess a startling relevance.

4 This has bearing upon the previous footnote concerning the incorporeality of angels; as incorporeal and intellectual beings, angels lack the organs of perception and cognition and therefore interact with the world in a more direct manner than human beings.

5 Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, p. 249.

6 Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, “Expeditions of an Untimely Man,” 5.

6 This is the same man who has insisted elsewhere that “religion is an insult to human dignity”! This is a stunning example of precisely the lack of context and depth of thought which results from the lack of knowledge of the origins of one’s ideas. He has accomplished a true feat in dearth of self-awareness by coupling his ignorance of the history of ideas with an appalling amount of compartmentalization.