Saint Thomas Aquinas

Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

~St. Thomas Aquinas, from Summa Theologica

On January 28th the church celebrates St. Thomas Aquinas who was perhaps her greatest theologian. According to Augustine in On Christian Doctrine , one skilled in speech should

“so speak as to teach, to delight, and to change; that is, to teach the ignorant, to delight the bored and to change the lazy.”

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Is The Mind Its Own Place?

It’s hard to imagine deaf Beethoven, producing symphonic masterpieces composed in the chambers of his mind, but equally staggering is John Milton (born this day in 1608), completely blind by his fifties, yet dictating his epic poem Paradise Lost with its ten thousand verses. The work is so ubiquitous to the canon of literature its lines are often confused with scripture. His genius, however did not preclude struggle, and much of his angst was directed at God.

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Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy was born on this day, September 9th in 1828. In his essay “What is Art?” Tolstoy tells the story of the Russian painter Karl Bryullov correcting a student’s sketch. “Why you only changed it a tiny bit,” the student marveled, “but it is quite a different thing.” Bryullov replied: “Art begins where that ‘tiny bit’ begins.” Tolstoy comments: “That saying is strikingly true not only of art but of all life. One may say that true life begins where the ‘tiny bit’ begins, where the infinitesimally small alterations of consciousness take place.”

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G.K. Chesterton

When the business man rebukes the idealism of his office-boy, it is commonly in some such speech as this: “Ah, yes, when one is young, one has these ideals in the abstract and these castles in the air; but in middle age they all break up like clouds, and one comes down to a belief in practical politics, to using the machinery one has and getting on with the world as it is.” Thus, at least, venerable and philanthropic old men now in their honoured graves used to talk to me when I was a boy. But since then I have grown up and have discovered that these philanthropic old men were telling lies. What has really happened is exactly the opposite of what they said would happen. They said that I should lose my ideals and begin to believe in the methods of practical politicians. Now, I have not lost my ideals in the least; my faith in fundamentals is exactly what it always was. What I have lost is my old childlike faith in practical politics. I am still as much concerned as ever about the Battle of Armageddon; but I am not so much concerned about the General Election. As a babe I leapt up on my mother’s knee at the mere mention of it. No; the vision is always solid and reliable. The vision is always a fact. It is the reality that is often a fraud. As much as I ever did, more than I ever did, I believe in Liberalism. But there was a rosy time of innocence when I believed in Liberals.

G.K. Chesterton, from Orthodoxy


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St. George’s Day

A Gentle Knight was pricking on the plaine,
Y cladd in mightie armes and silver shielde,
Wherein old dints of deepe wounds did remaine,
The cruell markes of many a bloudy fielde;
Yet armes till that time did he never wield:
His angry steede did chide his foming bitt,
As much disdayning to the curbe to yield:
Full jolly knight he seemd, and faire did sitt,
As one for knightly giusts and fierce encounters fitt.

The Faerie Queen (Canto I) by Edmund Spenser


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Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900)

GENEALOGY OF MORALS

FIRST ESSAY
GOOD AND EVIL, GOOD AND BAD

Is there anyone who would like to take a little look down on and under that secret how man fabricates an ideal on earth? Who has the courage for that? Come on, now! Here is an open glimpse into this dark workshop. Just wait a moment, my dear Mr. Presumptuous and Nosy: your eye must first get used to this artificial flickering light. . . . So, enough! Now speak! What’s going on down there? Speak up. Say what you see, man of the most dangerous curiosity—now I’m the one who’s listening.—
“I see nothing, but I hear all the more. It is a careful and crafty light rumour-mongering and whispering from every nook and cranny. It seems to me that people are lying; a sugary mildness clings to every sound. Weakness is going to be falsified into something of merit. There’s no doubt about it—things are just as you said they were.”
—Keep talking!
“And powerlessness which does not retaliate is being falsified into ‘goodness,’ anxious baseness into ‘humility,’ submission before those one hates to ‘obedience’ (of course, obedience to the one who, they say, commands this submission—they call him God). The inoffensiveness of the weak man, even cowardice, in which he is rich, his standing at the door, his inevitable need to wait around—here these acquire good names, like ‘patience’ and are called virtue. That incapacity for revenge is called the lack of desire for revenge, perhaps even forgiveness (‘for they know not what they do—only we know what they do!’). And people are talking about ‘love for one’s enemy’—and sweating as they say it.”
—Keep talking!
“They are miserable—there’s no doubt about that—all these rumour mongers and counterfeiters in the corners, although crouched down beside each other in the warmth—but they are telling me that their misery is God’s choice, His sign. One beats the dog one loves the most. Perhaps this misery may be a preparation, a test, an education, perhaps it is even more—something that will one day be rewarded and paid out with huge interest in gold, no, in happiness. They call that ‘blessedness.’ ”
—Go on!
“Now they are telling me that they are not only better than the powerful, the masters of the earth, whose spit they have to lick (not out of fear, certainly not out of fear, but because God commands that they honour those in authority)—they are not only better than these but they also are ‘better off,’ or at any rate will one day have it better. But enough! Enough! I can’t endure it any more. Bad air! Bad air! This workshop where man fabricates ideals—it seems to me it stinks from nothing but lies.”
—No! Just wait a minute more! So far you haven’t said anything about the masterpiece of these black magicians who know how to make whiteness, milk, and innocence out of every blackness. Have you not noticed the perfection of their sophistication, their most daring, refined, most spiritual, most fallacious artistic attempt. Pay attention! These cellar animals full of vengeance and hatred—what are they making right now out of that vengeance and hatred? Have you ever heard these words? If you heard only their words, would you suspect that you were completely among men of resentment?
“I understand. Once again I’ll open my ears (oh! oh! oh! and hold my nose). Now I’m hearing for the first time what they’ve been saying so often: ‘We good men—we are the righteous’—what they demand they don’t call repayment but ‘the triumph of righteousness.’ What they hate is not their enemy. No! They hate ‘injustice,’ ‘godlessness.’ What they believe and hope is not a hope for revenge, the intoxication of sweet vengeance (something Homer called ‘sweeter than honey’) but the victory of God, the righteous God, over the godless. What remains for them to love on earth are not their brothers in hatred but their ‘brothers in love,’ as they say, all the good and righteous people on the earth.”
—And what do they call what serves them as a consolation for all the suffering of life—their phantasmagoria of future blessedness which they are expecting?
“What that? Am I hearing correctly? They call that ‘the last judgment,’ the coming to their kingdom, the coming of ‘God’s kingdom’—but in the meanwhile they live ‘in faith,’ ‘in love,’ ‘in hope.’ ”
—Enough! Enough!

JAMES 1:13–15

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.


Rick WilcoxHere is sin’s dirty little secret – seduction requires collusion.  From Goethe’s Faust to Kierkegaard’s Repetition literature is filled with dealing with the Devil. The heart of every sin is idolatry because it all comes back to us trying to be our own god. Sadly, the real desires we are working to fulfill are God-given and come with a perfect path of fulfillment, but we usually aren’t willing to either wait or follow direction. Augustine said temptation has three stages – suggestion, imagined pleasure and consent. We get into trouble with step two.

If you earnestly want to be in a loving relationship with God, He’s ready and able to help. If you would rather shut God out and serve yourself, there’s a darker voice who will encourage you to open the cracked door. Just remember, it’s your choice. As Nietzsche said, “when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.”

John Mark Reynolds said this in his book, The Great Books Reader:

At his best, which by any measure is most of the time and in his opinion all the time, Nietzsche provokes dialogue. Does anybody agree with all his conclusions? Can anyone forget the experience of reading him? Nietzsche insists that we follow any argument all the way to its logical end, even if the end is awful. He is right to demand this consistency of us.

A delightful thing about Nietzsche: He has no time for poseurs of any sort. He loathes Christians, but he is equally mocking of the effete atheists of Parisian cafe culture. It has been stimulating to think of the scorn he would’ve had for a middle-brow “great books” reader such as this one. If one thinks reading “greats” will magically produce wisdom, Nietzsche is a needed slap in the face. He doesn’t suffer people who study philosophy to fake their way through happy-hour chatter or a Katie Couric interview.

What do you really want?

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Logo

John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

 

 

 

 

John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.

 

D I G  D E E P E R


On Genealogy of Morals

Fred Sanders

God was dead, to begin with. If you want to understand the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, you have to start where he started, with the premise that there is no God and that Christian monotheism had all been a big mistake. As far as Nietzsche was concerned, the best thinkers of the mid-nineteenth century had altogether undermined Christian truth claims: Strauss’s Life of Jesus Critically Examined (1846) and Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity (1855) were among the important books that had settled things (two books, by the way, that novelist George Eliot made sure to translate so they could have their effect for English readers). By the 1880s, anybody who still clung to Christianity was either not paying attention or was fooling themselves. The master of melodrama and bombast in the intellectual life, Nietzsche looked back on recent Western thought and said, “We have become God’s murderers.”

So God was dead as a coffin-nail, and Nietzsche knew it. He also knew that the educated people of his day knew it. But what bothered him was that they didn’t act like it. Though sound scholarship had demolished Christian theology, Christian morality was still alive and well. So Nietzsche appointed himself the official whistle-blower on the death of God, and like many of the radicals of the late nineteenth century, he insisted that we should follow out the logic of godlessness to its conclusions.

The very people who had spent the nineteenth century driving God out of their worldviews were failing to draw the necessary conclusions about their morality. Even without God, they held on to absolute truth, to reason, to the binding claims of right and wrong. Worst of all, the godless moderns still had a conscience, and it continued to condemn them when they violated its dictates. Nietzsche spent half his time reminding them that they had no right to hold on to the benefits of monotheism after murdering God, and the other half of his time rejoicing that there was no longer any ground on which conscience could stand.

———

“If God is dead, anything is possible,” mused Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov, and it was Friedrich Nietzsche who set himself to the task of showing what that meant for ethics. Since morals didn’t come from a God, where did they come from? He answered that question in 1887 with his Genealogy of Morals, which is the best, and by far clearest, introduction to his overall project.

In short, the first essay in the three-part Genealogy argues that morality itself, the whole idea of good versus evil, came about when weak people figured out a way to make strong people feel bad about being strong. The reason we feel we should take pity on the weak, or feel bad for imposing our wills on others, is that long ago, in some dark, underground workshop of the spirit, the weak had invented “morals” to compensate for their weakness. Instead of just straightforwardly hating their enemies, they declared that their superiors stood under the judgment of a higher authority—God—whose law condemned them. And then, amazingly, they had convinced the strong to accept these twisted ideals as “the way things ought to be.” This was the slave-revolt at the beginning of the epoch of morality, and the slaves have been in charge ever since.

Until Nietzsche, that is, who claimed to be writing with a prophetic voice that announced a new, natural way of valuing things: Whatever affirms and perpetuates life is good, and whatever denies or suppresses life is bad. All of this has to be read in Nietzsche’s own words, though, because they are so powerful (“I can write in letters which make even the blind see,” he said).

Christian readers have trouble engaging Nietzsche because, to state the obvious, they don’t share his presupposition that the arguments of Victorian atheism were in fact conclusive. They would like to reserve the right to go back and have those debates about truth. But as hard as he is to engage, Nietzsche is well worth coming to terms with for several reasons. He pioneered the strategy of discrediting Christianity by ignoring the question of its truth, in order to cut straight to his major complaint: Christianity is bad for human beings and other living things like the mind, the arts, and freedom. That attitude is probably the dominant tone of popular atheism in our time.

Nietzsche is also the one whose systematic, genealogical suspicion toward the whole vocabulary of Christian virtue (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) has burned away so much of the faith’s credibility. Christianity has always been called into question by the bad conduct of its adherents. But Nietzsche (who grew up in a pastor’s home and maintained a commitment to Christ well into his teens) transformed that anecdotal criticism into a wholesale deconstruction. Genealogy of Morals is the book where he did so, and if this book is right, then every word of the New Testament is a mendacious lie. At least, all the significant nouns.

Fred Sanders, PhD, is an associate professor of Systematic Theology at Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute. He lectures frequently on the Trinity and Christian art, and is the author of several books, including The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).

The Devil in Literature

The English word devil derives through OE deofol and Lat. diabolus from Gk. diabolos, meaning “slanderer” or “false accuser.” The Greek term is the LXX translation of Heb. śatan, “adversary” or “obstructer.” The devil is to be distinguished from the demons, identified in Christian tradition with the angels who followed Lucifer in his fall, and from other lesser evil spirits. The devil has been given a number of names by tradition. Most commonly he is called Satan or Lucifer, but he sometimes takes the name Beelzeboul or Beelzebub, Belial, Azazel, Mastema, Satanail, Sammael, or Semyaza, all of which names derive from the OT and Intertestamental literature. In modern times he also bears the name Mephistopheles. Legend and literature sometimes assign these names to different characters, usually for dramatic purposes; thus frequently in medieval and modern literature, Satan, Lucifer, Belial, and others play different parts.

In the OT, śatan was originally a common noun (e.g., 2 Sam. 19:22), but gradually it became the title of a particular being. Early biblical references picture a creature of God who prompts evil (1 Chron. 21:1), accuses the righteous (Job 1–2), or even opposes God’s will (Zech. 3:1–2). From these passages there developed the more fully defined rebellious angel of later tradition. Two key OT passages which were not originally intended to apply to the Evil One came to be associated with Satan. The serpent of Eden was not identified with the devil until the Intertestamental period (see Rom. 16:20). Isa. 14:12–15, which relates the fall of “Lucifer, son of the morning,” refers explicitly to the king of Babylon, but this passage also (and the name Lucifer) became associated with the devil during the Intertestamental period. The Isaiah passage is attached to the devil in 2 Enoch 29:4-5 in the apocalyptic Life of Adam 14.16 and apparently in Luke 10:18, but the identification was not clear and definite before the writings of Origen (A.D.185-251). On the whole, the OT devil is still a shadowy and inchoate figure.

In the postexilic period, the suffering of the Jews under Greek and Roman rule prompted an intense concern with the problem of evil and the powers of evil. In 1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, Jubilees, and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, a portrait of the devil began to emerge in which he is the head of a band of evil angels in rebellion against God and enmity against humanity. The Qumran community, with its intense dualism, envisioned scenarios in which Satan led an army of evil angels and evil humans against the divine host, and the NT reflects similar Jewish traditions.

The temptation of Christ in the desert by Satan (Matt. 4 and Luke 4:1–13) is the most dramatic NT episode involving the devil, but his sinister power is referred to frequently (e.g., 1 Cor. 7:5; Eph. 5:10–16; 1 Pet. 5:8). The essential function of the NT Satan is to obstruct the kingdom of God; one of his strategies is possession. Christ’s exorcisms and cures are blows struck against the devil’s power and signs of the imminent victory of God’s kingdom over Satan (Matt. 12:22–32). The devil is “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) but his lordship is being broken by Christ (1 Cor. 15:20–28), a process culminating in the eschatological triumph of Christ and his elect (Rom. 16:20; Rev. 12:7–12).

Patristic diabology can be best understood in the context of the struggle against Gnosticism and, later, Manicheism. The Gnostic-Manichean view combined apocalyptic diabology, Iranian dualism, and Greek Orphism to produce a mythology which posited a cosmic struggle between a good God of spirit and an evil god of matter, the latter being equated with Satan. In its strongest and most coherent forms, this dualism denied monotheism and was therefore unacceptable to Judaism and the Christian community. Early patristic writings such as The Epistle of Barnabas, and works by Didymus, Hermas, and St. Ignatius of Antioch, show both a reaction against gnostic dualism and some influence from it, the influence manifesting itself in a doctrine of a strong dichotomy between the followers of good (often identified with the Christian community) and the followers of the devil (often identified with pagans and heretics). The power of gnostic dualism was evident still in the writings of Lactantius (ca. 245-325). The classic elements of Christian diabology, however, were established by Origen and St. Augustine (354-430) and were popularized in the West by St. Gregory the Great, especially in his Moralia in Iob.

In Gregory’s account, God created the angels good and gave them free will. Lucifer, one of the highest angels, sinned through pride and envy, choosing his own will over God’s, and he led many of the other angels after him (these became the demons). Envious of God’s love for humanity, Satan used the serpent to tempt Adam and Eve to transgress his divine ordinance. God punished fallen humanity by leaving it in the devil’s power, though this power was ultimately limited by God’s sovereignty. In his mercy, however, God the Father sent God the Son to liberate humanity from this slavery to Satan. The Incarnation and especially the Passion of Christ restored human freedom. Those who accept Christ form the community of the saved, “the city of God.” Those who do not accept Christ are cut off from salvation and form “the city of this world.” From the Incarnation until the end of the world, some will be continually added to the kingdom of God through faith in Christ; Satan continues to attempt, however vainly, to block that saving work. In the last days, Satan and the Antichrist will make a last pitched battle against the Christian community but will be foiled by the Second Coming of Christ, who will bring his kingdom to fulfillment and utterly destroy the power of Satan (cf. St. Ephraim Syrus, Nisibene Hymns; Hymns of the Nativity).

Through the influence of Gregory the Great and the other Fathers, such views were firmly imprinted on OE literature, most clearly in the homilies of Aelfric and the poems Genesis B, Christ and Satan, and in the “harrowing of hell” narrative. These works offer a powerful extrabiblical rendering of the history of the struggle between Christ and the devil, to which further details were gradually added by folklore. Medieval theology reduced the patristic emphasis on the devil by tending to replace the ransom theory (which saw the act of salvation as God’s payment of a ransom for mankind to Satan) with Anselm’s satisfaction theory in Cur Deus Homo? (which made it a sacrifice offered by the incarnate Son to the Father and put Satan in the background), but literature on the whole preferred the more dramatic ransom theory.

The devil is a powerful figure in Langland’s Piers Plowman, usually behind the scenes but sometimes overtly, as in his attack on the Tree of Charity in C.16 and in the harrowing of hell (B.18; C.20). Chaucer, for the most part, prefers to present the devil satirically (Monk’s Tale; Friar’s Tale and Prologue), an approach taken also frequently in the morality plays. His most dramatic appearances in ME literature are in the York, N-Town, Towneley, and Chester mystery plays, especially in the plays centered on his fall, the temptation of Adam and Eve, the Annunciation, and the harrowing of hell. Sometimes frightening in these plays, he is more often a fool, as the playwrights exploit the audience’s knowledge that all of his posturings against the kingdom of God will be foiled. By the 14th cent., then, the devil had, in literary treatments at least, become more often comic than fearsome. This trend was reversed, however, during the 15th through 17th cents., the period during which Satan’s power was perceived to be at its height.

The leading Protestant Reformers, especially Luther (who came to the subject with strong Germanic convictions about the existence and power of demons), returning to what they saw as a biblical emphasis upon the power of Satan, added to the new fear of the devil. The legend of Faust, homocentric, pessimistic, and individualistic, reflected this view; it also produced, in the German Faustbook of 1587, the first use of the name Mephistopheles. Marlowe’s adaptation of the legend in Doctor Faustus (1588 or 1589) produced the first major diabolical portrait in modern English literature in the character of Mephistopheles, here Satan’s agent, rather than the devil himself. Spenser shows the devil in human guise (e.g., Archimago, Orgoglio) and in the form of a dragon. Shakespeare presents humans demonized by their sin (Aaron in Titus Andronicus, Richard in 3 Henry 6 and Richard 3, Angelo in Measure for Measure, Edmund in King Lear, and Iago in Othello), though in both Hamlet and Macbeth the devil’s evil, destructive power can also be felt more directly.

Although belief in the devil’s power was almost universal among both the elite and the uneducated during the early 17th cent., English philosophers such as Francis Bacon (1561-1628) and John Locke (1632-1704) laid the basis for skepticism regarding both witchcraft and the devil. English writers, as a result, were divided over whether to treat the devil seriously (as in Barnabe Barnes, The Devil’s Charter [1607]), or satirically. The comic Satan of Ben Jonson’s The Devil Is an Ass (1616) clearly indicates Jonson’s skepticism; John Webster’s The White Devil (1608) and Thomas Middleton’s The Changeling (1623) emphasize the evil in humanity. Sir Thomas Browne argues in Religio Medici (1.30, 31, 37; cf. Pseudodoxia Epidemica, 1.10, 11) that the denial of supernatural evil is tantamount to atheism, that the devil, being the father of lies, often seduces people into a skepticism concerning his own existence in order to pursue his diabolical ends.

John Bunyan, in his characterization of Apollyon in The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) and Diabolus in The Holy War, presents a potent Satanic presence. But the most vivid (and influential) portrait of the devil in English literature is unquestionably that of Milton in Paradise Lost (1667; rev. 1674) and Paradise Regained (1671). Milton added a wealth of detail, color, and texture to the traditional story, but the two most important effects of his poems on diabology were first to set the story in language so powerful and memorable that it was henceforth fixed in the literary imagination in Milton’s terms even more than in the Bible’s, and second to portray the devil’s character in a “heroic” vein. Critics still argue whether Milton made Satan more heroic than he intended; whatever one’s critical position, it is undeniable that Satan, “High on a Throne of Royal State, which far / Outshone the wealth of Ormus and of Ind,” can be seen as a figure of immense majesty (PL 2.1-2).

The deism and skepticism of the 18th cent. undermined belief in the existence of the devil, the key philosophical text being David Hume’s “Essay on Miracles,” the tenth chapter of An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (1748). Daniel Defoe’s The Political History of the Devil (1726) affirms orthodox belief in the devil’s existence, but his interest in the subject is not apologetic but “aesthetic”: stories about diabolical encounters are intrinsically fascinating. By the end of the century, traditional beliefs had eroded to the point that Satan could scarcely be taken even as a credible metaphor. “Gothic” writings degraded the “sublime” to produce horrors and thrills by portraying the grotesque, the decadent, the wild, and the monstrous. Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796), Robert Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), and Walter Scott’s Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1830; 1884) exemplified this attitude, using demons alongside ghosts, corpses, and witches for the purpose of inducing horror.

The French Revolution acted as a catalyst for a radical revision of the concept of the devil. English writers perceiving the Revolution as a just rebellion against a tyrant king recharacterized Satan as heroic rebel against the tradition and authority of the evil tyrant, God. Thus William Blake (1757-1827) reinterprets Milton’s devil as a hero in the struggle against tyranny, church, and convention. Satan is good, and Jesus is Satanic because he acts from feelings rather than rules and breaks the commandments out of mercy. But Blake’s Satan is also evil, representing hardness of heart, insensitivity, lack of love, and obstruction of the creative processes of art. The evil of both God and Satan are underscored in The Book of Urizen (1794), where Urizen represents Jehovah, the blind tyrant of rules and laws; Orc struggles for liberation from Urizen’s tyranny, but Orc’s violence and hostility make him evil as well. On the whole Blake tends to perceive God and devil, heaven and hell, good and evil as elements of a shattered whole which seeks reunion, centering, and integration. Real evil lies in anything which obstructs that process of integration.

The Romantics perpetuate Blake’s ambivalence toward the devil. Lord Byron’s Cain (1821) asks who is the more evil, Lucifer, who gave Adam and Eve knowledge, or Jehovah, who drove them out of the Garden to exile and death? But Lucifer also is blind and selfabsorbed, rejecting the only possible creative road, his integration with Jehovah. In his treatise On the Devil and Devils (1821), Shelley argues that Manichean dualism affords a valid insight into the divided state of the human soul. For Shelley, Milton’s great insight lay in his making his God no better than his devil. In Prometheus Unbound (1820) Shelley recognizes the difficulty in making Satan a hero and so shifts the qualities of heroic rebellion to Prometheus, who is free of the aggressive, stingy, unloving elements which make Satan an inappropriate hero for the Romantic ethos. Meanwhile Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) took a great step in shifting the focus of terror from the demon to the monster and from the supernatural to science fiction, presenting a character who was made a monster by a humanity which first created and then abused him. The early Romantic experiment with making the devil a symbol of good was gradually replaced with the tendency to divorce the devil from serious discussions of good and evil. He is frequently made the subject of light or humorous stories such as Thackeray’s “The Devil’s Wager” (1833) and “The Painter’s Bargain” (1834), reviving an earlier folklore motif concerning battles of wits between the devil and humans over a bargain which had been struck between them (cf. Max Beerbohm’s “Enoch Soames” [1917], Stephen V. Benét’s “The Devil and Daniel Webster” [1937], and more recent stories, some collected in Basil Davenport’s Deals with the Devil [1958]).

In 19th-cent. America the tendency to center evil in humanity rather than in the supernatural was even more pronounced than in England. For example, in stories of real horror Poe always eschewed Satan; his devil stories, such as “The Devil in the Belfry” (1839) and “Never Bet the Devil Your Head” (1841), are humorous. The devil appears incidentally, however, in Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” (1835) and his presence is evident in Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851) and The Confidence-Man (1857), the latter of which presents a demonic trickster who makes fools of the passengers on the riverboat Fidèle.
The revival of the occult at the end of the 19th cent. produced some late Romantic sympathy for the devil (Marie Corelli, The Sorrows of Satan [1895]) and the explicit Satanism of Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), but ironic treatment remained the norm, as in the “Don Juan in Hell” section of Shaw’s Man and Superman (1903). The attack on traditional views by Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud had demolished the old concept and opened the door to a nihilism seen at its bleakest in Mark Twain’s work on “The Mysterious Stranger,” which appeared in three main versions, the latest of which was No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger (1982). At its conclusion the devil announces that there “is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all a Dream, a grotesque and foolish dream.”

The horrors of the mid and late 20th cent., which have contradicted liberal optimism about the essential goodness of human nature, have prompted the revival of serious treatments of the traditional devil, as in C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters (1942) and Perelandra (1944), Dorothy Sayers’s The Devil to Pay (1939), and Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away (1960). John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick affords a recent noteworthy devil-portrait, one which has also found its way into film, alongside The Omen, The Exorcist, and other “popular” tales of diabolical horror.

Bibliography 

Baine, M. R. “Satan and the Satan Figure in the Poetry of William Blake.” DAI 35 (1974), 5335A-36A; Bercovitch, S. “Diabolus in Salem: Bunyan and Hawthorne,” ELN 6 (1969), 280-85; de Bruyn, L. Woman and the Devil in Sixteenth Century Literature (1979); Cuddon, J. A. B. “The Transition from the Late Medieval to the Renaissance Conceptions of Satan in English Literature with Especial Reference to the Drama.” Unpubl. B. Litt., Oxford, 1958; Cushman, L. W. “The Devil and the Vice in the English Dramatic Literature Before Shakespeare.” SzEP 6 (1900), 1-148; Dunaway, R. K. “The Formative Impact of the Devil Upon Selected Renaissance Dramas,” DAI 36 (1975), 1480A; Dustoor, P. E. “Legends of Lucifer in Early English and in Milton.” Anglia 54 (1930), 213-68; Gardner, H. Milton’s Satan and the Theme of Damnation in Elizabethan Tragedy (1948); Gokey, F. X. The Terminology for the Devil and Evil Spirits in the Apostolic Fathers (1961); Kubis, P. L. “The Archetype of the Devil in Twentieth Century Literature.” DAI (1976), 3604A; Levenson, G. B. “That Reverend Vice: A Study of the Comic-Demonic Figure in English Drama and Fiction.” DAI 38 (1977), 283A; Lynch, J. J. “The Devil in the Writings of Irving, Hawthorne, and Poe.” New York Folklore Quarterly 9 (1952), 111-31; Marx, C. W. D. “The Devil’s Rights and the Deception of the Devil: Theological Background and Presentations in Middle English Literature.” DAI European Abstracts 44 (1983), 22C; Mallory, T. O. “The Devil and Thomas Hardy: A Study of the Manifestation of Supernatural Evil in Hardy’s Fiction.” DA 27 (1966), 2012-13; Rudwin, M. The Devil in Legend and Literature (1931); Russell, J. B. The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Early Christianity (1977); Satan: The Early Christian Tradition (1981); Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages (1984); Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World (1986); Steadman, J. M. “Archangel to Devil: The Background of Satan’s Metamorphosis.” MLQ 21 (1960), 321-35; Stein, W. B. Hawthorne’s Faust, A Study of the Devil Archetype (1953); Stock, R. D. The Holy and the Daemonic from Sir Thomas Browne to William Blake (1982); Trefz, E. K. “Satan as the Prince of Evil: The Preaching of New England Puritans.” Boston Public Library Quarterly 7 (1955), 3-22; “Satan in Puritan Preaching.” Boston Public Library Quarterly 8 (1956), 71-84, 148-57; Williams, P. N. “Satan and His Corpus: Cultural Symbolism in the English Mystery Plays.” DAI 37 (1977), 5813A; Woolf, R. “The Devil in Old English Poetry.” RES 4 (1953), 1-12.

David L. Jeffrey, A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992).

Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy was born on this day, September 9th in 1828. In his essay “What is Art?” Tolstoy tells the story of the Russian painter Karl Bryullov correcting a student’s sketch. “Why, you only changed it a tiny bit,” the student marveled, “but it is quite a different thing.” Bryullov replied: “Art begins where that ‘tiny bit’ begins.” Tolstoy comments: “That saying is strikingly true not only of art but of all life. One may say that true life begins where the ‘tiny bit’ begins, where the infinitesimally small alterations of consciousness take place.”

John Mark Reynolds said this in his book, The Great Books Reader:

Can we really fix ourselves? Can we really see what needs to be seen and do what needs to be done? Tolstoy suggests we can, even though the road will be long and arduous. He is Orthodox enough to see that humans are sinners in need of mercy, but not Orthodox enough to get to the root of the problem.

The prophet does not plunge deeply enough into the human heart.

Tolstoy was Christian enough to see that evil exists but not holy or self-aware enough to know the depths to which a nation or a man could go. His romance is, therefore, more true to life than most of Hollywood’s chick flicks, but just as dangerous. Tolstoy can imagine an Anna, but not a Lenin. Many millions of Russians would die after the prophet’s failure to see how bad things could really get.

 

How can the small details of one’s life tip the balance between good and evil?

 

 

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


ANNA KARENINA

CHAPTER 17

“Alexey Alexandrovitch,” said Vronsky, feeling that a statement of the position was coming, “I can’t speak, I can’t understand. Spare me! However hard it is for you, believe me, it is more terrible for me.”
He would have risen; but Alexey Alexandrovitch took him by the hand and said:
“I beg you to hear me out; it is necessary. I must explain my feelings, the feelings that have guided me and will guide me, so that you may not be in error regarding me. You know I had resolved on a divorce, and had even begun to take proceedings. I won’t conceal from you that in beginning this I was in uncertainty, I was in misery; I will confess that I was pursued by a desire to revenge myself on you and on her. When I got the telegram, I came here with the same feelings; I will say more, I longed for her death. But . . .” He paused, pondering whether to disclose or not to disclose his feeling to him. “But I saw her and forgave her. And the happiness of forgiveness has revealed to me my duty. I forgive completely. I would offer the other cheek, I would give my cloak if my coat be taken. I pray to God only not to take from me the bliss of forgiveness!”
Tears stood in his eyes, and the luminous, serene look in them impressed Vronsky.
“This is my position: you can trample me in the mud, make me the laughing-stock of the world, I will not abandon her, and I will never utter a word of reproach to you,” Alexey Alexandrovitch went on. “My duty is clearly marked for me; I ought to be with her, and I will be. If she wishes to see you, I will let you know, but now I suppose it would be better for you to go away.”
He got up, and sobs cut short his words. Vronsky too was getting up, and in a stooping, not yet erect posture, looked up at him from under his brows. He did not understand Alexey Alexandrovitch’s feeling, but he felt that it was something higher and even unattainable for him with his view of life.

On Unfaithfulness

Amy Obrist

Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is commonly understood as an adultery novel. Dolly Oblonsky suffers tremendously throughout on account of her husband Stiva’s affair. Kitty and Levin alternately experience deep jealousy and fear of betrayal, each when the other interacts with flirtatious members of Russia’s high society. Anna herself is one of the most notorious fallen women in literature, seduced by Alexei Vronsky but herself becoming the primary target of society’s wrath.

Unfaithfulness is all around; it is only a serious transgression when social conventions governing it are not observed.

Yet while marital infidelity—or the fear of it—is intricately woven into each thread of the plot, it is first and foremost a symbol of other kinds of unfaithfulness. Falseness, deception, and lies are endemic to Russian high society. Worse than being an unfaithful husband, Stiva deceives himself by justifying his unfaithfulness. Similarly, he justifies the graft by which he obtains his government position and his spendthrift squandering of his wife’s fortune. He maintains the external image of the perfect society man and follows all the rules of liberal society perfectly—but has no inner life or true self.

If this is the case for Stiva, it also is true for a character the reader may not be ready to judge so hastily, Alexei Karenin. Laying aside Anna’s unfaithfulness, it is essential to examine Karenin as Tolstoy presents him. As Dolly welcomes her sister-in-law, perfect society woman and wife of the statesman, a hint is given that something is amiss in Dolly’s recollection that “as far as she could remember her impression of the Karenins’ house in Petersburg, she had not liked it; there was something false in the whole shape of their family life.” She smoothes over this memory as Anna ironically persuades Dolly to stay in her marriage.

Karenin is a politician at the height of his career, living an ordered, proper life in which each minute of his day is accounted for. For him, life is about duty. He moves in a social circle known widely as “the conscience of St. Petersburg.” Anna tells herself “he is a good man, truthful, kind and remarkable in his sphere.”

Yet here Anna is trying to convince herself. Karenin meets her with a “mocking smile”; she feels a vague dissatisfaction, an “old, familiar feeling, similar to that state of pretence she experienced in her relations with her husband; but previously she had not noticed it.”

Moreover, his associations with his religious friend, Lydia Ivanovna, now bother Anna for their hypocrisy. “All this was there before, but why didn’t I notice it before? . . . In fact it’s ridiculous: her goal is virtue, she is a Christian, yet she’s angry all the time, and they’re all her enemies, and they’re all enemies on account of Christianity and virtue.”

The hypocrisy and self-deceit endemic to society life drive the plot about Kitty Oblonsky and Konstantin Levin too. Kitty refuses Levin’s proposal—although she is certain of his love—because she expects Count Vronsky, an elite society man, to propose to her after the upcoming ball; the narrator hints that this preference is problematic: “It was as if there was some falseness—not in him, he was very simple and nice—but in herself, while with Levin she felt completely simple and clear.” Although her father would prefer the simple, serious Levin as a son-in-law, Kitty’s mother, Princess Oblonsky, seeks a “brilliant match” for her daughter. Her mother deceives Kitty into preferring Vronsky despite feeling awkwardness about him, a sure sign of self-betrayal in Tolstoy’s code.

Anna is different from others in her milieu. Kitty observes of Anna “that there was in her some other, higher world of interests, inaccessible to her, complex and poetic.” Kitty later goes further, finding something “alien, demonic, and enchanting” in Anna. Yet Kitty does not yet understand herself or that she has been deceived by the hypocrisy and false values around her. For Kitty to find something otherworldly or alien in Anna and to first call it good and then evil suggests she does not yet understand her own relation to society. However, she points out that Anna is different.

Of what does Anna’s difference consist? It takes her a long time to understand this herself. Already a fallen women—but still able to maintain appearances in society—she compares herself with her friend Betsy, exclaiming, “How I wish I knew others as I know myself,” and asking herself, “Am I worse than others or better? Worse, I think.” Later, when she’s cast out from this society irrevocably and barred from seeing her son, Anna articulates her disgust with the pervasive hypocrisy around her, saying of Lydia, “She’s worse than I am. At least I don’t lie.” Anna’s special quality is her willingness to look into herself and not deceive about what she finds there.

Anna Karenina is no worse than others. True, she never seems fully to comprehend herself in relation to society. Her misfortune is that she understands the falsehood of high society but is bound tragically to this world by circumstance.

Amy Obrist, PhD, is an assistant professor of Russian and German Language and chair of the Modern Languages Department at Biola University.

John Mark Reynolds

John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).

 

Charles Darwin: Modern (1809–1882)

ON THE ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES

Chapter 14

As this whole volume is one long argument, it may be convenient to the reader to have the leading facts and inferences briefly recapitulated.

That many and grave objections may be advanced against the theory of descent with modification through natural selection, I do not deny. I have endeavoured to give to them their full force. Nothing at first can appear more difficult to believe than that the more complex organs and instincts should have been perfected not by means superior to, though analogous with, human reason, but by the accumulation of innumerable slight variations, each good for the individual possessor.

Nevertheless, this difficulty, though appearing to our imagination insuperably great, cannot be considered real if we admit the following propositions, namely,—that gradations in the perfection of any organ or instinct, which we may consider, either do now exist or could have existed, each good of its kind,—that all organs and instincts are, in ever so slight a degree, variable,—and, lastly, that there is a struggle for existence leading to the preservation of each profitable deviation of structure or instinct. The truth of these propositions cannot, I think, be disputed.


Charles Darwin has become the personified line-in-the-sand that divides the religious from the atheist. He would have been disappointed.  He was first and foremost a scientist and began his life in training for the clergy.  His later years found him wrestling with the concept of God and in the end he was an ambivalent agnostic.  God simply didn’t make sense to him.

John Mark Reynolds said this in his book, The Great Books Reader:

Reading Darwin only to attack him continuously is foolhardy.

First, it prevents following the argument where it leads. Not listening prevents learning.

Second, it avoids seeing where he is most persuasive. If Darwin is wrong, some of his ideas still have motivated much scientific and biological progress over the last century. Darwin is a man, not a devil, and he deserves his due.

So read this selection with an open mind; follow the presentation, and then analyze it. Charles Darwin cannot be read to get the best modern take on evolutionary mechanisms or the data now used to support biological evolution. Still, one can examine Darwin to see if one is persuaded that the type of answer he proposes is likely to succeed. Is he proposing a strong general strategy to the biological problems he faces? Is he ignoring important philosophical problems? Is he making tacit theological assumptions? Does he assume he knows what a Creator would and would not create?

Ask Darwin hard questions with an open mind. To his credit, that is the purpose for which he wrote his books.

How much of Darwin’s work have you actually read?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.

 

D I G  D E E P E R


On Nature and Survival

Phil Johnson

The concluding chapter of Darwin’s masterpiece is exceptionally important because it provides an overview of the logic of the entire book, which Darwin frankly describes as “one long argument” in support of his theory. In brief, the gist is that the theory must be true because it could be true; it explains an immense number of facts; the objections to it either can be shown or will eventually be shown to be inconclusive or even groundless.

At the start, Darwin concedes that it may at first appear difficult to believe that the “complex organs and instincts of animals have been perfected” not by some intelligent oversight, “but by the accumulation of innumerable slight variations, each good for the possessor.” The last phrase is important. Natural selection is a blind, purposeless process with no ability to preserve a presently useless innovation that might become useful for a descendant organism at a future time. Unless the innovation is immediately useful in empowering the organism possessing it to leave more offspring than another organism not possessing it, the innovation will not be passed on to the next generation.

Darwin continues, saying that the apparent difficulty in believing that an unintelligent process can perfect complex organs and instincts cannot be considered real, if we consider that there are many variations in these organs and instincts and there is a struggle for existence, leading to the preservation of profitable variations, and that gradations in the state of perfection of each organ may once have existed, each good of its kind. It may be difficult even to conjecture all the details of the process, and there are cases of particular difficulty, but Darwin has shown in other chapters how some of the difficulties can be overcome.

This brings us to a point of particular interest. It may be conceded that where there are heritable variations in any population, the variant forms best fitted to survive and reproduce will succeed in leaving descendents, and these descendents will resemble their successful parents. The difficulty is not in establishing that such a process occurs, but in testing whether it truly accounts for the transformation of a species into a basically different and more complex organism. On the contrary, it may be that natural selection so described is a conservative force, accounting for how a species can continue to thrive under different environmental conditions without undergoing any radical transformation. Critics have summarized the point by saying that, despite its title, Darwin’s “Origin” describes the “survival of the species, but not the arrival of the species.”

The creative natural selection required by Darwin’s theory has never been observed in nature or in laboratory experiments. Supporters say this is because creative evolution occurred so long ago and over so long a time period. This is a reasonable explanation, if we presume the theory to be true, but maybe creative natural selection has not been observed because it has not occurred.

———

Three passages from this chapter are particularly thought-provoking:

(1) Darwin’s struggle against entrenched orthodoxy.

Darwin wrote that: “Although I am fully convinced of the truth of the views given in this volume . . . I by no means expect to convince experienced naturalists whose minds are stocked with a multitude of facts all viewed, during the long course of years, from a point of view directly opposite to mine. . . .” Against such narrow partisans of the old school, Darwin could only appeal to a hoped-for new generation of scientists “who will be able to view both sides of the question with impartiality.” This appeal from an old guard’s orthodoxy to a new generation’s more flexible mentality is ironic for later readers, because Darwinism is now itself the entrenched orthodoxy, and those who would present an alternative have to appeal to a later generation of scientists whom they hope will be more willing to consider their ideas.

(2) Darwin’s theory versus the fossil record.

Darwin recognized that his doctrine of evolution by the accumulation of an immense number of small variations via natural selection implied that there must have been an infinitude of connecting links between the living and extinct inhabitants of the world. It puzzled him that the fossil record did not show the existence of the many fine gradations required by the theory. This absence of links, he thought, was the most obvious of the many objections that may be urged against the theory.

Darwin admitted that he could answer this objection only by supposing that the fossil record must be far more imperfect than most geologists believed at the time. He thought the imperfection stemmed from the fact that only a very small percentage of the fossil beds that must exist on the earth had been explored as of 1859.

Darwin’s argument implied that future fossil discoveries would tend to confirm the presence of innumerable intermediate forms in the fossil record. Now that 150 years have passed since he published On the Origin of Species, the question is whether the enormous efforts that have been made to discover evidence that would validate his prediction have resolved the difficulty. On the contrary, fossil experts have observed that, especially where the fossils are most abundant, there is a consistent pattern of sudden emergence of new forms of life, followed by long periods of stasis, meaning the absence of significant change. The fossils show that, over time, there has been change in the kind of organisms living on the earth, but not that the change has occurred by the Darwinian method.

(3) Is there a place for God in Darwin’s theory?

Darwin said: “I see no good reason why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feelings of anyone. A celebrated author and divine has written to me that he has ‘gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of the deity to believe that He created a few original forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of His laws.’ ”

There has been much speculation as to whether this reassurance was meant sincerely or whether Darwin merely hoped it would mollify some religious objectors, including his own wife. Some of his supporters objected to the reassurance as a failure of nerve, and Darwin dropped it from later editions of The Origin.

It may be that it’s a noble conception of God to suppose He supplied the first organisms and equipped them with everything they would need to evolve into more complex forms. Darwin’s objective, however, was not to support a noble view of God but rather to provide a scientific explanation of the history of life from which God was rigorously excluded. Subsequent Darwinists have made it a priority to extend this naturalistic explanation to the ultimate origin of life from non-living components. Any suggestion that God needed to intervene at any point in the process is derided as an attack on science itself.

The answer to the question, then, is no. There is no place for God in Darwin’s theory, although many suppose they can reconcile belief in his theory with belief in the existence of God. If God does exist, it seems that, from a Darwinian standpoint, He is unnecessary, because the origin of all the many forms of life proceeds very well without the need for His participation.

Philip Johnson, JD, is a professor emeritus of Law at Berkeley Law School and is considered one of the founders of the modern Intelligent Design movement. He is the author of many books, including Darwin on Trial, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds, and The Wedge of Truth.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).

Karl Marx: Modern (1818–1883)

THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO

A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of Communism. All the Powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Czar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.
Where is the party in opposition that has not been decried as Communistic by its opponents in power? Where the Opposition that has not hurled back the branding reproach of Communism, against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries?
Two things result from this fact.
I. Communism is already acknowledged by all European Powers to be itself a Power.
II. It is high time that Communists should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the Spectre of Communism with a Manifesto of the party itself.
To this end, Communists of various nationalities have assembled in London, and sketched the following Manifesto, to be published in the English, French, German, Italian, Flemish and Danish languages.

THE TEMPEST
William Shakespeare

ALON. Now all the blessings
Of a glad father compass thee about!
Arise, and say how thou cam’st here.
MIR. O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in ’t!
PROS. ’Tis new to thee.

PSALM 37:4–6

Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heartCommit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, and He will do it. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light and your judgment as the noonday.


When Thomas More wrote Utopia in 1516, he couldn’t have known he was coining a term that would be used for centuries to describe a perfect world. He wasn’t the first of course. Brilliant thinkers like Plato tried, alas in vain, to describe it. We are no different. We think our imaginations would suffice if we could only have this or that or some other thing, but it’s simply impossible because we can’t see the whole picture, nor can we eliminate man’s sinful nature. Just when we think we’ve envisioned our brave new world, we discover that we, like Shakespeare’s Miranda in The Tempest are only marveling at what actually is common and flawed.

John Mark Reynolds said this in his book, The Great Books Reader:

Karl Marx wanted the world to be better than it was. He wanted an end to poverty, hunger, and ignorance. He revered science and was well read. He looked at the modern West and rejected both the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian foundations of that culture. He believed history was inevitably moving past both and that secularism and Communism were the future.

Marx, at least philosophically, must be credited with good intentions, but his ideas have been applied badly. Any great idea can be perverted—Christians know this from experience—but Marxism has never been applied to a society without being perverted.

To many, this suggests that there’s something deeply wrong at the heart of the project. The likely root of the problem was that an honest desire to make things better was pushed in Marx, as for many other men, to utopian extremes. Attempting to make a fallen world better than it can be will break things better left unbroken. It will empower men to do great deeds, but great men fit for such deeds may be too rare for the challenge.

Which is more Christian; Capitalism, Socialism or Communism? Why?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Reflections on the Communist Manifesto

Hunter Baker

We sometimes have trouble convincing people that they should care about what luminaries like Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas wrote. Part of the trouble with being modern is that we have a prejudice against the old. I can recall listening to an atheist at a public meeting argue vociferously that today we’re much more intelligent than men like the American Founders and, therefore, should not defer to them. With suitable rhetorical flourish, I would say it is “self-evident” that such a statement is untrue!

However, I write this short response to the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx (and Friedrich Engels), not because of the profound insights that should be learned and made part of our own intellectual armamentarium, but instead because the work in question exerted a massive influence on recent history and arguably led to a half century of intense (yet “cold”) conflict in which two huge portions of the globe glared at each other across a chasm of spiritual/ideological division and simmering nuclear conflagration.

The United States is a nation founded on the basis of certain strong political principles having to do with social contract, freedom, limited government, and exceptions to power brought together by the providential fusion of both Christian and classical sentiments.

Approximately 130 years later, the Soviet Union was similarly founded on political ideals (though much different ones) as it rocketed along into a supposedly “inevitable” future on the vehicle of Marx’s historical analysis of class struggle. For a long time, many—even those who loved America—feared that the Soviets would indeed triumph.

Whittaker Chambers, who successfully exposed Alger Hiss (his former colleague in Soviet espionage), sadly wrote that he felt he had left the winning side for the losing one when he decided to turn his back on the Marxist cause.

———

What to say about this incredibly consequential document? In truth, Marx’s analysis was reductive in the extreme as he boiled down the entirety of human history to the class struggle. Because the entire narrative is founded on this idea, it is vulnerable to questions about the premise. Is class really the most important aspect? What about race, ethnicity, family/clan, village, the nation-state? The Marxist revolution covered over these factors and held them in check through extraordinary coercion, only to see them spontaneously surge back into prominence when the Berlin Wall came down.

And what of his view of religion? His assumption that it’s merely an “opiate of the people” was all too easy and dismissive. He completely disregarded the possibility that religious truth could arise from events in time, space, and history, such as the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which served as Paul’s “proof” to the men of Athens that his assertions about God’s character were grounded in reality.

Marx’s greatest error of all may have had to do with his view of human sin. Ranging over the history of class struggle, this revolutionary thinker dwelt upon the injustice of the propertied group oppressing their dispossessed brethren. The inequities that developed so dramatically with the rapid progress of the Industrial Revolution inspired his rage. He saw man treating his fellowmen as though they were mere commodities, cogs in a machine to perform deadening, unskilled work in never-ending repetition. Yet, somehow, he was able to easily believe that human beings—those same creatures who’d created the systems he found so evil—would then turn around and employ state power magnitudes above what previously had been known to bring about a socialist paradise. The assumption that an enlightened vanguard would prove much more trustworthy with power than those who held it before now seems quite naïve.

The authors of the Manifesto declared that the transition to its society of the future would require a “dictatorship of the proletariat.” But they imagined the period of dictatorship would come to an end as a new stage, the “withering away of the state,” took hold. At that point, there would no longer be a need for much coercion, as men would no longer struggle against each other but would live in harmony while experiencing the necessary leisure to fully develop their interests.

The Soviet Union, the world state that served as the pioneering Marxist experiment and the most powerful exemplar of the species, featured increasingly onerous dictatorship without much withering. Looking back, disappointed Marxist/socialists lament that Russia was the wrong country, or that the methods were wrong, or that Stalin was wrong. But the insight such persons have missed, as Martin Malia pointed out in The Soviet Tragedy, is that “the Soviet experiment turned totalitarian not despite its being socialist, but because it was socialist.” The domination of private property by the state radically undermines civil society and places individuals into such dependence that they’re unable to stand up for the preservation of their freedoms.

It has been on this point that many leftists have been blind. They protest that Castro’s Cubans may not have “civil rights,” but “economic rights” instead. Do they, indeed, have those rights? Or are these rights merely the reward of subsistence in exchange for obedience?

So read this most potent Manifesto and gain insight into the struggle for the world that dominated the twentieth century.

Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D. is an associate professor of political science and university fellow for religious liberty at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. He is the author of three books on politics and religion and has published in a wide variety of other outlets. He is also a research fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and an affiliate scholar of the Acton Institute.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).