Who Is God?

John Climacus, in his Ladder of Divine Ascent, makes the observation that God is love, and whoever seeks to define God further is like a blind man on a seashore trying to count the grains of sand.

And yet God, as both hidden and universal, has occupied the mind of mankind for as long as the time of Socrates, the ancient Hebrews, and the early Christians. These three traditions, rooted in Athens, Jerusalem and Rome, have together provided a robust definition of God over the millennia.

First, the intellectual descendants of Socrates (Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics and Philo) created not only the conceptual vocabulary to describe the nature of God, but they also demarcated the broader outlines of how we are to understand who and what God is. This is the God of the philosophers.

growth of humanity towards perfection is both beauty and truth

He is the ultimate Cause of all becoming and all motion, the Unmoved Mover, Pure Form, the Idea of good. Because of him, all things strive to realize their true potential, just like an egg must become a chicken. In brief, God is the unifying principle of all creation.

As such, he is one, undivided, and the ultimate guarantor of morality, because he loves mankind, and he is all-knowing because he is the Being of all beings, namely, the logic and the Logos (truth) of all creation.

It was Philo of Alexandria who successfully integrated Jewish monotheism with the God of Greek philosophy. This interfused God is all-pure but ultimately unknowable by human effort because matter is inherently impure (or fallen) and cannot fully understand, let alone know, the transcendent. Perfection cannot be known by imperfect means.

Philo describes God as all-powerful, all-good, and all-holy (God’s holiness is entirely missing in Greek thinking). Power flows from him, like light from the sun, and it fashions and creates matter and, thus, things. These powers, Philo calls God’s “Logos,” and they comprise various “doers,” such as, angels, souls and even demons.

nothing cannot create something

Philo derives his understanding of Logos both from Plato’s concept of the realm of Ideas (perfect Forms that are the blueprints of all that exists), as well as from the Stoical concepts of the logos spermatikos (God’s wisdom, or word, acting upon matter), and the logos prophorikos (the world-soul, the power of God that gives life to all things and flows through all things). Why did God create the world? In order to signify his goodness, which is his love.

Thus, Logos is the begotten of God, even the Son of God, but it is not God. Rather, it stands as the mediator between the Creator and his creation.

However, Philo can only describe the actions of the Logos; he is rather confused about its nature.

The proper explanation will be given later by St. John, where Christ is identified as God’s Logos, not simply as an agent – but as God himself, who became matter for love of the world.

God does not have an origin

Nevertheless, Philo is the conduit through which the definitions of God, both Greek and Hebrew, flow into Christianity, where they achieve their perfected form, especially through the work of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.

For Augustine, God is one, unchanging, immaterial and eternal. Drawing upon God’s revelation to Moses (“I am what I am), Augustine concludes that the very essence of God is Being itself (an “essence” is a definition that tells us what a thing is).

Since Being lies beyond all beings, God is without change and eternally perfect. Thus he is transcendent and all good, the great Something from whom all things were, and are, created. Truth and God are one; or, truth emanates only from God. As the all-wise Creator, God knows all that will come to pass, which means that history itself unfolds from him.

For Aquinas, God rules his creation through his will and is the source of all energy and movement (Unmoved Mover). He is also the power that brought all things into being, since nothing cannot create something.

Aquinas also set out his famous five proofs of God. The chief among them being the causal argument – that God is the necessary cause of all things, but he himself is not part of the chain of events. He has no cause (no one created him). He is the reason why all of creation keeps going.

But when we speak of God’s necessity, we are not talking about logic but metaphysics – we are speaking of God’s aseity (that God does not have an origin – he is an eternal I AM).

Both the Greek and the Hebrew thinkers agree on the inherent unity and oneness of God. But the Christian thinkers also needed to explain Christ, who is God-Man.

to create is to speak of purpose

Peter Abelard summarizes the explanation, when he defines the Trinity. God the Father is one and the good. God the Son is the Logos, who creates with his words. God the Holy Spirit is the world soul. In other words, the Trinity encloses the power, the will, and the wisdom of God.

This also raises the secondary question that if God is perfect, how can he become a man (Jesus) and therefore become imperfect?

This is where rational explanation must end, and we must move into mysticism, because we cannot know the great complexity of God through our minds. We must only experience him.

This is the God of revelation,the God of the personal, mystical encounter, who is not the same as the God of the philosophers. So, when Nietzsche famously announces the death of God, he is actually only proclaiming the death of the God of the philosophers whose “history” goes back to Socrates – and no further.

The God of the revelation remains unaffected by Nietzsche’s announcement, because mystical experience is beyond language.

It is said that the great philosopher of the Church, Thomas Aquinas, had such an experience, which he could not speak of – and he stopped writing theology. “I can write no more. I have seen things which make all that I have written seem like straw,” he concluded, and died not long afterwards.

Perfection cannot be known by imperfect means

But who is this eternal, enduring, un-Nietzschean, post-Socratic God?

This is the God beyond God, who is beyond all conceptualization, who always transcends all our ideas of transcendence, wrapped forever in the mystery of eternal existence, revealed now and then as by a sudden and brief flash of light. This revelation is in the person of Christ.

In the words of St. Paul: “One God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6).

Thus, in God the Father is found the origin of all creation. In God the Son, the incarnate God, is found the purpose of all things. In God the Spirit, is found both the urge and the necessity of our purpose – our perfected form so that we may dwell in eternity, with God. This growth of humanity towards perfection is both beauty and truth.

Gregory Nazianzen, in his eulogy for Basil of Caesarea, describes this great mystery in this way: “The human being is an animal who has been given the task to become God (zoon theoumenon).”

Now, with the death of the God of the philosophers – the God of revelation, the God of truth begins to unfold his mystery and we shall enter into a new phase of holy wisdom, a new experience of the eternity that lies beyond space and time.

What does this mean? That God is greater than an idea, because language is always inadequate. Whenever we try to speak of God, we at once resort to the limiting language of the philosophers: “Let us leave the elementary doctrines of Christ and go on to maturity…” (Hebrews 6:1a).

This leads us to a greater mystery, for God alone is the answer to the difficult question – why is there something when there could be nothing? Creation as the alignment of the material with truth – to create is to speak of purpose, which is meaning – and which humans imitate when they transform, through consciousness, the earth into the world.

This is why the God of revelation is the God of love, which is not a feeling, but a great mystical experience, an explanation that slips beyond words, like music.


[Photo credit: J. Struthers]

W(h)ither Canada?

In railing standeth all their revel. (Sir Thomas More, 1557)


Does Canada still exist? Certainly most people will point out a land mass labelled such on any world map. But the absurdity quickly disappears when we consider the reality of what this land mass now encompasses.

The current Prime Minister of this geographical area, Mr. Justin Trudeau, rather proudly, or perhaps philosophically, displays this wordage at all official occasions – “Diversity is Canada’s strength.”

Perhaps unbeknownst to him, this slogan simply summarizes the bêtise that Canada has become – an innominate state.

Those of a more cynical bent of mind may see here the shadow of the Spider King (Louis XI of France) who seems to have coined the phrase, “divide et impera” (divide and conquer).

Imagine a country actually wanting to be an airport, and you will find Canada

The wisdom of Brooks Atkinson needs to be reiterated at this time: “…a government…is put in…by blatherskites and populated by knaves and fools.” Of course, Atkinson was paraphrasing the Elizabethan pamphleteer Stephen Gosson’s work of 1582, Playes Confuted in Five Actions.

Canada has certainly been blessed with all manner of knave and fool populating its politics, all of whom vie stolidly to belong to the one Centrist Uniparty which has ruled Canada forever, it seems.

Distinctions such as “conservative” or “liberal” are merely emotional displays of the blatherskites which the ballot box piously tallies as “results.” Knavery, especially of the foolish variety, is most adept at stirring up emotions.

As is obvious, “centrism” defines nothing at all. Therefore, “Diversity is Canada’s strength” is the perfect motto for a state that stands for nothing at all.

But such a slogan is also extremely valuable to a state whose ambition can rise no higher than to not to be “like the US,” to be “more European,” to be “world-class,” to be “respected” on the world stage, to be, well, “nice.” Canadians love flattery. It is a national past-time and officialdom waxes well-nigh poetical with such gnomology.

the morality of robbing poor nations of their best and their brightest seems not to bother post-national Canadians

Canada has always suffered from an innate inferiority complex that expresses itself in all manner of strange ways, especially in its politics.

Again, Mr. Trudeau (fils), who likes to pontificate, describes Canada as the world’s “first post-national state,” which has “no core identity.”

In other words, Canada is a tranny-state, for Gallus-like, it has lopped off whatever it had in order to dispense the religion of the new Cybele: post-modernism. (Perhaps it’s time to give the promotion of transsexuality its historically accurate nomenclature – we are in the Age of the Eunuch).

So, by being “post-national,” Canada has become the world’s first Eunuch-State, with its Galli of feminist leaders (such as, the “feminist“Mr. Trudeau) who have no “core values,” and who therefore believe in nothing and are eager to become celebrants in the dies sanguinis of trendiness. Hail, Attis!

Canada jumps at the chance of being first in the world at anything, no matter how dubious the distinction (this peculiar condition is known by the more discerning as, being “world famous in Canada,” a phrase coined by Mordecai Richler). So, why not be the first gelding among nations!?

But just what is a “post-national state?” Who knows, but it sounds suitably “cutting-edge” and “progressive.” Canada still hasn’t outgrown that irksome hebetic tendency to take up causes in order to posture as being “world-class;” in other words, to be perceived as a grown-up among nations.

Sadly, this rapture at being the first post-national state has been long in the making. Since the 1970s, what Canadian politician worth his salt (yes, mostly “his,” except for one very brief hiccup) has not found ways to undermine or destroy all vestiges of British culture, now considered the root of all evil in the world?

Canada will eventually balkanize into different nations

The result is that the guilt-ridden British and European population of Canada has promptly chosen to vanish, by way of the usual methodology – just let the birthrate plunge, and rely on immigration to keep things going – the morality of robbing poor nations of their best and their brightest seems not to bother post-national Canadians.

But this also justifies the free-flow of a replacement population. Thus, every year 300,000 new immigrants are brought into the geographical location still known as Canada, lest the tax-base take a serious hit. But this is endemic to the entire west.

And lest tongues wag, the current Prime Minister also has a solid Family Foundation that seeks to undertake charitable work, no matter what the cost. Corporate colonialism now defines Canada, since it is now in the pockets of the Chinese and the EU.

These new immigrants are encouraged to retain loyalty to whatever land they could not leave fast enough; and before long they are happily living in two worlds – as boarders only in Canada and as nationalists who are loyal to their “real homelands.”

Of course, government money actively promotes such cultural dissociative identity disorder.

just what is a “post-national state?”

Thus, Canada has long vanished. It is now only a eunuchized geographical location where the values and cultures of the entire world are its own. Imagine a country actually wanting to be an airport, and you will find Canada.

What of the bright future? First, there is the Maoist control of language, so that even individual thought must follow party line of correct ideology. In other words, the total corruption of language to habituate the mind for self-censorship – that perfect form of propaganda.

Canada will eventually balkanize into different nations, for it no longer has a core that might justify unity. The replacement populations being brought in will grow in number, and because of multiculturalism they will remain ghettoized.

The fact of multiculturalism in Canada is very simple – no one, other than the host British population, has any real affinity or loyalty to Canada.

Thus, there will be an Islamic nation, a Chinese nation, a hodgepodge nation made up of people from the Indian sub-continent (when was India not a hodgepodge?), and some portion left to whatever British and European numbers that somehow decided to breed. As for the First Nations, they will have to decide which new nation to vanish into.

Since the current inhabitants of Canada are thoroughly propagandized by efficient state disinformation services, no one really cares about the future because – (a) they are always living elsewhere and their loyalty belongs elsewhere); or (b) the guilt-ridden British and European population is too busy pampering itself and enjoying life so it can feel less guilty.

Thus to speak about the future of Canada is to walk the path of contradiction, for once Canada denied and then dismantled its nationhood, it destroyed itself. And Canadians love it!

The only thing now left to do is see if anyone is even interested in giving this dead nation a proper burial. Any volunteers?

Review: Zealot. The Life And Times Of Jesus Of Nazareth

[Editor’s Note: This review was written when Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus pf Nazareth, first came out in 2013. Given the book’s curious popularity, we thought it best to republish this review, in order to highlight Aslan’s “scholarship”].



Reza Aslan’s biography of Jesus is an anachronistic book – it is more about our own era, and the author’s journey within, than it is about the time and place in which Jesus lived. As such, it is a compendium of sweeping statements and unsubstantiated generalities, backed up by lapses in logic and utter fallacy.

On the scholarly level, the entire book is a mishmash of hoary theories, long disproven and rightly forsaken.

Aslan’s supposed explosive and startling revelations are absurdities, like someone passionately trying to prove that the earth is flat. Consequently, he has nothing to offer that might change or advance our knowledge of Jesus in history. But that has never stopped anyone from hoodwinking the naive.

Aslan wants to give us Jesus the man, without any reference to Jesus the Christ. This approach is nothing new – Euhemerus and Leon of Pella, in the fourth century BC, established the fundamental parameters of such analysis: scratch a god and you find a man.

But is Aslan a worthy scratcher? Apparently not, since his book is filled with substantial errors and contradictions, held up by vapid assertions and simplistic assumptions.

Clumsy narratives are far easier to put together – intricacy is harder to deal with.

Terms such as, “Judaism,” “Christianity,” “paganism,” “empire,” “zealots,” “oppression,” “revolution” keep popping up, without any clear understanding of what these terms actually mean in the Roman world of the first century AD.

Antiquity was as knotty and intricate as our own world. Aslan’s book shows no awareness of this whatsoever. He seems to be intent on writing a script for a B-grade movie.

Clumsy narratives are far easier to put together – intricacy is harder to deal with. Aslan ignores the true, historical Roman world and fashions his own imagined one, which is fatuous and (most surprisingly!) conforms perfectly to the points he wants to make about his “Jesus.”

The errors begin rather immediately with the very sub-title of the book, “The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.”



Aslan says that he knows ancient Greek – and yet he makes a sophomoric blunder in translation, which leads him to state falsely that Jesus was born in Nazareth and not Bethlehem, and that is why he was known as “the Nazarean…” “throughout his life.” (Correction: he was known as the Galilean).

Aslan bases his assertion on the Gospel (John 19:19-20), where we read that at the top of Jesus’ cross, the Romans placed a wooden sign (the titulus), which displayed a message written in the three languages common in first century Palestine, namely, Hebrew, Greek and Latin.

The Gospel (originally written in Greek) provides the text of the titulus as well. It begins with the phrase, Iesous ho Nazoraios.

As someone who supposedly knows Greek, Aslan should not be making any mistakes with a rather easy phrase, which he says means, “Jesus of Nazareth.” This is grammatically impossible.

The correct translation is, “Jesus, the Nazarene.”

In order to get “Jesus of Nazareth,” the original Greek has to be Iesous ho apo Nazoret. But that is not what John 18:18-20 says.

In a strategy that will be used throughout the book, Aslan then proceeds to fashion “proof” for his mistranslation.

What does “Nazarene” really mean? It is a reference to the famous passage in Isaiah 11:1 (“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots”).

Where is that Occam’s razor?

As Robert M. Kerr very lucidly demonstrated, the term for “branch” in Hebrew is ne ṣer. The term “Nazarene” comes from this Hebrew word.

Thus, the phrase on the titulus literally meant, “Jesus of the branch.” Indeed, “branch” had a deep messianic meaning for first century Jews.

The readers of the original knew what they were reading – Jesus, the branch of Jesse, i.e., the Messiah – this man Jesus, is Jesus the Christ.

Also, the epitaph of the book is taken from Matthew 10:34: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.”

Doubtless, Aslan wants to suggest that this verse summarizes his Jesus, the illiterate, peasant revolutionary.

Of course, this sword-saying is indicating a truth far more profound – that the teaching of Jesus will cut-off people from the world, even from families.

So, indeed, it is a revolution – but of the spirit, not of the world – Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world” (John 18:36).



At the very start of his book, Aslan declares the Gospels to be historically useless: “Simply put, the gospels tell us about Jesus the Christ, not Jesus the man” (xxvi). Fair enough. This is nothing new, and dates all the way back to Bruno Bauer, the professor of Karl Marx.

But why then is Aslan’s narrative of Jesus’ life drawn entirely from the Gospels? Why does he look for “proof” for each one of his claims in the Gospels?

Either the Gospels are historically useful sources for the life of Jesus the man, or they are not. They cannot be both useful and useless/

Of course, the Gospels are only useful to Aslan when they back up his claims. Other than that, they are useless to him.

Logic, evidently, is not a strong point/



Aslan tries to prove that Jesus was a zealot (a very old claim, in fact, first raised two-hundred years ago by Hermann S. Reimarus in his essay, “The Aims of Jesus and His Disciples”).

How does Aslan substantiate this contention? He turns to the Gospels (again).

Jesus was crucified between two robbers. The Greek word used for “robbers” is lestai (singular, lestes). Aslan “translates” lestai as, “revolutionary,” and argues that because Jesus is between two lestai, he must be a lestes also. The ultimate guilt by association! But is Aslan correct?

The word occurs frequently in ancient Greek literature, from Thucydides (Book I.5) down to the New Testament (where it occurs some fifteen times). It stems from the noun, leia, which means “plunder.” Thus, from the fifth century BC to the first century AD, lestes has always meant, “robber,” “bandit,” “plunderer,” “brigand,” “pirate.”

Where is Aslan getting “revolutionary?”

Multilingualism was the norm – unilingualism was very rare.

The Jewish historian Josephus (37–100 AD), first calls lestai two specific violent Jewish groups – the zealots and the sicarii, who were assassins (The Jewish Wars 2.254).

Josephus does not say that lestes means “revolutionary,” or even “zealot.” He is merely saying that these people are “bandits,” or criminals.

But for Aslan this is serious evidence, and he concludes that lestai must mean “revolutionary” because the two groups Josephus mentions did not agree with Roman rule.

Aslan seems not to know that lestes translates also the Latin term latro (“robber,” “brigand,”“bandit”). In most parts of the eastern Roman world, Greek was the common language (a legacy of Hellenism).

Thus lestes was chosen as the Greek equivalent of latro because it was deemed accurate by the people who needed to use these terms.

Both Greek and Latin have perfectly good words for “a revolutionary” (seditiosus in Latin whence comes the English, “sedition;” and stasiastes in Greek).

Why would Josephus and the Gospel-writers not use either of these two words if their intent were to speak about “revolutionaries?” Why say “robber” and really mean “revolutionary?” Again, logic intrudes.

Actually, Aslan is getting all this from S.G.F. Brandon’s two books, The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church (1951), and Jesus and the Zealots: A Study of the Primitive Factor in Primitive Christianity (1967).

Back in 1984, E. Bammel and C.F.D. Moule destroyed this Jesus-as-a-zealot argument, once and for all. It seems Aslan has yet to hear about it.

anyone can be an expert in the age of Google

Simply put, “zealot” in the first century did not mean a revolutionary, or a resistance fighter against the Romans (this is Aslan’s fantasy).

Why? Because during the time of Jesus, there were no “zealots” in Palestine fighting the Romans – all that came many decades after Jesus! Perhaps math is not a strong point with Aslan, either.

Further, “zealot” derives from the Greek zilotes which means an “emulator” (as in Isocrates and Aeschines), or an “ardent admirer”, and therefore a “follower.”

The first one to say that “zealots” were political in any way is Josephus, and we have to be careful with him as a historical source for Jesus, because he is not a contemporary (he was born at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and he died in 100 AD).

Other historical sources do not link “zealots” with politics at all, let alone struggles against Rome – but Aslan knows nothing about this.

During the time of Jesus, “zealot” meant a Canaanite (“Simon the Canaanite” in Luke 6:15 becomes “Simon the zealot” in Acts 1:13). In fact, “zealot” also meant a Canaanite convert to Judaism (such conversions were frequent).

Thus, when Aslan calls Jesus a “zealot” – does he really know what he is doing with this convoluted Greek term? It is obvious that he does not.

Simply put, by asserting that Jesus was a zealot, Aslan is stating that Jesus was a Canaanite convert to Judaism!

Thus, Aslan’s entire thesis is simply an utter absurdity, built entirely on his own ignorance.



Aslan gets further confused when he maintains that brigands, zealots and the sicarii were all followers of the Fourth Philosophy, and he represents them as one unified group whose aim was the ousting of the Romans from Judea.

The sicarii (“dagger-men”) were terrorists who randomly stabbed people they deemed to be the enemy. As to who “the enemy” was for these terrorists? Anyone they labeled as such.

There may be a very tenuous link between the sicarii and the Fourth Philosophy – but there is no discernible connection with zealots.

Josephus is the first to coin the phrase “the Fourth Philosophy” by which he mean a form of Judaism that was different from the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Essenes.

Again, Josephus is not a contemporary of Jesus, and he is writing about political situations that simply did not exist in Jesus’ day.

Of course, Aslan is blissfully unaware of any of this. For him, “Judaism” is some over-arching “religion” that he has constructed to suit his agenda.

In fact, there were many Judaisms – Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, Herodians, Boethusians, Levites, Scribes, Elders, Disciples of John, Samaritans, and (if Josephus is right), the Fourth Philosophy.

Each of these Judaisms was distinct from the other, so we do not really know which type of Judaism Jesus himself followed.

There is no evidence in the book that might suggest Aslan really knows anything about Judaism, and what he does say about it is thoroughly misinformed, misconstrued, distorted, and ridiculous (for example, he actually believes that the Jews carried out crucifixions).

Thus, the Fourth Philosophy just was not around when Jesus lived and preached in Palestine. Aslan is taking a political situation long after the time of Jesus, retro-projecting it back to Jesus’ day – and then concluding that Jesus himself was part of this future political situation – therefore he was a revolutionary.

This is not history – it is mere overzealous fantasy.



Another anachronism that Aslan constructs is “the Roman Empire,” which he describes as an organized system of oppression of vast proportions.

This is not surprising given the broad influence of post-colonial discourse in present-day academia (thanks to the silliness engendered by Edward Said).

destroys his own arguments

But does such an analysis have any merit when dealing with antiquity? No, it does not, because the Roman world was far different than that imagined by Aslan.

Needless to say, ancient Rome is another subject that Aslan knows nothing about – but anyone can be an expert in the age of Google.

In complete contradiction to what Aslan declares, the historical record itself cannot sustain Rome as thoroughly oppressive – and this record unravels whatever Aslan has to say about Rome and its supposed “oppression.”

For example, he calls Palestine “occupied territory” (10), under “the boot of imperial” Rome (16).

Then he is forced to admit that Rome was very tolerant: “As generally tolerant as the Romans may have been when it came to foreign cults, they were even more lenient toward the Jews…”(14).

So, was Rome oppressive or tolerant? It cannot be both. Logic once more raises its head.

Aslan likely knows that evidence is stacked against him if he says that Rome was utterly despotic and unjust (although that is how he describes it in his book).

The reality of the Roman world dismantles his reasoning.

If what he says is true, how can he explain the fetiales, the guild of priests who oversaw treaties and foreign relations, and who were often critical of what Rome might want to do, and the caduceatores, the peacemakers, who actively worked to avoid war?

And how can he explain the fact that Roman law forbade the state to wage war (only the collegium fetiales could undertake that duty, after the Roman Senate made a case for a war)?

Further, how can he explain the Pax Romana, when peace endured throughout the Roman Empire for over two-hundred years (an event unprecedented in human history)? Jesus’ entire life was spent in this Pax Romana.

a tedious mishmash of hoary theories, long forsaken

The fact is most nations fought Rome because they wanted to get into the empire – because they wanted to be Romans.

Why would other nations fight to be Roman, if the Romans were brutal and oppressive? Aslan, as usual, has no clue about any of this.

If the Roman Empire were oppressive, would it have lasted until 1452 (when Byzantium fell to the Turks) – that is more than over two thousand years? No empire has endured so long.

Then, the subsequent Ottoman Empire saw itself as a continuation of the Roman Empire in the east, for the Turks came to possess the idea of Rome, that is, Romanitas, or Romanity, Roman-ness – and they called their realm “Rûm,” or Rome. Again, why, if Rome was so horrible and so hated?

Some philosophers, like Rémi Brague, convincingly argue that the Roman Empire still exists and we are very much part of it. The essential character of our civilization is ultimately an extension of the Roman world.

In fact, where would the United States be without a blueprint of the Roman Republic?

All this would be impossible if Rome were inherently oppressive and everyone wanted to be rid it.

Suffice to say that Aslan’s understanding of Romanity is nonexistent, which is curious since the man Jesus, whose life story he wants to tell, was very much a product of Romanitas.

Rome was in Palestine because of treaty obligations that stemmed back to 161 BC. Aslan distorts this when he delves into the paradigm of conquest and hegemony, which serves no purpose other than to highlight his romantic construct of revolutionaries fighting for freedom. (He likely has present-day Palestine in mind).

The fact is the majority of Jews preferred the peace and stability guaranteed by Roman rule over their own indigenous priestly theocracy. Most Jews greatly benefited from being Roman citizens and never supported any sort of insurrection.

Further, the ideals of pacifism were the majority view among the Jews living in the Roman world.

The violent factions came much later, after the time of Jesus, like the sicarii. These factions were in the minority.

However, their selfish actions brought the most harm to the entire Jewish nation. That is why Josephus hated them, because this violent minority destroyed the peace and stability enjoyed by the vast majority.

Aslan knows nothing about the reality of the Roman world in the East. He has created a cartoon version that might serve as entertainment, but which has nothing to do with historical truth.



Much is made of the famous episode of the tribute owed to Caesar and to God (Matthew 22:15-22: “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s”).

Aslan declares this to be a summary of the zealot’s creed (78). This idea comes from S. G.F. Brandon once again.

To back up this absurd claim, Aslan tries to do some fancy footwork with Greek. He states that “render” is a mistranslation of the original Greek term, apodidomi. (We are already familiar with his “knowledge” of Greek, but he needs to demonstrate it once again).

All he can do is garb his ignorance in folds of plausibility.

He argues, very confusingly, that the real meaning can only be accessed if this term is broken down into its two component parts.

Then, the two parts have to be translated separately.

Next, the two separate translations should be smashed together to yield the most accurate meaning for apodidomi. Right…

Thus, for him, apodidomi actually means, “to give back again” (77). Where is that Occam’s razor?

Aslan has no idea that there is an actual difference between morphophonemics and semantics.

So, by his logic, in order to understand what the word “obvious” really means, we have to split it up into its two parts, which ultimately come from Latin.

First, there is ob, which in Latin can mean “on,” or “against;” and then we have viam, which, again in Latin means, “the way,” “the road.”

Having done such needless gymnastics, we can now declare that the word, “obvious” really means, “to be on your way,” or “to go against the road, or against traffic.” Of course!

In brief, apididomi means exactly how it has been translated by real scholars of Greek, “to render,” or “to pay back an obligation, or a debt.”

Thus, Jesus is teaching about fulfilling one’s obligations – both mundane and spiritual. There is nothing here about fighting Romans, as Aslan wants to argue.



Aslan claims that 97 percent of the Jewish peasantry was illiterate (34). He does not divulge the actual Roman records that provided him this figure, since Roman statistics on literacy in their empire have yet to be unearthed by archaeologists.

Nor do we know if they even did such surveys. Why would they? But that cannot stop Aslan’s “scholarly” insights.

He gets this figure from the convoluted reasoning offered by Catherine Hezser, although Aslan does not mention her in his Bibliography (as with so many of his mentors).

Aslan needs this fake illiteracy rate to further his contention that since Jesus was a peasant, he was therefore illiterate. He just assumes that Jesus did not belong to the educated 3 percent. Again, logic is an issue.

a compendium of sweeping statements and unsubstantiated generalities

Whatever the literacy levels were of the Jewish peasantry, the fact remains that there is enough evidence to indicate the importance of writing in ancient Judea, as epigraphic finds (papyrus hoards and the library at Qumran) clearly demonstrate.

All this material suggests widespread literacy in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. If literacy were so low, why did Paul write letters, and why were the Gospels even written, if 97 percent of the population would never be able to read them?

Three of the gospels (excluding Luke) were written for Jewish readers.

And, there are over 5,000 manuscripts of the New Testament in Greek, some 10,000 in Latin, and thousands in other languages that were part of the Roman world (like, Armenian, Coptic and Ethiopic).

In fact, manuscripts of the New Testament are the most numerous for any text from the ancient world.

Who were all these manuscripts for, if almost everyone was illiterate?

Literary culture in the first century was rich and diverse (there were even Jewish novels in this era) – and it is a culture that is entirely unknown to Aslan.

Interestingly, just a few pages later, Aslan contradicts his own thesis. He states: “By connecting his miracles with Isaiah’s prophecy, Jesus is stating…”(111).

Is not this process of “connecting” a literary text with one’s own ideas known as “literary allusion?”

How could an illiterate peasant be involved in genuine literary activity without having read the book of Isaiah?

Complicating matters is the fact that the Scriptures referred to in the New Testament are the Septuagint (LXX) which is in Greek and not in Hebrew. Thus, Jesus would also have to understand Greek, along with Hebrew.

Of course, Jesus could have memorized these passages. But that would suggest intensive schooling, since someone would have had to read Isaiah aloud and enough times for pupils to memorize verses deemed important.

However, Aslan has already told us that his Jesus was unschooled (35).

But now suddenly we have an educated Jesus, intellectually challenging his compatriots, and using bookish arguments. An uneducated, illiterate Jesus makes no sense, even in the make-belief world of Aslan.

As an aside, if Jesus were illiterate, how does he know about the intricacies of Hebrew writing (Matthew 5:18) – the yod w’kotz shel yod (the jots and tittles)?

Which is it, then? Was Jesus literate, or not? He cannot be both. Aslan actually says he’s illiterate but has him behave like a highly educated man. The evidence once again runs counter to the thesis.



Aslan makes the sweeping claim that Aramaic was “the primary language of the Jewish peasantry: the language of Jesus” (35).

It is not clear if Aslan actually knows any Hebrew or Aramaic, or any other Semitic languages (we have already learned that his Greek is non-existent). Nevertheless, his assertion is completely false.

Aslan’s greatest strength is inventing conspiracy theories

Linguistic reality in first century Palestine was complex, where the majority of people spoke three or four languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Latin).

Each language had a function which was intimately connected to particular social and economic strata. It all depended on who one was speaking with, since different aspects of daily life required one or more of these four languages.

Multilingualism was the norm – unilingualism was very rare, even non-existent, because people needed more than one language to function in the Greco-Roman world.

This is a concept unilingual North Americans have great difficulty understanding.

In Galilee, the true homeland of Jesus, Hebrew was the spoken language, and it remained so well into the fourth century AD. Thus, Jesus grew up speaking Hebrew – not Aramaic, as Aslan wrongly contends.

Epitaphs, mosaics, and synagogue inscriptions firmly point to trilingualism, with Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek thoroughly intertwined.

For the Jews, Hebrew was, and is, the lashon-haq-kadosh, the sacred language used by God.

Aramaic, also a Semitic tongue, is closely related to Hebrew. It exists in two dialects – western ones used in Palestine, and eastern ones used in Syria, i.e., Syriac, or Talmudic Aramaic.

Many Jews (certainly not all) preferred to use Aramaic in daily life because they deemed Hebrew too holy for mundane purposes. This explains why the Targumim are in Aramaic.

Aslan says that he knows ancient Greek – and yet he makes a sophomoric blunder in translation

Jesus’ use of the three languages current in first century Palestine is clearly evident in the Gospels. Sometimes, he speaks Hebrew and Aramaic (Matthew 27:46); sometimes he speaks only Aramaic (Mark 5:41); and sometime he uses pure Greek (Matthew 16:18).

This complex multilingual reality is also reflected much later in the various documents of Simeon bar Kochba.

And this is why the titulus above Jesus’ head on the cross is in Hebrew, Greek and Latin.

(By the way, why bother with such a placard, if 97 percent of the population is illiterate?).

Aslan’s declaration that Hebrew was “barely” understood by Jews (34) is therefore meaningless. This view was current until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1948, which thereafter firmly established Palestine as a multilingual place.

It is strange indeed that Aslan is using a pre-1948 explanation, which has been long demolished. No doubt, Aslan prefers ignorance over fact.



There are quite a few Freudian-slips throughout the book. One example may suffice.

Aslan states: “By the time Jesus set up his ministry…”(95).

Why is a revolutionary setting up a ministry? One would think that he would be busy putting together a deadly arsenal (with the requisite ballistae, a scorpio or two, and various small arms), getting recruits (certainly way more than just twelve), and that he would be hunting around for an out-of-the-way field to establish his boot camp (as Simeon bar Kochba indeed did do some six decades after Jesus).

It would be tedious to go through all such Freudian-slips. They are Freudian because despite Aslan’s best efforts, the truth does manage to slip out – in his own arguments.



Mary (page 37): In Mark 6:3, Jesus is called the “son of Mary.” Aslan sees this as a record of Jesus’ illegitimacy. This reference, of course, is not about legitimacy – it is about an emergent veneration of Mary (Mariology), which had already begun in the first century.

Despite not knowing any Semitic languages, Aslan proceeds to “translate” the reference to Jesus in Mark 6:3 into Aramaic as, “Jesus bar Mary!” (If he wants the Aramaic version, the proper translation is, “Yehoshua or Yehsua bar Miriam”). Aslan is likely using C. P. Thiede here, though Thiede is not mentioned in the Bibliography.

Crucifixion (page 155): Aslan says that crucifixion was reserved “for the most extreme political crimes: treason, rebellion, sedition, banditry.”

Aslan knows nothing about Judaism

Once again, the unsubstantiated sweeping statement. Aslan needs to closely read the lex Puteoli. Crucifixion was simply a method of execution for crimes that required capital punishment.

It had nothing to do with politics, as Aslan imagines. There are very many instances of non-political criminals being crucified (Roman or not). For example, Verres crucified Roman citizens without any qualms (famously, Gavius); and Galba crucified a murderer who had poisoned his ward.

As well, if Romans citizens wanted to punish, or get rid of, slaves, they could have them crucified (it was cheap). Women also were crucified. Tiberius had the priests of Isis crucified. Cicero frequently mentions crucifixion of Roman citizens. Of course, Aslan is simply ill informed about the Roman world.

Paul (page 183-196): No, Paul did not invent Jesus the Christ. Jesus himself proclaimed his divinity by elaborating the Jewish idea of agency, in that God acts through one person (angel, patriarch, prophet, finally the Messiah). Aslan again displays his ignorance.

Paul was not ostracized and despised by the Jerusalem Christians. Aslan is simply repeating F.C. Bauer’s very old thesis, long discredited. Paul became part of Christianity – he did not create it – and Paul saw Christianity as Judaism fulfilled, and he understood the church as the New Israel.

Throughout the book, there are many, many other such errors, sweeping-statements, contradictions, and outright falsehoods. Detailing these any further would be pointless.

Aslan’s greatest strength is inventing conspiracy theories (which seem always to sell well).

Lastly, a word on Aslan’s style, since he teaches creative writing. Throughout the book there is a tension between two stylistic registers – fiction and nonfiction. It seems Aslan really wants to write a novel.

The book begins with an appeal to immediacy, with a sudden and jarring use of the second-person personal pronoun (“you”).

We are then offered some contrived “sights and smells of ancient Jerusalem,” and we even get to witness an assassination.

Such techniques may work in a cheesy novel, but they have no place in a book claiming to be factual history.

There is also a tendency to over-write, and thereby throw up the fog of purple prose.

Logic…is not a strong point with Aslan.

For example: “Zeal, the spirit that had fueled the revolutionary fervor of the bandits, prophets, and messiahs, was now coursing through the population like a virus working its way through the body”(53).

And, “…the Roman swarm swept through the upper and lower city, littering the ground with corpses, sloshing through streams of blood…”(67).

Then, there are the frequent and needless clichés: the “boot of an imperial power”(16); “large swaths of the countryside”(17); “handful of sects”(37); “rampaged through the countryside, burning with zeal”(44); “Jesus’s neighbors were a different story”(94). And so on.

Lastly, the pluperfect tense is much too liberally used throughout the book.

Hardly a page can be turned without encountering, “would have,” “might have,” “could have.”

No doubt this is a nervous tick that points to Aslan’s tenuous knowledge. All he can do is garb his ignorance in folds of plausibility.

It is customary to look for some merit in a book, and it is this: it is work of psychotherapy.

In the Author’s Note, Aslan describes his encounter with Jesus the Christ, and then his loss of faith (because he could not overcome doubt). Such struggles happen to many, and such people move on.

But Aslan needs to hang on to Jesus in some way. Thus, he creates a Jesus of his own making; a Jesus that he can be happy with.

One can only hope that having worked it all out in the pages of his book, Aslan now feels much better.

As for Jesus, he belongs to history and to faith, and Aslan knows nothing about him.


[The photo shows, “The Mocking of Christ” by Carl Heinrich Bloch, painted in 1880]

Atheists: The Newest True Believers

Listen, Parfyon. You asked me a question just now. Here is my answer. The essence of religious feeling does not come under any sort of reasoning or atheism, and has nothing to do with any crimes or misdemeanors. There is something else here, and there will always be something else – something that the atheists will for ever slur over; they will always be talking of something else. Dostoevsky, The Idiot

Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. (2 Peter 2:15)


We deserve better atheists than Sam Harris and the other “Four Horsemen.” These disciples of progress hold more faith than the Liberal Christians that sired them. Atheism, what have they done to you?

Atheism used to be the haven of the faithless. “God is dead!” echoes still from Nietzsche’s prophetic tongue. But have these words lost their meaning? Has atheism forgotten the face of the God it sought to destroy?

In the Christian mind, God is ultimate love. He is the singular logic, the Logos, the Word behind the universe, from which one can derive morality. Those who have faith in its existence are believers.

The idea that science and better technology will lead to humanity’s happiness is a belief, not a fact

True atheism seeks to destroy this belief. When Nietzsche spoke of God’s decomposition, he wasn’t declaring the death of some bogyman in the sky. To Nietzsche, progress was dying. The world of light was fading. There was no ultimate logic, no benevolent force from which man could derive his purpose. In the ruins of God’s colossal wreck, individuals were left to build their own personal fate, their own personal meaning.

But now there is heresy in the temple of Atheism. Believers have sneaked in amongst the faithless. Believers in Progress. Believers in Objective Morality. These atheists have more faith than their Liberal Christian forefathers.

Liberal Christians, sadly, still attempt to juggle the Christian faith with a multiculturalism rooted in moral relativism.

They are Christians who believe that they have found absolute truth; the path to save the mortal souls of not only themselves, but of all those who walk amongst them. Yet, these are the same Christians who keep their faith to themselves because talking about the ultimate Savior of the universe would be, well, rude.

These people actually call themselves believers!

Liberal Christians, sadly, still attempt to juggle the Christian faith with multiculturalism

In fact, Liberal Atheists are the real crusaders. With an undying belief in progress, they march on. They call for political change, dispute legislation, and even make objective moral claims!

Among the “atheists” known as the “Four Horsemen,” Sam Harris is the most devout, for he is an atheist who believes that science and progress will lead to humanity’s happiness.

Yet his greatest sin is the belief that one can derive an objective morality from science, a moral beacon that will lead mankind into a world of peace and love. Forgive them Atheism, for they know not what they do.

Does Harris not realize that it is this very idea of Progress that Nietzsche sought to destroy?

greatest sin is the belief that one can derive an objective morality from science

The creator of this idea was the liberal German idealist Hegel, who believed that such an historical progress was the will of God. The belief in progress does not undermine theism. Progress is evidence for the existence of God, not his death.

Worst of all is the insistence of these Atheists on an objective morality.

Contrary to the a-moralist Nietzsche, Harris believes that one can scientifically prove that there are better moral systems than others. That morality can be derived from the laws of the universe. Is this not the ultimate pillar of theism?

These new Liberal Atheists pretend to be pragmatists. They understand themselves to be thinkers who are above opinionated ideology, but they are ideology at its purest.

They are believers in grand theories that cannot be proven by facts alone.

The idea that science and better technology will lead to humanity’s happiness is a belief, not a fact. The future has yet to be. One can have faith that Xanax, atom bombs, and other wonderful gifts of science will lead us to a better future, since one can never know for certain.

How much do we give to the world?

The Christian believes that we are all ruled by love. The Atheist shakes his head in disbelief.

But Harris – he takes the belief that man should love one another as a basic assumption. Talk about blind faith.

He never fights the battle atheists actually have to face, the horrible question that plagued thinkers like Dostoevsky. Why should we love? To what end should we love? How much do we give to the world? The sacrifice of a few dollars, or do we give up ourselves even if it means our own crucifixion?

Can Harris even contribute to this true struggle of Atheism, or will he still be chasing away some man in the sky?

Maybe this is why Nietzsche shouted, “God is dead” to the non-believers as opposed to Christians. Maybe the Christians already knew, and it was the Atheists who needed to realize and confront the death of their faith.


[The photo shows, “The Pythagoreans” by Fyodor Bronnikov, painted in 1869].

Review: The New Philistines

The origin of the tyranny is iniquity, and springing from a poisonous root, it is a tree which grows and sprouts into a baleful pestilent growth, and to which the axe must by all means be laid. (Policraticus)

Why do “artists” keep churning out ugly things that we’re all supposed to admire? Whatever happened to beauty which would inspire people to reach for the sublime?

A grim dreariness possesses the arts today.

Thus, paintings show no talent, and instalment pieces require lengthy essays which say nothing.

Theater and literature vaunt marginality, while railing at any perceived instance of oppression (present or past, especially the past, since it’s safer).

And it seems that architecture likely got a discount on Bauhaus and Brutalist cookie-cutters, since it keeps erecting monstrosities that vie for last year’s Stalin prize.

Inspiration vanished long ago from the arts, and into this vacuum slogans took hold like demons of chaos.

Therefore, the plastic arts are ugly. Theater is ugly. Literature is ugly. Architecture is ugly. Pop music is ugly But why?

Sohrab Ahmari sets out to answer this question in The New Philistines, which is a concise and blistering critique of what gets palmed off as “art;” and in the process he lays waste the predictable agendas that now populate galleries, the stage, the screen, the printed page, and urban sprawls.

A grim dreariness possesses the arts today.

Those perplexed by what is happening in the world, should rush to pick up this insightful and well-thought-out book. Ahamri’s style is clear and direct, and it’s much to his credit that he shows the art-world for what it is – a sham garbed in the urgency of politics.

The lifeblood of this relentless cultural fraud is identity politics, and those fully infused with it are “identitarians.”

Of course, Ahmari recognizes that the problem runs much deeper than just art, but he wants to keep his focus narrow so as not to blunt his assault.

Under his powerful lens, the character and quality of identitarian “artists” is clearly discernible – so intently have they navel-gazed that they now “think they already have the answers: a set of all-purpose formulas about race, gender, class and sexuality, on one hand, and power and privilege, on the other.”

The lust to dominate…

inflicts great evils on the human race. (St. Augustine)

The greater issue is the pernicious influence of postmodernism, which has successfully sabotaged truth and therefore values.

As a result, a human being doesn’t exist – he’s simply a mishmash of social constructs, which can be reconfigured in any which way in order to win the culture war (which is the destruction of patriarchy as well as the entire theology of the western world – truth and morality).

Postmodernism, indeed, is the staff of life of all universities, where professors have happily ruined the minds of hapless students, one generation after another.

In fact, the entire education industry is best described as an efficient brain-washing facility which produces fully programmed and compliant citizens who can be controlled (triggered) by all the right words (commands).

Thus, “art” is part of this industrialized annihilation of western culture, which is why it can only produce unimaginative and trite political strategies to bring about social justice (the validation of one group identity over another).

Merit or talent died long ago; there is only “speaking truth to power.”

In other words, art is now perpetually engaged in the overthrow of oppression in all its myriad manifestations, by seeking to dismantle perceived hierarchies (power-structures).

a sham garbed in the urgency of politics.

Therefore, identitarianism maintains that to even speak about ugliness and beauty, or falsehood and truth, is to participate in the discourse of domination and oppression (“phallogocentrism,” to use the shibboleth coined by Jacques Derrida).

Any kind of dialogue with power means the validation of power. Thus, speech itself must always be of the approved, validated kind (never mind, freedom, which is just another strategy to control the weak-minded).

Ahmari calls these identitarians the “new philistines,” although they call themselves by a far more militant title, “Social Justice Warriors,” who are nothing but professional revolutionaries, and for whom art can only be political action – and nothing more.

In their worldview, it’s one race against race, one group against another, and one identity against identity. Thus, “art is worthwhile if it validates the narratives, identities and feelings of ‘marginalised’ groups or, conversely, lays bare the injustices of the ‘mainstream.’”

Once the battle lines are so starkly drawn (and it’s always a battle for postmodernists), then the choices too are limited. Since there are no universal rights, no overarching truth, there is only identity politics.

Ahmari does an excellent job exposing the dangers of this ruinous ideology, and the dead-end it has run into in the arts.

However, he is less certain what comes next.

We can all agree that postmodernism will destroy us, if we let it (and so far, we’re letting it). But are we going to do anything about?

engaging in a form of exorcism

It’s obvious to see (to those who want to see) that the current culture war is really a theological war.

These are the questions we have to answer a a culture:

  • Do we want individual lives to be led by truth, goodness, virtue and beauty, or is there only group identity, and the endless struggle against power?
  • Is there a right way to interpret the world, or does that only privilege those that are labeled as oppressors?
  • Is dialogue possible between two individuals, or is there only the clash of various herd mentalities?
  • Does rationality exist, or is it only a ploy by a dominant group to control all other groups?
  • Do merit and competence exist, or are they merely means to construct debilitating hierarchies of power?
  • Does life have transcendent meaning, or is it only a power game based on identity?
  • Do humans possess innate value, or are they just bio-mass to be manipulated and constructed any-which way?

Notice the one word that keeps repeating – “power” – which is the be-all and end-all of postmodernism and its daughter, identity politics.

So, where shall we turn? What shall we do?

These questions will have to be answered by us, or by the generations that follow, since the devastation is very deep.

We can pretend that somehow things will eventually fall back into place (they won’t, since there really is no place to fall back into).

Or, we can begin asserting the urgent necessity of truth and beauty (morality) for human life.

Let’s not be naive – this will mean engaging in a form of exorcism, where those possessed by ruinous ideas will need to be set free into the realm (structures) of truth.

We shall have to act, lest culture become our prison – and knocking down cultural prisons means much suffering.

“The lust to dominate…inflicts great evils on the human race,” St. Augustine observed long ago.

Are we ready for such evils?

Ahmari’s book should be widely read by those who might still need convincing that fiddling is not going to put out the fire that is now consuming our Rome.

The time surely has come to decide where we stand? For good, or its opposite? Ahmari’s book might well help you make up your mind.

Sohrab Ahmari. The New Philistines. London: Biteback Publishing, 2017. 128pp.

The Magic Of History

Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. (Luke 10:19)


Historians have lost their magic. Post-modernism has blinded them from fulfilling their purpose. They once possessed the ability to listen to what the past had to say. Like the necromancer, they understood that the dead had a story to tell.

They did not construct the past so much as they were constructed by it. Plus, they had the unique ability to cleanse those possessed by myths of history. Like the exorcist, historians sought to seize the demons of the mind and bring them into the light to be destroyed.

The time has come for the historian to answer their true calling and live up to their purpose.

History is about making order out of chaos

Post- modernism has cast history itself into the dust bin of history. The liberal generation has bred an epidemic of nihilists who have found their way into the history departments.

In the minds of these nihilists, there is no place for truth in history. To them, history is no longer about the search for truth, the identification of progress, or the history of ideas. Rather, history is simply a pattern-less class struggle with nothing to teach.

By being made truth-less, history is struck dumb, and thus the more easily manipulated into fulfilling fashionable agendas in order to manufacture consent.

Such liberal nihilism has given birth to our post-truth society.

But we must restore the magic of necromancy to the historians. Contrary to Hollywood, the necromancer did not spend most of his time raising armies of the dead. Instead, he would spend his time listening to them. He sought to hear the wisdom of the dead as he dreamt.

He did this because he believed that the dead had a special knowledge inaccessible to the living. The dead had a meaningful story to tell, a lesson for the post-modern historian.

being made truth-less, history is struck dumb

History is about making order out of chaos – by listening to the past and deriving narratives from it. This is impossible if all we can do is manipulate the past around our own presentist narratives.

Moreover, the magic of the historian was shared by the exorcist. The role of the exorcist was to seek out the possessed, isolate their demons, and cast them into the light where they vanished.

These demons were forces that possessed the soul, leading it into disharmony with the Logos. Demons could be ideas such as selfishness, the desire for violence, and the belief in falsehood.

The magic of the exorcist to cast out bad ideas is not far removed from the historian. Instead of seeking demons, the historian seeks out myths of history, isolates them, and then casts them out into the light, often against the violent resistance of the possessed.

historians…seize the demons of the mind

Victims walk amongst us, possessed by myths (such as, that religion has always hated science, that we are better than the past, or that Alexander wasn’t Greek). These myths of history are created as tools for the power-hungry who care only for their short-sighted agendas.

It is time to bring back the magic of history. Contrary to the teachings of post-modernism, historians have a purpose. The post-modernists have forsaken the past, believing that human nature has evolved beyond the value of its lessons. They are mistaken.

The children of men are to be forever haunted by their past. The best way forward is by letting the dead speak, so we may decipher order from chaos.

Not all interpretations of the past are equal, some ideas are more truthful, and therefore better, than others. It is the task of those who see the light, to cast out falsehoods from the minds of their brethren.

Truth is not the instrument of humanity; rather, humanity is the instrument of Truth. Therein lies the value of history.



[Photo credit: J. Struthers]

On Suffering: Lessons From Boethius

Perhaps one of the more famous examples of “prison literature,” The Consolation of Philosophy, by Boethius, may also be read as a contemplation on the ideas of innocence and justice.

Both these terms have deep roots in the philosophical tradition, through which justice becomes an application of morality, which is defined as commutative, distributive, contributive, restorative, legal, and retributive. Justice, therefore, seeks to reestablish social harmony, disrupted by crime.

Within such legal parameters, Boethius seeks to answer a far more difficult question (and one most pertinent to him, in his little book) – where is justice when an innocent man is wrongly sentenced and then executed by the state?

Anicius Severinus Manlius Boethius, one of the more important thinkers to emerge from the Early Middle Ages, was born into an illustrious Roman aristocratic family about the time that the last Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed in August of 476 AD. Boethius’ exact year of birth is unknown.

Just as all things work toward the good, so do all things work toward justice

This was also the time when Rome, and the western Empire, came to be ruled by the Goths, under the kingship of the famous Theoderic the Great (454-526), whose round mausoleum can still be seen near Ravenna.

As a youth, Boethius received the best education of the day, which meant that he knew Greek, along with his native Latin. His highly influential theological and philosophical works came to define the medieval world, and helped give Latin its preeminence as the language of learning (a status it would retain well into the nineteenth-century).

Indeed, it is because of him that the works of Plato came to be rendered into Latin; and before his political downfall he was busy translating all the works of Aristotle. His eventual plan was to reconcile Plato to Aristotle (the dilemma of whether idealism or materialism is the best rational tool for understanding reality).

Because of his high birth, Boethius eventually came to serve Theoderic in the capacity of magister officiorum, or “Master of Offices,” which meant that he was head of all the government and court services; a very powerful position.

evil is the failure to attain the good

However, given his concern with establishing the just state, based upon Plato’s idea that rulers must also be philosophers, he openly and vigorously condemned venality among courtly officials.

But he misjudged the influence of the men he criticized, and before long he was charged with conspiring with Justin I, the Eastern Roman Emperor. Perhaps the justification of this accusation was Boethius’s active engagement with Greek learning in the East (hence the charge of conspiring with Justin to overthrow the empire in the West). Though he appealed to be heard by Theoderic, the senate condemned him to exile and death.

He was executed likely in 525. Theoderic did not long survive him, dying in 526, and Justin died in 527.

While in prison, awaiting execution, Boethius wrote his most famous treatise, The Consolation of Philosophy (circa 524), which is composed in the prosimetrum form (partially prose and partially verse).

justice becomes an application of morality

The work itself may best be described as a dialogue between the condemned prisoner Boethius and a beautiful woman, whom he names “Lady Philosophy.”

In the work, Boethius presents himself as depressed and perplexed: how can a man, who truly is innocent and virtuous, face imminent execution?

He explicitly asks: “If there is a God, why is there evil? And if there is no God, how can there be good?” (Book I, Prose, 4).

In other words, how can he believe in the idea of innocence when he will be executed for something that he has not done?

He writes the Consolation first as a protest and second only as an attempt to come to terms with his own imminent death. In the process, of course, he writes one of the most poignant examples of “prison literature.”

Boethius, indeed, is searching for meaning in the face of utter meaninglessness. He knows he will be put to death soon. Thus, he needs to know why he must die.

Lady Philosophy certainly has her work cut out for her – not only must she console an innocent man who will be executed (there will be no last minute repeal, no rescue scene), but she must also convince him that all things, even those that are seemingly wrong and unfair, work towards ultimate good.

If innocence is to be truly triumphant…it must comprehend its own purpose

To do the job, the only tool Lady Philosophy possesses is reason. But how can the death of the innocent be reasoned? Lady Philosophy tells the prisoner Boethius: “I shall quickly wipe the dark clouds of mortal things from your eyes” (Book I, Prose 2).

Her best method is to shift Boethius’s mind away from the particular (his own sad predicament) and  into the world of ideas, where his fate will fulfill a greater purpose – for she will lead him to meaning.

If innocence is to be truly triumphant, despite defeat and utter annihilation, it must comprehend its own purpose – each individual life is to be seen within the context of eternity.

The execution of Boethius will not be the victory of injustice, or the triumph of evil; rather, it will be the eventual working out of the good.

Lady Philosophy tells him:

Nature leads you toward true good, but manifold error turns you away from it. Consider for a moment whether the things men think can give them happiness really bring them to the goal which nature planned for them. If money, or honor, or other goods of that kind really provide something which seems completely and perfectly good, then I too will admit that men can be happy by possessing them. But, if they not only cannot deliver what they promise, but are found to be gravely flawed in themselves, it is obvious that they have only the false appearance of happiness (Book II, Poem 2, Prose 3).

Evil, therefore, is unstable and fleeting because it is part of the particular (transience). The good is eternal because it is the universal – this is the logic of the soul.

essential goodness cannot change, nor can it be destroyed

But what is the good, especially since it is the contemplation of it that Lady Philosophy says will console the condemned Boethius and help him understand his execution?

She suggests that whatever happens will be good, because Boethius is good. Despite his execution, he will always remain innocent. His essential goodness cannot change, nor can it be destroyed. And because he is good, he is part of the eternal and the universal.

In fact, his execution will serve to highlight injustice, because he is being killed not because of his own guilt but because of the evil nature and purpose of those who have power over him.

Thus, Lady Philosophy teaches him that despite his wretched state, he cannot lose sight of the process of his own goodness, which sadly must also include his execution:

…all these goods are one and the same things; therefore they cannot be parts. Otherwise, happiness [the good] would seem to be constituted of one part, which is a contradiction in terms…. Clearly, all the rest must be related to the good. For riches are sought because they are thought to be good, power because it is believed to be good, and the same is true of honor, fame, and pleasure. Therefore, the good is the cause and sum of all that is sought for; for if a thing has neither the substance nor the appearance of good, it is not sought or desired by men. On the other hand, things which are not truly good, but only seem to be, are sought after as if they were good. It follows, then, that goodness is rightly considered the sum, pivot, and cause of all that men desire. The most important object of desire is that for the sake of which something else is sought as a means (Book III, Prose 10).

Consequently, everything that happens to a good man is good, even that which is seemingly evil. The sad end of Boethius the man is but the natural process of the good, since it was not his goodness that led to his execution. Rather, his death is the manifestation of the evil of others.

existence (which includes suffering) in its entirety is good

Thus, his execution will reveal injustice, which in time will be corrected by justice. By contributing his individual goodness, he is making possible the working out of the greater good.

In this way, Lady Philosophy gives meaning to Boethius, for she aligns his innocence with a universal goal – the striving toward the good. And it is this striving that gives a man meaning.

Lady Philosophy declares evil to be unhappiness, weakness and non-existence. Since all things seek out the good (the natural desire contained in all human beings), then evil is the failure to attain the good, the failure to fulfill the natural desire for good, because of weakness or ignorance. The result is suffering.

But how can a good man also suffer? Lady Philosophy suggests that injustice is ultimately fleeting. It only appears that good men suffer, because the human perception of things is always limited and therefore provisional.

Indeed, it is justice that ultimately pervades, which is part of the eternal good. Just as all things work toward the good, so do all things work toward justice; and thereupon do all our concepts of harmony and order depend.

Here, too, Lady Philosophy places freedom of the will – human beings do know that things will come to a conclusion, but they cannot know for certain what, or when, this conclusion may be.

the good man always yearns to do good, no matter what that might entail

However, this argument has limitations in that Lady Philosophy does not fully explain how freedom is to be used and what it is for. But then that is not really her objective, for she must console a condemned man, and more importantly she must give meaning to the necessity of his death.

Because legality is also morality, Lady Philosophy assures the prisoner Boethius that existence (which includes suffering) in its entirety is good, and events happen as they must, in order to establish the universal working of the good.

Thus, Boethius is consoled by the idea that he, and his innocence, belong not to worldly injustice, but to eternal and universal justice. His life and unfortunate death are worthy components of the essential goodness of the universe.

It becomes his duty, then, to accept his role, however painful that might be, to become a contributor to eternal goodness:

Therefore stand firm against vice and cultivate virtue. Lift up your soul to worthy hopes…If you will face it, the necessity of virtuous action imposed upon you is very great, since all your actions are done in the sight of a Judge who sees all things (Book V, Prose 6).

In this way, the innocent individual, cut off from family, friends and society, is given meaning, for the good man always yearns to do good, no matter what that might entail:

…since the good is happiness, all good men are made happy by the very fact that they are good. And we have already shown that those who are happy are gods. Therefore, the reward of good men, which time cannot lessen, nor power diminish, nor the wickedness of any man tarnish, is to become gods (IV, Prose 3).

Innocence, therefore, cannot be taken away from the good man. This is true justice, in which Boethius finds his consolation. And this consolation also gives to the suffering that which is always denied the unjust – the highest expression of human worth – that is, dignity.

(The image shows a painting by Aleksander Sochaczewski, “Farewell, Europe!” It dates from 1893).

Review: Battling The Gods. Atheism in the Ancient World

It is the nature of an hypothesis, when once a man has conceived it, that it assimilates everything to itself, as proper nourishment; and, from the first moment of your begetting it, it generally grows the stronger by everything you see, hear, read, or understand (Chapter 1.XLIV). Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy.


Atheism strives to be the next “religion” of the West, as promulgated by its evangelists, who declare God to be a delusion and propound faith in science, which alone embodies everything that people will ever need for life and happiness. Religion, they say, is superstition, which humanity has simply outgrown.

It was Wittgenstein who made a crucial observation in his Tractatus: ““…even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all.”

Science fails whenever humanity needs more than bread to live, which is why people have always held the belief that they are greater than their body, for they have a soul.

Certainly, some have denied this expression and concluded that beyond the physical there is only the unknown.

It was the Greek philosophical tradition which first produced such incredulity and which the Polish scholar, Marek Winiarczyk, spent a lifetime researching, as he built on the foundations laid by both Adolf von Harnack and Anders Bjorn Drachmann.

This philosophical denial is not equivalent to contemporary atheism, however, since known ancient doubters could not abandon transcendence (as expressed in the question of the One and the many). For them, transcendence meant the totality of being outside the self, namely, other people, other creatures, and the entire cosmos (which included the gods).

all strawmen require monolithic simplicity

Thus, ancient doubters could only question, or deny, the totality outside the self – but this is not atheism.

What lay beyond the material realm was never denied. “Nothing escapes the divine,” said the philosopher Epicharmus of Syracuse, and Heraclitus observed, “Human nature has no knowledge; divine nature does.”

The tradition of doubting totality beyond the self begins with the Pre-Socratic philosophers. But while they questioned the traditional (Homeric) structures of belief (the gods), they could not deny transcendence, from which all things were created, including the gods.

In effect, they were speculative thinkers, who sought to get beyond the shortcomings of their polytheism in order to understand the One (the transcendent precondition of the material world).

Indeed, the various gods were an embarrassment to the Greco-Roman philosophers, who had achieved great sophistication of thought, but lived in a culture that worshipped deities that could be no more than wilful human beings.

why does an atheist demand Christian ethics?

These philosophers termed this transcendence the apeiron, or the Undefined, the Unbounded, which guaranteed the existence of all creatures (the many in the material realm).

By way of the Socratic tradition, such understanding veered into the clarity of Judeo-Christian philosophy, whereby the apeiron is God, who is beyond all creation, as necessity, while also being universally present – the first and final cause (as Thomas Aquinas states).

Thus, the Greco-Roman doubters were not atheists in any modern sense of the term (not even the ancient Skeptics), for their doubt was a step towards knowing a greater reality beyond the gods.

In the words of Sextus Empiricus, “the Skeptic does not frame his life as a man according to the doctrine which he professes as a philosopher.” Life cannot be lived by denying the apeiron.

Modern-day atheism, in fact, is deeply grounded in Christianity, for it cannot think beyond the structures that Christianity has established – it can only work to deny them, and thereby establish scientism. Thus, present-day atheism is simply a Christian heresy.

To be specific, atheism has a very clear lineage – Cartesian separatism, Enlightenment libertinism, Hegelian development, Darwinist determinism, Nietzschean will to power, Marxian materialism and idealism, existentialism, fatalism, and the Heideggerian impasse.

This convoluted process may easily be simplified as, nihilism.

Dawkins and his ill-tutored ilk aside, proper atheism is the erasure of the question of God – it is not simply the denial of God for lack of proof (as commonly misunderstood). This means that God is impossible within space and time, because there cannot be a precondition to physical things – the many do not need the One.

In Greco-Roman philosophy, however, the question of the One (God) is never erased – it cannot be erased, because being is impossible without preconditions. Thus, again, there was no atheism in the ancient world.

Tim Whitmarsh argues otherwise in his book, Battling the Gods. Atheism in the Ancient World, by claiming that present-day atheism is the same as “ancient atheism.”

It has to be said at the outset that most chapters of this book read like extended lectures notes, likely thrown in to give girth to an otherwise rather lean output. For example, why is a lengthy geography lesson on the Greek peninsula included, followed by the tedium of a crash course in the entire breadth of the history of ancient Greece? Indeed, what do the Minoans and the Macedonians have to do with atheism?

moral excellence through wisdom

The book seems like some twenty-page academic journal article puffed up into a full-blown book.

Whitmarsh is a professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, who self-identifies as “fiercely secular,” and as a “New Atheist: “Is there any synagogue, mosque or church where the ideas of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris are expounded seriously and constructively?”

(Whitmarsh fails to mention why such explanations would be serious and constructive, or even necessary, since none of his three “saints” can hold a candle to Maimonides, Avicenna, let alone the sublime Thomas Aquinas).

The context in which Whitmarsh writes his book is postmodernism, which is the precondition to universities nowadays.

Among many other things, postmodernism (properly, poststructuralism) denies expertise, while privileging opinions, since truth and values do not exist. Consequently, history can only be spin, a rhetorical exercise, to display style, preference, choice, or a political posture. Herein lies Whitmarsh’s strength.

To be fair, Whitmarsh does admit early on that notions of atheism are markedly absent in antiquity, and only in some instances of Greek thought does doubt about the gods arise.

But Whitmarsh wants to service several agendas with his book. one being that atheism is “a human rights issue: it is about recognizing atheists as real people, deserving of respect, tolerance, and the opportunity to live their lives unmolested.”

Who knew that atheists were not considered “real” human beings?

More importantly, how is it that a devout atheist is advocating for human rights? This might have led to some interesting insights, but Whitmarsh has none to offer. Nor can he explain where these rights will come from, and who will guarantee them worldwide, so that they may be freely dispensed in aid of beleaguered atheists.

(What manner of hubris is it that allows authors to imagine that their words will actually save people, or feed people, or even stop some imagined oppression dead in its tracks now that their book has seen print? Vade retro me, Satana).

Both “respect” and “tolerance” are part of Christian morality; they are hardly vanguards of atheistic expedience. Why does a fervent atheist demand Christian ethics? Whitmarsh seems unaware of the contradiction he is invoking.

Another agenda is the lament for the vanishing interest in things classical. Whitmarsh is likely just flummoxed because he cannot justify the subject that he teaches, which has zero utility in the kind of atheistic society he wants to create.

The best he can come up with is the vague notion that by studying the Classics, people will know where ideas like atheism come from (which certainly serves as a handy justification for his own book).

rhetorical “victory” over Christianity

But why is knowing the origin of atheism, or any idea, important to anyone trying to earn an honest living in this harried world? The book offers no clues.

Whitmarsh might have wanted to look deeply into why he teaches what he does in a post-Christian context. Why does an atheist decry the absence of value, in a world made empty of meaning by atheistic postmodernism? He seems not to know that as an atheist he can only advocate skill and never wisdom (which is morality, which is guaranteed by God), techne over Sophia.

Atheism cannot offer values, because the minute you start demanding values (rights), you are demanding God (foe whom courts and politicians are a very poor substitute).

Values lead us into moral natural law, and that brings us back to a Creator who actually loves us enough to ingrain in us a code of decency, and we therefore treat others decently as well.

Education used to be about guiding people towards moral excellence through wisdom, the consequence of which was the good society, as first pinpointed by the Greeks and later embodied in Christianity (hence the creation of schools by the Church). In such a Christian system, the study of the Classics imparted the ethical eloquence of civilization.

Thus, Whitmarsh simply leans upon the “simulacra of morality” (in the words of Alasdair MacIntyre) to demand nothing.

It was Nietzsche who pertinently observed that nihilism is marked by the inability to answer the question, “Why?”

Skills education is ultimately about creating complaint workers for vanishing industries, a process in which the Humanities (especially arcane subjects like Greek and Latin) can play no role whatsoever.

After much grumbling, Whitmarsh finally launches into his real (and rather divergent) agendas:

  • That twenty-first century atheism is Greco-Roman in origin;
  • That “monotheism” is genetically violent;
  • That “polytheism” was tolerant and peaceful;
  • That Christianity, as monotheism, is violent, as well as fraudulent and power-hungry, and it destroyed the tolerant, pacific world of antiquity.

Tackling all this requires Whitmarsh to be an anthropologist, sociologist, classicist, historian, philosopher, theologian, and literary critic. Needless to say, therefore, errors and confusion abound, as Whitmarsh argues with a sledgehammer, to misuse a Nietzschean trope.

Immediately, terminology poses a stout challenge. “Atheism,” “polytheism,” “monotheism,” “violence,” “tolerance,” “religion” are hardly monolithic, self-evident categories that are readily transposed from the Oxford English Dictionary all the way back to the Greco-Roman world.

In fact, these terms are entirely meaningless, and scholars avoid them, and Whitmarsh’s uncritical use of them sabotages his arguments.

For example, “polytheism” does not mean worshipping lots of gods, as Whitmarsh assumes.

Rather, ancient belief systems blended pantheism, pandeism, henotheism, panentheism, along with magic, shamanism, ancestor-worship, natural science, music, dance (such as, the maze-dance, or the cult-dance), and psychology, as evidenced by the Greek mystery cults and Mithraism.

In fact, ancient belief was always a mixture of expectation, desire, hope, and the urge for well-being.

As for the term, “atheism” itself – since Whitmarsh does not define it, he therefore confuses it with Greco-Roman skepticism, pessimism, pragmatism, cynicism, atomism, syncretism and gnoseology – all of which, in turn, encompass much variety.

Thus, Whitmarsh’s reductive methodology is blind to complexity. Indeed, complexity would destroy the various strawmen that he needs in order to further his agendas – all strawmen, it would appear, require the simplicity of monoliths.

In fact, since polytheism was so multifaceted, the very idea of atheism is irrelevant in the ancient world.

Because Whitmarsh fails to define what he means by “ancient atheism,” he assumes that there is an unchanging “essence” to “atheism” which persists through time and space (a very theist notion in itself).

He tries to overcomes this deficiency with awkward sweeping summaries: “[Thucydides’] History can reasonably be claimed to be the earliest surviving atheistic narrative of human history;” and, “as a rule, Greek religion had very little to say about morality and the nature of the world.”

This all just Pelion piled on Ossa.

More to the point, Greek philosophy perfectly understood the paradox of unbelief as belief – which means that the material world was deemed unimportant and therefore subject to unbelief, while belief in the immaterial was unquestioned.

In fact, unbelief led to belief in the immaterial – this is why Plato says that the material world is not real. “Knowledge is the joining of the act of knowing and the soul,” explains the sophist Lycophron.

Although Greek philosophy could do without the gods, it could not do without the apeiron, which Plato would name, the Great Architect (the Demiurge), and Aristotle would call Pure Form, or the Unmoved Mover – and which Christianity came to call, God.

Even, Carneades (whom Whitmarsh uses as his ancient atheist poster-child), when he says that the Demiurge is unknowable, is not being an “atheist,” but is simply expressing the limit of human reason – his real doubt is in the ability of both sense and reason to comprehend and explain the immaterial. This is hardly atheism – and Carneades’ subtlety entirely escapes Whitmarsh. The limitation of the mind does not lead to the impossibility of God.

Thus it is not surprising to find more pointless generalities: “The search was on [in ancient Athens] for nonsupernatural causes for pretty much everything.” (Further instances would be tedious to quote).

Actually, much of what we know of the workings of reason in the Greek world contradicts Whitmarsh’s statement, because the Greeks were very careful to distinguish between all learning (causes), or polymathie, and intelligence, or noos, and the role of both in reason.

Again the words of Heraclitus will serve to correct Whitmarsh: “Wisdom is one thing, but to understand the purpose which guides all, through all things.”

The material world cannot exist without purpose (transcendence) – i.e., God.

Further, in an attempt to summarize Democritus, Whitmarsh concludes, “the fact that our world is as is is the result not of an integrated design in the universe but of luck.”

(Such awkward syntax is a “nervous tick” throughout the book, evident whenever Whitmarsh veers into unfamiliar territory. The many hats he has forced himself to wear tend not to fit too well).

Unwieldy sentences aside, Whitmarsh thoroughly misunderstands Democritus. Atoms had size, shape and position (in other words, purpose – precisely an “integrated design”), and because of this purpose, atoms were enabled, predetermined, to construct material things (very much like Legos, which are “designed” for shape, for things).

This is why Democritus advocated the importance of physis (the soul), which gives the body its purpose. He never denied its existence.

the Bible is part of ancient Greek literature

Thus, atoms were part of the apeiron’s (God’s) ability to create. As for luck, Democritus corrects Whitmarsh in this way – “Fools are shaped by the gifts of luck.”

It is curious indeed that Whitmarsh resorts to half-truths and outright half-baked claims to convince his hapless readers – while consistently failing to address the far more important paradox in Greek philosophy – why unbelief could never become a rigorous and codified system of thought, and why therefore only brief instances of individualized unbelief survive – and these cannot be cobbled into some sort of grand narrative of “ancient atheism.”

In fact, all Greco-Roman thinkers fall into the “believers” category. Hence the inherent, likely unwitting, contradiction in the very title of the book. If one is “battling the gods,” then the gods exist, and “ancient atheism” therefore does not.

This might well have been a focused, and much shorter, compendium of expressions of doubt in Greco-Roman thought (although Whitmarsh is unable to add anything of value to Winiarczyk’s excellent work).

However, “ancient atheism” is simply a means to a greater agenda – the final debunking of Christianity, which Whitmarsh energetically pursues by way of the now familiar modus operandi – questionable scholarship.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with a vigorous and intelligent critique of Christianity, but Whitmarsh can muster neither.

Instead, borrowing the logic of the middling conspiracy theorist, he sets out to “reveal” what has been hidden and suppressed by conniving Christians for two millennia (surely, the time has at last come to put such “revelations” out to pasture, since they are now meaningless).

Next, Christianity is declared to be inherently violent because it is monotheistic, and then charged with bringing untold suffering into a happy, tolerant, polytheistic Mediterranean world.

polytheism had nothing to offer

Here, Whitmarsh adheres to the simulacra of scholarship by uncritically accepting Jan Assmann’s peculiar notion that monotheism is inherently violent.

This is, of course, all warmed-over Freud, who first set up the misleading dichotomy of a violent monotheism (Judeo-Christianity) opposing a tolerant polytheism..

Both Freud and Assmann needed this hypothetical dualism to make sense of Nazi atrocities within the context of German culture, and both cared little for historical fact, which is why Assmann could conclude that the Holocaust was ultimately a creation of the Jews themselves, since they brought monotheism into the world (a claim that he now disavows).

Like Freud, Assmann is a good “novelist.” Whitmarsh, on the other hand, in not. He simply accepts all of Assmann’s ruminations about matters psychological – as Gospel truth.

The result is a caricature of not only the Greeks and the Romans, but of Christians and Christianity, whereby polytheism is held up to be tolerant and peaceful, while Christianity (because it is monotheistic) is declared to be intolerant and violent.

Whitmarsh’s opining is easily dismantled by the idea of love in Christian philosophy and theology – where love is a universal and universalizing principle that embraces not only friend but also foe; that responds to hatred with compassion; that seeks humility and the ceaseless surrender of the self for the benefit of others. Love is the highest, and the only, form of morality that the world needs.

(Whitmarsh might have done well to put aside his ideological blinkers and contemplatively read Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, in its entirety, not just the more famous Chapter 13. Curiously enough, Whitmarsh avoids the New Testament and the entire Christian tradition. Both would make for a very poor strawman).

Logic firmly declares that there can only be one truth – not several. And the truth is very simple – Greco-Roman polytheism was unable to counter Christianity’s deeper philosophy and more cogent theology. In other words, polytheism had nothing to offer to counter Christian love.

the ethical eloquence of civilization

As for the matter of Christian exclusivism, Whitmarsh does not to want to understand another simple concept – Christianity offered the Greco-Roman world what it lacked – a better, greater morality.

Syncretism is never a strength, but a weakness – because it means that there is no developed method of discernment that can separate right from wrong. Christianity provided a mature ability to discern what is good and what is bad, what it real and what is not, what is true and what is false – all through the lens of love.

Next, Whitmarsh sets out to “prove” both his caricatures (violent Christianity vs. peaceful polytheism) as true. Facts easily derail him, however.

Violence was deeply embedded in the pagan world, as expressed in the rituals of animal – and human – sacrifice. Thus, the gladiatorial shows were more than entertainment – they were the munera (our word, “money” comes from this term); that is, blood offerings to the spirits of ancestors.

Child sacrifice also was endemic throughout the ancient Mediterranean, with the tophets in North Africa and the Levant (as shown by the work of Robert M. Kerr, and others), while child exposure was the norm (the victims were often female infants).

War itself could only be undertaken if religiously sanctioned. Thus politics and religion were never separate, as evidenced by the Sacred Wars of the Greeks.

Further, the fetial priests of the Romans gave religious affirmation to violence on the battlefield, through divine law (the fas), as blood-offering to the spirit (genius) of the nation.

All violence in ancient pagan societies, therefore, required religious permission in order to negate ritual pollution. Christianity alone put an end to the necessity and logic of blood sacrifices.

Whitmarsh further claims that the ancient Greeks had neither the concept of, nor a word for, “sin,” since they had no divine laws to transgress, unlike the Christians.

Love is the highest form of morality

It is obvious that Whitmarsh conveniently chooses to ignore the concept of the nomos (tradition) among the Greeks, and the ius naturale (innate, natural law which all people obey) of the Romans.

To bolster his claim, he declares that, as a result, Christians had to “invent” a word for “sin” when they “translated” their Bible. This “invented” Greek word, he says, is aliterios.

This is wilful deception at best.

In fact, aliterios is never used in the New Testament. It is only found four times in the Book of the Maccabees (2 Mc. 12:23, 13:4, 14:42, and 3 Mc. 3:16). It is an obscure word in an Apocryphal work (in the Protestant tradition), which hardly makes it crucial to the entire Christian theology of sin.

Further, aliterios does not mean “sin,” but a “miserable person,” a “wretch” in the context of Maccabees.

And aliterios is not a “translation” from anywhere but is found in the Septuagint, which was originally written in Greek by native speakers.

Thus, aliterios was not “invented” by Christians, since the authors of the Septuagint were Hellenized Jews, living in Alexandria, in the third century BC, and therefore writing in their own language (Greek).

Further, aliterios is hardly unique to the Book of the Maccabees; it is found elsewhere in non-biblical sources. Whitmarsh can easily look it up in his Liddell and Scott Greek Lexicon.

What Whitmarsh does not tell his readers is that the normal Greek word for “sin” throughout the Bible is hamartia, and the Greeks (like all humanity) knew what sin was – the transgression of divine law – otherwise, why would Oedipus stab out his eyes in ritualized penance?

There are eight other words for sin in ancient Greek, which are also found in the Old and New Testaments. Indeed, the Bible is very much part of ancient Greek literature, a fact Whitmarsh chooses to ignore, or does not care to know, because it is inconvenient to his agenda.

As well, Whitmarsh frequently asserts that Christians “translated” their Bible. By repeating this prevarication, he only displays his own nescience.

all Pelion piled on Ossa

How could the Bible be “translated” into Greek when it was entirely written in that language, by native speakers?

There are many other such deceptions, and it would be over-kill to catalogue them all.

Whitmarsh next reaches into some obscure corners, namely, the Circumcellion rebellion in North Africa, in the fourth century AD, to keep his violent-Christianity narrative chugging along.

His overwrought “proof,” however, only demonstrates an inability to differentiate hostility as a literary trope from actual bloodshed (he points to sermons and hymns as evidence of Christian violence).

Further, he downplays the political and social causes of this rebellion which had little to do with religion and everything to do with economics. The result is a confusion of the history of ideas (hymns and sermons) as the history of facts (economics).

In fact, we know very little about the Circumcellions. Therefore, disparate data is often thrown together to form some sort of coherent narrative, which suits Whitmarsh’s purpose well.

The fourth century was a complex period in North Africa, with Berbers, Romans and Vandals vying with each other. As well, each of these groups practiced a different form of Christianity. Thus, there were always “Christianities,” rather than “Christianity” (as is the case today). But such complexity simply gets in the way of Whitmarsh’s reductive strategy. Monoliths are easier to rail at.

Next, Whitmarsh sets out to demonstrate that Christians lied their way into becoming the “winners” of history and therefore the suppressors of truth – because one writer (Candida Moss) says so. He does not tell us why he believes Moss’s argument to be true, since it has been effectively dismantled.

He persists with the logic of the conspiracy theorist by holding firm to the vapid notion that “winners write history.”

Therefore, Whitmarsh can only repeat Moss’s casuistic conclusion that the persecution and martyrdom of Christians in the Roman world is a myth, purposefully contrived to win sympathy and facilitate the takeover of the Roman Empire. Neither Whitmarsh nor Moss provide actual documentary evidence for this early Christian contrivance.

Nor can they answer the question as to how sympathy possibly leads to political and territorial acquisition (no doubt, many a would-be politician would pay good cash-money for such knowledge).

a caricature of Christians and Christianity

Again, the history of facts undermines Moss and thereby Whitmarsh. Persecution of Christians was frequent and grim at the local, communal level – and it was sporadic and far bloodier at the imperial level.

The Romans had no police force and thus neighborhoods ruled themselves; and it is within such small, self-regulated communities that many of the martyrdoms occurred.

On the imperial level, being a Christian was a capital offence, as Pliny and the Emperor Trajan very clearly state, because Christians refused to honor, through sacrifice, the pax deorum, the “peace of the gods,” which involved offering incense to the spirit (genius) of the Roman Empire, in the person of the emperor.

This offering defined “Roman-ness” because it was said to protect against the forces of chaos that might beset the entire state. These sacrifices were meant to ensure social, cultural and political stability.

The refusal of Christians to participate in this religious practice made them atheists in the eyes of the Romans and therefore dangerous and subject to the death penalty – because their refusal to participate in sacrifices would mean upsetting the cosmic balance of human duty to the gods – and in turn the gods would refuse their duty of keeping chaos at bay.

This might have indicated to Whitmarsh that “atheists” were hardly tolerated by his caricatured polytheists. Enforcement of the law by imperial decree against Christians was haphazard, but when enacted, resulted in systematic persecution and executions.

Thus, Whitmarsh’s entire book becomes a parody of scholarship, since his interest is not historical fact, but some version of rhetorical “victory” over Christianity.

First, he casts Christianity in the role of the wretched Other, then he proceeds to vilify, deride and misrepresent it by all means possible in order to “prove” the superiority of his own faith, atheism, as romanticized and idolized in his caricature of Greco-Roman paganism.

In the process, the “fiercely secular” Whitmarsh readily dispenses with truth (as a postmodernist, he does not need it) – and his various claims therefore are nothing more than spin in order to win a contest between his cause (atheism) and its opponent (Christianity).

Johann Fichte and Ludwig Feuerbach  elaborated an important psychological trait of the modern world – autotheism. Thus atheism is ultimately autotheism, the endless veneration of the self as god. This is the greatest attraction of Whitmarsh’s religion, and his book, therefore, is nothing but a selfie.

Tim Whitmarsh, Battling the Gods. Atheism in the Ancient World. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015, 290 pp., $27.95 hc.

[The photo is of “The Last Day of Pompeii,” by Karl Briullov, painted: 1880-1833]

Agony Of The West

Being rooted is perhaps the most important and the least understood need of the human soul. (Simone Weil, L’enracinement)


The West has arrived at an impasse, which may be summarized by a simple question – how is it to exist? For many decades, the ritual of sparagmos has been enacted, a relentless tearing apart of the living body itself.

This sundering is deemed urgent and necessary by present-day Bacchants who, by all thyrsi available (legislative, educational, cultural), busy themselves with destroying Western religion, ideas, history, culture and morality, all of which are despised as “oppressive,” or “regressive.” The rallying cry is, “Progress!” and, of course, “Vae victis!”

Leading the thiasus are “theorists,” such as, Will Kymlicka, who act as maenads that shout out utopic oracles and therefore are much fawned upon by the political elite and various ivory-tower types. Before long, these exclamations become government policy – so that a nation may be made “better” than what its particular history actually created.

The appetite for perpetual social engineering is deep indeed.

the West can no longer say why it should continue to exist

And what do these builders of brave-new worlds envision? A state without history, without culture, without memory – a rootless people, intent on cultivating intensely private worlds wherein they may find that which is lacking in public space.

But why must this be done? Why this self-destruction?  Why is the root of the West deemed noxious?

A gallimaufry of explanations bestir themselves to swirl into some sort of answer. Just take your pick:

  • A kleptocratic globalist elite seeks to strip away the wealth of nations so that it may reign supreme in a new world order. The desire to be the “king of the world” is ancient and potent.
  • A withered Marxism holds sway over the educational and cultural industries, wherewith students and citizens are trained and conditioned to be rootless and nationless, for the benefit of ideologues.
  • A feminized culture that cannot think past modes of nurturing, so there are only winners, never any losers – all goaded by a feminism that is openly allied with radical Islam.
  • A militant secularism hell-bent on destroying all vestiges of Christianity to usher in a new age.
  • A frenzied technocracy which ceaselessly designs highly complex gadgets to entertain and divert simpler and simpler minds, thus ensuring itself of limitless growth. This machine MAKES fascists, because an unthinking population is the most compliant.
  • A heady self-deification (selfism) which is packaged as “freedom” or “rights,” and which therefore cannot separate hedonism from responsibility.
  • Large geopolitical players who are eager to flex muscle and use cash to recruit pliant henchmen (i.e., politicians) to make geographical room for all their ambitions.

There are no moderates, sides must be chosen.

Torn asunder by such assaults, the West can no longer say why it should continue to exist. Its root, its meaning used to be Christianity, where personal morality and public virtue converged to fashion a civilization that others envied.

an unthinking population is the most compliant

Western reality now stands emptied of meaning – and thus virtual reality reigns supreme, where individuals are “free” to cut-and-paste whatever meaning their whims invoke, for they have been taught to believe that reality is fluid and choice is king – “life is what you make it.”

This leaves only two real possibilities for the West.

Either it dies off and disappears and lets others take over (needless to say, the cultures of these others do not have a good track record when it comes to building societies that are the envy of the world).

Or, sparagmos can lead to resurrection, a renaissance, where the culture of the West may be recovered – and its root (Christianity) may again be nurtured.

How is this to be done?

Certainly not through politics, which has decayed into a sport, where team loyalty pits one citizen against another, and winning by all means is key. Thus, politicians by nature have evolved into creatures without vision, who exist solely to have a go at the levers of power so they can then retire with burgeoning bank-accounts (see above re: geopolitical players).

Certainly not through education which long ago abandoned truth and is now nothing more than a warehousing facility for the young (extended daycare centers) in the grand debacle that is the state trying to raise people’s children. Thus, a degree now means knowing which correct beliefs to spout, and which correct political posture to espouse. Merit and wisdom were the first casualties.

Certainly not by way of the family which has been effectively dismantled (hence the mindlesspronoun wars”), where parents are “friends,” who exist solely to please their progeny; and as the kids grow older, the greater grows the fear of these parents, lest they be unfriended.

And certainly not through churches (especially the mainline Protestant kind), which belong in the thiasus, for they eagerly negotiated away all their core doctrines – and now stand for nothing at all. In the process, these churches transformed their flock into heathenish Bacchants, lest they be deemed “regressive” in the eyes of the world. The Founder of the church himself made this pertinent observation – you cannot serve two masters. The churches have chosen which side their bread is buttered on.

In other words, institutions of any kind are incapable of saving the West from itself because these institutions are themselves the enablers of its destruction – annihilation is never chaotic; it is systematic, meticulous and thorough, and always initiated and sustained by well-run institutions.

annihilation is never chaotic; it is systematic, meticulous and thorough

This leaves only one avenue – the piecemeal winning of minds by valiant men and women who must recoup those good ideas which created the West (Christianity at all costs).

But such work is treacherously slow, for it involves the process of conversion – where bad ideas must be replaced with good ideas. And this can only be done one bad idea at a time, one possessed soul at a time, one confused brain at a time.

How can life be good without good ideas?

And there is no guarantee of success, since the destruction by the Bacchants is so total and there may not be any living root left to nurture into new growth. Perhaps the seed must be planted anew.

And yet, even if one mind is converted, the conversion of many more becomes possible, and Western civilization may yet hope to sprout into the good sunlight of truth.

But let us not be fooled. There are many dark days ahead and much failure; the proverbial, “Blood, sweat and tears.”

We shall first have to witness the self-desired destruction of Western civilization. And then, like busy tillers and sowers, we must clear away the rubble, lay out the vineyard and husband what remains of the vines – or plant new ones.

Perhaps the time truly has come for the West to die, a time for the dead wood to be lopped off and burned – so its civilization may be planted in truer, richer soil. Without death, there can be no resurrection.

To paraphrase a famous admonition – what has it profited the West, that it gained the whole world and yet lost its soul?


[Photo credit: J. Struthers]

The Left And The Right Are Dead – Finally!

The left and the right originated in 1789, on the eve of the French Revolution. The members of the National Assembly began to congregate on separate sides of the Legislative Assembly.

Those who sought liberal reform and the decentralization of political power sat on the left of the assembly, while the opposing camp gave their sympathies to the King, and sat to the right.

But can we still imagine the left united by a desire to bring down big government, and save the individual from the crushing weight of the Leviathan? Is it possible to recall the right’s collective desire to protect the people from themselves?

No man descends into the same assembly twice, and we are left asking ourselves if there is anything consistently sacred to the right or the left?

Both are hardly recognizable from their origins. Throughout their history, the left and right could not really be divided because of their stance on civil rights, war, religion, or even economics.

The contemporary view of the left as the defender of civil rights is not substantiated by their history. Far from being rooted in a long-standing tradition, the left had often countered the struggle of civil rights movements.

Rather, it was the Republicans who liberated the slaves and gave them the vote, not the Democrats.

If socialism is the defining feature of the left, then the left is dead

It was almost a century later that the left took up the cause of the blacks in America, in The Civil Rights Act of 1964. Even women’s suffrage was the result of the Republican agenda. The Dixiecrats of the left understood themselves as the moral defenders; hence, they resisted the change of the social order.

It was not until the Obama administration, that a Democratic President openly backed gay rights. Thus, the political adoption of such rights by the left is a novelty and by no means a central dogma of leftist thought.

Further, the left and the right can hardly be differentiated by their allegiance to civil rights. Considering that the left is united by various rights agendas, arguably more so than the “socialism” they halfheartedly support, their past seems so far behind them.

It is hard now to imagine the identity-politics-driven left not opposing anything that might trigger someone. This is all the more reason to remember that civil rights were hardly a leftist cause. Thus, rights may be dropped by the left as easily as they were picked up by them.

The perception of the left as peaceful and the right as warlike is also an illusion. Historically, the left has been just as willing to beat the war drum. It was the Democrats that rallied America into both World Wars, contrary to the contemporary perception of the party as doves.

America’s favorite pastimes – bombing countries into democracy

The notion of the right as the party of hawks is a legacy of the Cold War, since they were the antithesis of the Communist menace.

Besides the fact that Hillary, Kerry, Biden, and other prominent Democrats voted for the invasion of Iraq in 2002, the left has eagerly taken up one of America’s favorite pastimes – bombing countries into democracy.

Both the left and the right are possessed by the idea that if they bomb away some Middle Eastern regime, then little “westernizers” will come out of the ruins and joyfully establish a democracy. The bombing is too familiar, but the democracy never seems to follow.

In fact, once the smoke clears, we find only two major factions: militant remnants of the old regime and Islamic radicals, not pro-Western Democrats. Libya knows this story all too well.

What remains is demagoguery and political opportunism

And as the bombing continues, its plain to see that neither the left nor the right cares for peace more than the other.

As for religion, once again there is no central divide. Although the left was secular from the start, and is perceived to be such still, it has also been avowedly Christian. Remember that is was the South, the Southern Baptist Bible Belt, which stood as the fortress of the left in America.

The reason why this Democratic stronghold became Republican was because President Ronald Reagan appealed to their moral conservatism.

In the 1980s, Reagan swayed the morally conservative Democrats, known as the Boll weevils, into the arms of the laissez-faire Republican Party. Thus, neo-conservatives grew out of both the right and the left.

Moreover, with evangelical Ted Cruz getting booed off stage for telling people to vote their conscience during the Trump campaign, it is no surprise that the right is distancing itself from Christ, their favorite hippie. In fact, it was Clinton who ended her concession speech quoting scripture.

As the left and right keep forsaking their religious orientations, it’s easy to see that not much remains sacred. The divide is almost indistinguishable when both are viewed through the eyes of the Almighty, i.e., the U.S. Dollar.

The Red Scare of the 1950s has its roots in liberals seeking to purge away socialists

Perhaps one of the greatest differences between the left and the right is their perceived socialist and capitalist orientation.

In the words of Gore Vidal, “there is only one party in the United States, the Property Party…and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats, who are cuter, prettier, a bit more corrupt – until recently…and more willing than the Republicans to make small adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand. But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties.”

Throughout the history of the United States, the liberal left aided the right in purging away socialism from its ranks. The left’s relationship with socialism picks up at the turn of the century.

Remember that the Democrats did not have the best reputation towards slaves or labor, but they began to find allies amongst the industrial workers in their struggle against the party of big business. They were not the loudest saber- rattlers against the capitalist menace; the socialists and anarchists were.

Instead of getting along in their struggle against big business, the groups descended into fighting each other for power over the labor movements. Liberal reformers sought to oust socialists from within their ranks, and they continued to do so throughout U.S. history.

This is all the more reason to remember that civil rights were hardly a leftist cause

In early labor struggles, liberals often sold out the socialists amongst them. The Red Scare of the 1950s has its roots in liberals seeking to purge away socialists.

As usual, the liberal (Hillary Clinton) who stiff-armed the socialist (Bernie Sanders) was on the pay roll of the U.S. Capitalist elite. Since Clinton obtained her funds from banks like, J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, and Goldman Sachs, then is she really a socialist?

Real socialism (whatever that might be) is not likely to come from the Democrats. If socialism is the defining feature of the left, then the left is dead.

Contemporary “socialism,” therefore, is an illusion which has forgotten what it really was.

Socialism is a metaphor, entirely worn out, and without sensuous power; a coin which has lost both its sides and now is only metal. The truth is both the left and the right only really answer to crony capitalism.

Ultimately, there is nothing really separating the “left” and the “right.” What remains is demagoguery and political opportunism.

It must now be time to transcend this false dichotomy and build something new from its ashes. Just as Nietzsche saw beyond the moral dichotomy of his day, we must see past the political dichotomy of ours.

Remember, a group of men also stood above the left-right divide of the revolutionary French Legislative Assembly who, like Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, were men of the mountain.

Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their mark
Made everything from toy guns that spark
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It’s easy to see without looking too far
That not much is really sacred
While preachers preach of evil fates
Teachers teach that knowledge waits
Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
Goodness hides behind its gates
But even the president of the United States
Sometimes must have to stand naked.
(Bob Dylan, “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding”)


[The photo is of a political cartoon by Isaac Cruikshank, from 1792, showing Thomas Paine and Joseph Priestley, plotting murder and mayhem].