Philosophy As Ecstatic Vision: Vladimir Solovyov

If, after plodding through page after dense page of some philosophic text, say, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, or Schopenhauer’s expanded 1844 version of The World as Will and Representation, you find yourself wondering bitterly why philosophers can’t seem to express their views in a more condensed and lively fashion, or—even more heretically—why philosophers tend to be such, well… tedious personages with no sense of humour and such boring lives, you simply haven’t come across Vladimir Solovyov (1853-1900).

Solovyov (his last name has been transliterated into English in a variety of ways) was a philosophical and literary heavyweight in 19th-century Russia, whose views on contemporary life were eagerly sought out by the press, and whose ideas had an enormous impact not only on other Russian philosophers, but also on such giants of Russian literature as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (Solovyov became close friends with the latter in the late 1870s),  and on the entire movement of the Russian Symbolist poets.

Solovyov is still largely unknown in the West, though lately he has been more prominent on the Western cultural radar, due to the efforts of such scholars and translators as Judith Deutsch Kornblatt.

Solovyov was born in Moscow, into a devoutly Orthodox family of well-known intellectuals—his father was an eminent historian and a rector of Moscow University, and his many siblings included writers, poets, and artists.

Solovyov had a spiritual bent as a young child (he used to throw off his bedcovers and shiver “for the glory of the Lord”) and loved imaginative games.

In his early teens, he became a trouble-maker and hell-raiser, impersonating the Antichrist to frighten the peasants at the family country estate.

Around that time, he experienced a crisis of faith that lasted until his early university years, during which he enraged his usually placid father by throwing the icons out of his bedroom.

Throughout it all, he remained an excellent student and finished school with a gold medal, after which he enrolled at the University of Moscow. He vacillated between the Historical and Philological Faculty and the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics, finally graduating from the former in 1873.

His ultimate choice was apparently influenced by a chance encounter with a young woman on a train, during which he experienced a vision of a spiritual entity in female form that reminded him of a similar vision that he had had as a child.

He identified his vision as the glorious revelation of Sophia—the Eternal FeminineDivine WisdomHokhmah, as she is known in various esoteric traditions.

Profoundly shaken and inspired to re-connect with his Orthodox heritage, Solovyov moved to the district of Sergiev Posad, close to the famous male monastery, and audited courses offered at the Moscow Theological Academy (where the Russian Orthodox Church educated its priests and theological scholars).

Solovyov went on to write a thesis for a Master of Philosophy degree, titled The Crisis of Western Philosophy Against the Positivists, (1874), in which he criticised Western philosophy as an artifact that had outlived its usefulness, attacked Positivists from a Slavophile position, and argued for a new synthesis based on religious principles.

The defense of the thesis in St. Petersburg generated a spirited debate in the press, attracting the attention of Leo Tolstoy, among others.  After the defense, he was invited to remain at the Historical and Philological Faculty as a Docent, the equivalent of an assistant professor, to deliver a series of lectures at the University of Moscow, and to give lectures at the famous Moscow Courses for Women.

Although he was enthusiastic about taking up his duties as a Docent, he soon applied to do research in London’s British Museum, in order to study Indian, Gnostic, and Medieval philosophy.

In London, Solovyov studied the Kabbalah and various occult subjects (despite his mystical yearnings he was level-headed enough to recognize that Spiritism, to which he was introduced in London, was utter quackery).

After experiencing another ecstatic vision of the Sophia in the Museum, he abruptly decided to travel to Egypt, where he claimed he experienced yet another revelation of Sophia in the desert.

He lived in Italy and France for a while, and then returned to Russia. He resumed his duties at the University of Moscow, but then got fed-up with university politics and moved to St. Petersburg in 1877.

There, he became a member of the Learned Committee in the Ministry of National Education (he characterized the meetings he attended as “deadly boring and endlessly stupid, but, thankfully, infrequent”); he also lectured at the University of St. Petersburg, while writing his PhD thesis.

It was in St. Petersburg that Solovyov became close friends with Fyodor Dostoevsky, who would base the character of at least one of the Karamazov brothers on Solovyov (Dostoevsky’s widow felt that the subtle thinker Ivan Karamazov was modeled on Solovyov, and there is a persistent tradition that the earnest and boyish Alyosha Karmazov was also inspired by him).

In 1880, Solovyov defended his doctoral thesis titled The Critique of Abstract Principles, in which he continued his critique of the western philosophical traditions and argued that the real goal of philosophy is to define the meaning of human life and human activity, which it can do only after it determines the nature of existing reality.

He delivered and published a number of important lectures, including his Lectures on Godmanhood (1878-1881)—attended by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and other notables.  He continued as a Docent rather than as a full professor, because his relationship with the Dean of the university soured for a variety of reasons.

He had to leave academia entirely after the assassination of Alexander II, when he gave a speech arguing that Alexander III should show Christian forgiveness and mercy to the murderers of his father, commuting death penalties for exile in Siberia.

After leaving academia, Solovyov finally spread his wings as a philosopher and a writer, writing countless articles in the main journals of the day, travelling, giving public lectures, publishing a number of seminal works—some of them in French—about the ultimate destiny of Russia and mankind.

These included: Russia and the Universal Church [1889]; The General Meaning of Art [1990]; The Meaning of Love [1894]—which inspired Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata; The Spiritual Foundations of Life [1897]; Three Conversations about War, Progress and the End of World History [1900]; Tale of the Antichrist [1900].

Uncharacteristically for a philosopher, almost all of these works are highly readable, possibly because many of them originated as lectures and retain the gesture of the spoken word, and also because Solovyov had a pronounced sense of humour.

In fact, Solovyov began one of his first lectures by defining man not as a “social creature but as a laughing creature”—and all his friends testify in their memoirs that he loved to laugh and that he laughed at every opportunity.

His ability to poke fun not only at the things he held precious but at himself is probably one of his most endearing characteristics.  Here, for instance, is a joking epitaph that he wrote for himself:

Vladimir Solovyov lies buried in this spot.
Once a philosopher, now he is nought.
Well-liked by some, by others held a foe,
Died in a gorge—mad love has laid him low!
He lost his body and his soul as well.
Dogs ate the former—the latter is in hell…
Oh Passerby, learn well from his wraith,
Of the banefulness of love and the benefits of faith.
(1892; trans. Maria Bloshteyn)

If one had to summarize Solovyov’s beliefs, one could say that he was a mystical optimist, with a firm faith in the imminent arrival of God’s Kingdom, and a no-less firm belief in Russia’s special destiny in bringing God’s Kingdom to the rest of humanity.

The specifics of his ideas were considerably more controversial, and drew the ire of Russians from many different camps. For example, one of his key beliefs was the need for the global unification of the church.

Solovyov regarded the Russian Orthodox Church’s dispute with the Roman Catholic Church as a rift that must be healed (there were persistent rumours that he himself converted to Catholicism)—an idea not welcomed by the Russian Orthodox Church to this day.

He also felt that there was an impending mega-war (possibly correlated with the Gog and Magog war which the Bible promises will occur at the end of days), during which the nations of Europe will have to join up with Russia in order to defend themselves from the Pan-Mongolians.

Unfortunately, that particular idea was accompanied by obnoxious racist attitudes, whereby the Chinese and the Japanese were viewed as the evil non-Christian “Yellow Peril,” who were about to conquer Europe and rule it mercilessly, until the Europeans (and Russians) would join forces, rise up, overthrow the invaders and begin a new harmonious era of world history.

But all these ideas were almost incidental to the main one: His belief in the Divine Sophia, the manifestation of highest Divinity, mankind’s ultimate future, around which all his other ideas revolved. (Parenthetically, the Russian Orthodox Church rejected Solovyov’s notion of the Divine Sophia and declared it heretical).

It was in Sophiology, as Solovyov called it, that he strove to bring together empiricism, rationalism, and mysticism into one grand over-arching system.

Notably, Solovyov’s key philosophic vision was actually expressed by him not in a weighty treatise, but in a long and humorous—although also seriously intended—poem, which is usually translated as “Three Meetings” or “Three Encounters,” but is much more accurately rendered as “Three Rendezvous.”

The Russian word Solovyov uses both for the title and when he describes waiting in Egypt for a sign from Sophia that she is willing to reveal herself to him is svidanie—a rendezvous or even a lovers’ tryst.

There is nothing new about depicting God as the beloved, but when Godhood is envisioned as a woman, a desired woman, no less, a tension arises between the metaphysical and the sensual, which Solovyov explores (and occasionally exploits) in his poem.

He refers to Sophia as his podruga, which can either mean (girl)friend, or beloved/lover. His demands to be shown the “whole of her,” and his insistence that he will not be denied, also acquire a lover’s—not a worshipper’s—urgency.

Lastly, in the author’s note that he appends after the poem, he coyly states that it has appealed to “some poets and some ladies,” seemingly negating the poem’s metaphysical thrust.

Judith Deutsch Kornblatt writes about his “audacious combination of humor and mysticism, of sexuality and sacred vision, of fiction and spiritual truth.” All these are evident in “Three Rendezvous,” a poem that remains both one of Solovyov’s most accessible expressions of his beliefs, and the heart of his philosophic legacy (and poetic legacy as well—the Russian Symbolists adopted Solovyov’s symbol of the Divine Sophia in their many poems and adapted it to their needs, which Solovyov did not appreciate).

Solovyov died at 47. He never married, but he did have a number of strong and passionate attachments mostly, as it turns out, to women named Sophia. He never had a proper home—he stayed with various friends. He was always sickly, but especially so during the last decade of his life.

His visions included much more terrifying subjects than the Divine Sophia:  once, while travelling on a boat around Easter time, Solovyov walked into his cabin only to discover a devil sitting in a corner of the room.

Petrified, Solovyov stammered, “Don’t you know that Christ has risen?” The infuriated devil replied, “Maybe He’s risen, but I’ll get you anyway!” and attacked Solovyov.

The two fought. Solovyov passed out and was discovered only much later, flat on his back.

After this incident, he started to douse himself and his immediate surroundings with turpentine, believing that it kept devils at bay. This liberal and unorthodox use of turpentine is said to be one of the causes of his early death (he was also severely undernourished).

Despite his untimely demise, Solovyov and his legend live on in Russian philosophy and Russian poetry:  A thinker, a visionary, a man with a great sense of humour and a great many biases, a poet and a seeker.

Internationally, Solovyov is remembered for his willingness to reach across religious boundaries and to build roads between entrenched and hostile camps (surely something of lasting relevance).

The late Pope John Paul II called him, “one of the greatest Russian Christian philosophers of the 19th and 20th centuries.”

As a personality, Solovyov struck everyone he met by his earnestness and his openness (traits that attracted Dostoevsky and Tolstoy to him even more than his ideas).

What continues to inspire Solovyov’s readers most is his desire to find the truth, his willingness to search for this truth alone, if need be, and his conviction that eventually the truth will be found, as he wrote in one of his most thrilling poems:

Through morning mist, with steps uncertain,
I set my course to mystic, wondrous shores.
Dawn battled with the last few stars,
Dreams hovered still—and, grasped by dreams,
My soul said prayers to unknown gods.

This cold white day, along a lonely road,
I walk, just as before, across an unknown land.
The mist has lifted and my eyes see clearly
How arduous the alpine track–how distant,
How very distant are the dreams I’ve dreamt.

And unto midnight, with firm steps,
I will keep striding toward longed-for shores,
Where on a mountaintop, beneath new stars,
Ablaze all over with triumphant lights,
My cherished temple stands awaiting me.

(trans. Maria Bloshteyn)


Maria Bloshteyn, PhD, researches Russia and the United States. She is the author of The Making of a Counter-Culture Icon: Henry Miller’s Dostoevsky. She is also a literary translator and has published Alexander Galich’s Dress Rehearsal: A Story in Four Acts and Five Chapters, and Anton Chekhov’s The Prank.  Her translations have appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry.
The photo shows a portrait of Vladimir Solovyov, painted in 1885, by Ivan Kramskoi.

Three Rendezvous: A Poem By Vladimir Solovyov

I triumphed over death ahead of time,
And time itself through love I overcame,
I shall not name You, my Eternal Friend,
But You’ll still heed these reverent strains …

I had no faith in the illusive world,
Yet underneath matter’s coarse shell,
I sensed Your flawless mantle’s glow,
Discerning the Divine that therein dwells.

Hadn’t You thrice revealed Yourself to me?
Not as mind’s fancy, which is best ignored.
My soul cried out, your countenance appeared —
A portent — or an aid — or a reward.



The first time—O, how long ago it was!
Thirty-six years have come and gone since then,
When my child’s soul came all at once to know
Love’s melancholy dreams and anxious pangs.

I was but nine and she…*  was nine as well.
“It was a fine May day in Moscow” to quote Fet.**
I had professed my love.  Dead silence.  Oh, my God!
She loves another!  Ah!  He’ll pay for that!

I’ll duel him right now!!!  Church.  Ascension Mass.”***
Torrents of passion seethe within my soul.
Let us together… cast off… our earthly cares…
The notes expand, grow hushed, then silence falls.

The altar’s open… But where’s priest and deacon?
Where is the crowd of worshippers at prayer?
The streams of passion suddenly run dry.
Sky-blue descends, my soul fills with azure.

Suffused with golden azure, there You stood,
Holding a bloom from climes unknown.
You nodded at me, smiled a radiant smile,
Entered the gathering mist and were gone.

My childish love now seemed an alien thing,
My soul became forever blind to earthly joys.
Our German nanny kept repeating sadly,
“Ach, little Volodya!  Too much a foolish boy!”


*Author’s note:  “She” in the stanza was just an ordinary young lady, and has nothing in common with the “you” to whom the preamble is addressed.

**Afanasy Afanasyevich Fet (1820-1892) was a master of the Russian lyric confessional poem and a close friend of Solovyov from his Moscow university days.

***Church feast that commemorated Jesus’s ascension to Heaven.  According to Russian folk beliefs, the feast concludes a 40 day period when boundaries are dissolved between worlds of the living, the dead, the divine, the mortal, the sinners, and the righteous.



Years passed.  I’ve got my Master’s, I’m a docent.
First time abroad—I’m off on a mad flight!
Berlin, Hannover, and Cologne emerge,
Flash by, and disappear from sight.

I dreamt of neither Paris—world’s great centre,
Nor Spain, nor yet the gaudy glittering East.
My one dream was of the British Museum—
And it didn’t disappoint me in the least.

Could ever I forget that blessed half a year?
I paid no heed to fleeting beauty—here and gone,
To people’s daily lives, passions, or nature,
My soul, the whole of it, was ruled by You alone.

Let human masses scramble about their business,
Amidst the roar of fire-breathing trains,*
Let them erect their giant soulless buildings,
I’m here alone, where sacred silence reigns.

Well, naturally, take that cum grano salis,**
Alone does not mean that I hated man.
Despite my solitude, I still met with some people.
Let’s see:  which of them should I mention then?

A pity that their names won’t fit my meter,
Names, that, one might say, were not unknown;
There were a couple British wonder-workers,
Two or three Moscow docents, far from home.

Still, I was frequently alone when reading,
And (you can think whatever you like) God knows,
That some mysterious powers led me
To everything about Her ever put to prose.

And when, if spurred on by some sinful fancy,
Toward “another genre” of book I’d roam,
Such incidents ensued, that I would often
Have to pick up and, mortified, go home.

Then, once (it happened sometime in the fall),
I told Her, “Oh, Divinity at its height,
I know You’re here, but since that time in childhood
Why hadn’t You revealed Yourself to sight?”

And just as I had thought these words unspoken,
Golden azure enveloped me again,
And right in front of me, I saw Her glimmer,
But just Her face—that’s all I saw back then.

That moment turned into long-lasting joy,
My soul once more grew blind to mundane things,
And if I talked to “sober, serious types,”
My words seemed muddled dumb imaginings.


*Literally, the Russian phrase can be translated as “fire-breathing machines” but in the 19th-century, “fire-breathing machines” was a byword used to describe trains.

**“With a grain of salt” (Latin).



I told Her then, “You had revealed Your face,
But how I yearn to see the whole of You…
What You did not begrudge a child,
Denying a young man just wouldn’t do!”

“Go forth to Egypt,” a voice within resounded.
I must reach Paris then! –The railway rushed me south.
Reason and feeling never had to argue,
Reason turned idiot and shut its mouth.

From Lyons to Turin, Piacenza, then Ancona,
From Fero to Bari, and then to Brindisi,
And finally a British steamer raced me
Across the quivering blue bosom of the sea.

In Cairo, I found both shelter and credit
At the Abbot Hotel, alas, gone long ago…
A cozy, modest place, the best hotel around!
Russians lodged there—even from Moscow.

The General in room nine cheered all the lodgers
With stories of the Caucasus of yore…
It’d do no harm to name him—he’s long dead,
And I’ll recall just good things, nothing more.

It was the famous Rostislav Fadeev,
Retired war hawk, handy with the pen,
He’d name a strumpet or a church council
with equal ease—a most resourceful man.

Twice daily we‘d meet over the table d’hôte,
He talked a lot and all in cheerful vein—
He’d always have off-coloured jokes at hand
And from philosophizing he would not abstain.

But I awaited my cherished rendezvous.
Then, one still night, it happened:  I could hear
A passing cool breeze whisper to me:
“I’m in the desert, come to meet me there.”

I’d have to walk (neither in London nor Sahara
Does anyone transport young men for free—
Meanwhile, my pockets were completely barren;
Credit alone had been sustaining me).

So one fine day, without funds or provisions,
I set off, like Nekrasov’s Uncle Vlas,*
(Say what you will, but I’ve secured my rhyme now)
Where I was going, I was at a loss.

You must have laughed to see me in the desert:
I donned a tall top hat and overcoat—
I frightened a huge Bedouin nearly witless,
I was the devil himself, he must have thought.

He would’ve killed me too, but there was a council—
Two sheikhs of different tribes argued what to do
In noisy Arabic, then bound my hands together
As if I were a slave, and without much ado

Took me as far from them as possible,
Graciously untied my hands and walked away.
I’m laughing with You now—both gods and humans
Can laugh at troubles once they’ve had their day.

Meanwhile, a silent night descended;
It came right down:  no beating round the bush—
I watched the darkness midst the flickering stars
And heard nothing around me but the hush.

I lay down on the ground, as I looked on and listened,
When lo: a jackal howled, atrociously enough.
He must have longed to eat me for his dinner,
And I didn’t even have a stick to beat him off!

But never mind the jackal!  It was freezing…
It fell to zero, but was hot all through the day.
The stars were shining mercilessly bright;
Both light and cold were keeping sleep at bay.

And long I lay there in that awful stupor,
When suddenly it came:  “Sleep, my poor friend!”
I fell asleep and when I roused awake,
The scent of roses filled both skies and land.

Aglow in a celestial royal purple,
Eyes blazing with an azure flame,**
You looked on, like the early dawning
Of a universal new creation day.

What is, what was, what’s coming through the ages,
Was all embraced by that unmoving gaze…
Below me I could see the blue of seas and rivers,
The distant forests, snowy mountain chains.

I saw the whole of it, and all of it was one—
A single image of feminine beauty,
The measureless encompassed in its measure,
No one but You, before me and within me.

Oh, radiant-eyed!  I hadn’t been deceived:
Back in the desert I was shown You whole…
And in my soul those roses will not fade,
wherever I will be, whatever might befall.

One moment—that was all!  The vision disappeared,
The sun’s orb was ascending the horizon.
The desert lay still.  My soul was praying,
Within it, church bells pealed on and on.

My spirit was hale!  But for two days I fasted,
And my spiritual vision was growing dim.
Alas, no matter how sublime the soul,
You have to eat, for hunger is no whim!

I set my course west to the Nile, like the sun,
And came back home to Cairo at nightfall…
My soul retained a trace of that rose-hued smile,
My boot soles showed many a new hole.

To outsiders the whole thing looked quite silly.
(I told them what took place—but not the vision).
The General ate his soup in solemn silence,
Then looked at me, and uttered with derision.

“Having a mind gives one the right to folly,
But it is best not to abuse this fact:
Most people are too dull to tell apart
The different sorts of madness—this and that.

So if you wouldn’t want the reputation
Of either a madman or a simple dolt,
Make sure you talk to no one else about this—
A story this disgraceful mustn’t be told!”

He kept on spouting witticisms , but before me
I saw the blue mist cast its radiant rays
And, conquered by this ethereal beauty,
Mundanity’s ocean ebbed away.


*Author’s note:  This device for finding a rhyme, consecrated by Pushkin’s own example, is all the more forgivable in the present case, given that the author—more inexperienced than young—is writing narrative verse for the first time.

[Nikolay Nekrasov [1821-1878] was a poet and critic known for his defence of the poor and the downtrodden. His 1855 poem “Vlas” tells of a man who gave up all his worldly goods to wander Russia as a bedraggled beggar, collecting money for the building of churches.—trans].

**Author’s note:  From Lermontov’s poem.

[Mikhail Yurievich Lermontov [1814-1841] was one of the greatest Russian Romantic poets—trans].



And so it was, while still this vain world’s captive,
That underneath matter’s coarse shell,
I sensed the glow of the flawless mantle,
Discerning the Divine that therein dwells.

Triumphing over death by premonition,
And dreaming dreams to vanquish time,
I shall not name You, my Eternal Friend,
And You’ll forgive me my uncertain rhyme.


Author’s Note:  An autumn evening and a dark forest inspired me to render the most significant events that happened to me in my life heretofore, in these humorous verses.  For two days memories and rhymes rose up irrepressibly within my conscience, and on the third day this small autobiography was finished (and it appealed to some poets and some ladies).

(26-29 September 1898).

[Translated by Maria Bloshteyn].


Maria Bloshteyn, PhD, researches Russia and the West and is the author of The Making of a Counter-Culture Icon: Henry Miller’s Dostoevsky. She is also a literary translator and has published Alexander Galich’s Dress Rehearsal: A Story in Four Acts and Five Chapters, and Anton Chekhov’s The Prank.  Her various translations have appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry.


The photo shows, “In The Church” by Sergei Gribkov, painted in the 1860s.

Elizabeth Anscombe: Giant Of Conservative Thought

Nearly sixty years ago, an essay appeared which was to have far-reaching influence in the area of ethics. It was published in the January 1958 issue of Philosophy, and entitled, “Modern Moral Philosophy.” The author was Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe.

This essay obliterated the secular basis for morality. In other words, only God could be the rationale for morals. Without God, there could never be any sort of morality. To demand so is simply confused thinking.

The same thing had been expounded by Nietzsche and Dostoevsky earlier, but their analysis had not been thorough, nor did it go after the philosophical traditions that facilitated a God-dependent, yet Godless morality.

Nietzsche lost his way in trying to understand what comes after God, while Dostoevsky could not, in fiction, do a thorough enough critique of atheism.

The brilliance of Anscombe is that she destroyed the very possibility of a secular rationale for morality, which leaves only two choices. Either morality is to be abandoned altogether, or it must return to its historical ground, namely, God, by way of Aristotelean virtue-ethics.

Thus, why be good? Because God demands it of us, because it is good for us as human beings to be good.

What does all this mean? Before trying to understand Anscombe’s argument, let us take a brief biographical turn, which will assist in the explanation, in that, there is a close link between action and ideas.

Anscombe was born in 1919, in Limerick, Ireland, the child of English parents. Her father was an army officer stationed there. She studied at Oxford and Cambridge. At Oxford, she met Peter Geach, also a philosopher, and the two were married in 1941 and would go on to have three sons and four daughters.

A year earlier, in 1940, she formerly converted to Roman Catholicism, and her faith guided her philosophy deeply. She remains one of the most important Christian philosophers of the modern era.

In 1942, she graduated and continued her studies at Cambridge, where she became a student of Ludwig Wiittgenstein. This would lead to a lifelong friendship between the two, until Wittgenstein’s death in 1951. She became one of his executors, and also one of the leading scholars of his thought, famously translating his Tractus.

Many anecdotes are related of her rambunctious nature, such as, when told that women should not wear pants, she promptly took them off.

In 1951, she campaigned for Oxford University not to grant an honorary doctorate to President Harry Truman, because of his decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a decision she said was deeply immoral. She failed in this attempt.

Three years earlier, in 1948, while still a tutor, Anscombe rather infamously met the celebrated C.S. Lewis in a debate at the Socratic Club at Oxford.

Anscombe questioned Lewis’s assumptions, since he tried to use philosophical concepts without properly explaining, or perhaps understanding, them. This led him to fallacies and mistakes.

Lewis made the claim that since naturalism asserts all thinking to be the result of irrational causes, naturalism itself is therefore irrational because it too is the result of thinking. There is confusion here between ground and cause.

Anscombe corrected him. Although she too disagreed with naturalism, she did not find Lewis’s refutation convincing.

Irrational causes may very well be founded on both rational and non-rational explanations, and thus to say that a ground (naturalism) is determined by just one type of cause (the irrational one) is simply false.

Rather, it is fairer to say that for naturalism all thinking is the result of irrational causes, but those causes cannot be just irrational alone (which is the mistake naturalism makes), since action is the result of so many things, including rationality and non-rationality.

This turn to psychology is crucial to Anscombe’s thought, for she is considered to be the founder of the philosophy of action, which is the attempt at understanding the psychology of human motivation by differentiating intention from intentionality.

Intention is linked to desire (wanting to do something), while intentionality is that large web of reasons which both make us do things and also explain why we do (or need to do) something.

As well, intention has two results – the desired one, and its unintended consequences.

For example, a man wants to cut the grass with his gas lawnmower because he wants a neat lawn. But his mowing (intention) has the unintended consequence of noise. The man does not mow in order to make a lot of noise, but his desire to mow his lawn creates the noise.

But she is far better known for her clarifications in the area of morality. In her 1958 essay mentioned above, she effectively dismantled the two pillars of ethical thinking, namely, utilitarianism and Kantian deontology.

Utilitarianism may be summarized as doing that which brings the greatest good to the greatest number of people. This means that doing a bad thing for the sake of good results is morally acceptable.

For example, a sniper who must shoot a terrorist who is about to blow up a building with lots of people inside it.

The sniper is doing, in a different way, the exact same thing that the terrorist is about to do – kill. However, the sniper is perceived to be doing a lesser sort of evil, which will have good results – the saving of many lives.

Such rationale, Anscombe calls, “consequentialism,” whereby the consequences of human actions are the most important.

Instead, Anscombe offers a clearer approach – morality is not about doing good according to the prevalent standards of human beings. Rather, morality is listening to, being guided by, the goodness that has been cultivated inside you.

This nurturing of goodness is done by practising virtues, which can only happen by obeying the laws of God, as warranted in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Modern-day morality fails because it says goodness is to be found only in actions, and not in people. This is the basis of the plague of “virtue-signaling” that pervades our culture today, or even gun-control. Both of these concepts are founded in the belief that by denying people the ability (guns) to do bad things, then bad things will not happen.

Thus, morality, for consequentialists, turns into controlling people’s actions and behavior by legislation, or otherwise (propaganda).

Anscombe also dismantles notions, such as, the social contract (that morality is what society agrees to, or demands), the common good (what’s good for the goose is good for the gander), and even Kantian deontology (that we ought to do the right thing, which is simply a reworked version of the Golden Rule). But these are all consequentialist explanations, because they maintain humans do not, cannot, possess goodness, only their actions are good or bad.

Therefore human action must be controlled, since humans are morally empty and therefore prone to do anything, if given the means. Deny the means and you deny evil.

This sort of explanation is rooted in the “law conception of morality,” as Anscombe points out, and this has empowered the state with legislative authority. In other words, the state has become God.

But since belief in the Christian God disappeared in the West from the 17th century onwards, trying to derive some sort of “morality” from a “source” (the state) which replaces God makes no sense, since what you end up with is judicial nitpicking that seeks to curtail behavior.

In this way, the state becomes an unregulated power, which facilitates all kinds of immorality because it is a corrupted version of “God.”

In other words, morality can only come from God, and is the direct result of obeying His laws – and yet people do not want to believe in any of this, but they still want to be moral.

This is the contradiction, the great confusion of our age – you cannot be moral by observing the secular laws of the state, because they are designed to regulate, not to inculcate individual goodness. Therefore, human laws are always unequal – fair for some, unfair for others.

Thus, Christian morality has nothing to do with what makes us happy, or even trying to do those things that have good results.

On the contrary, Judeo-Christian morality is only concerned with obeying God’s laws – no matter what the consequences, no matter how unpopular such obedience might be, or even how illegal.

These laws sustain a deep relationship of the individual with the transcendent (the Divine). Morality and goodness are the consequences of such a relationship.

Those that seek to follow a morality without God possess a “corrupt mind,” says Anscombe, which means that such individuals easily do immoral things, thinking that they are doing the right thing.

Thus, abortion, doctor-assisted suicide, embryo-destructive research, and even gayness and gender-confusion are all products of “corrupt minds,” for all of these actions are immoral, but are explained as good by the state.

In other words, it is the corrupt mind which feels the need to virtue-signal, while believing in nothing.

It is the corrupt mind that demands conformity of any kind, while advocating a belief in atheism.

It is a corrupt mind that demands justice while believing in no divine laws.

It is a corrupt mind that demands goodness while possessing no goodness of its own, or explaining what goodness is.

Indeed, well into her 80s, Anscombe was a tireless campaigner against abortion and led protests at abortion clinics, and even getting arrested. She ardently wrote against the misuse of sexuality in all its present-day perversions.

In response to the vast confusions that possesses society today, Anscombe suggests that society itself needs to be honest and abandon all concern with trying to be moral without God.

Instead, it should try to map out the psychology of why people want to do good things (philosophy of action), which is a very, very difficult task. Secularism is not up to the challenge.

But Anscombe is not only a critic; she is also a true philosopher – she shows a way forward. She suggests that one way to start recovering morality in the modern, immoral world is to return to Aristotle’s concept of virtue, which means learning how to be courageous, noble, temperate, and just.

By practising to bring these four virtues into our lives, we will begin to understand the need for morality, since none of these four virtues have anything to do with the laws of the secular state.

In this way, people might acquire the habit being truly virtuous, and this can then lead them to a desire for the good (God), and after that a desire for morality, which is the obeying God’s commands.

Or, like Anscombe herself did, people can start believing in God again, and learn about Him, and then learn to love Him by obeying His laws.

We only corrupt ourselves if we try to be moral without personal virtue, or try to live without God.

Moral philosophy can no longer exist without first dealing with Anscombe’s challenge. To try do so is simply blindness and confusion.

But there is also hope, of course, because her ideas are leading people to virtue – on some campuses, there are “Anscombe Societies.”

Elizabeth Anscombe’s thought is best ummarized in the words of G.K. Chesterton, for “…it is entirely the praise of Life, the praise of Being, the praise of God as the Creator of the World.”

The photo shows a portrait of the philosopher, Elizabeth Anscombe.

What Is Evil?

Consider the following: If God is perfect and good and all-powerful, why is there evil in the world?

The quick response might be, because there is a Devil. Well, then, where did the Devil come from? The answer again leads to God. Therefore, evil must be God’s creation also. This is a conundrum that has been addressed by many a theologian and philosopher.

But what does “evil” mean? If we point to the myriad instances of man’s cruelties to man, then the cause of it all is man himself. Murder, barbarity, savagery are all products of human will, human decision, and human action.

We do not need to go all the way up to God to find out why such brutality is always on display in the world.

This savagery of man to man is commonly known as “moral evil,” where people or governments do vile things to others.

If we point to earthquakes and tsunamis and disease, which kill people just as well as humans can, then we are speaking of “natural evil.

But are either of these “descriptions” actually true? Is there really “moral evil” and “natural evil?”

Perhaps the philosophers and theologians are grabbing at straws. Perhaps they do not really know what evil is, and have no idea how to describe it.

Augustine is likely correct when he says that natural evil simply does not exist. Hurricanes and landslides do not occur in order to kill people. Rather, they occur because all creation does what it does, even when animals kill in order to eat. People are only harmed when they get in the way of nature’s doings.

For this reason, all nature is inherently good. Nothing exists in nature intent on doing harm. Here we should bear in mind the Great Chain of Being, as first described by Plato – from nothingness, up through material objects, human beings, and then up towards God.

John B. Storer, for example, upgraded this idea in his book, The Web of Life, in that all things are connected and depend upon each other.

Nowhere in this web, in this chain, do we see the operation of evil – actions done solely to bring harm to others. Aquinas suggests that even a pebble knows God’s love, because it is sustained in creation and does not simply vanish. All things in nature exist because they are needed and are therefore good. This is the opposite of evil – which is never needed.

To point to “moral evil” means pointing to some sort of “moral deficiency” that permits one person to bring harm to another. But what does this mean in a society that no longer believes Christianity to be a viable explanation for anything in life?

We can exhume Hume and declare that “evil” is that which brings “unhappiness,” while “good” is the opposite of that. But this is hardly a satisfying. Or, as Wittgenstein puts it, “The world of the happy man is a different one from that of the unhappy man.”

Thus, we live in two different worlds. Is there really any wisdom in saying, as Hume does, to “avoid unhappiness,” or “pursue happiness,” if we do not know what “happiness” and “unhappiness” are, let alone where they come from.

What produces this “happiness” which Hume wants us to acquire?

Certainly not deeds, for people do all kinds of pleasant things, but that does not necessarily make them happy. They may even do good things, but that does not make them happy, or even unhappy, either.

If we pursue only happiness, who do we have to make unhappy? What if evil itself may be a source of happiness for some?

Hume’s argument disappears when we look at the depth of evil that indeed does make some people happy, such as, pedophilia, necrophilia, and the list descends all the down to the lowest depths of Hell.

This means that when we speak of evil, we can only speak of harm that comes to people (including the doer of evil himself). Injury, violence, betrayal, hurt, trauma, outrage, atrocity, depravity, torture, and murder – such, and more, are the parameters of evil.

In other words, evil is inert without human volition and human desire. When we are speaking of evil, are we not really speaking of sin, because sin is that condition most peculiar to human beings?

Sin is more than intent – it is action completely devoid of goodness, and it is action that veers into nothingness in that Chain of Being, which is why evil is always destructive.

That which we recognize as goodness, or the good, is the natural state of the world, which is why we see more harmony and peace, even though the disruption of both by wickedness may appear to be frequent. A light cannot create darkness – only the absence of light creates darkness.

To put it another way, evil is parasitical – it cannot exist without its host, the good, just as a lie cannot exist without its host, the truth.

Evil needs goodness to exist, but goodness does not need evil at all, because existence or being cannot be other than what it is – harmonious and peaceful. It can be nothing but good, because it has no need of nothingness.

Thus, evil is the manifestation of sin, which is that little bit of nothingness, darkness, that state of deficiency within each human being. What is the source of this deficiency, of sin, is a matter of theology, for even psychology cannot really grapple with the mind.

How deficiency, or sin, reveals itself to other people – therein lies the evil. So, we can now say that evil is suffering which we bring upon ourselves, and which we bring upon those around us.

Is evil, then, not like a grudge which can only hurt? So go many of our actions, so go much of our politics.

Consider the story of Henry Tandey (whether true or not is unimportant in this instance), who was the most decorated soldier of World War One.

In 1918, in the French village of Marcoing, during a fire-fight, Tandey had a young German soldier in his gunsight. The soldier was wounded and appeared dazed and disoriented.

Tandey felt sorry for him and lowered his rifle. The two looked at each other, the German soldier made a gesture of thanks and walked away.

In 1923, Fortunino Matania was commissioned to do a commemorative painting of the Kruiseke Crossroad, near Menin. It depicted a scene after a battle, with a soldier carrying on his back a badly wounded comrade. The soldier depicted doing this charitable deed is Tandey.

This image became rather popular, and a copy of it eventually ended up in Germany sometime after 1936, where it made its way to the Berghof, the retreat of Adolf Hitler.

It is said that when Hitler first saw the painting, he at once recognized Tandey, who had once spared the life of a wounded, dazed German soldier, because that soldier was Hitler himself.

Now, by not committing an evil act (killing a wounded, dazed enemy soldier) did Tandey do the right thing?

One can only imagine what the world would have been like had he pulled the trigger – those 50 million lives would have been spared that ultimately perished in the Second World War, and there would be no Holocaust, no concentration camps, no evil legacy of the Nazis whatsoever.

But how was Tandey to know, standing in that little French village in 1918, what that German soldier in his gunsight would become?

How can anyone know what the future holds? Tandey did not pull the trigger because just briefly in that utter darkness of the First World War, there yet flickered the light of goodness inside him, which expressed itself in him lowering his rifle. That is all that can be expected of any human being.

The fault lies not with Tandey, but with Hitler, who could not use this brief encounter with goodness to illumine the great darkness in his own soul, a darkness that some twenty years later released untold horror upon the world.

Each one of us is called to overcome the defects in our souls, to subdue out potential for sin – by strengthening the goodness within us.

Only with our goodness can we overcome evil, which is nothing but the outward manifestation of that “crooked timber of humanity,” as Kant describes it.

Evil cannot exist alongside goodness, because it cannot know it, just as darkness cannot know the light, nor can silence comprehend music.

Goodness lies beyond words, beyond the material, for it belongs to the transcendental, which is the same as saying the eternal being of God.

This is not a call to be mindlessly blissful, which is foolishness. Rather, it is a call to get into the habit of placing our lives within the context of eternity. That is true goodness, which is always the rising above the mundane, to search for light in the depth of darkness.


The photo shows, “The Road Of the War Prisoners,” 1877, by Vasily Vereshchagin.

Why I Am Not A Vegetarian

I was slaughtering a sheep a month ago. It’s from my flock of Arapawa sheep, a feral sub-species. They are lean and small, goat-like with small hooves. I do it outside in a facility I made myself.

It was humid, phasing between mist and drizzle, basically inside a cloud half-way up a mountain.

I was pushing my fist under the skin to separate it from the carcass; it was warm and smelled of fresh fat and wet wool.

Flies gathered but they were reluctant to land on the hogget’s exposed flesh. They wanted my exposed flesh, with its salt and sweat. They were persistent and they bit – cattle flies. I was also being attacked by mosquitoes.

Around this point the irony hit me, all the more acidic for its belated obviousness.

If someone really wants to, I’ll get into the argument about energy, sustainability and animal farming later. For now I’ll proceed with a permacultural view: that animals are a vital part of the ecology, therefore animals are a vital part of an ecology that includes humans.

This is true even for vegans. But I personally am swayed by biology. We’ve got an omnivore’s digestion system, and for optimum development we need cooked animal products in our diet, among many other things. I have no doubt we have evolved to do better on this diet.

Our recent evolutionary development into humanity was driven by a relatively high-animal-fat diet (compared to other apes). We are smart because we started eating cooked animal fats. We have actually evolved – most recently, most incredibly, most uniquely – because of this diet.

Our closest ape relatives, co-members of our tribe Hominini, are the chimpanzees and bonobos. Chimpanzees are the most omnivorous ape other than us, they are also the next smartest.

But how does this square with the Golden Rule? I can’t think of any good reason to exclude animals, or plants, or even microbes from the “others”, to whom we must do unto as we would have done unto us.

For me, this condition is well-met when eating meat. It boils down to this: I eat and I am eaten – while I am still alive – by flies, mosquitoes, dust mites, entire ecosystems of microbes living on my surfaces inside and out.

I eat and I am eaten – so I am complying with the Golden Rule. This cycle is the core reality of life, and is the ultimate expression of relying on each other to survive.

All the arguments of vegans, vegetarians, pescetarians, raw foodists and their discriminations are just opinions about lines in the sand. Personally, I can see no reason why a cell of spirulina or an alfalfa sprout has less right to live than a pig or a human. Vegans kill as much as omnivores do, just smaller scale organisms.

All life is precious, and all life consumes other life. We should eat what makes us healthiest, and, for now at least, we will have to be resigned to disagreeing about what that means.

This is a good place to point out that I take it as understood that animals should be treated with care and respect, and never treated cruelly. I am implacably against animal confinement systems of all stripes. Death, when it comes, should be as quick and painless as possible.

While they are alive, farmed animals should be given freedom to express their normal behaviour, and fed an appropriate, local, nutritious diet. Power should not equal cruelty, obviously.

All of this is settled in my mind. But I can’t do it any more; kill sheep, that is.

I got the flock of sheep in order to do two things, take responsibility for my family’s survival on a more personal, local level, and get more in touch with my karma – to borrow another religious idea.

I am from farming people, and did not need to re-learn much about slaughter and butchery, though I am sure I am still doing some parts wrong. I liked the satisfaction of being able to provide in this way, making my family more secure.

I also have been an animal lover all my life. The meat-eater/animal-lover dilemma has torn me from very early on, as it now tears the consciences of my children.

I’ve been a vegetarian, and considered veganism. The more I learned about human evolution the more certain I was about returning to meat, but I have always had a nagging conscience. So a few years ago I got the sheep, to commit to my karma. To see how it made me feel.

I think all meat eaters should actually do this, at least once in their life, participate in slaughter and butchery; just so they can get a visceral understanding of the reality behind the vacuum-packed packets in the supermarket. It might do to them what it did to me, make me change my
line in the sand.

I no-longer have the stomach for it. I can’t do the act without psychological trauma, no matter how quick and gentle I am. Holding them while the life vanishes from their eyes and their minds is a very troubling thing. It is a real feeling, I can’t control it, it might be a result of biochemistry, but it might also be a result of a connection between my aliveness and theirs.

If I can’t kill a sheep then I can’t kill a cow or a pig. And, if I can’t do it, I can’t ethically pay someone else to do it for me, so no more red meat. That’s my new line in the sand – no more mammals, they make me too sad when I kill them.

A chicken or a duck, though, or a fish – I don’t get the same feeling. The knowledge that all life lives off other life is more soothing to me when I’m preparing this level of animal life for the table. I am less empathetic – chickens are aggressive killers and cannibals, big fish eat small fish. Ducks, well, let’s just say duck behaviour is proof that there’s nothing natural about ethics. So I still eat meat, from birds and fish.

Yep, there’s sustainability issues with fish, but not all fish.

So it’s a rule; life lives off life – or death, to be more precise. And we’ve evolved not just to eat meat, but to eat cooked meat. Denying any part of that is illogical and ignores clear evidence if you’ve seen it.

Discriminating between life forms as being intrinsically worthy or unworthy of exclusion from our diets is too trivial to waste time arguing about. We should listen to our gut instead, and keep a scientific eye on our health.

My gut – my feelings – tell me to lay off red meat, my health tells me to keep eating animal products in moderation. I do this in the knowledge that I will also be eaten one day – by the smallest and most under-appreciated forms of life. I eat, I am eaten, and I will be fully consumed in time.

So I can still kill a chicken. It’s even easier when I’m hungry.

A prayer for sustenance:

For The Slaughter And The Table

This is your death
This is our life
This is my choice because you give me life
And I am stronger than you.
I eat and I am eaten.
Now it is your turn
In time it will be mine.

(Note: I am indebted to Yuval Noah Harari’s book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind).

James Redwood lives in New Zealand with his wife and two children. He teaches agriculture at secondary school. His blog is called, “Prayers for Atheists.”
The photo shows, “Strayed Sheep,” painted in 1852, by William Holman Hunt.

What Is The Soul?

Does death have meaning?

This may seem an inane or even a pointless question. And yet, an understanding of death determines how humans live. Consider the fact that mankind has come up with only two answers for death.

First, that death has great meaning, because it is the transition to an eternal, extra-corporeal, or spiritual realm. The quality of this everlasting existence is determined by moral choices made by individuals during life on earth. In other words, the life of the soul depends upon morality.

This also means that the role and purpose of civilization becomes twofold: To look after the body and to care for the soul – to ensure that its citizens not only enjoy a happy earthly life but also have the assurance of a happy eternal existence.

humans are innately moral creatures

Civilization has a higher calling than simply managing modes of production, for it also needs to transition into its own eternal form by way of its earthly citizens. Civilization must concern itself with the Kingdom of God.

The second answer, which is more recent, maintains that death is final; there is nothing that comes after. Thus, there is no soul, and death is really meaningless, since it is the final end of life.

This answer dismantles the need for a morality attuned to eternity – and makes civilization into nothing more than civic space where individuals consume and produce, and thus no value is higher than this consumption.

Life is simply the pursuit of individualized pleasure; and the point of civilization is to set up structures that enable the satisfaction of sensual urges and desires.

The contemporary world is struggling with both these answers to the question of the soul.

Those that belong to the second camp justify themselves by asserting that humanity has matured into soullessness – to worry about the soul is to be childish, superstitious, and therefore regressive. Those that worry about the soul are deemed mythologizers whose day has long vanished.

to live the life of the mind, to use reason, by necessity means acknowledging the soul

Those that cultivate the soul, in turn, have history on their side, because mankind has always shown itself at its most refined and the most generous when the soul is not forgotten.

Indeed, where would the West be if it did not worry about the soul throughout its history?

But what is the soul?

The English word “soul” is an ancient one, descending from the Proto-Germanic, *saiwalo, which reaches far back into the Bronze Age. Its Indo-European cousins are the Greek aiolos and the Russian, sila.

During Indo-European antiquity, “soul” likely meant, “speedy,” or “energetic” – that is, the quickening energy of the body. There is no connection between the “soul” and the “sea,” despite popular etymologies.

It was the Greeks who first clarified and identified the immortal part of the human body.

Earlier ancient civilizations (Mesopotamian and Egyptian) also delved into notions of life after death, but their concepts did not gain currency beyond their own particular cultures, because they could not clarify the nature of the soul.

The Greeks however created explanations and ideas that would persist through space and time and thus become universal.

The two terms that they used for the soul were psyche and pneuma. The former gained greater currency (via psych-ology), but the latter actually defined the soul itself.

the contemporary world is struggling with… the question of the soul

The psyche is emotions, understanding and sensibility. Humans, as well as animals, possess psyche, which is also known as the animal-soul. The psyche animates the carnal body and, since it is not immortal, it dies and disappears at the time of death.

The pneuma, on the other hand, is the mind, which is a complex unity of the conscience, reason, and will. Only humans possess the pneuma, or the rational soul, which is immortal, and which therefore continues existence into eternity.

The pneuma is also understood as being the resurrected spirit-body in Christianity, which is not fleshly, but is governed by the Holy Spirit (the Pneuma Hagion), through which it unites with God into eternity.

Christianity collapses the two Greek terms (psyche and pneuma) into one – psyche, which now comes to carry the meaning of the rational-soul.

Thus, true to its Indo-European root, the soul carries still a quickening energy, for it determines not only the quality of an individual’s life, but also the very character of civilization itself.

Further, the soul broaches two deeper questions – how shall we live and what must we do? Is an animal existence enough for human beings?

But to live the life of the mind, to use reason, by necessity means acknowledging the soul.

In the words of Thomas Aquinas: “The human being abounds in diverse types of potential: namely because humanity is on the frontier between spiritual and corporeal creatures, and thus the powers of each are joined in it.”

Civilization has a higher calling than simply managing modes of production

But what is meant by the soul, whose presence or absence delimits how humans live?

The earliest civilizations, Mesopotamian and Egyptian, recorded the first understandings of the meaning of death – that it is a process whereby mankind transitions into its eternal abode, whether among the stars or in the netherworld.

In these early civilizations, both the body and its inherent life-force (the soul) shared in immortality. This explains the grave-goods that were left with the departed.

Eternity and humanity were forever linked, which then justified the importance of morality (the me-s among the Sumerians; the ma’at for the Egyptians), which in turn was established by the gods for the structuring and maintenance of human civilization.

Thus, to live was to practice and follow divine laws. The breaking of such laws had immediate social as well as eternal consequences.

a complex unity of the conscience, reason, and will

It would be easy to say that the first answer affirming the soul is hopeful, while the second one denying the soul is bleak. But that would be misguided.

Rather, what we have are two answers that express the same reality (a hendiadys). In other words, both the denial and affirmation of the soul are really two sides of the same coin.

What coin is that? The coin of faith, or belief. Both answers are, of course, valid because both are expressions of human faith, either in the material or in the spiritual. Is life even possible without belief? Even the denial of belief is belief.

But the results of both beliefs are the important thing. The denial of the soul leads to a grim immediacy, where appetitive satiation is the only goal of life, encapsulated by the fatuous maxim, “Live each day to the fullest.” In other words, self-indulgence is the sole reason for being alive.

To say that each human body houses a soul leads humanity elsewhere – towards morality, for life is not about fulfilment, but about pursuing the truth and, though actions and ideas, adding to the goodness of the world, even if doing so harms or even kills the body.

As stated already, belief in something that survives death has always been part of the human condition until recently, when an unthinking sort of atheism took hold.

Thus it is not surprising that humanity has always cared to construct some version of morality because it lends stability to society and builds civilization, and because it determines how we are to live and what we are to do.

Does the denial of the soul benefit humanity? No, because humans are innately moral creatures, and when they are asked to live without morality, they veer into existential absurdity – in other words, a soulless life of relentless satiation, as embodied by the so-called celebrities of this age.

What, then, is the soul? It is the very essence of what it means to be a human being – in this world and the next. The soul is the summary of that we are and shall be. How shall we want to be summarized? That is the real question of what it means to be a human being.


The photo shows, “The Empty Tomb,” painted in 1889, by Mikhail Nesterov.

Review: The Dangerous Power Of Christianity

“Why on earth did anyone become a Christian in the first three centuries?” This is a remarkable question, posed by Larry W. Hurtado in his 2016 Père Marquette Lecture in Theology.

It has never been asked by historians of early Christianity. Usually, the rapid growth of devotion to Jesus is charted or explained by way of the hows and the whats of group dynamics – that is, by trying to understand how movements spread over time.

Past focus, therefore, has been on examining the external conditions, social and economic, of the Roman Empire, or the study of fringe groups and their interaction with the majority, or the role of missionary work to gain converts.

This is all well and good, and it has given us a precise and often thorough understanding of what was going on in the Roman world which made it ideal ground in which Christianity very rapidly grew and then flourished.

But the more fundamental question is why did people become Christians in the Roman world, given the fact that by doing so they destroyed all hope of a normal, even prosperous life?

Hurtado sets out to examine this problem in is lecture. He is professor emeritus at the University of Edinburgh who has spent a life-time studying early Christianity.

One of his greatest contributions is the now well-established view that Jesus was seen as divine from the time of the very first Jewish believers – it was not a gradual process as had been previously assumed. Therefore, Jesus as both God and man is the foundational belief from the very beginnings of the faith.

One of the most remarkable things about early Christianity is how quickly it spread across the Roman world. By the time Paul became a follower of Jesus (around 30-35 AD), there were already Christian communities in most major urban centers.

This expansion only increased in the first three centuries, so that Christians were found from Carthage to Egypt to Mesopotamia, and from Jerusalem out to Rome, Spain, France, and Britain.

These early Jesus-believers came from all walks of life (rich and poor, gentry and commoners, soldiers and politicians), and therefore included men and women, the young and the old.

It is difficult to know the exact of number of these early Christians, but they must have been significant enough to warrant notice from the Roman government.

Such “notice” came in the form of schemes that might curtail the rapid growth of the new faith, as well as laws that made being a Christian to be equivalent to being an “atheist” and therefore an enemy of the state.

Thus, it is this “notice” that Hurtado discusses at length in his lecture. Simply put, there were very serious costs involved in becoming a Christian in the Roman world. Religious affiliation was not as casual, or unimportant, as it is today.

If you became a Christian in the first three centuries of the last millennium, you immediately put yourself at a very serious disadvantage and even danger, socially, politically and judicially.

Politically, Christians were held to be atheists under law because they denied the existence of the Roman gods and refused to worship them.

There were no niceties as the “separation of church and state” in the Roman world. Both religion and politics were one and the same, in that the state reflected the order and harmony of the universe by way of the various public sacred rituals in which everyone participated throughout the year.

This participation defined your loyalty to the Roman state, because you were helping to sustain its supernatural foundation upon which the state and society rested. To walk away from this maintenance meant that you wanted both the state and society to come crashing down.

When Christians chose to opt out of these rituals, it was seen as a signal that they sought the downfall of Rome. Of course, the Jews also refused such participation, but the Romans simply saw this as a national particularity and tolerated it.

But things were different with Christians because as converts, they were not a nation. They had been born and raised pious pagans who now followed a new cult. The Romans despised cults.

Thus conversion was akin to sedition as far as the state was concerned, because by denying the rituals and the gods, you were inviting the forces of chaos to be let loose, come what may. Christians, then, were like dangerous anarchists.

Conversion also put the convert at odds with his family, because by becoming Christian, the convert was forever abandoning his ancestors; and this in a world in which family was everything was seen as the ultimate betrayal. We must bear in mind that the actual practice of religion among ordinary people in the Roman world was ancestor worship.

Thus, by becoming a Christian, a person became both a criminal and a rootless alien in Roman society. These were powerful disincentives.

Then, why did Christianity continue to grow so much in number? What did Christianity offer that people risked life and limb, social privilege, and even family bonds to become followers of Jesus?

This is the essential point – Christians had to deal with lethal prejudice in the Roman world.

As Clayton Croy puts it, “the threat to Christians’ lives pervaded the first three centuries…Even when martyrdom was not being carried out, all that stood between Christians and the executioner was the lack of a delator (an accuser).”

Being an enemy of the state and a social outcast meant dealing with humiliation, ostracism, threats, hatred, disdain, ridicule, abuse, imprisonment, and death.

The epistles of the New Testament bear out this climate of hostility (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3:3 and 8; and Hebrews 10-12; 1 Peter 3:9, 3:16; 1 Peter 3: 12-14; 1 Peter 5:10).

This hatred is also evident in the way Christians are depicted in Roman literary works. They are described as evildoers, prone to incest and murder; or as charlatans and buffoons who believe the most outrageous things; or as lowlifes and scum of the earth; or as intellectually inferior.

Thus, from the highest levels of society down to the street-level, Christians were despised and derided. So, again, given such strong disincentives, why did people convert in such large numbers to Christ?

Here, also we enter into the reality of Christians living ordinary lives in the Roman world, a reality described by Paul, for example, in the First Letter to the Corinthians Chapters 7-10. Paul tries to explain how Christians are to live in a society openly hostile to them.

As for the Christians themselves, how were they to interact with pagans? Should they dine with pagans, where the gods would have to be worshipped first? What should merchants do, who belonged to guilds, where again the gods would have to be worshipped in the guild meetings?

How should Christian slaves serve pagan masters? What should Christian spouses married to pagans do? Should Christians hide their faith to get by and live two lives – a public pagan one, and a private Christian one?

What was to be done with lapsed Christians, who simply could not cope with the hostility and went back to paganism?

Such questions provide insights into the dilemmas that Christians faced – how were they to live their lives in a pagan world that hated them? Being a Christian was dangerous, embarrassing, frightening, confusing, intimidating, and certainly challenging on a daily basis.

All this exemplified by the life of St. Paul. He came from a privileged background, was educated at the best school, and was well-off.

But he gave it all up to follow Christ, and his life thereafter was miserable (from a worldly perspective) – he was abused, threatened with violence, humiliated, routinely and seriously beaten, even to the point of death, and finally executed (beheaded) by the state.

Why would Paul want to undergo all this misery just to be a Christian?

What was it about the Christian message that no amount of violence, threats, disadvantage, abuse, and ridicule could dislodge? What kept Christians loyal, once they converted, to stay with their new faith?

More importantly, what made Christianity grow in such a rapid way, which is unprecedented? Robin Lane Fox aptly sums up this unique occurence: “…no other cult in the Empire grew at anything like the same speed.”

Since Hurtado’s focus in this lecture is to explore the nature of his question, he can only offer two answers to it.

First, for the first time in history, Christianity linked the divine with love, that God is love. The Greco-Roman gods were neither kind nor loving; they were aloof and harsh when forced to deal with humans. Their job was looking after the cosmos, not people.

Second, Christianity, again for the first time in history, offered an everlasting life to the individual, and even an eternal life for the resurrected body. No one in the ancient pagan world really believed that any sort of existence came after death for each individual. Christianity offered something unique.

Whether both these answers were strong enough incentives to sustain a person facing lethal prejudice, Hurtado does not say, since such explanation is beyond the scope of his argument.

Rather, he is to be congratulated for pointing the study of early Christianity towards a new path – in that history is far more than impersonal economic forces and sociological conditions.

Hurtado’s question, “Why on earth did anyone become a Christian in the first three centuries?” shows that history is determined not by materialist causes, but by ideas that people believe, embody, and then live out.

It is this living out of ideas that is the very essence of history.

As to why people became Christians despite hostility, perhaps the answer is to be found in something that Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

Justin the philosopher, who became a Christian in this hostile Roman world, wrote of his conversion in his Dialogue With Trypho. He hints at this peace offered by Christ when he says that he became a Christian because he found in the faith a philosophy that was both safe and profitable.

Thus Christianity offered ideas and deep inner peace that no one else offered.

Certainly, the Romans of the first century were no different from people in our own era – everyone seeks inner peace, few know how to find it. Once you find that peace, you will never want to give it up. No matter what. Cue the martyrs.


Larry W. Hurtado, Why On Earth Did Anyone Become A Christian In The First Three Centuries? Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 2016.


The photo shows, “Nero’s Torches,” painted in 1876, by Henryk Siemiradzki.

No, The Ancient Egyptians Were Not “Africans”

That which historians of language have long known and understood has been fully confirmed by a recent study of ancient Egyptian genomes.

Over the past many years, there has been a great deal of debate, almost always among those who want to further various political or racialist agendas, as to who the ancient Egyptians actually were.

Ownership of history is, of course, crucial in the realm of identity politics. The more history frays and is dissolved, or even becomes obliterated, the more readily identity may be constructed to suit political ends.

This is especially true among those who seek to carve out identity within the multicultural context of western societies, where the identity of the majority is made invisible, while the nationality (and therefore the history) of the various “ethnicities” is enlarged and “celebrated.” This, of course, leads to a distortion of history, making it into a romantic fetish.

Unfortunately ancient Egypt has suffered much distortion in this regard.

There is Joseph Smith’s and William Phelps “discovery” and “translation” of ancient hieroglyphic texts about Abraham and Joseph (Smith was often regarded as being proficient in reading and understanding the ancient language of the Egyptians). The story of Egypt plays an integral part in Mormonism.

These papyri (along with real mummies) had been profitably sold, in 1835, to Smith, by one Michael Chandler, a rather shrewd businessman, who in turn had bought them from the adventurer Antonio Lebolo, known for despoiling many an ancient tomb.

Then, there is the entire industry of Negritude and Black Zionism, which extends a black origin to all the civilizations of the ancient world, including Egypt (and even ancient Greece and Rome).

This has led to a common belief that since Egypt is in Africa, the ancient Egyptians were sub-Saharan Africans, i.e., they were blacks. The problem with this view is that it assumes that the passing millennia have had no effect whatsoever on the population of Egypt. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The fact is Africa did not become “black” until about 1400 AD, with the Bantu expansions and the eventual slaughter and reduction of other races, by them, that were living in Africa, such as the pygmies and the Khoisan.

As well, all of North Africa has always been “non-black,” and this includes Egypt.

However, modern-day mythologizers (the purveyors of “black racialism”) and the historians have always been at odds over this topic. The former seek to affirm the “blackness” of Africa, while the latter point to historical fact. Facts usually do not get in the way of politics.

Language is one such fact. The ancient Egyptian language (or Middle Egyptian), which came to be written down in hieroglyphics, hieratic and then demotic, is classified as an “Afroasiatic” language; but this is not as clear at it may at first seem.

As an Afroasiatic language, Middle Egyptian is a “cousin” to the Semitic family of languages, which in the ancient world included much variety (Akkadian, Babylonian, Ugaritic, Phoenician, Punic, Aramaic, Samaritan, Nabataean, Sabaean). In the present day, this variety has diminished to Arabic (and its various dialects), Hebrew, and Ethiopic (Ge’ez).

The ancient Egyptian language, therefore, was closely related to its Semitic cousins, most of which existed outside Africa proper; and thus it has long been suggested that that is where we must look for the point of origin of Afroasiatic (since all languages begin in a specific geographical location, from where they spread outwards).

The Russian linguist and historian, Igor M. Diakonoff, first outlined where the origin-point of Afroasiatic is found, by consideration of its earliest, or “proto” form. Words are given their proto-form by comparison with all of their cognates in other languages that belong to the same family group.

This reconstructed, earliest form of Afroasiatic is called, “Proto-Afrasian.”

Shared words, especially for flora and fauna, in the various related languages, point to a location on the map where such species of plants and animals are found.

Diakonoff’s study pointed to the Natufian archaeological complex as the location where Proto-Afrasian was first spoken.

The Russian archaeologist, Alexander Militarev, confirmed this location as the home of Proto-Afrasian, with his own study of the flora and the fauna of Palestine in its ancient context.

Thus, the ancient Egyptians were Natufians, who came into Egypt likely seven thousand to twelve thousand years ago.

This conclusion, provided by historical linguistics, has just been confirmed by the careful study of Egyptian mummy genomes, undertaken by Verena J. Schuenemann, and others.

Schuenemann and her colleagues discovered that the history told by ancient Egyptian DNA matches the history of linguistic fact:

  • The ancient Egyptians have their origin in the Levant (modern-day Palestine, in Israel), and they migrated into the Nile Delta and the Sinai, bringing with them their goats and sheep.
  • The ancient Egyptians were closely related to ancient and modern European populations, as well as ancient populations in what is now Turkey and Iran.
  • The sub-Saharan admixture that is now evident in the modern Egyptian population is a recent occurrence, which took place during and after the Roman period.

This confirmation is significant because it suggests that historical linguistics indeed yields a highly accurate understanding of the movement of people.

Thus, who were the ancient Egyptians? They were indeed Natufians, and genetically related to people like the Phoenicians and the Canaanites of Palestine, like the Hatti (the pre-Indo-European people of Anatolia), and like the Elamites, (the pre-Aryan population of Iran).

This also explains why there are red-haired and blonde mummies. Famously, Ramesses II had red hair, and Yuya and his wife Thuya are blonds, while brown hair was common.

Thuya’s mummy, ca. 1400 BC

Ramesses II mummy, ca. 1213 BC

Mummy of Sitre-In, wet-nurse of Queen Hatshepsut, ca. 15th century BC


We now need to work on placing the origins of the ancient Egyptians in their proper Middle Eastern historical, linguistic and genetic context.



B.E. Vaillant lives in a village near Amiens, France, and she studies the archaeology and history of ancient Egypt. [Her article was translated from French by N. Dass].
The photo shows, “The Finding Of Moses,” painted in 1904, by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema.

Nationalism, Patriotism, Populism: The Return of Reason

Why are populism, nationalism and patriotism despised? Why are they vilified by the establishment elite (namely, the media, the entertainment industries, the universities, the so-called intellectuals, and the scoffing punditry)?

Why are populism, nationalism and patriotism readily equated with “fascism,” “Nazism,” “racism,” “xenophobia,” “the right-wing?” Of course, these are trigger-words purposely deployed to elicit the highest emotional response from the public, in order to build and then solidify consensus. This is classic demagoguery.

Such rabble-rousing is on full display in the recent issue of Academic Matters, a Canadian journal that seeks to delve into things “of relevance to higher education,” and which is used by university professors to preach to the choir.

The topic at hand is labeled, “the populist challenge” which, in typical fashion, is described as, “The disconnect between the expertise of the academy and the common sense of broader society.”

For these experts, “common sense” is defined as, “celebrity-induced ignorance,” which is the true enemy, and which needs to be destroyed: “That is why it is so disturbing to see politicians take the position that experts are irrelevant, answers are obvious, and that questioning common sense assertions of the populist right is akin to sacrilege.”

{For the naïve, “politicians” is code for President Trump, and Trumpism).

The various experts called upon to guide each other along in tackling “the populist challenge” on campus and therefore in society all write like enthusiastic revolutionaries, issuing the call to action.

Of course, there is the usual alarmism: International students will stop coming, and that cash-cow will run dry. Nationalism will destroy the free circulation of knowledge.

Then come the solutions, which are predictable and unimaginative (but what else would you expect from privileged “experts,” who cannot understand a very basic fact – that it’s the populists who pay their high-powered salaries).

The breathless, but suitably vague “remedies” to fight the grand threat of populism include:

  • Better working conditions for everyone
  • More opportunity and benefits for everyone
  • More empowerment of citizens to work through their differences
  • More access to higher education
  • All campuses must be made into even better safe spaces for everyone

With such myopic solutions, can victory be far?

Time for a bit of common sense – if you want something done right, don’t ask professors.

Here is a sample of the expertise that we are asked to blindly imbibe:

Right-wing populism threatens the future of higher education, but remaining passive and retreating to a disinterested vision of the university will actually strengthen the attacks, Faculty have a responsibility to work in solidarity to fight back against these threats.”

The danger is not so much that we will all be drowned in a tsunami of alt-right populism, but that otherwise sensible politicians (and leaders, including university presidents) may be spooked by this great illusion and do the populists’ work for them.”

“…the academy must counter the pseudo-populist narrative with an even more compelling narrative.”

We watched with wry humour as the UK exited the European Union and we sat in stunned terror as the US elected Donald Trump.”

The surge in racism on university campuses is part of a broader right-wing awakening across the country. University administrators must counter these developments, or the credibility of their institutions will suffer.”

The last twelve months have seen a great shift in the North Atlantic political landscape, with only Canada immune (so far). Nobody in universities saw it coming….There has been a surge of support for ethno-nationalism of the blood-and-soil kind, fearful of global openness and resentful of globally connected persons, whether migrants, traders, or cross-border professors and students…Donald Trump is bristling with threats to wage war on a long list of internal and external enemies; he is trying to turn those threats into policy.”

A positive political alternative to the rise of demagogic populism will require a vibrant vision of democratic society and the empowerment of individuals to work through these differences. Universities should not be just observers, but engaged participants.”

By their own words, they condemn themselves, such is the betrayal of the “intellectuals” that Benda wrote about many years back. The tone of each article is defiance, a self-important, self-assured declamatory stance, hurling bravado from high up in the moated Ivory Tower.

Perhaps they should stop indoctrinating and return to the grand-old tradition of education, which has long fallen by the way side.

There is also a sense that things are not going their way any longer:

But, friends, we are losing. We are losing when it comes to reason and critical intelligence and civility. We are losing when it comes to the basic justification of what we do. We are losing on defending universities as forces for good.”

Is this palpable fear?

These experts know that the jig is up, and the people have cottoned on to their self-serving pronouncements. They also know that fear is wondrous snake-oil to unite the misguided (aka, students).

A bit more common sense: Do not bite the hand that feeds you.

These remarks of “experts” may hold fragile undergraduates in utter thrall, but for the rest of us, they simply come across as hysteria from members of the establishment who know that no one is listening to their self-serving exclamations, uttered to safeguard their franchise.

They also know that so bankrupt are their inducements that they have no power to make people return to the poverty and enslavement to elites promised by their version of globalist indoctrination.

In fact, such professorial whiffle, such “coughing in ink,” only confirms a harsher truth – these experts belong to a past that has no purchase in the future of humanity.

Perhaps they should try to explain why they teach the subjects that they do, and how they sleep at night knowing their drivel puts thousands upon thousands of young people into immense student debt.

Here are some facts that these experts will always fail to understand (since their paycheck depends on not comprehending):

  • Nationalism, populism, patriotism have nothing to do with fascism, xenophobia, and all the rest. It is the people’s demand (at long last!) for a better form of government, namely, a re-energized nation-state.
  • If you fear populism, you have abandoned your own humanity.
  • If you fear nationalism, you have destroyed your own soul.
  • If you fear patriotism, you have no home to call your own.
  • If you fear “blood-and-soil,” you fear love itself, because to love another, you must first love yourself – unselfishly and purely.

“Blood” is not racism; It is the acknowledgement of our common bond as humanity, which is expressed as community.

“Soil” is the sanctity of place, without which strangers cannot be made welcome.

Both these terms are used to conjure up the ghost of Nazism (Godwin’s Law), but such necromancy is just shallow thinking.

To confuse nationalism with fascism is to admit utter ignorance of history:

  • Nationalism is the true root of liberal democracy, for it clearly defines self-determination, and declares power to be the privilege of the people. Fascism denies both, and in this way it is more akin to the leftism of the universities, than to liberal democracy.
  • Populism is the true root of liberal democracy, for it asserts that people have the right to choose who will rule over them. This choice often means many different political parties. Populism is also the right to question those in power. Fascism is a monolith, which needs conformity on all levels – thought, deed, and personal behavior, which is what universities now teach.
  • Patriotism is the true root of liberal democracy, for it defies dictatorships of all kind, by defending the right of the independent nation-state to exist and enjoy its freedoms.

One has only to look to Pericles’ famous Funeral Oration to understand the spirit of generosity that flows from patriotism, nationalism and populism. Fascism abhors all three, because devotion should not be to “blood-and-soil,” but to the glorious and fearless Fuehrer.

The establishment elite are quick to equate nationalism with “xenophobia,” and “racism.” This too shows an unfamiliarity with the history of ideas.

Nationalism, which is always grounded in a strong nation-state, cannot exist if it practices xenophobia or racism, because nationalism promotes other people to create their own nation-states. This is true tolerance, where all of humanity exists as equals, free to pursue self-determination in their own nation-states.

The charge of xenophobia and racism becomes perverse when we realize that those that utter it advocate a political system that is full bondage to the whims of unelected, globalist governing bodies, such as, the UN, and those that oversee the various supranational trade agreements.

The establishment elite are the true xenophobes and racists because they collapse economies, nurture poverty, traffic in children, fund discontent, destroy nations and kill millions – all in the name of ideology, all in the name of building a grand world order, in which they shall be kings.

Did not these professors and so-called thinkers celebrate the Arab Spring, which unleashed untold suffering in that part of the world? They should rightly fear populism – because they have been justifying with their pronouncements the annihilation of entire populations.

The world these experts advocate – multinational companies, unlimited free trade, no borders, massive population replacements – has no provable benefits for anybody (other than themselves). Everybody suffers the same.

Remember what globalism has done already:

  • It has destroyed most of Africa and the Middle East.
  • It has created itinerant populations (known as refugees) who wander about seeking economic benefit.
  • It has lashed together unequal partners into a European Union that is ultimately unsustainable because it is utterly dysfunctional.
  • It has created and let loose the scourge of Islamofascism.
  • It actively promotes race-baiting by making people live as strangers in lands they once called their own.

Nationalism, patriotism, and populism – these are the way forward for the world.

The worldwide experiment of a socialist utopia, under globalism, has bitten the dust at last, leaving behind in its wake misery and devastation and the lamentation of the innocent.

Only nation-states embody both love and the law. Within both of these lies true justice.

Therefore, patriotism and nationalism and populism become extensions of the family, where both love and the law are first expressed and experienced. This is why a country is not a spot on the map, but it is home, it is fatherland, it is motherland.

Because nationalism understands both love and the law by way of the family, globalism will always fail against it, for it can offer nothing in its place.

No one wants to be a vagabond. Everyone needs a home. To conclude, some words of G.K. Chesterton:

From all that terror teaches,
From lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches
That comfort cruel men,
From sale and profanation
Deliver us, Good Lord!


The photo shows, “The Reply Of The Zaporozhian Cossacks,” 1878-1891, by Ilya Repin.

Of Universities And Soul-Murder

Have universities gone the way of the spittoon? Does anyone still need them? Why do students go into mountains of debt to keep these institutions in business? What do they offer that is worth so much investment?

There are countless explanations and discussions seeking to demarcate the nature of higher education in our time. The vast majority of them can be boiled down to two arguments.

First, there’s the call for more or better funding because universities aren’t doing enough, aren’t inclusive enough. More cash might put “education” right. Of course, no one explains what “enough” really means.

The second argument seeks to align higher education with supposed market needs, where degrees become “jobful.”

“Jobful” being that seamless fusion of education and guaranteed future employment – you go to college so you can get a job.

Both of these arguments, however, labor under an unquestioned assumption – that society still actually needs what colleges and universities continue to supply.

But it’s precisely this given, this uncritically accepted supposition that must be thoroughly questioned. Has higher education gone off the rails?

First, what do students pay for when they go to get higher education?

The most popular courses are the Humanities, which do everything but worry about humanity, let alone employment. Their focus is political training of the youth, which they do by offering:

  • A Marxist-postmodernist mindset. Literature, history, philosophy, and all of the many distortions of these once noble disciplines (such as, sociology, anthropology, gender studies, political science, cultural studies, communications, media studies, psychology, and so on) – are all taught by way of a deep anti-west prejudice.
  • A professoriate that is radically left-wing, which holds up socialism as the great tool by and through which utopia is to be built. Little do they realize that if they actually succeed in bringing such a utopia about, they would be the first ones lynched from the nearest lamppost, since they all belong to the highly privileged 1 percent.
  • A plethora of so-called “applied courses,” which supposedly “prepare” graduates for immediate employment. The reality is far harsher. Most graduates with such degrees end up as retreads (those forever taking yet more courses to get a job). How many journalists does society need? How many lawyers? How many social workers? How many MBAs?
  • A vicious cycle of poverty, as graduates struggle to manage huge student debts. Is training in Marxist ideology worth it?

This is truly soul-murder.

Humanities remain the bread-and-butter of higher education, since that is where the majority of the students end up. This “education” strips the graduate of all independence of thought, rendering him/her an atomized creature.

The universities know these humanities degrees are worthless, which mold individuals to live in perpetual conflict with society, since said society will always fail to live up to the socialist ideals of the collective, the all-powerful political machine, high taxes, and the expansion of the working poor,

Isn’t it about time that people saw through this scam? Do parents really want their children becoming some version of the Social Justice Warrior?

On the other hand, there are also the sciences, which are often divided into two types:

  • Theoretical science (mathematics, physics, astronomy), which seeks to add to scientific knowledge, and which often has no immediate practical application.
  • Practical or empirical science (health, chemistry, biology), which investigates cause-and-effect in nature in order to devise solutions for various problems.

The sciences have retained their traditional role, because they cannot do without discipline, merit, and talent. There is no postmodernist leveling of the playing field here.

Thus, the sciences have not abandoned truth (though this does not mean that attempts have not been made).

That said, “jobfulness” has infected the sciences also, so that theoretical science now takes a backseat to empirical science. Students would rather be doctors or pharmaceutical researchers than mathematicians or astronomers.

Theoretical knowledge has been made subordinate to instrumentalism, so that ideas are only important if they have direct, practical application. Utility is greater than wisdom, and thinking has declined.

Although science has remained true to its root, it is ultimately inadequate to care for the complexities of life, because it cannot answer any questions concerning the soul.

Thus, “jobfulness” creates soullessness in higher education.

Is there not a deep hunger for the good in life? To live a good life is to possess that soul-wisdom which gives you happiness, even in an empty room.

There is this story told of Stilpo the philosopher. When his city of Megara was captured by the Macedonians, their king, out of respect for the philosopher, offered him compensation for the loss of property. But Stilpo refused, saying that no one had carried off his learning, no one had taken away that which made him a man.

Education is not about acquiring physical things – it is about possessing a treasure that cannot rust, that cannot be looted, that cannot be lost. Education is a treasure of the soul.

Human beings need good ideas, because life is inherently about the practice of goodness. If you do not know how to practice your individual goodness within the larger goodness of society, you will be lost, you will be disgruntled, you will be unfulfilled, because without goodness, you cannot be human.

Goodness alone defines us, because it gives us value in this world.

Understanding and developing your goodness into maturity is the true purpose of education, either in the Humanities or the sciences. This is what once made education invaluable to life.

But the education of today has nothing to do with goodness, and therefore it has become profoundly anti-human. All it can offer is nihilism.

The professors have prostituted themselves to falsehoods and lies – that is why they can only speak about “social justice” (which is nothing other than that old Marxist fable about the “redistribution of wealth”).

These professors have no wisdom to offer their students, since they have no goodness to call their own. They only know the grisly tussle of politics, and what they preach they themselves do not want – otherwise, they would have long rushed to the few Marxist “paradises” that still remain on the earth. They proclaim Marxist austerity for all, while being paid by the prosperity of capitalism.

Of course, tenured faculty remain the most privileged group in society.

Universities are also severe socialist enclaves, maintained within a free society, paid for by the free market, which are given free license to murder the souls of the youth with nihilism. Why?

Why do we continue to maintain these Moloch-institutions?

Where is the outrage from parents, especially, given the high cost in actual dollars that every student has to incur in order to offer up their souls for slaughter?

We need to begin judging universities harshly. We must reject their appeal to expertise, because they have none. The Humanities, as taught today, have nothing to do with expertise. They have everything to do with brainwashing.

This tyranny of the education-industrial-complex needs to be broken, because nothing can reform it, given its strength and its backers (who have their own agendas).

Should it not be the concern of every parent to keep the minds and souls of their children safe from the wounding and destruction that the universities offer?

Here are some ways to move forward:

  • Seek out only those institutions that conform to the moral values of your family. They certainly exist. Here are some of them: New Saint Andrews College, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, Our Lady Seat Of Wisdom College, Wyoming Catholic College, and there are a few others.
  • Do not automatically send your children off to university, as if that is an ultimate good which will benefit your child. There are other options.
  • Pool resources and start creating your own institutions of higher learning. This is not impossible to do. It only requires persistence and determination. There are enough disgruntled professors out there who are always looking for ways to escape the tyranny of their universities. Take the next step after home-schooling.
  • Remember, all colleges and universities exist because of the goodwill of the people. Remove this goodwill and these oppressive institutions will fall. Every sensible parent should work to bring about the fall of these modern-day Babylons.
  • Withhold your tax contribution earmarked for public education. Give this money to those institutions which conform to your values. This requires courage, but it’s important to dry up the money flowing into these institutions.

The higher education-industry-complex exists in opposition to your society, and to your civilization. Isn’t it time to dismantle it?

A few words on education itself, since it’s important to have a proper understanding of it in this age of mass confusion.

Walter Lippmann made this crucial observation many years ago: “We have established a system of education in which we insist that while everyone must be educated, yet there is nothing in particular that an educated man should know.”

This is the dilemma of the entire modern educational system – the insistence on education for all, without any explanation of what education should be. It is truly the blind leading the blind.

Before the fog of postmodernism, education was about building the good human being. Yes, good. Not the efficient human being, not the compliant human being, not the robotic, party-member human being – but the good human being.

This meant that education was about the care of the soul, which is the practice of self-discipline and integrity, which is the nurturing of restraint within freedom, which is using wisdom to fashion understanding, which is living within the bounds of obligation and responsibility.

How many times do we hear, “I am proud to…, I am proud of….” How little (perhaps never) do we hear the phrase, “I am humbled to…, I am humbled by….” This readiness to display pride, this inability to declare humility is the greatest failing of higher education dished out by the education-industry-complex.

Only through the efforts of parents will education again be aligned to its true root, which is morality, as found in the wisdom of Greece and Rome and Judea. This is the root that nourished western civilization, a civilization which has become the desire of all the world.

In other words, western civilization cannot be anything other than Christian. If we move towards a post-Christian mind-set, then our societies will be cut off from the root and will become everything but civilized and everything but western.

Is it right that we should let this civilization be destroyed by the tyranny of the university elite, who care nothing for the souls of their students?

Let us finally start afresh and return education to its true purpose.

The English philosopher, A.N. Whitehead observed: “The essence of education is that it be religious ….A religious education is an education which inculcates duty and reverence ….The foundation of reverence is this perception, that the present holds within itself the complete sum of existence, backwards and forwards, that whole amplitude of time, which is eternity.”

Higher education needs to return to its true root, which is the care of the soul. Once we understand how to care for the soul, only then can we know how to educate our children, who can then walk into life and build the good world.


The photo shows, “Sunday Reading At Country School,” 1895, by Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky.