Tuesday, January 05, 2016

On Perseverance

“I do the very best I can, I mean to keep going. If the end brings me out all right, then what is said against me won’t matter. If I’m wrong, ten angels swearing I was right won’t make a difference.”
Bits & Pieces, April 29, 1993, p. 15-16

-- Abraham Lincoln

Blind To Celestial Wonders

Charles Spurgeon, soon after conversion:

I can get good religious conversations with Mr. Swindell, which is what I most need. Oh, how unprofitable has my past life been! Oh, that I should have been so long time blind to those celestial wonders, which now I can in a measure behold! Who can refrain from speaking of the marvellous love of Jesus which, I hope, has opened mine eyesl Now I see Him, I can firmly trust to Him for my eternal salvation. Yet soon I doubt again; then I am sorrowful; again faith appears, and I become confident of my interest in Him. I feel now as if I could do everything, and give up everything for Christ, and then I know it would be nothing in comparison with His love. I am hopeless of ever making anything like a return. How sweet is prayer! I would be always engaged in it. How beautiful is the Bible! I never loved it so before; it seems to me as necessary food. I feel that I have not one particle of spiritual life in me but what the Spirit placed there. I feel that I cannot live if He depart; I tremble and fear lest I should grieve Him. I dread lest sloth or pride should overcome me, and I should dishonor the gospel by neglect of prayer, or the Scriptures, or by sinning against God.

Historical Self-Righteousness

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Historical Self-Righteousness

Self-righteousness is the attitude of the man who says, "I thank God that I am not like other men. I do all the right stuff. I don't do the wrong stuff. I stand alone on the moral mountain. I look down, and pity everyone else below, mired as they are in the moral sewer (cf. Lk. 18.9-14)."

Self-righteous people tend to:
1) Judge others for their mistakes, "You should have... How could you... "
2) Complain of how they have been slighted, "Everyone has done me wrong. Poor me."
3) Walk around with a sense of stupefied moral outrage, "I can't believe those people did that. How dare they! How could they?"
4) Assume they are the last righteous person on a sea of moral shipwrecks, "All those Christians are hypocrites."
5) Have a very high view of their own moral abilities, and supreme confidence in their own judgment, "I will never compromise. Even if all others stray, I'll stand strong. They failed, but I would have done better."

Generally, we speak of self-righteous people as they relate to their contemporaries, especially their family, friends, fellow workers, and even Church.

However, I believe self-righteousness can also show itself as we relate to our forefathers. Let's call this historical self-righteousness. This is the attitude of the person who looks back in history, condemns all who went before, and concludes that the present generation is the first (and only) morally clean seed of Adam.

Historical self-righteousness seems to be on the rise. Note, for example, how many scathing biographies have come out in recent years. The targets have included  men like George Washington, George Whitfield, Francis Schaeffer, and C.S. Lewis. The sole purpose of these biographies seems to be tearing down these lofty figures for all their supposed faults. The authors pride themselves on having a superior moral position.

I want to make a few simple points in response to this trend:

First -- I doubt you (Mr. Biographer) or I would have done better under similar circumstances. Remember, when we consider the great men of history, we are considering men that are gifted above most people who ever lived (including YOU and ME). Thus, I doubt we would have done better in their circumstances. I'm sure we would have done worse.

Second -- don't forget that we ourselves have our own generational sins. Our great-great grand children will look back, 100 years from now, and say, "How could those people have been so blind about .... Why didn't they do more to stop it... Did they really believe...?"

Third -- historical self-righteousness is as dangerous as any other self-righteousness. It separates you from past humanity because you are 'so superior.' It shuts your ears to what you might learn from previous generations. It cuts you off from the ability to see your own sins (or those of your own generation). It blinds you to your own need of God's grace.

So, as we look back on our forefathers, let us not have the basic attitude of self-righteousness. Instead, let us pray, "We are not worthy even to look up to heaven. God have mercy on us."

Finally, a word to biographers. Aren't we all biographers? Aren't we all engaged in processing the figures of history?  We 'write' the lives of those who went before us whenever we speak about them. This includes 'writing' about our grandparents and parents. This includes 'writing' about the heroes of history: Socrates, Julius Caeser, George Washington, et. al. This also includes 'writing' about the heroes of the faith: Augustine, Chrysostom, Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther, John Calvin, C.S. Lewis, et. al., and all who comprise the cloud of witnesses who went before us. All who, even now, are with Christ in glory.

My final word is a word of warning to all us biographers. This is from Michael Jose's review of A.N. Wilson's bitterly critical and self-righteous biography of C.S. Lewis:

"I am strongly reminded of the position in which John Betjeman's biographer, Bevis Hillier found himself. He tells us that he decided to avoid producing a 'critical biography', which is an illegitimate art-form, as it 'yokes together historical narrative and literary criticism'. This is Wilson's error, and he compounds it with his own repetitious and subjective brand of psychoanalysis. It is as if he cannot restrict himself to any one role, or even a coherent set of roles. He wants to be an honest broker, iconoclast, Devil's Advocate, psychoanalyst, literary critic, and historian by turns. He fails."

Bad Dreams, and The Good Fight

Bad Dreams and the Good Fight
I sometimes feel like I am waking up from a bad dream. 

The sensation is like this... I see things, shocking things, before my eyes."It can't be this bad," I mumble, in sleepy daze.

I rub my eyes, and listen for a moment. I'm aware that I am half asleep, half awake. As I'm waking, I look at the world around me with puzzlement. I see figures like ghosts. I see the lips of the ghosts moving, and I hear distant voices. They are muttering indistinct words about wealth, happiness, and personal peace. The ghosts are moving quickly, and stumbling recklessly. They are bent on cruelty. The cruelty is outlandish, almost too cruel to be real. 

Faced with such cruelty, I comfort myself, "Thankfully, I dreamed this. I must have dreamed this. It can't be this bad."

Then, I realize -- I have been awake the whole time. It was worse than a bad dream. It was a bad reality. I only thought I was dreaming so I might, for a moment, escape from the stern world of reality.

I get this sensation every so often when someone does something truly cruel. I got this sensation almost daily when my mom was in ICU. I could hardly believe the way medical professionals treated my mother. Can people be this uncaring, this careless, this unprofessional? Again and again, I would rub my eyes, and hope it was a bad dream. It wasn't. That uncaring, that careless, that unprofessional? Yes, they can. Jesus wasn't kidding when he said beware of men. 

Looking bad, this bad dream sensation is a recurring nightmare. Over the years, fairly frequently, I meet someone, and I walk away thinking, "Really? Could a person have that little love? That little sense of common humanity? Could a person be that blind?"

I rub my eyes, and try to focus. Perhaps my vision is skewed. People aren't capable of that kind of cruelty, really. I must be having a bad dream. Then, upon refocus, I get the picture perfectly clear. I see the facts. It wasn't a dream. It was reality. Yes, people can be that cruel. Paul wasn't kidding when he quoted David, who also wasn't kidding, 

"Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.There is no fear of God before their eyes."

For me, this kind of 'reality' is hard to take in. Maybe that is why I try and refocus. Maybe that is why I hope, for a moment, that it really is just a bad dream. Or perhaps -- I have wondered this of late -- I don't take seriously the doctrine of total depravity. 

You and I can day-dream about all the 'good' people. We can shrink back when the Bible says, "the heart is desperately wicked." But, facts are facts. The fact is, the sons of Adam are capable of astounding cruelty. The fact is, as Charles Spurgeon put it, you can't slander humanity. 

So, the sons of Adam are morally broken, and terribly twisted. This is reality. This is bad news, but news we must honestly face. You may, however, be surprised at what this news does to us. It makes us soldiers.

One consequence of really facing evil is -- one which may not be immediately clear -- is that when we see evil, we become ready to fight it. If we honestly face evil, then we stop making silly excuses like, 'people are really good... they have good motives... they really mean the best.' 

I'm convinced that a basic understanding of total depravity is the foundation for 'fighting the good fight.' Real evil calls us forth to battle. If, however, evil is only a 'bad dream,' we too easily excuse ourselves for going back to sleep.

My favorite example of a man who chose to fight evil is Al Pacino as the mayor in City Hall. I would encourage you to check out the whole speech here, but this is my favorite excerpt. 

There was a palace that was a city. It was a palace! It was a palace and it can be a palace again! A palace in which there is no king or queen or dukes or earls or princes, but subjects all -- subjects beholden to each other, to make a better place to live. Is that too much to ask? Are we asking too much for this? Is it beyond our reach?! Because if it is, then we are nothing but sheep being herded to the final slaughterhouse! I will not go down that way! I choose to fight back! I choose to rise, not fall! I choose to live, not die!!

Now, if you know the movie City Hall, then you know that Pacino has to eventually face the corruption in his own heart. I won't ruin the ending for you, but I will say that he -- and the city he served -- would have been better off had he started the fight against evil in his own heart. So, I'm reminded that the fight against evil begins with myself. It begins, not by waging war 'out there,' but by waging 'the war within.' 

The battle begins by knowing that we ourselves are capable of astounding cruelty. Facts are facts. There are many things in our hearts that belong on hell's bookshelf. We know this, we face it, and we confess that it is not a bad dream. It's the reality of a bad heart. When we face evil in our hearts with realism, it is at that moment that we are able to call it what it is, and start fighting. We face evil. We rub our eyes. We see it really is that bad. Then, we fight. Before, when we didn't think we were that bad, when we thought we were only dreaming -- we could have been excused for simply going back to sleep. Now, having seen the enemy within to be a real bad bad guy -- now, we fight. 

Men fall asleep easily enough when they don't sense the presence of a real enemy. Men, however, who know for a fact that evil is near -- these men stay awake. They arm themselves, and "watch, and pray." And, when they see the enemy coming, they say, 

"I will not go down that way! I choose to fight back!"

Revelation V. Humanism

The existence of God is really a cognition of the human soul, like the cognition of matter or of ourselves. It is so inseparable from the development of reason that wherever we find a man, we find one who is not a stranger to the existence of God. The real problem of Theology is not to prove that a God exists, as if she were instructing the ignorant or imparting a new truth to the mind, but to show the grounds upon which we are already in possession of the truth. It is to vindicate an existing faith, and not to create a new one. The belief itself is universal - as universal as the belief in the soul. However men may differ on other points, they agree in this.

- James Henry Thornwell

We seek to attain our way to God by right thinking. This is wrong. Why? Our thinking, our very best thinking, cannot reveal God -- but, good news! - God has already revealed himself (Romans 1:18ff.)!

Our main problem is not possession of the truth, but suppression of the truth (Romans 1:18).

To see how easily we go astray, consider the fundamentalist v. liberal confrontation in the 1930 in America. The liberals, based on their presuppositions about the world, began to question the Bible: Is this really true? The word of God? Especially trouble to the liberal was the miraculous. It didn't seem possible, based on how they viewed reality, that a baby could be born of a virgin. In response, the fundamentalist, sought to defend the word of God. This is true, they said, and we will prove it. And so, they marched out a litany of reasoned essays and books about the trustworthiness and reliability of the Bible. The fundamentalist mindset continues to our day with all manner of books seeking to prove various things about the character of the Bible (The Bible is infallible), or about the character of Jesus (He is either Lord, or Lunatic), or the events in the Bible (Evidence That Demands A Verdict!). 

However, the fundamentalist doctrine of revelation is rationalistic. It is based on human reason, and therefore, just another form of Humanism. The fundamentalist was concerned at every point to “prove” the Bible is the revelation of God.

There are problems with this.

First, the fundamentalist definition of the word of God, and the whole concept of revelation, was way too limited. The fundamentalist put himself in the corner of autodidactic inspiration of the individual words of scripture, and confined the whole idea of revelation to this. Certainly, God's revelation includes scripture, but not only scripture. The the truth is: God is not shy. God is a revealing God; God delights to manifest himself: he delights to let the glories of his Person sparkle. The truth is, God is constantly talking. Even in his wrath, he is revelatory (Romans 1:18, "The wrath of God is being revealed...). 

His distance is a certain kind of closeness. 

His silence is a certain kind of speaking.

We don't have to do a manhunt for God; He is constantly in our face. 

The second problem? The fundamentalist presumed that the speech of God depended on man, i.e. man must, before believing or bowing, PROVE that God speaks. As if, God's words needed the validation of the word of man. The fundamentalist tried to speak for God; as if, God couldn't speak for himself. The fundamentalist sought, by human reason, to defend God. As if, God couldn't defend himself. The fundamentalist, ironically, leaves God out of the picture, and even shrinks God. The fundamentalist had a limited sense of God’s revelation because they defined it as, "what man has received."

They defined it, in other words, in Humanist terms.

The fact is: God has revealed himself, whether we receive it or not.

Revelation is NOT what God gives to some men to give to other men. Revelation does not depend on man AT ALL.Revelation is, instead, what God has given, all by his lonesome, apart from human aid. Revelation is, not what man has merited by his reason, but what God his GIVEN, freely, and graciously, even to (especially to) his worst and least deserving enemies.

Revelation is not what man does; it is, instead, what God does.  Something, God has always been doing; something God is still doing, at present, via “what has been made (Romans 1:20)." Revelation is what God does; it is not, therefore, uncertain, unreliable, dubious, or murky.What God does, he does surely. God has made sure that it is utterly clear and obvious that he is there SO THAT man would be without excuse (Romans 1:20).

Revelation is not what man seeks, but what man suppresses; not what man runs to, but what man runs from (Romans 1:18, 20).

The letters of revelation are written in the sky in huge blinking neon letters, in PLAIN sight (Romans 1:19). We look at the sky every day and miss it – not because it is missing – but because we are blind as bats.

The truth that man is naturally BLIND is related to doctrine of revelation: the problem is not – as fundamentalist and modernist assumed – with revelation. The problem is with us. The problem is: we are blind.

This problem is not scientific; it is not rational; it is MORAL: we suppress the truth. This problem is WITH US, and it is a willful aggressive rebellion against the plain truth. This has to do with our sinful will. We believe what we want to believe. We harbor pride, and press on, in rebellion against God, in spite of revelation.

The fundamentalist fought for the truth, “God has revealed himself,” as if this truth were in doubt. As if, it needed to be proven. As if. its proof depended on man. The fundamentalist said, "I know God has spoken because I KNOW," i.e. I reasoned it out. The modernist higher critic fought against this. He said, "I don't know what, if anything, God has spoken because I DON'T KNOW." They both depended on human reason. They fought against each other without realizing they were on the same side, both FIGHTING against God. The fundamentalist and the modernist were enemies, in theory -- but, not in reality. There war was a Civil War. They used the same method (rationalism), and they fought for the same side (humanism).

When the fundamentalist entered the fray, he’d conceded, at the beginning, “Perhaps God has not revealed himself.” He conceded this when he presumed to prove God had spoken. He was, in his heart of hearts, no different from the modernist. He questioned the reliability of God's revelation. Only, he came up on the side of "reliable." The fundamentalist, therefore, gave the only ground that was ever worth defending: he measured God's reason by human reasons. When, in fact, human reason is worthless.

God’s revelation cannot, and never will be, proved by human logic or theorems. A man tryin to prove God exists is akin (on an infinite scale) to a flea trying to prove a man exists. We humans are not qualified to prove God. We are not qualified to judge the Bible as "inspired," or not. We are not qualified to judge God's word as true, or not. When we approach the Bible, standing above it, talking about how we can "prove it," we are acting as if we were God. Who are we to judge God? Our words do not prove God's; no, but God's words, by grace, prove ours. 

How can I put this? God doesn't need you (or me). He is not dependent on us. He is not quivering in the heavens, hoping with all his might, that we will rise up and save him from the atheists and doubters. God isn't served by human hands (Acts 17:25); God is the one who gives us life and breath and everything else. God is not teetering, leaning wearily on human hands; He is the one who created our hands. Do you really think he needs them to prop him up? God is, similarly, not dependent on human reason. He is the one who gives us everything, including our reason. How ridiculous, then, that we would try to use our gift of reason to prove/disprove the GIVER. 

God’s revelation is as plain as the sun in the sky. It is madness and irreverence to question it. To question it (like the Fundamentalist) is to deny  it, and continue to suppress it. The fundamentalist made the same mistake as the modernist of his day. He used the same means (human reason), but only declared a different result.

The same ridiculous method is employed constantly. I've often heard,“Prove that God exists by the scientific method, and then I'll believe.” My first answer is: Fine, but first, I want you to prove the scientific method BY the scientific method. If truth can only be ascertained through the scientific method, then the scientific method is, itself, unverifiable. The scientific method can't even prove itself, much less God.

Seriously? Prove God by the scientific method? That's folly. God stands above the scientific method, and whatever is true of that method is only true because of the existence of a TRUE God. 

God doesn't need the scientific method. He doesn't need the fundamentalist. He doesn't need ANYONE to prove He is there. He doesn't need you. He doesn't need me. On the contrary, WE NEED HIM. God isn't a question in a human debate; God IS. And, that's all there is to it. 

Our situation as human being is not a life of perplexity about the questionable existence of a possible God. Our situation is being confronted with the definite certain reality of living God.

The dilemma is NOT: is God there? But, rather, Will I bow?

The dilemma is NOT: has God spoken? But, rather, Will I listen?


Room, to breathe,
think, feel, grieve.
Room to stay,
– or else, to leave.
Room to say, to play, to pray.
Room to doubt, and to believe.
Room to take, and to receive.

Room, to lie quietly in the grass, 
and not think about the past;
Room, also, to remember; and room, to forget.
Room, to count losses; to regret.
Room to be forgive; to cancel, and to pay, debts.

Room to set aside demands,
and slumber in the shade.
Room, to escape hard hasty aches
for worlds of sleepy dreams.
Room, bursting at the seams.

There's room there;
room to lay aside your cares.
Room, there, room up to the sky:
room to laugh, and room to cry.
Room there, where travelers walk on waves,
skip on stormy lakes,
and recline upon the breaks.
Room there, where, every savior's saved
who died for other's sakes.
Room there, where, like everwhere,
the ogres marches make
-- but there, the sleepers never wake.

Room, a room is free at last.
Room to think
about the future and the past.
Room to plan my days,
or scan my ways,
praise my wins,
confess my sins.

Room: the space for grace.
There is room, if you will.
Room to feel
the joy and the pain.
To count my losses and my gains.
Room, to exult in hope;
Room, to cut losses, and and cope.

Room, a thousand miles across.
Room to grieve;
room; reprieve for loss.
Room to weep, and moan, and tear
my clothes all into tatters.
Room to be now, and beware.
Room to feel frightened,
but not scared.
Room now –
room to care, or not to care.

Room falls through my hands
like a sieve.
So much room.
Enough to grow, to know,
to live.

1-2 Kings and Romans 1:18-32: A Comparative Outline

1-2 Kings and Romans 1:18-32: A Comparative Outline

I. Israel has forsaken the true King; thus, they replace him with a king (Idolatry) (1 Sam. 8.4-5, 7; Romans 1.23)

* The root sin is ALWAYS idolatry, “…feared other gods (2 Kgs 17.7).”

II. Israel suppresses the knowledge of God (for example, killing prophets) (1 Kgs. 18.4, 22; Romans 1.18)

III. Knowledge now suppressed, God seems more and more distant (Romans 1.18; The seeming absence of God in 2 Kings)

*God is distanced by his people via idolatry; He is still present, but not in familiar way; He is present in wrath.

III. The Consequence of Forsaking God = Being God Forsaken (Romans 1.24, 26, 28)

IV. Thus, now more and more God-forsaken, Israel descends into immorality (1 Kgs 14.24; Romans 1.24)

V. The knowledge of God, now suppressed, is yet present by His WORD of judgment and merciful calls to repent (Elijah and Elisha)

VI. God’s people, now mired in immorality, provoke God’s anger and incur just judgment

(cf. 2 Kgs. 17.11, “The Anger of the Lord,” with Romans 1.18, “The Wrath of God.”)

*Judgments, according to Deuteronomy, grow increasingly severe (Dt. 28.15ff): siege, drought, famine (2 Kings 6:25), locusts, military humiliation, etc., until the final judgment: Exile (2 Kgs 17.7).

What is Exile, really? Being cast out of the good (Dt. 3.25, 8.7) promised land? Cast away from God? Exile is a picture and preview of Hell: literally, Hell on Earth. Hell is the place where rebels are forever exiled the promised land of a new Earth, and from God who is Good, "Depart from me, workers of iniquity (Mt. 7.23)."

Note: the reason the land was Good had to do with the closeness of the Good God.

* The root sin is STILL idolatry (2 Kgs 17.7)

VII. Thus, the WORD and presence of God is primarily present to JUDGE (ex. 1 Kgs 17.1)

*I am indebted to Dr. Brian Aucker for his insight into the relevance of this question.

God's Law And The Law Gravity

Prophets predicted the future, not like our goofy end-of-days fanatics. They predicted a coming grief; they said: IF you don't repent, this WILL happen. But, this may not happen; this NEED not happen; you can still repent.

Unlike contemporary "prophets," they hoped their predictions would not come to pass. Their predictions were warnings: If you continue in sin, then judgment will arrive. That judgment is certain; unbreakable. That judgment is deserved; it will be just. They predicted the future in the sense of warning, like a man warns his friend when he sees a snake in his path. They predicted, like a man who sees his neighbor plant turnip seeds, and predicts a full crop of turnips. Their prediction were prescriptive more so than predictive. "If this, then this." You will reap what you sow.

They saw God's law as warp and woof of the universe. To break it is to break yourself. To abandon it is to abandon health and happiness. God's law = not to silly rules. God's law isn't akin to arbitrary dictates, some kind of meaningless test set down by God to see how we "score."

God's law = the law of gravity. You can try to break it if you want; the result of such a venture will not be, no matter what you think, indifferent.If you try to break the law of gravity, you'll end up breaking your bones; if you break the law of God, you'll end up breaking yourself.

Favorite Latin Phrases

My translation of my favorite Latin phrases.

Vipera in verpecula est.

Vipers are in violets.
i..e. Don't go by looks alone. A thing may look lovely, and still contain danger.


Vincit qui patitur.
The perseverer prevails.


Veritatem dies aperit.
Time tells the truth.


Varitatio delectat
Variation vivifies.
i.e. change is pleasing.

Ut sementem feceris, ita metes
Whatever you sow, that exactly, and that exactly, shall you reap.


Ubi bene, ibi patria
Where well, welcome home.
i.e. The place where you feel well is your natural home.


Tolle, lege; Tolle, lege!
(from Augustine's Confessions)
Take; read! Take; read!
Note: it's hard to capture the loveliness of the sound. The latin is poetic: To-lay-le-gay; to-lay-le-gay, cf. a similar poetic phrase, "Cellar door."


Sunt facta verbis difficiliora
Work is worth more than words.


Si vis pacem, para bellum.
Prize peace? Then, for war, prepare.


Roma die uno non aedificata est
Rome rose not in one day.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Who watches watchmen?


Qui tacet consentire
Silence is consent.


Qui non proficit, deficit.
Where no profit, deficit.
i.e. go forward, or you are going backward.


Praemonitus, praemunitus
Forewarned; forearmed.


Potius sero quam numquam
Better now than never.
 i.e. the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; second best time, today
Periculum in mora

Delay = Danger.

Otia dant vitia.
Ease leads to vice
i.e. Spurgeon, "The peril of prosperity."


Optimi natatores saepius submerguntur.
The best swimmers often drown
i.e., beware your strength


Adde parvum parvo magnus acervus erit
Add little to little and there will be a lot

 — Ovid.


Aeque pars ligni curvi ac recti valet igni.
Crooked logs make straight fires.

Obscuris vera involvens

Obscurity envelopes truth.

- Virgil
  • English equivalent: Truth gives a short straight answer; lies go round about.

Non quia difficilia sunt non audemus, sed quia non audemus, difficilia sunt. 

Most reason: because things are difficult, we do not dare -- but, the truth is: because we do not dare, things are difficult.

(Seneca, Letter to Lucilius, letter 104, section 26, line 5)

You can never have too much protection: only, too little.


Nocere facile est, prodesse difficile
To hurt is easy; to benefit, difficult.


Age quod agis.

Do what you do.

Aliis si licet, tibi non licet.

Good for one is not good for all.
i.e. what is good for another may be bad for you.

Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur.

The world desires to be deceived; therefore it is.

-Attributed to Petronius


Memento mori

Remember mortality.


Malum consilium quod mutari non potest.

Only a bad plan cannot be changed.


Iucundum est narrare sua mala.

Problems shared are problems halved.
i.e. A burden shared weighs less.


Interdum stultus bene loquitur.

A fool may give a wise man counsel.

*Learn what you can from all.


Inimicum quamvis humilem docti est metuere
Experience teaches us to dread every enemy, no matter how small.
Shakespeare: Better to weigh an enemy more might than he seems.


Improbe Neptunum accusat, qui iterum naufragiam facit.

Don't complain about the sea on your second shipwreck.


Imperare sibi maximum imperium est.

Self-control is the ultimate control.
i.e. better to be king of yourself than king of the world.


Hostium munera, non munera.

Gifts of enemies are no gifts.


Honor sequitir fugientem.

Honor follows the fleeing.


Homines quod volunt credunt.

Men believe what they want to.
-Julius Caesar


Fortes fortuna iuvat
  • Fortune favors the brave.
Factis ut credam facis.
  • Translation: Deeds, then I may believe you.

Dum vita est, spes est.
  • Translation: While there is life, there is hope.
Dum spiro, spero.
  • Translation: "As long as I breathe, I hope." 
  • Translated as "While I breathe, I hope" the motto of the State of South Carolina
Diem vesper commendat.
  • Translation: Celebrate the day when the day is over (lit. when it is evening).
  • Meaning: Don't celebrate until you are 100 % sure there is a reason to do so

Deus quem punire vult dementat.
  • Whom Gods will destroy, they first make mad.

Corruptissima re publica plurimae leges
  • A more corrupt republic leads to more laws (Tacitus)

Consuetudo altera natura est
  • Habit is second nature.

Consilio, quod respuitur, nullum subest auxilium.
  • He who won't be advised, cannot be helped

Cogitationes posteriores sunt saniores.
  • Second thoughts are sounder.

Cedens in uno cedet in pluribus.
  • Yielding in one place results in yielding in many places.
  • In for a penny; in for a pound.
  • Virtue that parleys is near to surrender.

Cave ab homine unius libri.
  • Fear the man of one book.

Bene diagnoscitur, bene curatur.
  • Good diagnoses lead to good cures.

Aut viam inveniam aut faciam.
  • Translation: I'll either find, or make, a way

Abbati, medico, patrono que intima pande.
  • There's two people you should always tell the truth: your doctor, and your lawyer.

Abyssus abyssum invocat.
  • Deep, to deep, calls.

Acta Non Verba.
  • Acts, not words.

Monday, January 04, 2016

The Sin of Boredom And The Working World

The ancient greek term acedia is equivalent to our word, "bored." A person who nurtures acedia lives in restless slackness, with a lack of energetic desire, and a bitter attitude toward life. Such a person is often described as "bored," and they view their plight as unavoidable. How can they help being bored when the world is sooooo boring?

My goal here is to get us to rethink a whole category of modern life: boredom. I'll show that boredom is, first of all, a sin: a sin we are responsible for. Then, I'll discuss how we are not only sinners, but sinned against: our personal sin of boredom is nurtured by a culture of work without dignity.

I. The Sin of Boredom: Dignity Denied

Boredom: restlessness, even when rested. Boredom: feeling "there's nothing to do," and at the same time, there is too much to do. Boredom: weariness without work; even, a determined weariness while avoiding work. Boredom: laborious, but never laboring. Boredom: woefully un-entertained, all the while, surrounded by entertainment.

Boredom: a scourge on our lives, an affliction we often complain of.

We are afflicted with something but, surprise, this is a self-inflicted wound.

Boredom is -- despite what you've heard -- not a situation you are within, but a situation within you. Boredom is a condition you are in: a condition you are responsible for. The world around you is not the problem,  but the world within you; the you in the world is the problem. Boredom is not a state on the map in which you find yourself; it is a state which finds itself in your heart; it is a state of mind, an approach to life.

In other words, boredom is a sin. Thomas Acquinas referred to this sinful state as ACEDIA.

Acedia, for Aquinas, signifies a man renouncing the claim implicit in his human dignity. This man does not want to be who God wants him to be, and that ultimately means that he does not wish to be what he really, fundamentally, is. Acedia is a "despairing refusal to be oneself (Pieper, "Leisure: The Basis of Culture," pg. 7)."

To be myself means, fundamentally, embracing my own personal dignity.  As a dignified person, then, I engage the world around me with joy and energy. The "bored" person is incapable of this because they expect to be engaged by the world. The dignified person is active: they take life, and take life on; they lean into life. The "bored" person is passive: expecting life to come to them.

To be bored is simply this: it is to sin against myself by denying my dignity.

 Boredom is a sin; we must repent. 

That said, we are not just sinners when it comes to boredom; we have been sinned against. We live in a culture that is constantly attacking our dignity. One place where this is most prevalent is the American workplace.

II. The Sin of Boredom: Dignity Denied
I've argued that we ourselves are the root of our own boredom. But, that doesn't mean there are not forces around us which contribute to this malaise-ed daze. In contemporary American life, our whole approach to WORK erodes dignity. Employers deny dignity, and employees cooperate by relinquishing dignity. Employers nurture ACEDIA because they disclaim the dignity of employees; employes nurture ACEDIA because they disregard their own dignity.

In terms of how boredom displays itself in the life of the de-dignified worker, well that's another essay. I'll focus in this essay on how the American workplace is (as a whole) geared toward stripping down human dignity.

This stripping down comes in the form of  an attack on:

1) Enjoyment
2) Individual Creativity
3) Life
4) Will

II.1. The Attack On Enjoyment

We may think, because we work constantly, are successful, and dedicated to our jobs, that we are doing what we should to overcome this weariness that plagues us: this boredom. We may think, because we work hard that we are fully engaged in the enjoyment of our lives.

Actually, our concept of work makes us feel guilty about enjoying life.

An employee is lauded if he puts in extra work, and sleeps at the office. Another employee is ridiculed because he wants to be home at 5 to eat dinner with his family. Or, because he takes a run during lunch (instead of taking, while he is off the clock, a working lunch). 

In such a context, even a man's free time is looked upon as belonging to the employer. If this man says he want a vacation, or seems to have an active social life, or desires some private place in life where work doesn't impinge (i.e. The boss can't call him on his cell phone day and night; coworkers can't send him work related emails 24/7),  he is termed LAZY. In this context leisure becomes another word for laziness, idleness. or sloth. Leisure is  bad. 

For Aquinas, acedia is the incapacity to enjoy leisure. 

This incapacity, far from contributing to productivity is, for Acquinas, the source of restlessness, and the ultimate cause of "work for work's sake."

"A restlessness, issuing from a lack of will to action, is itself at the bottom of a fanatical and suicidal urge to work."

Need proof that we are working for the sake of work, and that our lifestyle is plagued by joylessness? Consider this: We feel guilty when we go on vacation. Guilty, when we take a day off. Guilty, when we call in sick (no matter how sick we are). Guilty, even, when we spend time with our children or spouse. A reasonable person would feel guilty for working 12 hours, a day and never spending time with his/her children. We feel guilty for only working 12 hours: guilty over the hour we did spend with our children.

We are taught that our MAIN allegiance lies with our employer, not self, not family, and certainly not our happiness.

Think about it: When was the last time your heard your boss praise you for taking a vacation? Probably, never; instead, the man who doesn't take all his vacation days is praised. 

I recently came across a man who talked of being teased and humiliated because he dared to take most (not all!!!) his vacation days. These were vacation days he had earned, and built up. Yet, when he dared use them, he was ridiculed.

So, we are taught, and accept as gospel, that our life is NOT about joy, but rather work. We are human DOINGS, not human BEINGS. 

II.2. The Attack on Individual Creativity

The modern "worker" is characterized by paradox. The worker must be energetic, but he must not be independent. He must be a self-starter, but he'll get in trouble if he starts something himself. The worker possesses energy, and the powers of action, but is discouraged from acting creatively. Every task has a rule book, and a bureaucracy of channels that leave him exhausted. If he should happen to act independently -- even if such an action leads to great profit and benefit for his employer -- he is chided. Independence, and individual creativity, are viewed as insubordination. In such a context, one's individual personality is hindered; what is needed, really required, of the contemporary worker, is not human engagement in labor, but labor without human engagement: mindless, devoted, robotic workaholism. What is needed, required, is a slavish submission to one's superiors.

What is needed is not individual creative persons. 

What is needed is slaves.

II.3. The Attack on Life

Workers are treated as less than creative individual human beings. Treated, as if he had no life outside work. 

He is expected to die for the employer. His life only has value as he devalues it, and any sense of enjoyment in it. His boss says: "You are so important to this company because you are willing to work long hours, and sacrifice anything." Yet, he doesn't see the irony: You are so important because you are willing to give your life; but, in giving your life you are saying your own life is not that important.You are saying your own life has value only to the degree that you are willing to sacrifice it for the employer.

The worker is called to extreme acts of devotion. Acts of such magnitude that we'd expect them in the old south, in the days of slavery. We can't imagine our "morally superior" age could be guilty of abusing and enslaving one another. Yet, consider: 

In many contexts, especially in the contexts where pay is high, and employment is competitive (Think Google, Amazon, Apple, Yahoo, and the recent headlines about despicable, outright abusive treatment, of employees) the work force is expected to endure treatment we'd only associate with slavery in the old south. The expectations are ridiculous:

-Expected to sacrifice dignity. Lower level workers are looked upon as inferior, and expected to mindlessly endure mistreatment. For example, verbal abuse and degradation from leadership (yep, Steve Jobs).

-Expected to sacrifice health. Expected to go without sleep, or proper nutrition (e.g. live out of vending machines), or exercise (e.g. sit inside at a computer all day). 

-Expected to sacrifice family. The worker is called to leave their families for extended periods of time. Expected to work insane hours. Expected, to neglect their children, or else hire caregivers to fulfill the role of parent. Expected, to move their family across country if the job demands. 

-Expected to be on call 24/7, as if they had no private world apart from work. 

Several times, I have worked for companies that would get upset with me if I didn't answer their call on my day/time off. If they called, and I let it go to voice mail, I'd get in trouble when I went back to work.

"Hey," a boss would say, "Why didn't you answer my call? I need you to answer, or call me back ASAP?"
"Even when I'm off?" I protest.
"Yes," the boss would say, chagrined, "I have to be able to get in touch with you."

I'd walking away thinking: Then, why even have a day off? 

Also, if I'm expected to answer, or call you back, even on my day off, then that ruins my day off. It makes the whole day an anxiety ridden affair of hoping I don't get a call from work. It's hard to plan anything when I know I just might get a call from work. It's hard to relax when I'm unofficially on "the clock."

One oddity of this reality of always being unofficially on the clock is that the employee is not compensated at all for this time. This amounts to having an unpaid workforce on "the tip of the finger" of the boss. There is no "me" time over here, and "work time" over there. There's only "work time." Me time is work time.

-Expected to contribute his/her own private financial resources to the company charity. 

I've often heard of employees being badgered into giving to the company charity, and I've had this happen to me. I knew of a man who said that his advancement within his company was directly tied to whether he gave generously to the charity of the company's choosing. 

In this context, employees are not presented with opportunities to give, and then left to their own conscience so as to be a "cheerful giver." Employees are expected, pressured, strong armed, into giving. Contributions are often recorded in a public place so the less generous are shamed. Those employees who do not give generously are, mysteriously, passed over for promotions. Ever heard the Biblical principle, "The worker is worthy of his hire?" Forget that; in the American working world: The worker is not even worthy of his hire; the worker is not even entitled to keep the paycheck he rightfully earned.

I once worked for a company that held a meeting yearly to encourage charitable giving. At the end of the meeting, employees had to line up, and walk out the door. The boss stood at the door, and made each employee sign a sheet stating what they'd like to give, or else, a sheet saying they did not want to give. We actually had to sign a sheet stating we did not want to give the money that was 100% ours!

In short, workers are expected to suffer, to take up their cross and die daily, for their employer. This secular call to die for a cause (the company vision, the stock margins, etc) is shocking. It is assumed that THE WORK, or something to do with the work, has behind it such value as to be worthy of our lives and even our deaths. The man who stops and thinks about this for a moment will shortly come to the conclusion that no company's vision, no matter how grand, is worthy of his life, much less his death. 

Many causes in history have been worthy of death; they were worthy of death because they were grand causes. The cause itself self-evidently declared its worth; the cause is significant, grand, awesome, enthralling; it is worthy of death because it is worthy of death. The willingness to die was not demanded as a prerequisite for joining the cause; it was included in the cause itself, as a sort of natural aside. Sacrifice was a byproduct of being caught up in the grandness of the cause. So, David Livingstone, a man who sacrificed everything, could say, "I never made a sacrifice." 

In the contemporary working world, we are expected to live for work. Expected, to die for work.

Yet, I ask you, is this a cause worth living for? A cause worth dying for?

Can the modern Wall Street Savant who sacrifices his youth, destroys two marriages, alienates his kids, ruins his health, and ends up dying of a heart attack from job related stress in his early 50's say that he lived his life fully? Or, that he died for something worthwhile?


II.4.The Attack On Will

Employees are called on to "die," to make grand sacrifices to the grand cause of work. However, they soon run out of will; it's not long before they start questioning, "Is it worth it?"

This is where the employer steps in to reignite the employees fire for "the cause." How do they do this? They expend massive effort in keeping up the spirits of exhausted employees: their, "morale." 

I was confused when I first heard the word "morale" mentioned, in an offhand comment, in a corporate environment.

I was eating lunch one day with a coworker from a different department. I asked, "How do you liking working over in ______."

She answered, "We are doing OK now, but last year was hard. Our supervisor at the time was unorganized. He had favorites; everyone else, he treated terribly. People from other departments noticed. They kept saying, 'Morale is down over there, but we don't know why.' Well, that was why."

"Morale?" I thought, "interesting choice of words." 

I soon found that "morale" was much on the minds of everyone, and especially my supervisors. They attended workshops on how to improve morale. They returned with bags of tricks, proven ways to boost morale. The result was sometimes silly. After one of these workshops, one supervisor (a diligent individual, and decent boss, but not a people person, at all) abruptly started trying to remember everyone's name, and speak to them individually, daily. Ironically, his attempt to boost morale by being more personal proved to be annoying; he'd make it a point to go around at the end of the day, and say a word to whoever was in the office. This often meant he'd interrupt meetings, or insert himself suddenly in conversations with customers. I liked him better when he was distant; at least, he was sincere.

I started to see that the "fun" work activities (e.g. motivational meetings, pizza day, encouraging memos, freebies, etc.) were orchestrated to boost morale. Previously, I'd thought of these kinds of interruptions in the work day as happy surprises, spontaneous goodwill from above; they came, of a sudden, out of the gracious heart of my employer. After getting a peak into the social engineering that props up the "morale" of a company, I saw something sinister in all the fun. All this was fun arose from a careful plan, out of a manufactured text book, for the perceived good of the company. That is, if it would be better for the company to cut out all fun, even if such measures were harmful to the employees, then things would change, tomorrow. This wasn't fun for the sake of fun; it was serious fun: fun for the sake of morale. After that, office fun was tedious: the birthday cake tasted too sweet; blue jean Friday became a little bluer. 

When I pulled back the curtain, I saw that what I'd taken for tokens of kindness were actually tokens of unkindness. My employer's acts of kindness were geared, not toward my good, but the good of the company. I was, in other words, being manipulated. My employer was making an end run around my will: getting me to do what he wanted, all the while tricking me into thinking it's what I wanted.

*Credit to, Leisure, The Basis of Culture, by Josef Pieper for inspiring most of these thoughts. Page numbers refer to pages in that book.


Sadness overwhelms him when he is confronted with the divine goodness immanent in himself.
The contrary of Acedia is man's happy and cheerful affirmation of his own being, his acquiescence in the world and in God - which is to say love... This is at an infinite distance from the "fanatical worker.

-Josef Pieper


Acedia is a vitia capitalia, i.e. a fault from which other faults follow "naturally." There is that restlessness that makes leisure impossible. Then too leisure is only possible when a man is at one with himself, when he acquieces in his own being, whereas the essence of Acedia is the refusal to acquiesce in one's own being. Idleness, and the incapacity for leisure, correspond with one another. Leisure is the contrary of both. This restlessness and despair are the twin children of Acedia. Finally, idleness so far from being synonymous with leisure, is an inner disposition rendering leisure impossible.

-Josef Pieper