Saturday, March 31, 2007

Marginal Movement

Currently I'm reading P.J. O'Rourke's little book entitled On The Wealth of Nations. In it he tries to explain, in condensed form, Adam Smith's weightier tome published back in 1776.

My only complaint about O'Rourke's writing style is his desire always to be jocular. He'll give a pithy quotation from Adam Smith and then try to attach to it some funny quip of his own. It gets in the way sometimes, for in several places it ends up only obscuring the point that O'Rourke is trying to make. It also ends up confusing what Adam Smith was trying to say. I think it will leave the reader confused, wondering "what the heck is this all about anyhow?"

Another book I recently finished was Rodney Stark's The Rise of Christianity. Now I have always despised sociology, even going back to that day when I was in the library at my college. Then, as I was pondering what major to pursue, I was picking through some sociology journals and was astonished at the level of pretentious gobbledygook they contained. "Do I want to spend my life reading and writing this stuff?" I think I must have had enough good sense to say "no". Now some of Stark's book was interesting, but only some, and my esteem for sociology wasn't increased any by reading it. In his book, he tries to apply the quasi-scientific methodologies and theories of sociology in an attempt to fill the gaps in our knowledge of early church history. He is acutely concerned to explain how a "marginal movement" managed to take over the entire Western World. (This has always been a very disturbing subject for the Enlightenment, for it suggests the fearful prospect that there might have been something supernatural about it; and at all costs the supernatural must be explained away.) The book was an interesting exercise, but the conclusions were sometimes dubious. For my part, I'll just stick to real history, such as written by historians, who do the tedious work of reading musty old documents written in Latin, Greek, or Hebrew. But nothing in the book was more absurd that Stark's claim that there were only about two to three thousand xtians spread around the Roman Empire in the 60s A.D. Maybe they didn't number in the millions, but there were certainly enough xtians in Corinth alone to keep Paul busy enough, not counting all the churches elsewhere. And there were certainly enough living in Achaia for them to organize a relief effort for the impoverished Jewish believers living in Palestine.

By the way, I've heard it said once that sociology is the so-called science that says what everybody already knows in a jabberwocky language that nobody can understand.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Book Review

Title: Pessimism
Author: Joshua Foa Dienstag.

Dienstag did an excellent job covering the "pessimist" Enlightenment philosophers, and his book was very readable. Now the biggies among the Pessimists were Camus, Cioran, Freud, Leopardi, Nietzsche, Rousseau, Schopenhauer, and Unamuno — though their ranking may not be in that order. Some were bigger Pessimists than others. For some reason, Dienstag included Cervantes among the Pessimists, although I don't consider him to be a genuine Pessimist (he had too much mirth about him).

Nevertheless, dear brethren, steel yourselves before you read Dienstag's book because it is truely a look into blackest Tartarus.

Dienstag gives a basic anatomy of the Enlightenment Pessimist viewpoint, those basic aspects the Pessimists tended to share with each other. They are comprised of following four agonizing components:
  • The Burden of Time.
  • The Irony of History.
  • The Absurdity of Existence.
  • The Questions of Suicide, Resignation, or its Opposite.
However, everything they fussed about is perfectly answered by the Resurrection of the Christ from the dead. It's too bad they refused to believe it.

"…whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." (John 3:18)

But somewhere someone has pointed out that, generally speaking, philosophers refuse to come to Christ. I think it was Augustine who said about them that the reason they won't come is because "Christ is humble, but ye are proud."

Dienstag also covered the three, loosely historical, phases of Pessimism:
  • Cultural Pessimism.
  • Metaphysical Pessimism.
  • Existential Pessimism.
Dienstag gave Nietzsche his own special section in the book, being a special category of "Dionysian Pessimist". Nietzsche was the vehement one who later went entirely fruitcake. But no matter how you slice the pie, there's a hardy dollop of Pessimism jam packed into this short book.

Now, the one odd thing I did find about Dienstag's treatment is that he entirely left out three other very important points the Enlightenment Pessimists also shared in common:
  • The worship of Autonomous Reason.
  • The hostility towards the Gospel.
  • The shared assumption that Man moved up, or evolved, from a "savage state" to a "civilized one" (i.e., there was never a "Fall" downwards).
The Pessimists already hold these in common with the Enlightenment, so I guess that's why Dienstag thought it goes without saying.

Now the Bible does say that "scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires" (2 Pet 3:3). And right on schedule, the scoffers have indeed arrived — they just like to call themselves the "Enlightenment".

Finally, if you already have no hope, I must say Pessimism is a well written but perfectly depressing book to read, but please don't read it, as you might go out and slit your wrists afterwards. And indeed I can't blame the Pessimists for rolling in despair, existential or whatnot, since they have rejected the only Fountain of Living Waters there is and have dug for themselves cisterns that cannot hold water. So it's no surprise that they came to the Well of the Enlightenment and found it empty and as dry as dust.