At 04:49 PM 1/28/02 -0600, you wrote:
discussions of medieval religion and culture
Pessimism and optimism are not the central categories for
Augustine. Hope and despair are. Pessimism and optimism are
based on looking at the world around us and reacting with optimism
despite the evils or with pessimism because of them. Hope is a
theological virtue based on faith in the God who created and redeems
through suffering. Augustine had hope despite everything
else. Did Hobbes?
in his own way, yes. he thought that with leviathon there might be
a tenable and roughly equitable society. augustine had hope for
souls but not for societies, as far as i can make out.
Am I reading Augustine
through rosy-Christian belief spectacles? Certainly through
Christian spectacles, though they are not rose-tinted.
To make the case that
Augustine operated merely from pessimism rather than from hope, one has
to show evidence that he abandoned the theological virtue of hope.
no. again he had no hope for the saeculum. at least i am talking about
how augustine and others viewed society and the tendencies of people to
treat each other well or badly. salvation outside of the saeculum
is essentially a position that abandons that terrain to people whom we
cannot hope to seriously change. i call that pessimism. and i
wd not call it mere pessimism, i'd call it profound
That's not a large
leap for modern folk who do not operate from that theological
virtue. But is it justified when dealing with someone whose
self-expression was that of a Christian believer? What evidence
will one adduce to claim that, contrary to his own self-expression, he
operated mrely with the categories of pessimism-optimism. One must
beware of letting one's own skeptical-pessimism or naive optimism cloud
things. Augustine didn't. He was clear-eyed about evil but
not pessimistic. But then this theological virtue of hope is
virtually absent in modern thought, including many generically Christian
adherents, because it requires belief in an omnipotent and good
God. So reading Augustine as a pessimist readily presents itself as
a good move to nonbelievers. Before making that move,
however, I ask, show me where he gave up on hope?
hope in the transformation of the saeculum into a more just place where
people treated each other better than they did in his day (and
previously, given his very negative position on what went on in the
Shouldn't an honest
non-believer at least give him the benefit of crediting his own
self-professed belief in God's activity in history to redeem even when
things seem most hopeless?
i'm not questioning his hope in redemption (even if very very few would
taste it). if hope is about salvation and optimism is about a
better social world, then we probably don't disagree. modern people
tend to focus more on this-worldly, ie secular relations. some link
their hope in salvation to their hope for a better world (ie the more
people embody god's love, the better off we'll all be). augustine,
as far as i understand him, struggled hard and systematically to detach
salvific hope from social change.
I commend Jean Bethke
Elshtain, _Augustine and the Limits of Politics_ on this
a book? i'll check it out.
>>> [log in to unmask] 01/25/02 09:15AM >>>
At 09:13 AM 1/23/02 -0600, you wrote:
>medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and
>I do not wish to engage in a long point-by-point debate with
>Landes. Some of his points I would agree with, in some instance
>he has indeed misunderstood my argument, as I undoubtedly at points
>misunderstood his. For the sake of clarity, I think the key
>raises occurs in his comments about Augustine and power/love.
> >From a Jewish/Christian perspective, in a _fallen_ world, yes,
> lust for power, dishonest, deceit etc. _seem_ to make the world go
i wd not put augustine's view in the same category with rabbinic
of the garden incident.
>I believe Augustine would say that this is not right and not good
>the end, not as real as justice, truth, honesty and love (including
>courtesy I argued for) making the world go round.
its not hard to call something really bad, bad (well in most
climates it is, but not hard intellectually to call a spade a spade),
what you think can be done about it in the here and now. augustine,
as i can make out, was a deep pessimist on this, and it permeates not
his hierarchical religiosity, but also his doctrinal debates.
>But that of course requires faith in an allpowerful God of love,
>also raises the terrible problem of "whence evil" if such a
of course when people behave really badly on a regular basis, that
is far more pressing than in a society that tries hard to treat as
people possible as fairly as possible.
>Hobbes, Nietzsche etc. in varying ways are saying that, of course,
>no such allpowerful and loving God exists, one has to take the
>power-lusting world as the only world there is.
Hobbes was a brilliant frightened intellectual in a time of
upheaval and apparent chaos. but i wd take your analysis one step
aug and hobbes disagree in their religious attitudes, but that aside,
think hobbes' view of political man is closest to augustine's, and that
leviathon plays the same role in his secularized (using it in the sense
augustine's saeculum which he insisted wd dominate until the end of
world as "original sin" played in augustine's -- the terrorizer
people from realizing their worst potentials).
>Am I wrong to think that Plato would disagree? Even
with what? Plato and Aristotle wd surely agree that there is no
powerful and loving God". they'd also agree that democracy is
a recipe for
anarchy, and commoners are better seen and not heard.
>For this reason, putting Augustine in the same category as Hobbes
>Nietzsche is mistaken, in my view.
nietzsche seems like a different kettle of fish altogether. i
augustine and hobbes have more in common. nietzsche goes somewhere
universe where he does not meet god, hobbes mostly reiterates
>So, we are back to the clash of worldviews. Christian (and
>in an allpowerful loving God, despite the problems (not insoluble,
>believe, but very difficult) of theodicy that raises,
okay. altho i do think that it is precisely on the issue of theodicy
augustine was at his worst.
>permits a hermeneutic of at least conditional empathy.
no question that believing in a single god creator of all,
creator all people in his own image, male and female, can (tho not
is) put in the service of having empathy for "the other."
at a basic
interpersonal level civil society depends on turning the dominating
imperative "rule or be ruled" into the empathic imperative
"what is hateful
to you don't do to others" (Sagan, Honey and Hemlock).
empathy i don't think shd be conditional. it seems to me we always
empathize, even with bin laden and suicide bombers. it's sympathy
conditional -- when we see enuf evidence, we voice suspicions and look
evidence of shredded documents. we shd not be obliged by courtesy
continue to politely pretend that whatever someone says about their
motivation is not subject to question, and expend considerable
energy minimizing and belittling embarrassing evidence as "so
and lacunaic (sp?)" that we really can't interpret it.
>Enlightenment faith in Justice and Reason also permits it at least
>in polite society and affluence managed to live that way for a
pockets of civil society among a literate elite. the city of
>Kant provided a temporary synthesis and Nietzsche blew it to
tell that to all the kantians around.
>My own view is that in the long run impersonal Reason and Justice
>sustain the faith and hope required to entertain conditional empathy
>really severe conditions of poverty, injustice etc.
that's why religious groups do better in really bad situations, and
some of the (better) pressure on bush to fund "faith-based"
>That, I believe would also be Augustine's reasoning in the _City of
his problem, from a modern perspective, is his willingness to accept
conditions as an immutable norm. modernity challenges that
pessimism. that pessimism views modernity as an extremely risky if
gamble. religious sentiments can be found on both sides of these
>Nietzsche, it seems, would agree, except that he could not believe in
>allpowerful loving personal God, so he felt obligated to sign on
>Hobbes, making what Augustine would call the _fallen_ world into the
of course, since augustine had defined the saeculum (space and time) as
fallen world, and promised any coherent answer to theodicy only at the
of it all, they were not doing anything except formally acknowledging
the intervening millennium of augustinians ended up doing -- dealing
with the fallen world.
>In response to the question (perhaps raised by Professor Kline) as to
>I'm insist that a hermeneutic of suspicion is
>based on the premise that humans are made for relationships/love
>follows from the Jewish and Christian believe in a personal God of
>so failure to entertain trust for others, at least until evidence
>untrustworthiness appears, is an inhuman act.
i agree entirely. indeed this is/shd be the default stance of a
society. but this is, as you must know and augustine points out
far from the norm, and hardly a standard that can be applied to many
without as a result "dehumanizing" their perceptions of their
man. (you've largely denounced as dehumanizing most people who live
"us-them" universe -- ie the majority of mankind for most of
history.) i think you set the bar way too high and cheapen the term
making all but a very high standard the bottom line. dehumanizing
people do before they start slaughtering. we need that term for far
> (The same understanding of the person as made for love
> certain limits are placed on how one may treat even a person who
> proved untrustworthy.)
agreed again. in civil society it's called civil rights for even
prisoners. but you renounce strategic thinking if you think that
following such standards, others will respond with the same integrity;
you're uncsly making serious mischief if you advise people to follow
path when they are surrounded with ruthless enemies. this doesn't
that either we or others shd not engage in such a perilous pilgrimage
the vicissitudes of social interactions. but we shdn't have
certainly not build political plans made on illusions about what
people are like. the federalist papers are an augustinian
way you counsel, at least as a public and political endeavor, rather
an act of faith, is guaranteed a high failure rate (great results when
works, but people who hit a home run every 20 times at bat and strike
the rest, don't play ball long.)
>Finally, Professor Kline asks why it has to be either/or. I was
>has to be either trust or suspicion. I laid out a
>one has to start with trust to be fair and humane, unless one has
>evidence. One has to be fair and just in assessing evidence,
>even the evidence etc. This is not naivete nor simplistic but
agreed on every count.
>I was, however, protesting against starting from the principle that
>people are fundamentally self-deceived or dishonest and
>hence their self-presentations must be handled with
the position you must argue aganst is not a hobbesian axiom about
nature, but the prominence of libido dominandi in political
>Even in world full of obvious injustice and untrustworthiness, a
>of complete suspicion is dehumanizing because
>no such thing as Love truly exists and life is _merely_ survival of
>fittest or and nasty, brutish and short.
prejudice happens dozens of times a day, maybe even an hour. it's
hateful, suspicious, imposition of hatred on others that's
>More polite variations of this exist--rational choice theory
>argue that all human interactions are essentially contacts/bargains
>caveat emptor. I think this is really Hobbes warmed over, but I
who, as i've argued, is augustine warmed over a secular
stove. my point here is that when medievalists approach their
documentation, they shd have a developed, flexible, and open hermeneutic
suspicion about what their texts are telling them. if our default
is that the text is being relatively honest and straightforward, more
less giving us a fair look at what's going on in the oral world of
discourse which produced these texts (what i was tacitly taught in
school), then i think we are being seriously misled.
i guess i'd say (not as a matter of historiographical principle,
almost) that as historians, we start with a hermeneutic of suspicion
every text, esp those on motivation, deserves the "methinks the lady
protest too much" test. otherwise you're doing what bush has
security folk doing -- not profiling. that's crazy.
principled, but stupid.
>It all turns on whether Hobbes or the rational choice folks or
>are correct about human nature.
wow. that's a strange cluster. is it that they're all
>If they are, then it would not be dehumanizing to prejudge
>to jump to conclusions and railroad evidence out of preexisting
what about railroading evidence out of a preexisting trust -- a
of silence cdn't happen. why not?
dehumanizing is really important in your rhetoric. i really
object. it in
fact carrries weight in a hermeneutic of suspicion that attacks too
vigorously the voices of suspicion and accusation. i agree that if
encounter every expression of the "other" with hostility,
evidence that affirms your own desire to wipe them out, then you're
dehumanizing the other. and there's plenty of that that has and
to go on around the world. we need the term for that kind of
but that's not what i understand by a hermeneutic of suspicion. it
like (un)common sense to me to take into account that almost all
medieval texts were written by members of a highly polemical
hv diverse, better disciplined and organized than any other
in european society (jews excepted), whose primary identity came wrapped
their near monopolistic control of writing and document
think that the products of this literate culture are not going to give us
fair and accurate view of the world they describe, indeed often an
intentionally skewed view of what was going on, is hardly worthy of
label dehumanizing. come on, the guys were human, all too
>It would merely be intelligent self-interest and
in a world where all the main players and power holders play by the
of the dominating imperative, you have to be crazy (certainly
to follow the empathic as a public or political imperative.
>If Augustine (and John Paul II, perhaps the leading exponent of
>persons-made-for-love philosophy today) is right about human nature,
>throwing in the towel to a fallen world's libido dominandi would
>the best and finest of human nature and settle for a mess of
well i'd agree. but i think that's an rather generous reading
augustine, and i can think of far more inspiring figures in this
where augustine -- given both his psychology and his actions -- cd
considered a serious interloper.
>But it does require religious faith in a loving allpowerful God to do
cd we put it slightly differently? that faith in such a One is one
paths to such a generous nature, but not the only. and that people
not take that path shd not be subject to a hermeneutic of
considering all atheists as either shallow liberals or hobbesian
>(Whether faith in Justice along Enlightenment lines is still credible
>anyone, I don't know.
not the only alternative.
>Some people probably do operate with something of that philosophical
one cd argue that it's innate, indeed that fairness is a kind of
common sense that is systematically mystified by the testosterocracy
their intellectual apologists.
>It has become very difficult, though to many it might seem an
>choice than the soft and degenerate and irrational,
>[Nietzsche] Christian-Jewish belief in a loving omnipotent
it's again not a question of one or the other, but of the intelligence
which one applies one's efforts. hermeneutics of suspicion should
arise where systematic reason to suspect exists (as i think it does
abundance for the medieval church and most
literacy" cultures). the point, hv, is to have some good sense
we (choose to) trust and whom and how we mistrust those we do.
>Richard Landes agrees in principle that it's not either/or and
>total hermeneutic of suspicion, but believes, if I understand
>correctly, that _evidence_ shows that a very far-reaching hermeneutic
>suspicion is warranted. He reads the evidence
differently, and along
>Hobbeseian rather than Augustinian lines, though he assimilates
come on, unless you have evidence that augustine did not believe that
vast mass of mankind was damnata, and that only a very few
souls wd make it into heaven, it seems to me that
augustine had a near-total hermeneutic of suspicion.
>He may be right about human nature, he may be right to insist that
>Augustine and Christianity
i wd not characterize all xnty (and certainly not, as far as i
him, jesus) as augustinian.
>calls a _fallen_ world is the only world we have and that lust for
>simply has to be accepted as a fact of live, that it would be naive
>very dangerous to explain things now as having fallen away from a
>origin and that Justice/Love/God can and is engaged in restoring
>love, truth to a fallen world.
where does augustine argue that j/l/g is engaged in restoring justice
and truth to a fallen world? i was under the impression that that
wait until judgment day, and until then the saeculum, as the soul, was
corpus permixtum essentially opaque to our human sight.
there are a number of ways out of augustine's saeculum, now that
concluding theodicy has not appeared for over 1500 years (far more
even the owl augustine wd have believed). and i think that the
has taken a number of those steps. perilous, as augustine warned it
but worth the risk (which augustine thought it was not). and i
there are other alternatives than either a homogenous secular pessimism
the one hand, or a particular religious myth of redemption on the
>I hope it is clear that I respect those who hold other worldviews
>though I think they are wrong to hold them, just as they think me
>hold the one I hold.
i do not think you are wrong to hold your ideas at all. my
not to your understanding, merely to your (apparent -- am i wrong?)
that your path somehow invalidates those who hold others.
>I do try to entertain conditional empathy. I do not assume they
>self-deceived and that their self-explanations must be
if we're talking about the people who write our documents, and the
players they describe, i have to disagree. worse, i think that
self-deception is probably rarer than straight out lies and both are
more common that real honesty. what's the last estimate on the
>My purpose in this thread and in the earlier one on canonization is
>point out the way our worldviews do influence how we read the
>past--certainly in complex ways. I believe that Professor
>response actually illustrates that basic point, even as my posts also
you can call me richard. this is, after all, an egalitarian medium,
>Finally, I hope it is clear that I from the start have acknowledged
>worldview commitments and how they influence the way I read
>often, even in this thread, perhaps, people assume that while I point
>how others (e.g., those who attacked the canonization causes of
>or Pius XII) are influenced in their reading of history by
>commitments, I am somehow free of such commitments and more
>"objective." I do believe the religious worldview I
hold to be the Truth,
>otherwise I would not hold it (and, if I believed truth were
>unknowable, then I'd hold that religious/philosophical
what if there is more than one truth about these matters?
>My effort here is to debunk those who casually take as self-evident
>superiority of their worldviews, whether Hobbesean or Nietzschean
you shd be careful in assuming that those who disagree with you are
shallow. but i agree, there is a huge inertial force to
>I happen to believe that it helps to be more, not less, explicit
>one's commitments, whether Hobbesean or Christian, Platonic or
>not because they're all more or less the same in the end, but because
>by being clear about oneself can one overcome self-confusion,
>self-deception and express oneself more clearly to the other guy so
>he stands a ghost of a chance of understanding me.
agreed. and very "po-mo". :-)
>Of course, only if he has clarified to himself his commitments and
>they might affect his hearing and interpretation of me, will he have
>remote chance to understand me.
>Thus, it is in the interest of increasing communication and clarity
>conversation that I raise these issues. If I have done so in
>excessively either/or way, I apologize. My philosophical
>me to start with the big picture, the basic priniciples and
>clarification and nuancing based on the basic principles rather
>starting with nuances. But that may be the result of my
>religious/philosophical commitments to the existence and knowability
>Truth. In conditional empathy I could see how someone who
>otherwise about the knowability of Truth would want to start and stay
>the nuances, since the Principles are, in the end, unknowable, for
that's probably a good point. there is, of course, a difference
and our ability to reduce it to verbal formulas. as a deeply
iconoclast, i am generally made very uncomfortable by efforts to
formulate/chrystalize in words any Truth.
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