Saturday, August 1, 2015

In praise of ostracism

Many years ago, in the midst of another, dreadful election season, my father suggested to me that it was maybe time to return to the ancient Athenian system of filling most civic posts by lot. "How," I asked, fully agape with youthful astonishment, "would that be better?" "I don't know," sighed he, tired with so many years of having thought these things through. "But it couldn't be any worse."

I have since come to see some wisdom in this. The whole thing feels like a crap shoot already. Which rich such-and-such will have the least damaging effect on us? Which will be beholden to the least destructive powerful interests and persons? I have never voted for anyone in my life, but only against, and I cannot imagine that I am alone in this. At least if there were a real lottery for each post, you'd have a better chance to get someone outside the political caste, and maybe someone who doesn't care about having a lot of money would be less eager to spend everyone else's.

My dear Maine has sort of tried this by instituting term limits for legislators (as the nation and most states have for their executives). It is really fun to see the Great Oaks have to pick up and leave Augusta and a bunch of Sycamore Saplings rush in, fresh with enthusiasm and ideas they're too young to know aren't new. But the thrill fades when you see the staffers and the political parties who really run the show, and despair soon enters when you realize how glad all those Sycamores are to become Oaks and move further up the ladder.

Another important component of Athenian democracy was the ostracism, and this, I think, has more promise for today's situation. The name has ugly connotations because it is usually used in personal or small-group contexts: it conjures a popularity contest in reverse, mob mentality, the tyranny of the majority against the freedom of the individual to be just that. Or, worse yet, the television series "Survivor". But in its original form, it was a healthy corrective to the mob rule that was Athens. Plutarch (Aristides, 7.2) defends it thus:
Now the sentence of ostracism was not a chastisement of base practices, nay, it was speciously called a humbling and docking of oppressive prestige and power; but it was really a merciful exorcism of the spirit of jealous hate, which thus vented its malignant desire to injure, not in some irreparable evil, but in a mere change of residence for ten years.
In a direct democracy, the biggest problem (as exiled Thucydides noted) is that the passions of the people can be too easily swayed. But once that passion has cooled, the mob looks upon its instigator with contempt, which intensifies with the depth of that former passion. Ostracism was a perfect tool for reminding would-be demagogues that their ultimate reward may well be being thrown out of the city for all their hard work.

Here's how it worked: Each year, the Athenians (yeah, yeah, yeah: only land-owning males, yadda yadda, yadda) came together and wrote down on a shard of pottery (ostrakon) a name of the man they most wanted thrown out of the city. There were no primaries, no speeches, no campaigns for this (though there were pre-printed "ballots"), just write down the first name that pops into your head. Now, imagine that, instead of writing down Mickey Mouse or Madonna or Morgan Freeman for president, thus depressing us ever further (except in that last case; I think he'd make an awesome president), idiots like us would write a name down in order to throw him or her out of the country. The basic idea is that anyone who is well known enough to come to mind when writing on a piece of broken pottery has done something wrong, or why else would he be so well known? (Try it at home: Write down the first ten names that come to your mind: are there any of those that you wouldn't want to see exiled?)

Ostraka from the Athenian Agora
Of course, it will be objected that too many good leaders will be sent away this way, either through the fickleness of the masses or the machinations of the opposing parties. Themistocles is probably the most famous example of this: Having saved Athens from the Persians with courage and remarkable intellect, he was later ostracized, and ended up in, of all places, in the kingdom whose attacks he had helped the Greeks ward off. But, as we all know, even the greatest of leaders has failings, and every victory was made possible by at least one dirty trick or lamentable sin. The very pride which attends their successes has also caused more than one politician to over-reach thereafter and veer far too close to tyranny.

Then there is just too much of a good thing. US magazine is full of embarrassing pictures and stories of people they helped make celebrities just years or even months before and are now need to reduce, Zeus-like, for their overweening pride. In Athens, there is the famous, perhaps thus apocryphal, story of Aristides the Just who was asked by an illiterate man to write his (Aristides') name on the potsherd. Asked why he had chosen him, the fellow, not realizing who was asking, replied, "I don't even know the fellow, but I'm tired of everywhere hearing him called 'The Just'." One could just wait for these people to fade into the background, but the problem is all the damage they do in the meantime (extended as it is by the legions of publicists and agents attending each star). Think of how many fewer cases of measles and mumps there might be now had Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey been exiled a decade ago and not been allowed to give such a boost to the anti-vaccination movement. If most two-term US presidents had been exiled instead of re-elected, there probably would have been no Watergate cover-up, no Iran-Contra hearings, no Lewinsky scandal, no Katrina debacle, no Veterans' Administration embarrassment. (Now, please don't get excited: I am agnostic on all these, and I don't care about your politics, so don't bother me with them. My point is that these are all controversies seen in second terms.) In power or out, the longer celebrities are around, the greater the chance that they will do more harm than good.

I am older now, and my father's world-weariness has become my own, as well as his cynicism not just about the absurdity of what is, but about the impossibility of any really changing it (Housman, as always: "The toil of all that be / Helps not the mortal fault: / It rains in to the sea, / But still the sea is salt."), especially not for the better. So, taking refuge in books and history and the sense of self-satisfaction that at least I'm not to blame, I shall just wait until the time that I must hold my nose and choose to vote for what I can only hope is the not-worst. And may Heaven protect us all from the result!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


I am always made miserable when I look at Facebook, and I ought to have learned my lesson about wandering down that dark path, beset, as it is, on all sides with nonsense and fluff and walls of opinion everyone else shares but me. Most of all, I need to learn to keep my mouth shut.

In the space of a few hours, I insulted an old high school friend by linking, in response to a message about how proud he was to have his mouth washed out with soap as a child, to the very funny Monty Python skit about which rich jerk had the hardest childhood; aggrieved my sister-in-law by posting this in response to her complaints about negative campaign advertising; and came close to alienating another life-long friend by suggesting that Ayn Rand and Kurt Vonnegut were aiming at the same thing, to wit: enlightened self-interest, each defending selfishness (the one in terms of money-making, the other in terms of being a sloth) as somehow helping the common good.

Sometimes, I have a muzzle and use it. But the steam needs to escape, and I guess here is as good a place as any for it. A great and distinguished writer whom I was able to add to my list of "friends" because he went to school with my sister, recently gushed about the triumphs of science, in the discoveries of the great Alexandrian tomb in Amphipolis in northern Greece, on the one hand, and in the landing of a spacecraft on a comet:
Today is a magnificent day for science--the field of intellectual enquiry which a large proportion of the population, and its leaders, don't "believe" in--in many forms, looking both deeply back into the past and thrillingly into the future. First, the announcement this morning of the remarkable findings at Amphipolis, where an early Hellenistic tomb (or hero-shrine) clearly belonging to someone of tremendous importance has yielded at last a burial chamber and human remains, which will now be studied using the full array of scientific tools in order to solve the mystery of who was in the grave. Then, a few hours later, the fabulous and breathtaking news of the landing of a probe on a comet 300 million miles (!) from Earth will allow vast new understanding of space. A marvelous day for intellectual enquiry and civilization all round, I'd say.
One of the comments made reference to the rise in anti-intellectualism, which is, of course, nonsense. Has there ever been an era which has issued more diplomas, even measured per capita, than ours? Is there some other period of time with as many teachers? Or with so many "experts" on absolutely every subject, no matter how minute? The difference, it seems to me, is that the anti-intellectuals today have equal access to the tools usually reserved for and monopolized by their opponents.

I guess I really lack the courage to go up against the great master, or even one of his disciples, and perhaps I just want to stop trying to rain on various parades. But here's what I wanted to say against the post:

Is it really impossible to be at once intellectually curious and at least somewhat skeptical of the idea of science as an unalloyed good? Is there any scientific advance of the last two centuries which has not brought about at least as much harm as the good we keep hearing about? Is there a horror of the 20th or 21st century which was not help greatly by what scientists, however good their intentions, brought forth upon this world? Let us set aside the most obvious examples of explosives (at least we have the money for the Nobel prize!) of ever-increasing magnitude and other inventions which were certain to be used as weapons. What of, say, the light bulb, the internal-combustion engine, computers and the internet? What of refrigeration? What of advancements in agriculture and building sciences, making it to cheap to make things to eat and places to sleep for larger and larger populations (living more often and longer because of advances in medicines)?

I am reminded almost daily of Auden's take on all this. The relevant part goes thusly:
This passion of our kind
For the process of finding out
Is a fact one can hardly doubt,
But I would rejoice in it more
If I knew more clearly what
We wanted the knowledge for,
Felt certain still that the mind
Is free to know or not.
If only I had the heart to blurt this out, too.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

lachrymose is a funny word

One of the Latin words my students were to learn last week was lacrima, the Latin for "tear". I asked them, as usual, for a derivative, and was, as usual, met with dead silence. So, I ventured one they might have heard of, "lachrymose," and some, to their credit, had heard of it and could even define it. But, since I had suggested this, as usual, without having thought it out ahead of time, I wrote "lacrimous" on the board.

I knew this was wrong immediately, but couldn't figure out why for a minute. The ending, of course, was wrong: It is not pronounced that way, but I knew that the intermediate Latin word was lacrimosus, "full of tears" and that the -osus ending (meaning "full of...") becomes "-ous" in English (so gloriosus becomes "glorious" and curiosus becomes "curious"). Unless, of course, it becomes "-ose", as "otiose" from otiosus, "full of leisure." So, the ending I could change. But, then, how was the rest spelled? A particularly well-read student gave me the correct spelling to write up, but then I was confused: Whence the -y-? Why the -ch-? As far as I knew, the English was derived from this word, not from Greek (and I could not think of a Greek candidate, anyway).

So, as I usually do at this sort of juncture, I turned to etymonline, which is perhaps one of the best and most useful resources for etymology on the web. It is a marvelous source, simple to use and remarkably intelligent, and full of the excitement in learning and curiosity with which I am infected and which I would like to see in my students. I cannot see how its creator, Douglas Harper, has, in a little more than a decade, found the time to record the histories of almost every word in which I am interested. Nor did he disappoint me on this. Here is the entry:

lachrymose (adj.) Look up lachrymose at
1660s, "tear-like," from Latin lacrimosus "tearful, sorrowful, weeping," also "causing tears, lamentable," from lacrima "tear," a dialect-altered borrowing of Greek dakryma"tear," from dakryein "to shed tears," from dakry "tear," from PIE *dakru- (see tear (n.1)). Meaning "given to tears, tearful" is first attested 1727; meaning "of a mournful character" is from 1822.

The -d- to -l- alteration in Latin is the so-called "Sabine -L-"; compare Latin olere "smell," from root of odor, and Ulixes, the Latin form of Greek Odysseus. The Medieval Latin practice of writing -ch- for -c- before Latin -r- also altered anchorpulchritudesepulchre. The -y- is pedantic, from belief in a Greek origin. Middle English hadlacrymable "tearful" (mid-15c.).

Perfect! Here was a Latin root which had turned Greek through contact with the intellect of those who spoke it. The "Sabine L-" was new to me, and at last solved the Odysseus-Ulysses problem. So much to share with the kids, and I did so with such enthusiasm that some of them even forgot to frown.

But that was not all. The word brought to mind one of my favorite passages from the prose of A. E. Housman, from his introductory lecture as professor of Latin at University College in London (full text helpfully published here). His theme in that lecture is why we learn, or, rather, why we want to learn, and in the process of coming to his answer (which, basically, is that it is a human desire which, like any other, wants satisfaction; and that, as it can never really be satisfied, and as the attempt to satisfy it can, unlike the desires of the body, bring pleasure instead of pain in old age) he mentions, in order to dismiss them, several of the myths already prevalent in his day as to the power of a Classical education and its purpose. Studying that Classics, he insists, will not make a poor critic any better, especially in matters outside his field of study. The reverse of that assumption, he goes on to say, is also false:
And while on the one hand no amount of classical learning can create a true appreciation of literature in those who lack the organs of appreciation, so on the other hand no great amount of classical learning is needed to quicken and refine the taste and judgment of those who do possess such organs. Who are the great critics of the classical literatures, the critics with real insight into the classical spirit, the critics who teach with authority and not as the scribes? They are such men as Lessing or Goethe or Matthew Arnold, scholars no doubt, but not scholars of minute or profound learning. Matthew Arnold went to his grave under the impression that the proper way to spell lacrima was to spell it with a y, and that the words andros paidophonoio poti stoma kheir' oregesthai meant `to carry to my lips the hand of him that slew my son.' We pedants know better: we spell lacrima with an i, and we know that the verse of Homer really means `to reach forth my hand to the chin of him that slew my son.' But when it comes to literary criticism, heap up in one scale all the literary criticism that the whole nation of professed scholars ever wrote, and drop into the other the thin green volume of Matthew Arnold's Lectures on Translating Homer, which has long been out of print because the British public does not care to read it, and the first scale, as Milton says, will straight fly up and kick the beam.
I couldn't resist reading the whole paragraph to my students, at the risk of boring them, because it is very much the essence of Housman, who can bring the dry-as-dust to life in metaphor as no one else. Once more, the excitement, the bringing of what should be the stuff only of minute learning in the dusty office into our brighter, broader world in which the fight between prejudice and genuine and patient understanding is always waged. What's more, I could share my own excitement at having at last understood how Matthew Arnold could misspell lacrima: he had simply formed it from the Latin (as I had--hooray for me!).

Perhaps most of it was lost on all my students, and certainly all was lost on some. What I hope they got from all of that was my excitement and Housman's and Harper's, similar to the scientist's at finding the connection between this or that gene to this or that disease, or the musician's at having found the right melody for these words or the right harmony for that melody. I imagine that most of them have had that joy somewhere in their lives; I wonder if they were surprised that it can exist in mine.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Lady of the Wood

In W. H. Auden: Juvenalia: Poems, 1922-1928, ed. Katherine Bucknell, pp. 41-42

           My Lady of the Wood
Deep in a woodland dell
Only the leaves may tell
The cottage roof where dwell
          My love and I
Seldom a stranger's face
Comes to that lonely place
Seldom do strange feet trace
          The path nearby. 
There we watch dawn and eve
Snails on the blackberry lead
Wonders beyond belief
           Daily we view
'Oft have I seen her set
Early to know if yet
Bloomed the first violet
           Mantled in blue. 
Lo in the path she walks
Jays cease their chattering talks
Mice drop their barley stalks
           Ants turn to stare
Hawks let their prey go free
Hares they forget to flee
Flowers crane their necks to see
            Her passing there. 
O she is lovelier far
Than yond bright morning star
Purer than moondrops are
            Guileless as they
Eyes like the stories told
Of the green elves of old
While in the firelight gold
            The listeners lay 
Dearer to me than all
To see the laughter fall
Upon her when I call
            Hourly her name
To know the tenderness
Hid in each lock and tress
All the deep lovingness
            I can inflame. 
And when she is not there
I have no need to fear
She will forget me where
            She dwells the while
Out of the hills and trees
Where stirs a passing breeze
Or running water is
            Breaks her warm smile.          
                                                 [1923 or 1924]

When he decided, in 1922, at the tender age of fifteen, that he would become a poet, Auden took to reading deeply in the poets of and, mostly, before his day, and his early poems are often in imitation of the style of one or more of them. Bucknell's collection helpfully includes guesses as to the influences of each poem. Of this one, she writes, "This theme derives from Wordsworth's Lucy poems, though it is common enough that Auden may have found it in one of the late Romantic or Georgian poets that he liked." (p. 41)

Monday, October 13, 2014

You learn something, well, new to you

In my copious spare time during a long weekend away from teaching, I happened upon a history of music which I seem to have begun some time in the past. Picking up where the bookmark told me I had left off, I set myself to learn about the musical theory of the Greeks and its connection to their philosophy. Two things jumped out at me as things which 1.) I did not know and 2.) I really should have, or at least should have figured out by now.

First, the extent to which the Greeks identified music with poetry was greater than I had always believed. I knew, of course, that no poetry was uttered aloud without being sung, and that the names for the types of poetry (Lyric, Tragedy, Comedy, etc.) had to do with music. What I did not know, as this: "In his Poetics Aristotle, after setting forth melody, rhythm, and language as the elements of poetry, goes on to say: 'There is another art which imitates by means of language alone, and that either in prose or verse. . . , but this has hitherto been without a name.'" (Donald Jay Grout & Claude V. Palisca, A History of Western Music (New York: W. W. Norton, 1988, p. 7; citing Poetics 447a-b) Pretty exciting stuff. The rest of the passage alters the perception a bit, however:
For we can find no common term to apply to the mimes of Sophron and Xenarchus and to the Socratic dialogues: nor again supposing a poet were to make his representation in iambics or elegiacs or any other such metre—except that people attach the word poet(maker)to the name of the metre and speak of elegiac poets and of others as epic poets. Thus they do not call them poets in virtue of their representation but apply the name indiscriminately in virtue of the metre. For if people publish medical or scientific treatises in metre the custom is to call them poets. But Homer and Empedocles have nothing in common except the metre, so that it would be proper to call the one a poet and the other not a poet but a scientist. [20] Similarly if a man makes his representation by combining all the metres, as Chaeremon did when he wrote his rhapsody The Centaur, a medley of all the metres, he too should be given the name of poet. (Aristotle. Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vol. 23, translated by W.H. Fyfe. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1932. From the Perseus website (
Some of this is, of course, Aristotle being Aristotle and demanding names for things which no one had thought to apply them, and part of it is his odd starting point of mimesis, which usually means "imitation" but has many meanings in Aristotle, best summed up as "representation."

So, the point isn't so much that the Greeks didn't conceive of unsung utterance as an art form, but that they named the sung ones first, and thus must have considered them special as art. I don't see this being unique to the Greeks, but I know too little about other cultures to say for sure.

The other thing which I ought to have known is mentioned in the textbook's discussion of the connection between music and ethics made by the Greeks, especially Pythagoreans.
The doctrine of ethos, of the moral qualities and effects of music, fitted into the Pythagorean view of music as a microcosm, a system of pitch and rhythm ruled by the same mathematical laws that operate in the whole of visible and invisible creation. Music, in this view, was not only a passive image of the orderly system of the universe; it was also a force that could affect the universe--hence the attribution of miracles to the legendary musicians of mythology. (ibid., last italics mine)
I have never, I confess, fully understood the Pythagoreans and the many cults that came afterward and exist still in our day, cults which make a mystery out of numbers and make perfectly rational ideas occult and mysterious. If numbers explain the universe, then that is clear, and anyone who can see reality in those terms should be allowed to speak about it openly and without confusion with and by priesthoods and ceremonies; anyone who believes that they can, alone or in small groups, connect better with and maybe even control the universe is not thinking rationally at all, it seems to me. Now I understand, at least, why, beyond their basic (weird) beliefs, the Pythagoreans hooked their wagon to Orpheus in the same way most Athenians did Persephone: Orpheus was the musician, and his control of music, identified by the Greek thinkers with control of numbers, allowed him to make rocks and trees dance and to take his bride three-quarters of the way back from the underworld. (But there's the curiousness again: If he wasn't successful, since he couldn't control his own desires, why make him a center of your cult? Do you just try to ignore that part? Can you ignore the latter history, in which he swears off all women, and is eventually dismembered by female worshippers of Dionysos? I wonder if Orpheus shows up in that dreadful paper by Nietzsche about Apollo and Dionysos.)

I'm sure a little more reading on my part would shore up those things I'm uncertain of and dispel my delusions. Still, I learned something this morning, so that's something.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Furiously missing the point

I have now read some of Randall Jarrell on Auden, and am not sure what to think. On the one hand, I am self-aware enough to know that I will shrink back, even hide, from criticism of that which I hold most dear. But I really do think there is a Lilliputianist strain to his complaints, wrapped in a lot of the kind of Marxist "realism" that English departments regularly collect and cultivate, like mold in a petri dish, as a sort of salve to soothe their members' own lack of talent and as a prop for their weird political inclinations. Mendelson's response is better than anything I could come up with; but I'll let you decide whether Jarrell's point is valid.

Randall Jarrell, "Freud to Paul: The Stages of Auden's Ideology," in The Third Book of Criticism (New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1969), pp. 185-187.
[Auden] is fond of the statement Freedom is the recognition of necessity, but he has never recognized what it means in his own case: this if he understands certain of his own attitudes as causally instead of logically necessary--insofar as they are attitudes produced by and special to his own training and culture--he can free himself from them. But this Auden, like most people, is particularly unwilling to understand. He is willing to devote all his energies and talents to finding the most novel, ingenious, or absurd rationalizations of the cluster of irrational attitudes he has inherited from a former self; the cluster, the self, he does not question, but instead projects upon the universe as part of the essential structure of that universe. If the attitudes are contradictory or logically absurd there, he saves them by taking Kirkegaard's position that everything really important is above logical necessity, is necessarily absurd. In the end he submits to the universe without a question; but it turns out that the universe is his own shadow on the wall beside his bed.
     Let me make this plain with a quotation. On the first page of the New York Times Book Review of November 12, 1944, there appeared a review of the new edition of Grimm's Tales--a heartfelt and moral review which concluded with this sentence: 'So let everyone read these stories till they know them backward and tell them to their children with embellishments--they are not sacred texts--and then, in a few years, the Society for the Scientific Diet, the Association of Positivist Parents, the League for the Promotion of Worthwhile Leisure, the Coöperative Camp for Prudent Progressives and all other bores and scoundrels can go jump in the lake.'
    Such a sentence shows that its writer has saved his own soul, but has lost the whole world--has forgotten even the nature of that world: for this was written, not in 1913, but within the months that held the mass executions in the German camps, the fire raids, Warsaw and Dresden and Manila; within the months that were preparing the bombs for Hiroshima and Nagasaki; within the last twelve months of the Second World War.
    The logical absurdity of the advice does not matter, though it could hardly be more apparent: people have been telling the tales to their children for many hundreds of years now (does Auden suppose that the S. S. men at Lublin and Birkenau had bot been told the tales by their parents?); the secular world Auden detests has been produced by the Märchen he idealizes and misunderstands, along with a thousand other causes--so it could not be changed "in a few years" by one of the causes that have made it what it is. But the moral absurdity of the advice--I should say its moral imbecility--does matter. In the year 1944 these prudent, progressive, scientific, cooperative "bores and scoundrels" were the enemies with whom Auden found it necessary to struggle. Were these your enemies, reader? They were not mine.
    Such mistaken extravagance in Auden is the blindness of salvation, a hysterical blindness to his actual enemies (by no means safe enemies as Prudent Progressives) an to the actual world. But it is hard for us to learn anything. When the people of the world of the future--if there are people in that world--say to us--if some of us are there, 'What did you do in all those wars?' those of us left can give the old, the only answer, 'I lived through them.' But some of us will answer, 'I was saved.'
 Edward Mendelson, Later Auden (New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1999), p. 193:
Randall Jarrell furiously missed the point when complained that 'these prudent, progressive, scientific, cooperative "bores and scoundrels" were the enemies with whom Auden found it necessary to struggle. Were these your enemies, reader? They were not mine.' But no one needed to be warned against enemies who loudly threatened to kill or enslave. The enemies Auden warned against were the voices that threatened to lose the peace by establishing a political religion--as in the anti-Communist inquisition of the 1950's--and the voices that sought to reassure Auden and his readers by telling them their enemies were so clearly evil that they themselves could comfortably congratulate themselves on being good.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Christ, Scientist

I've been working through Auden's "The Prolific and the Devourer" for several weeks (I am a bear of very little brain, and I can only absorb so many thoughts a day), and have found absolutely nothing I disagree with, and much that I have always believed, though nothing like as clearly and profoundly (of course). Auden began the work in August of 1939, according to Mendelson (who prints the work in the second volume of Auden's prose in his series, The Complete Works of W. H. Auden (Princeton: 2002)), but seems to have put it aside at the outbreak of the war. He described it as "a new marriage of heaven and hell" (ibid., p. 409), but it seems to me a marriage of just about everything in the world to everything else in the world.

In a lengthy discussion of divine and human laws, and religion, as a whole, Auden has this to say about Christianity and the modern world. (I quote at length no only to give the context for the surprising statements at the end of the excerpt, but to give you the flavor of the whole work. Note the way he forms a complete thought in several paragraphs, with an opening, development, and conclusion, almost a small essay, over and over again. Then, too, there are the aphorisms and the Curile  pronouncements which are a characteristic of this and much of the rest of his prose.)

    Primitive religions are practical and political: a list of actions to do and actions to perform in order to survive from one day to the next. This do, and thou shalt live. The wages of sin is death. They assume that society will always remain the same.
    Advanced religions are based on the knowledge that society is changing, and attempt to forecast the direction of change. They conceive of an ideal society in the future, try to deduce what its divine laws will be, and set them down so that when man has reached that stage, he will be prepared and know how to act. Until then he must necessarily be sinful.
     Our judgement of the great religions will depend upon our estimate of the accuracy of their historical forecast. 
Jesus convinces me that he was right because what he taught has become consistently more and more the necessary and natural attitude for man as society has developed the way it has, i.e. he forecast our historical evolution correctly. If one rejects the Gospels, then we must reject modern life. Industrialism is only workable if we accept Jesus' view of life, and conversely his view of life is more workable under industrialism than under any previous form of civilisation. Neither the heathen philosophers, nor Buddha, nor Confucius, nor Mahomet showed his historical insight. 
Epicureanism is only possible for the rich. Stoicism for the highly educated. Buddhism makes social life impossible; Confucianism is only applicable to village life; Mahommedism becomes corrupt in cities. 
"By their fruits ye shall know them."
     If there is one method in which we have faith to-day, and with reason, for it has consistently succeeded, it is the Scientific method of Faith and Scepticism. If there is one method which has consistently failed it has been the method of dogmatic belief backed by Force. But this criterion by observable results is in itself a scientific not a dogmatic criterion. For what is the Scientific attitude but the attitude of love, the love that does not reject even the humblest fact, the love that resists not evil (recalcitrant evidence) nor judges, but is patient, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things.
     The teaching of Jesus is the first application of the scientific approach to human behavior--reasoning from the particular to the universal. The Church only too rapidly retreated to the Greek method of starting with the universals and making the particulars fit by force, but the seed once sown, grew in secret. What we call Science is the application of the Way to our relations with the non-human world.
I don't know what to think of all this, but I want to believe (as it were) that he's right. Still, I had always been taught the opposite, that Christianity was the dogma which interrupted the scientific development of the ancient world until the Renaissance, and I would have to read Plato again to see if he starts with particulars or universals.

Much to think about.