The Nazi Origins of Germany’s Ban on Homeschooling

Given that we are caught up in terms of the history of homeschooling (see here), there is one notable historical anecdote we have left out: the case of Germany, one of few western European countries with a complete ban on homeschooling.

There is an irritating and pervasive habit to treat the passing of a law elsewhere as an argument in favor of passing it in your own country. For Americans, this commonly manifests as “Europe has laws on this or that, so we should, too.” This bad habit is one still one unbroken by anti-homeschoolers.

The fact that many European countries have stronger regulation and even outright bans on homeschooling is supposed to represent some kind of moral consensus on the matter that should inform American law. This kind of argument is ridiculous even by its own methods, because I can also find several other countries where homeschooling is legal and use it as a cheap argument to keep homeschooling legal worldwide.

Interestingly, homeschooling has resurged most strongly in countries with ties to the British Empire: the U.K., the U.S., Australia, South Africa, and India, most notably. The map below shows the legal status of homeschooling around the world, showing this “British-skew” in homeschooling freedoms, though other areas such as western South America enjoy similar freedoms. The countries where homeschooling is illegal or severely restricted include virtually all of eastern Asia, Spain, Germany, much of eastern Europe and half of South America.

Map of legality of homeschooling [1]. BLUE = legal without known restrictions. GREEN = Lax restrictions. YELLOW = Restrictive regulations, ORANGE = Legal in limited circumstances, RED = illegal with virtually no exceptions, GRAY = unknown/unclear status

The very idea of looking to Germany for policy is ridiculous for even more sinister reasons, and a brief delve into some of Germany’s history with the matter will prove telling of the anti-homeschool ideology in Germany.

First, as we noted in the previous post, modern day Germany may have implemented some of the first public schools in Europe in the 1500s with prominent support from Martin Luther. Nonetheless, homeschooling continued well into the 1900s. Though homeschooling declined with the passing of mandatory schooling laws in 1918 and the subsequent rebranding of the country as the Weimar Republic, homeschooling was still legal and practiced particularly by the upper class until 1938, when a new political party was in full control of German affairs: the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, also known infamously as the Nazis [2].

The Nazis outlawed homeschooling upon implementation of the Reichsschulpflichtgesetz (Law on Compulsory Education in the German Reich) in the very first section, which translates to the following [3]:

1. Compulsory general education. In the German Reich there is compulsory education. It secures the education and instruction of German youth in the spirit of National Socialism. It is subject to all children and adolescents of German nationality who are domiciled or habitually resident in the country. Compulsory education must be fulfilled by attending a German school. Exceptions are decided by the school inspectorate.

The first two Reichsschulpflichtgesetz’s signees are household names: Hitler and Göring. This is not to argue on the basis that laws passed by tyrants are inherently bad, however one should examine such laws with a heightened sense of caution.

Signees to the Reichsschulpflichtgesetz, which banned homeschooling in Nazi Germany.

The Nazi Party viewed homeschooling as anti-nationalistic, counter to the identity of the state and a conduit to less loyal citizens. Moreover, Hitler recognized the power of state-controlled education, saying “He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.” Our children are not tools to be used by a self-serving government. Education is too central to a good society to be controlled by mere men, for if we believe politicians are corruptible, why leave our children’s education and hence their future in their hands?

Germany’s bans on homeschooling are still enforced to this day and have resulted in several criminal prosecutions of parents, resulting in fines, removal of children from parents, and jail [4]. Prayers to all those German families suffering such persecution.

For more articles on homeschooling, follow a continuing series of posts on “The Case for Homeschooling” starting here.

Sources:

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeschooling_international_status_and_statistics#

[2] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2300568/Obama-administration-wants-DEPORT-home-schooling-family-Germany-fined-threatened-prosecution-teaching-children.html

[3] http://www.verfassungen.de/de33-45/schulpflicht38.htm

[4] https://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/1389

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeschooling

The Case for Homeschooling (Part 2): The History of Home Education

If the history of education were a painting, homeschooling would be the backdrop upon which each stroke of the brush marks a new development, for better of worse, in how we teach our children. The painting is a very slow one to take shape, having still a countable number of wide strokes despite thousands of years of work. If we pause for a moment to reflect on the state of our painting, there is far more white space than color, there are obvious mistakes in our painting, and its future looks dull in comparison to the promise that our blank canvas began with.

This article is part two of a series of posts addressing the growing anti-homeschool movement, which advocates for the abolition of homeschooling in the U.S. and abroad. Here, we point out the historical precedence of homeschooling as just one argument for the natural right of families to homeschool their children. Part one of the series may be found HERE.

The difficulty in describing the history of homeschooling is just like the difficulty in trying to describe the untouched spaces around the paint; it’s far easier to describe where and with what color the paint has been applied to the canvas. Thus, our dive into the history of homeschooling will take the more sensible approach of not describing how homeschooling ebbed over time, but rather how formal school – brick and mortar schools – displaced them in the western world over the past few thousand years.

One curious fact, and the main point I make here, is that almost all the displacement of homeschooling occurred in the past two centuries, making homeschooling the de facto form of education for mankind.

I’ve found that often a generation takes up the mantle for a particular facet of society of government merely because it was their generation’s status quo – it’s what they grew up with. I think most people today apply this quiet affirmation of the status quo to education without much thought.

Taking a step back from merely our own generation and childhood, we find that compulsory public education is a largely recent experiment, and thus has no historical claim to limit the rights of families to home education.

Education in Antiquity

If you were born before the 1830s, you were probably home educated, whether you were the son of an American revolutionary, the Italian daughter of merchants during the Renaissance, the only child of a farmer in feudalistic Europe, or the eldest child of a Judean carpenter. Western civilization’s normal mode of learning the basics was at the home and through apprenticeship. Though universities have existed for centuries, secondary education was a luxury afforded by few and assumed a pre-existing primary education for admitted students. If you happened to be the children of nobles, you might have been educated by someone other than your parents, such as a tutor or a private school. There are few counter-examples throughout the history of the West.

What we now think of as primary education didn’t emerged as a universal norm until much later with compulsory education laws passed in the 19th and 20th centuries that quickly eroded the popularity and in some cases the very ability for families to homeschool [1].

A ten-stop tour tracing primary education throughout the great western civilizations will show that compulsory public education is the experiment and historically anomalous until recently. This context will return our concept of education to its rightful place: the home.

  1. Ancient Egypt

In theocractic ancient Egypt the priests, whom held extensive knowledge in the sciences and mathematics, primarily exercised the teaching role in an early formal setting, mostly for the education of privileged children bound for the priesthood or to become scribes. However, other vocations generally had to be learned through apprenticeship, tutoring, and participation in the trades of the family [2].

  1. Ancient Israel and Judea

Ancient Israeli education was similarly routed in informal learning from family for non-nobility, as Encyclopedia Britannica notes,  “Like all pre-industrial societies, ancient Israel first experienced a type of education that was essentially familial; that is to say, the mother taught the very young and the girls, while the father assumed the responsibility of providing moral, religious, and handcraft instruction for the growing sons. This characteristic remained in Jewish education, for the relation of teacher to pupil was always expressed in terms of parenthood and filiation” [2].

While Judea required education for all children, it was the parents who had the obligation to teach. Later in the first century AD, formal schools were introduced across the region by Joshua ben Gamla and made compulsory for 6-8 year olds. [3] Note that this time period, however, places Judea as part of the Roman Empire. As we shall see shortly, most of the Roman Empire education was marked by home education, thus placing the schools instituted by Joshua ben Gamla among the minority.

  1. Ancient Greece

Ancient Greek education is admittedly difficult to pin down, as it evolved significantly over time, particularly from neighboring civilizations’ influences. Nobility, as one might guess is nearly universal among all the famous developed civilizations, enjoyed superior education from elder nobles and from guilds and courts. With the emergence of “Ancient Greece” into a collective of city-states (Athens, Sparta, and the like), education may have taken on a more communal form, though peasants remained largely uneducated outside their particular trades [2].

Plato holds special credit, in the eyes of many Western intellectuals, as the main advocate for compulsory schooling from his reflections in The Republic, in which he reasons that an ideal society must be composed of ideal citizens, and ideal citizens require an ideal education.It seems far-fetched to think that public schools today (or ever) are anywhere near ideal.

  1. The Roman Empire

Much more can be said of later Roman education, which increasingly treated the Greek civilization as a barometer on education: one was not really educated unless one knew what the Greeks knew. This lead to children of nobles becoming largely educated under the tutelage of native Greek speakers, such that the students would become fluent in both Greek and their native Latin tongue. Pre-6th century, little is known of education throughout the largely rural Roman Empire, of which is noted their attitudes toward education, “ancient Roman education was … an education suitable for a rural, traditional people—instilling in youth an unquestioned respect for the customs of the ancestors: the mos maiorum.” [2]

Further insight into Roman primary education is witnessed herein:

“Differing from the Greeks, the Romans considered the family the natural milieu in which the child should grow up and be educated. The role of the mother as educator extended beyond the early years and often had lifelong influence. If, in contrast to the girl, the boy at 7 years of age was allowed to move away from the exclusive direction of his mother, he came under the control of his father; the Roman father closely supervised the development and the studies of his son, giving him instruction in an atmosphere of severity and moral exigency, through precept but even more through example.”

[2]

Primary schools are theorized to have existed, perhaps as early as the 600s BC due to the existence of a Roman alphabet (borrowed from the Etruscans). These schools, however, likely had very little central governance, as government intervention wasn’t apparent until the 400s AD, even in a limited capacity, mostly to provide guidance on administrative affairs rather than on the minutia of teaching. Most importantly, there isn’t any apparent evidence that these primary schools were compulsory.

  1. The Medieval World

Medieval schooling, where it existed, was largely religious in nature. Peasant children were very unlikely to receive any significant education besides vocational skills learned from family and immediate influences. Increasing class standing generally increased the likelihood of formal educational opportunities, typically through the Church and clergy. Most formal schools were geared toward educating priests and monks until universities began appearing later, spurring on the development of boys grammar schools with connections to the Church and secular guilds.

Nonetheless, the majority of the medieval world was illiterate, largely due to the rarity of books before the invention of the printing press. Sometimes, parish priests provided some form of elementary education in reading, writing, arithmetic, and religious education outside of a formal context [2].

Perhaps the largest counterexample to my claim is the 1400s-era Aztec Empire in the New World, which began what many today view as the first instance of nation-wide compulsory schooling [4]. However, it would be difficult to argue that the Aztec Empire’s educational pursuits have influenced western education perceptibly. Furthermore, the claim is that homeschooling was historically the norm. The existence of one culture in one century that instituted compulsory public education does not refute the claim.

  1. The Renaissance

During the Renaissance era, European education began shifting away from Church-centered education with the emergence of gymnasiums, though these schools were only accessible to privileged boys in preparation for the academies of higher education. They notably incorporated more secular interests including “studies of humanity” (studia humanitatis), which “stressed the importance of man, his faculties, affairs, worldly aspirations, and well-being”  [2]. Note at this point in history, broad compulsory education for the public including youth of all social classes has not existed in Europe.

  1. The Reformation

In this next major era, that of the Protestant Reformation, both religious and educational forces would come to play. Religiously, reformers such as Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli would bring large swaths of Europeans out of the Catholic Church. At the same time, figures including the very same Martin Luther, began encouraging some of the first “modern” public schools. Luther, a powerful influence in Germany at the time, supported the creation of schools to educate everyone, rather than only the advantaged youth as he expressed in An die Ratsherren aller Städte deutschen Landes (To the Councillors of all Towns in German Countries, 1524).

As a Catholic myself, Luther’s advocacy for greater education for youth of all classes is one of his most honorable aspects, despite my disagreements with his theology and solution to his qualms with the Church of the time. Interestingly, his advocacy for public schools could be viewed as a means to reducing the Church’s influences, which for centuries shepherded education in parishes throughout all Europe. Nonetheless, Luther likely had a genuine desire to better educate the poor and illiterate, such that each could better understand the Bible and Christian theology. Some of the first public schools emerged in the German states of Gotha and Thuringia in the early 1520s. [5] Similar schools would open throughout the following decades reflecting the particular educational philosophies of their founders.

  1. The New World and the American Colonies

The first schools in the New World appeared in Mexico in the 1520s (the same decade some of the first German public schools were established). Southward of the American colonies, schools were largely formed and taught by Spanish Catholics for educating Native Americans. Spanish children usually had tutors toward the beginning of Spanish colonization, though later they would also join local schools. Still, none of these schools were compulsory [2].

In Europe and the U.S., general government intervention into schools began taking a greater foothold in the 17th and 18th centuries, born both of a desire to educate all and for political ends through the better subordination of citizens and ensuring greater economic strength for the nation.

In New England, where Puritan influences were strong, education  was primarily motivated such that “the young learned the ground rules of the good society, as revealed in the Bible.” This need pushed Puritan parents to educate their children in reading and writing well. Later into the 1600s, however, the towns and eventually the larger regions, took greater steps toward formal education with the passing of laws requiring towns to support dedicated teachers of reading and writing [6].

The Massachusetts School Laws, three legislative acts enacted in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1642, 1647, and 1648, are commonly regarded as the first steps toward compulsory education in the United States. The 1647 law, in particular, required every town having more than 50 families to hire a teacher, and every town of more than 100 families to establish a school [7].

Private academies for boys then later for girls in the 18th century would emerge in Philadelphia, New York, and other growing cities, though these remained only for upper class youth. Academies aimed for a more practical education than existing institutions, which were seen as teaching subjects too removed from the real world.
For the southern colonies, the situation was more suited to a rural, independent society, so homeschooling largely prevailed. Not only was homeschooling the norm for practical reasons of a sparser population, but southerners also believed that education, in line with most of antiquity, belonged to the parents and in sometimes the local church. Notably, regional laws would mandate the creation of  “workhouse schools” to educate poor children in the trades. Well-off families would still send children to private schools or hire tutors.

  1. 19th Century Europe and the U.S.

The 19th century saw a dramatic rise in the intervention of governments in Europe and the Americas in the education of their citizens. Proponents of state intervention put concerted efforts into convincing the public and politicians that taxation must support community-wide education for all people. Formal grade and class systems outgrew their origins in Germany from the last century, spreading to schools worldwide. Church influence on education continually eroded at the growth of secularized state schools, teaching with greater emphasis on modern sciences and languages. Schools generally took on a more national character, by integrating topics on citizenship and national history. The nationalization of education was believed to be the means to achieving universal education [2].

Massachusetts would again take center stage in the educational landscape in the United States in 1852 with the passing of state-wide compulsory schooling laws. These laws forced children to attend schools with government oversight and threatened fines and the confiscation of children from parents who did not comply [8]. By 1918, virtually every state in the U.S. had passed similar laws, though most or all of these laws still allowed for private schools as an alternative to public schools.

  1. 20th Century U.S.

Just a few short years after WWI, one of the first real threats (in the U.S.) to the right for choice in education emerged – strangely – by democratic means. The 1922 Compulsory Education Act was drafted in Oregon due to a wariness of foreign cultures and values that were viewed as undermining American identity. The law, promoted by powerful and infamous groups such as the KKK, specifically targeted Catholic schools while allowing for state-monitored homeschooling and other private schools as exceptions. However, the law was amended to ban all private schools and (remarkably) passed by popular vote [9].

A lawsuit soon followed in Pierce vs. Society of the Sisters, which was rightly ruled in favor of school choice by the U.S. Supreme Court and subsequently cited for precedence in over 100 cases [10]. The opinion of the court famously concluded “The child is not the mere creature of the state” and ended the dispute over whether the government had exclusive powers to educate the American youth [11]. Homeschooling, though it always existed with declining popularity since the proliferation of public and private schools in the 1800s, didn’t resurface with any significant societal recognition until the 1960s and 1970s with prominent advocates including Rousas John Rushdoony, John Holt, and Raymond and Dorothy Moore.

Such 20th century homeschool proponents did not necessarily advocate for homeschooling due a perceived superiority of homeschooling, but rather in accordance with my own opinion that the home is by its very nature the proper place for education.

In 1980, Holt said, “I want to make it clear that I don’t see homeschooling as some kind of answer to badness of schools. I think that the home is the proper base for the exploration of the world which we call learning or education. Home would be the best base no matter how good the schools were”[12].

As of 2016, National Center for Education Statistics (NHES) reported over 1.7 million homeschooled students in the U.S., comprising just under 2% of the school-age population. The number of homeschoolers has nearly doubled since 1999 and is showing signs of continued rapid increase [13].

Final Thoughts

From this brief overview of the history of education in the West, it’s clear that compulsory public schooling is the experiment, the historical anomaly bearing the burden of proof of its utility.

Simply from a historical viewpoint, advocates of compulsory public schooling and anti-homeschool advocates should have to prove compulsory education’s superiority in merit for lack of historical precedence. The efficacy of homeschooling relative to public education stands strong – even using the same standards implemented by public schools in many cases, as we shall cover in the next post. Stay tuned.

Sources

[1] http://www.quaqua.org/utah.htm

[2] https://www.britannica.com/topic/education

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_education#Primary_schooling

[4] https://www.google.com/books/edition/_/WMrNE7uq-tMC?hl=en

[5] https://mises.org/library/education-free-and-compulsory-1#7

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massachusetts_School_Laws

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massachusetts_School_Laws

[8] https://archive.org/details/conceivedinliber01roth

[9] https://www.jstor.org/stable/25018244?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierce_v._Society_of_Sisters

[11] https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/268/510

[12] https://www.naturalchild.org/articles/guest/marlene_bumgarner.html

[13] https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2019/2019106.pdf

The Case for Homeschooling (Part 1): The Strangeness of the Anti-Homeschool Movement

With the COVID19 crisis virtualizing school instruction and giving many parents a taste of homeschooling life, the topic of home education is hotter than ever. Particularly, a recent Harvard Magazine article by Erin O-Donnell has brought a firestorm from homeschool supporters – and for good reason. The article denounces the practice of homeschooling through remarks from Elizabeth Bartholet, the Morris Wasserstein Public Interest Professor of Law at Harvard. Bartholet’s other role as Faculty Director of Harvard Law School’s Child Advocacy Program informs her ultimate argument against homeschooling on the grounds of concern for the children. Her position pits a child’s right to “a meaningful education” against the natural rights of parents to educate their children.

The central narrative of Batholet is that homeschooled children are victims of their parents’ oppressive ideologies, but the State is there to intervene as the children’s saviors. The Harvard professor’s commentary reveals a motivation to eliminate homeschooling for no more reason than her own ideology. No statistics. No historical perspective. No practical benefits. No trace of any research on the topic of homeschooling at all.

To remedy this informational gap, I have consulted the most comprehensive sources I could find to get that hard data that proves that public schools are safer, that public education is more effective, that children and society benefit more from government funded primary education. And, there is hard data and a significant body of research on the subject. The only problem is that the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of homeschooling.

In my initial research, I fully expected to find reasonable disagreement between the data; but I was thoroughly surprised to find near-consensus on the positive outcomes of homeschooling versus the average public schools in every metric. Without any research, one might off-handedly expect that if homeschooling methods prevail in one area (e.g. academic performance), it might fall short in another (e.g. social skills). Such is not the case according to the relevant research.

You will find that anti-homeschoolers will straw-man homeschooling in advocating their positions. On the other hand, even if I “steel-man” the anti-homeschool position, as any good student of Aquinas would, their arguments turn to straw nonetheless. If you detect the airs of confidence herein, it’s because in few matters in one’s life does the body of research so resolutely support one’s position as now.

However, note that in writing this article, I’m not advocating for the abolition of public schools, nor of any other brick-and-mortar school, though I would not be surprised at its suggestion. Instead, I’m advocating, in the strongest terms possible due to the utter society-shaping nature of education, for the right of families to educate their children at home without undue intervention.

Given the book-worth amount of material I’ve encountered on the subject, I’ll present merely one aspect in this post, leaving the various historical, practical, and outcomes-based arguments in favor of homeschooling for upcoming articles, so that my full response to the anti-homeschool movement forms a series of articles over the coming weeks. Then, at the end of the series, I’ll create a master essay containing and expanding each major argument.

Here, we’ll first break down arguments posed by a growing anti-homeschool movement while revealing its underlying ideology, particularly those advocated by Bartholet.

The Case Against Homeschooling

The arguments against homeschooling are few yet pervasive to varying degrees. I broadly categorize them as either 1) based on outcome or safety and 2) ideological. Given the lack of data supporting category 1, (which I will demonstrate in coming articles in this series) all objectively unverifiable arguments against homeschooling are thus purely ideological. The most common arguments typically revolve around the idea that homeschooling creates an environmental bubble that hinders the development of children, particularly in social development. I don’t blame most people for holding this opinion: I believed it myself in the recent past but have changed my opinion in light of research.

Another, similarly innocent argument is that school provides an effective means to identifying legitimate cases of child abuse. It is ironic that Bartholet, a leader of Harvard Law School’s Child Advocacy Program, holds this position. I would hope a professional dedicate to advocating for children’s well-being would have a better grasp of the relevant research.

While it’s true that school teachers and officials raise the red flag to child protective services most often for cases of potential child abuse (as mentioned in the Harvard Magazine article), it’s not a reasonable argument. To be a reasonable argument, it needs to ace the following two questions 1) Do public schools catch a significant percentage of intra-familial child abuse cases? And, 2) are children actually safer at school than at home with all forms of violence accounted for? The argument, as you might expect, fails on both counts, as most experts believe a majority of cases go unnoticed by schools and children are statistically much safer in their home environments, as will be expanded upon later.

This leaves the anti-homeschooler position as purely ideological: it stems from a belief that the State can better handle family affairs than the family itself. It’s Marxian from the get-go. Bartholet apparently scours the societal landscape for areas with too little government oversight.

“We have an essentially unregulated regime in the area of homeschooling,” she says. An unregulated regime? Regimes are, by their very nature, over-regulated, over-controlled, authoritarian, hierarchical entities. The homeschoolers, if anything, are the opposite of a regime, being much more akin to a loose collection of clans connected by their opposition to the big-government regime that Bartholet advocates for.

The Harvard Magazine article goes on to reveal the real ideology driving the anti-homeschool movement: “But surveys of homeschoolers show that a majority of such families (by some estimates, up to 90 percent) are driven by conservative Christian beliefs, and seek to remove their children from mainstream culture. Bartholet notes that some of these parents are “extreme religious ideologues” who question science and promote female subservience and white supremacy.” 

What is wrong with the majority of homeschoolers being conservative and Christian? What is wrong with removing our children from maintstream culture? Our culture is defined largely by violence, sex, social media, politics, vulgar speech, and beyond. Who defines what an extreme religious ideologue is? To Bartholet, I am the extremist. Homeschoolers are extremists. Christian conservatives are extremists. Which science is it anathema to question? It’s ironic that the anti-homeschoolers are ignoring the scientific research on homeschooling.

Bartholet, while supporting an authoritarian intervention into the lives of families, then goes on to call homeschooling parents authoritarians: “The issue is, do we think that parents should have 24/7, essentially authoritarian control over their children from ages zero to 18? I think that’s dangerous.”

This is the utter strangeness of the anti-homeschool ideology: parents educating their own children is authoritarian. Those parents that sacrifice so much time, effort, and income to educate their children are tyrants that must be stopped from indoctrinating their own children. Who is more a tyrant, the one who shapes the worldview of their own children, or the one who shapes the worldviews of all children?

Lastly, in Howard-Zinn-fashion, the law professor states her underlying worldview, saying “I think it’s always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless, and to give the powerful ones total authority.” It’s a worldview of seeing society only in terms of power dynamics, ignoring all other facets of life. Not only that, but she doesn’t recognize that she is siding with the largest power on face of the earth: the U.S. government, which already educates the majority of children in the U.S.

Even if we play the power dynamics game here, her position gives no power to “the powerless” children; instead it merely removes power from the child’s parents and transfers it to the state. There is no increase in power to “the powerless” there. Then, at what age would we even apply her ethic? Why would we allow parents “24/7, essentially authoritarian control” over their children before school age? Since our psyches are largely formed by the age of four, won’t those Christian conservatives have already done too much damage by the time school comes around?

The logic of this anti-homeschool ideology falls apart very quickly. The case for homeschooling, however, is very strong, and I look forward to sharing the immense case for homeschooling throughout this series.

Stay tuned.

COVID19: A Call for Greater Family Independence

The lockdown initiated by government reactions to COVID19 (the coronavirus) has imposed a rare glimpse into how elements of dystopian novels manifest in the real world: restricted travel, skyrocketing unemployment, an economy in recession, police arrests for routine outdoor activities, masks and gloves merely for grocery store visits, and semi-rationed groceries (for the very high demand commodities). The coronavirus lockdown has changed more people’s lives in a month than probably any event in history in terms of daily living. (Note,it hasn’t changed lives more drastically than other events – not by a long shot.) I have been overwhelmingly fortunate in keeping a steady paycheck throughout the lockdown and for the foreseeable future, and I’ve founding nothing in my situation to classify beyond a mere inconvenience. Zero hardships by God’s mercy. 

A crisis, even if relatively small, is a test of the strength of a nation, a community, and a family or person. Storms find the leaks in the roof, and the big leak in society (at every level) is over-dependence.

The COVID19 events has given us a rare glimpse at problems we may face in far more severe circumstances and opens my eyes to two categories of things: 1) the conveniences we take for granted (but are not “essential”) and 2) what we depend on to survive. In the former are the abilities to buy what we please, travel where we want, and find information on the internet. In the latter are stocked grocery stores, the availability of medicines, and access to water, gas, and electricity. We have become dependent on both categories, but the the latter things are the dependencies of most concern.

How Dependence Forms

Man seems stuck on a trend toward increasing dependence on others or the state for survival. Whereas at some point in history an average peasant knew how to convert a live bird to that night’s dinner, the average 21st century man can hardly stomach the mere thought of reverting to such base practices to get a meal. Our comfortable lives now come at the cost of increased dependence, which has  developed in two ways throughout history: either as 1) an adaptation to circumstance or 2) as an evolution of efficiency. The former often has a formula resembling this: 

group B has resource X

group A doesn’t have resource X

group A needs resource X

group A depends on group B

Here, group may be a either a person, family, community, or nation, though in the context of this essay it’s the family. Dependence formation by an evolution of efficiency (#2) occurs not for want of something, but rather as a byproduct of efficient production.

A good example of this is Henry Ford’s assembly line for car production in the early 1900s. Instead of a group of workers making an entire car, each worker has a scope of work limited to only a part of a car. This is beneficial because each worker becomes very efficient at their particular job and increases overall production efficiency. However, now each worker relies on the other workers in the assembly line to make a complete automobile. A formula for this evolution of efficiency might look like as follows:

group A makes X and Y

Y is made from X 

group A is divided into A1 and A2

group A1 makes X

group A2 makes Y using X

group A2 depends on group A1

And many variants like this, but with the basic idea, that each group specializes in an area while coordinating with other groups to achieve a goal. For a company, that goal is usually to produce something efficiently. For a person, that goal is to acquire everything necessary to survive.

Likewise, a society’s work force usually specializes, such that each worker can be more efficient in their work, produce more, and earn more income. This usually evolves naturally in most societies but comes at the price of each member of society depending on others to get everything they need. A professional blacksmith makes horseshoes much more efficiently than a banker could in his spare time, but the blacksmith, at the cost of specialization, thereby must rely on others by trading (with or without a currency as a trade medium) to get food, clothing, and other necessities.

Such specialization has greatly benefited society and enabled an explosion of growth when coupled with a free market economy.

Preparing for the Worst

However, when is one over-specialized? Perhaps a definition of over-specialization is quantified by how many self-preserving skills we maintain (those skills needed to survive on our own). I’m in no way expecting societies or individuals to abandon the workforce structure of specialization that has been so successful for 150 years, but the recent COVID19 lockdowns cause the imagination to wander in to apocalyptic-like territory. 

What if the grocery stores can’t keep up and food shortages come? What if we lost electricity to our homes for a prolonged period (always a possibility no matter the season)? What if gas supplies ran out and we couldn’t commute or fetch groceries? Such worst-case scenarios should be in the mind of every adult from time-to-time. 

All this is on my mind, especially as I contemplate where I’ll live once I move my family from our current living situation. Rural life looks more enticing every day, as COVID19 dominates the news.

Having a decent sized garden or some livestock on a few acres sounds like a reasonable step toward self-sufficiency. 

Growing up on 80 acres, I know that, at a minimum, the cabin-fever experienced during the lockdowns would abate with a few acres replacing the row upon row of suburban homes. Out of the city, the airs a little fresher, freedom a little wider, and personally, God a little closer. City buildings rarely inspire awe toward God, but nature sure does. I miss the sound of the wind in the trees.

Family Independence

A family, as the basic unit of society, should strive for greater independence from society in terms of survival. This idea, however, could easily devolve into family isolationism, if not properly explained. What I’m not suggesting is for everyone to build a fortress without a gate – to shut themselves off from other people entirely. Mankind, even introverts like myself, were made for community, for friendships, and for engaging with others on a frequent basis. However, families can maintain community while ensuring their interaction with larger society isn’t a lifeline on which the livelihood of the family depends.

If the internet died today, could you get from point A to point B if needed? Do you even own a map? Can you read that map?! Items and skills like these should be universally known. It could makes all the difference in survival –  or at least in avoiding some inconveniences. 

A few things that can further our independence as families include growing a small garden, keeping some livestock, homeschooling, acquiring an energy source (like solar or wind), identifying where to get good drinking water if public water becomes unavailable, and learning how to hunt, fish, fix basic things, make a fire, etc. A nice way to semi-prepare and have fun at the same time is to take a camping trip – a real one (no “glamping”!): Tents, a fire, portable water purifiers…you get the idea.

If it seems a more rural life is needed to achieve some or most of these aspects of independence, I don’t think it’s a mere coincidence. Urban life is naturally more likely to yield dependence: higher density of people using shared infrastructure. We get used to shared spaces (like public parks) and the spending time in a place that we do not own. None of that is bad in itself, but overexposure to it breeds a culture of dependence nonetheless. It’s one of the main reasons I love the country and plan to move out of an urban environment as soon as possible, mostly for sake of the formation of my kids. 

Our nation and communities will be stronger against more severe shutdowns if we all take a step back and examine our dependence on things much taken for granted.

Epiousios: The Mysterious Greek Word in the Lord’s Prayer

This post is not the same one I originally intended. Several days ago I thought a nice subject to write about would be the history of the Lord’s Prayer (also known as the “Our Father”). It does have some interesting history, as we can trace its origin directly to scripture in the books of Matthew and Luke with various translations to Latin and then to the English version I say every day. Here’s the version I’m most familiar with:

Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

When going through the background research on the prayer, the sixth line bore very interesting fruit – enough to consume several hours worth of research and change the course of this post. The line causing such a digression is Give us this day our daily bread, and I have come to conclude this line contains one of the most important words in  Catholic apologetics: daily.

Our Daily Bread?

The word daily is the commonly cited translation of a mysterious Greek word epiousios – a word nowhere written down before in any Greek literature yet comprising many possible etymologies. This marks it immediately as a word deserving disproportional attention in its translation. The word’s translation to daily relies upon the interpretation of epi- as “for” and ousia as meaning something to the effect of “for the being” with an implicit context of the current day. [1] This interpretation was used in the famous King James Version, the Tyndale Bible, and a majority of English Bibles today [2]. Latin works by early Tertullian of Carthage (155-240 AD) and the Vetus Latina (or “Old Latin”) Bible translations also used this interpretation of epiousios [3]. Similar translations include “bread for today”, “bread for the day”, and other such minor variations [4],[5].Other etymologies hinge on a speculated link between known Greek word epiouse found in the book of Acts meaning “the next” and our mysterious word epiousios, with some suggesting the former is a feminized version of epiousios [6,7].

Nonetheless, the daily interpretation is by far the most commonly printed English translation despite reasonable evidence as to its inadequacy. The strongest argument against “daily” as correct is the fact that every other reference to “daily” is written as hemeran (ἡμέραν, “the day”) in the Greek texts [8-18]. It would be odd that, given a readily available and common Greek word for “daily”, the Gospel authors would choose a completely esoteric form of the word in this one instance without good reason. Lastly, a translation of epiousios to “daily” is clearly (yet incredibly easy to go unnoticed) redundant in the line Give us thisdayourdailybread. To satisfy those who may simply explain away this redundancy as merely accidental or the result of a habit of speech, consider that this word epiousios is the only non-possessive adjective in the entire prayer. Then, recall again, this word epiousios has never been found elsewhere in Greek literature. Most of us do not use obtuse language when we speak to others nor when we pray, except for some older English words such as “thy” and “art” (as we say in the Lord’s Prayer). The early Christians likely did not haphazardly include a word never once recorded before in Greek to our knowledge. Whatever word he said in Aramaic, the earliest Greek-speaking Christians must have recognized the uniqueness of the word to justify giving it a unique Greek translation.

Super Substantial Bread?

Now, we come to the part where my Catholic readers and my Protestant readers will have quite different emotions upon the remainder of this article. This is because, the most plausible translation of the the word epiousios is something that Catholics will recognize immediately as the Eucharist – the “summit and source of Christian life”, the literal body of blood of Jesus Christ.

Now, to my Protestant brothers and sisters – fear not. I am not pulling a fast one on you with the goal of a converting you to the Catholic faith; I am merely pulling apart the translation of a word that has gone under the radar far too long to the utmost scrutiny that I can muster. Again, when I set out to research the journey of the Lord’s Prayer through its various translations from its first recordings in the Gospel to today, I did not expect to find any reference to the Eucharist at all. The most plausible translation among scholars points in this direction, so that is the direction I followed. Nonetheless, I will help my Protestant brothers and sisters (for I was once among you) out of the conundrum you may find yourselves in momentarily by pointing out that the definitive understanding of the translation is still disputed. I simply encourage you to consider where you place your bets based on the evidence. Furthermore, there are a few similar yet “un-Catholicized” interpretations that you may find rest your mind on the matter, though I find they still point the compass toward Rome.

Another breakdown of the mysterious Greek word renders epi– as “super” and ousia as “substance”, which the early Christian scholar Jerome of Stridon (342- 420 AD) put together to form “super-substantial” in the Latin Vulgate, which brings to mind the Catholic belief in transubstantiation. The Catholic Church has since rendered the translation similarly as “super-essential” in Latin and regards it as the most literal possible translation of epiousios. One of the major advantages this interpretation has over the “daily” interpretation is its support by a majority of early Christian scholars, including Augustine (the famous author of Confessions – a must-read in the study of philosophy and Christianity), Cyril of Jerusalem, Cyprian of Carthage, John Cassian [19,20], and other early Church fathers [19,20,21], as well as by the Council of Trent [22]. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, a summary of belief, retains this understanding of epiousios to this day. The Catechism addresses the word directly as follows [23]:

2837 “Daily” (epiousios) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Taken in a temporal sense, this word is a pedagogical repetition of “this day,” to confirm us in trust “without reservation.” Taken in the qualitative sense, it signifies what is necessary for life, and more broadly every good thing sufficient for subsistence. Taken literally (epi-ousios: “super-essential”), it refers directly to the Bread of Life, the Body of Christ, the “medicine of immortality,” without which we have no life within us. Finally in this connection, its heavenly meaning is evident: “this day” is the Day of the Lord, the day of the feast of the kingdom, anticipated in the Eucharist that is already the foretaste of the kingdom to come. For this reason it is fitting for the Eucharistic liturgy to be celebrated each day.

Catholic Biblical scholars (and I suspect others as well) recognize that Biblical verses can have several simultaneous meanings, as reflected by the Catechism above. The word simultaneously holds temporal, qualitative, and literal meanings, the last of which is the interpretation I have presented today. Some may argue, the Catechism is here presenting a look at every possible interpretation, but again it also recognizes the word has been used nowhere else in scripture where other words suffice for the temporal and qualitative meanings. Thus to ignore the literal interpretation of the word in the Matthew’s recording of the Lord’s prayer is to ignore the intent of the specific usage of epiousios here. Note also the Eastern Orthodox churches hold the same opinion in the translation of epiousios as the Catholic Church.

However, there is further nuance to this story not as yet fleshed out. The Lord’s Prayer appears in both the books of Matthew and Luke. The Matthew version and the Luke versions of the Lord’s Prayer were slightly different, resulting in Jerome translating epiousios as “supersubstantial” in Matthew but as “daily” (quotidianum in Latin) in Luke. Much later, Martin Luther originally kept the interpretation as “supersubstantial” but retranslated it as “daily” later in life.

One of the leading experts on the early understanding of the Eucharist and its Jewish roots is Catholic theologian Brant Pitre, who writes in his book Jesus and the Last Supper (2015) concerning the understanding of epiousios I have presented here: “despite being widely held among ancient Christians, [the supersubstantial interpretation] receives virtually no support among modern exegetes … despite the fact that it is easily the most literal translation”[20]. I have felt a similar exasperation, not in any engagement with experts of the field, but the sheer ignorance I had regarding this part of the Lord’s Prayer, which I had been reciting since my youth. What bliss there is in learning when not looking for it, especially with things too familiar to be questioned. 

Further support of the “supersubstantial” interpretation, if you are not yet convinced, is found in fact that in the native tongues of Jesus (Aramaic and Hebrew), there is no word that translates into the Greek epiousios, thereby suggesting that the word was invented or first spoken by Jesus, his followers, and the earliest Christians. Typically, we do not invent words by mere accident; the word came about for a purpose, as it had to convey a meaning beyond that of merely “daily”: the tremendous importance that the Bread of Life would play in our relationship with Christ throughout the future ages.

Final Thoughts

Again, to my Protestant readers, you are not alone if you might disagree with the interpretation, as other Protestant and even some Catholic theologians have voiced. But, even if you dismiss what I’ve presented here, I hope it at least brings about an appreciation for just one of the legitimate reasons we Catholics believe in the Eucharist as the literal body and blood of Jesus in the first place: both tradition and modern scholarship offer good reasons to believe so. In fact, there are many more reasons; I would not even count the content of this essay as among the best evidence, though it is certainly an undervalued part. More evidence may be found in Biblical passages, the writings of the earliest Christians, and in its continuity with the Jewish Passover and Bread of the Presence found throughout the Old Testament.

The more I dig into the Bible, the early Christians, and all of Church history, the more I am intrigued. I have gone down a rabbit hole I do not regret, as I know that, personally, to study the faith is to love it all the more. Though my errors might well include “over-intellectualizing” my faith, I also know such curiosity is ultimately driven by the Holy Spirit; a desire to learn more of God is never a bad thing. 

So, the next time you are praying the Our Father, remember when you come to Give us this daily bread, that Jesus meant much more than simply the earthly food he gives us, but rather something “supersubstantial”.

Sources

[1] Brant Pitre (23 November 2015). Jesus and the Last Supper. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 172. ISBN 978-1-4674-4404-0.

[2] William Barclay (1 November 1998). The Lord’s Prayer. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 75. ISBN 978-0-664-25815-3.

[3] Colin Brown (1975). The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Zondervan Publishing House. p. 251. ISBN 978-0-310-33230-5.

[4] “Matthew 6 – WNT – Bible Study Tools”.

[5] Craig A. Evans (6 February 2012). Matthew. Cambridge University Press. pp. 147–. ISBN 978-0-521-81214-6.

[6] https://biblehub.com/greek/1966.htm

[7] Meyer, Ben (2009). The Early Christians: Their World Mission & Self-Discovery. Eugene, Oregon, USA: Wipf and Stock. pp. 20–21. ISBN 1606083708.

[8] “Matthew 6:11 Interlinear: ‘Our appointed bread give us to-day”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/matthew/6-11.htm

[9] The New Greek-English Interlinear New Testament, 1993, The United Bible Societies, (UBS4 Greek text), page x of Introduction

[10] “Matthew 20:2 Interlinear: and having agreed with the workmen for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/matthew/20-2.htm

[11] “Luke 9:23 Interlinear: And he said unto all, ‘If any one doth will to come after me, let him disown himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me;”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/luke/9-23.htm

[12] “Acts 6:1 Interlinear: And in these days, the disciples multiplying, there came a murmuring of the Hellenists at the Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily ministration”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/acts/6-1.htm

[13] “Acts 17:11 Interlinear: and these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, they received the word with all readiness of mind, every day examining the Writings whether those things were so;”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/acts/17-11.htm

[14] “Acts 17:17 Interlinear: therefore, indeed, he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the worshipping persons, and in the market-place every day with those who met with him”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/acts/17-17.htm

[15] “Acts 19:9 Interlinear: and when certain were hardened and were disbelieving, speaking evil of the way before the multitude, having departed from them, he did separate the disciples, every day reasoning in the school of a certain Tyrannus”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/acts/19-9.htm

[16] “2 Corinthians 11:28 Interlinear: apart from the things without — the crowding upon me that is daily — the care of all the assemblies”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/2_corinthians/11-28.htm

[17] “Hebrews 3:13 Interlinear: but exhort ye one another every day, while the To-day is called, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of the sin”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/hebrews/3-13.htm

[18] “Hebrews 10:11 Interlinear: and every priest, indeed, hath stood daily serving, and the same sacrifices many times offering, that are never able to take away sins”. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/hebrews/10-11.htm

[19] Nicholas Ayo (2002). The Lord’s Prayer: A Survey Theological and Literary. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 59–. ISBN 978-0-7425-1453-9.Get the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Lords-Prayer-Survey-Theological-Literary/dp/0268012911/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=the+lord%27s+prayer%3A+a+survey+theological+and+literary&qid=1586829645&s=books&sr=1-1

[20] Brant Pitre (23 November 2015). Jesus and the Last Supper. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 159–. ISBN 978-1-4674-4404-0.Get the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Last-Supper-Brant-Pitre/dp/0802875335

[21] Ratzinger, Joseph (2007). Jesus of Nazareth. Doubleday. p. 154. ISBN 978-1-58617-198-8.Get the book: https://www.amazon.com/Joseph-Bendict-Ratzinger-Jesus-Nazareth/dp/B00RWSH18W/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=978-1-58617-198-8+isbn&qid=1586829760&s=books&sr=1-1

[22] Trent, Session 13, Chapter VIIIhttps://history.hanover.edu/texts/trent/ct13.html” with such piety and worship as to be able frequently to receive that supersubstantial bread, and that it may be to them truly the life of the soul, and the perpetual health of their mind”

[23] 2837 in “Catechism of the Catholic Church – The seven petitions”. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p4s2a3.htm. Retrieved 7 April 2020

[24] General reading from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epiousios

Christian Faith: Feelings Not Required

Human Reason and Emotion

The gears turning within man appear driven by two distinct forces: reason and emotion. When these two forces work against one another, the stronger of the two, fed by natural or nurtured inclinations, dominates to control our actions. Oppositely, reason and emotion may on occasion act in concert, resulting in decisive action. Such internal struggle or agreement between these two forces occurs (in my conception of our will) anytime we face a decision, whether that is to buy a new car or merely whether to eat a salad over steak.

This is not a picture meant to usurp the reality of free will through a mechanistic view of human choice, but rather to express two natures of our will (i.e. the “heart” and the “mind”). Do not mistake this for some academic treatment of human psychology. Instead, I simply want to open with an introduction to actions largely derived from mind and heart (my very colloquial terms for reason and emotion).

Some decisions are won by our hearts, such as the decision to give money to the homeless man on the sidewalk. Other decisions are won by our minds, like the decision to withhold gifts of money to another homeless man, whom you recognize as a serial abuser of dangerous substances.

Also, recognize that both the heart and mind can be equally impulsive. Though the former may be more conducive to rash decisions, the latter can be impulsive given the right dilemma and human dispositions.

Picture a man accepting a new job on the spot that, on face value, far exceeds all the metrics of his current employment: better paycheck, benefits, location, upward mobility, working hours, etc. However, what the rational yet impulsive decision did not consider was the job’s higher purpose and that people also care about meaning. The old job gave this man profound joy in its mission to improve others’ lives. However, this new job offers no such thing. In fact, our protagonist finds himself depressed because his well-paying job promotes things quite detrimental to society. The rational mind (which is only as good as the information given to it) made a poor decision based on impulse.

All this is to say that both reason and emotion are not perfect, especially alone. The two, though opposite in many ways, are both important to making good decisions and thus are actually complementary. 

Let’s keep this in mind as we examine two commonly talked about aspects of the Christian life: love and faith.

Christian Love

I, by no means, am the first to assert the love is a choice, not a feeling. Despite our conceptions of “love” as learned by modern culture (just picture the “rom-coms” as a supreme example), basing such a life-long decision upon the fleeting feelings of physical (or sometimes psychological) attraction is a folly bound for disappointment. All married couples know that feeling will dissipate quickly. The honeymoon will soon be a memory.

Though the feelings can return aperiodically throughout a marriage, what remains when the initial feelings inevitably subside?

This is the genius of the Christian view on marriage. Marriage is an oath, freely given, to do everything in one’s power to lead the other towards heaven until “death do us part”, and it is even given sacramental significance within the Catholic Church. Marriage is much more than a practical but wholly necessary foundation of society-building. It is also a gift by God to aid in one’s journey through the Pearly Gates.

Marriage is thus a choice to partake in this gift from God, made not just by feelings (though it does play a part), but more importantly by our reason. It requires reason to recognize the Christian marriage as more than an earthly institution, but one divinely approved to build God’s kingdom through both children and our witness.

The important point here is that, although a marriage can survive without feelings (as it does through arguments and the like), no marriage can survive on feelings alone. The counterpart to feelings, as I laid out earlier, is our intellect.

Since love is a decision we maintain regardless of circumstance, a marriage can survive on that choice, which is a product of our reason. (Here, I am saying, perhaps not eloquently, that our reason enables the decision to love, hence a marriage could result from use of our reason alone – even if devoid of feelings.)

I am not saying a lack of feelings in a marriage is good; I’m simply stating that it is not necessary. Now, we can apply this same logic to faith and move on to the thesis of this post.

Christian Faith

“Faith”: a word beloved by Christians (and other religious) and the target of vitriol from many an atheist. To the latter group, this essay does not address you, as this is not a work of apologetics. If you’re an atheist, you may as well stop reading here, unless you merely wish to understand the Christian conception of faith as it relates to the human intellect.

Though I write this from the perspective of a Catholic convert, I believe Protestants will find my use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (a summary of Catholic belief) in describing the nature of faith quite helpful. To the best of my knowledge, most Protestant denominations will concur with the Catholic description of faith I present. Much of faith, as you will see for yourself, deals with the intellect or what I previously called our human reason.

First, faith is described quite well by scripture as documented meticulously in the catechism (note for Protestant friends, the vast majority of references are to direct Biblical passages). Faith can be understood as simply an obedience to God, as Rom. 1:5, 16:26 refer to “the obedience of faith”. Abraham earns the honor as the “father of all who believe” [Rom 4:11,18; 4:20; cf. Gen 15:5.] through his obedience to the Lord’s will.

As worded in he catechism, “By faith, Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go.” [Heb 11:8; cf. Gen 12:1-4.] We demonstrate our faith through our obedience to God’s commands and his will over our own.

Now, onto several excepts from the catechism demonstrating how faith requires more than our hearts (emotions) but also our minds (intellect).

143 By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God.

Dei Verbum 5

155 …”Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace.”

St. Thomas Aquinas, STh II-II,2,9; cf. Dei Filius 3:DS 3010

156 …So “that the submission of our faith might nevertheless be in accordance with reason, God willed that external proofs of his Revelation should be joined to the internal helps of the Holy Spirit.”[1] …. the assent of faith is “by no means a blind impulse of the mind”.[2]

[1] Dei Filius 3:DS 3009.
[2] Dei Filius 3:DS 3008-3010; Cf. Mk 16 20; Heb 2:4.

158 “Faith seeks understanding“:[1] It is intrinsic to faith that a believer desires to know better the One in whom he has put his faith, and to understand better what He has revealed; a more penetrating knowledge will in turn call forth a greater faith, increasingly set afire by love…. In the words of St. Augustine, “I believe, in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe.”[2]

[1] St. Anselm, Prosl. prooem.:PL 153,225A.
[2] St. Augustine, Sermo 43,7,9:PL 38,257-258.

These four passages from the catechism, bringing together scripture and the writings of many doctors of the Church, makes clear that despite what I perceive as a modern over-emphasis of the feelings associated with faith in God, the Biblical and historical view of faith throughout Christianity has not forgotten the necessity of acting through our intellect.

By 143 above, we must submit our mind to God. By 155, our establishment of faith by belief requires an intellectual act. By 156, faith as purely an impulsive (i.e. requiring no reasoned act) is rejected. And, by 158, St. Anselm and St. Augustine eloquently voice the relationship between our faith and intellect (understanding).

Hence, we find that both faith and love, commonly assumed to derive overwhelmingly from the heart, also require assent of our reason: in marriage, we must consciously and freely bind our lives to the other, and in faith, we consciously and freely give our will to God. Though both love and faith indeed be animated by our hearts and fill us with joy, neither will come about without the submission of our minds, our intellects.

Lacking Feelings in Faith

I have admittedly felt little in terms of emotion when it comes to my faith. The greatest occasion for my emotions to emerge was during my conversion to Catholicism (a story for another day). Otherwise, I have never shed a tear; I have never felt a weakness in my bones; I have never felt the level of joy others may describe by verses of the Psalms.

Many may believe this to be a discouraging plight, something to be held as a deficiency of faith. Though faith is indeed a great gift through the grace of God, the choice to believe (an act of the mind) is commended by Jesus:

“Jesus said to him, ‘You have believed because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.'” (John 20:29)

If you do feel the presence and joy of God every day, then surely you are immensely graced by God, and you should rejoice that such a grace has been given to you. However, I believe you are very likely the minority among Christians. Most of us may often feel a neutrality that doesn’t live up to our imaginations about the good Christian life. Do not be dismayed.

If faith were to be built solely on our feelings or emotions, how could any Christian surpass those times of doubt or confusion or grieving for some loss? These times are what many a saint have come to know as the “Dark Night of the Soul”. The catechism addresses this as well:

164 Now, however, “we walk by faith, not by sight”;[1] … Even though enlightened by him in whom it believes, faith is often lived in darkness and can be put to the test…

[1] 2 Cor 5:7.

We will all likely experience events in life when our faith is tested, when the feelings of faith are gone. Hence, the mind must submit in faith as well, such that it may override our feelings when necessary. A mind well trained in apologetics, for example, is harder to shake from the faith than one ignorant of the reasons behind one’s faith. Particularly in today’s connected world, different viewpoints and criticisms of the Christian faith are easy to come by. 

This is not to suggest that all Christians should necessarily “become” apologists, but rather that every Christian should spend some time trying to understand the fundamentals of the Christian faith, along with some idea of our 2000 year old history.

If we are willing to study years in technical schools or colleges to prepare for a profession, should we not throughout our lives expend equal effort to prepare ourselves for Heaven? I strongly believe we should do our best to understand what we rest eternal reward upon.

A large part of the reason I began ThinkingWest was as an outlet or for my studies of the faith and other topics on western civilization and society. I find my faith strengthened when I study the topics of Christianity: it’s doctrines, histories, great literary works, traditions, Church fathers, and of course, the Bible. Perhaps not everyone will have the same response, but my quest to understand Christianity has become an ever more important part of my life: not for the sake of understanding, but rather for the journey itself.

One reason I believe I respond so positively in faith by studying the faith is my largely academic background. School was a strong point. Thus, I find myself back “in school” at the feet of Christianity’s greatest figures: Jesus first and foremost, the apostles, the Church fathers, and all the great writers and heroes since.

Faith vs. Science?

These passages (143, 155, 156, 158) put to rest the argument that religion is a substitute for reason, as they indicate Christianity’s reliance on understanding and reason is intertwined with faith itself.

Inevitably, when speaking of reason and Christianity, the topic of “faith vs science” will crop up. Our catechism has conveniently moved the conversation thus far, and it’s no surprise it addresses this as well:

159 … “Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth.”[1] “Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.”[2]

[1] Dei Filius 4:DS 3017.
[2] GS 36 § 1.

Hence, the Christian faith is is never intrinsically at odds with science. Most commonly held “contradictions” between science and religion are surprisingly easy to disentangle. (Perhaps a future post on these will be worthwhile.)

Final Thoughts

I hope I have laid out a fairly thorough treatment of how faith and love are not so different as regarding our use of intellect, mind, reason, or whatever you like to call it. Feelings will fade in and out in both love (marriage) and faith. God, in His wisdom, gave us minds to discern fact from feeling. Hence, our minds are great tools to be used toward our salvation through Christ.

A mind well-formed by Christ will not falter in doubt; rather, it will help guide us through doubt, guard the faith against the tides of secular culture, and further bring about the salvation of others through our witness. We all know how an expert in a subject is justifiably bold in his opinions and his prescriptions. Likewise, we need to be bold about our faith, unafraid to speak the truths of the Christian faith to those who most need it.

What Gulliver’s Travels Can Teach Us About Perspective, Social Media, and Friendship

My first encounter with Gulliver’s Travels was a cheesy 90’s movie that did even less justice to the original story than director Darren Aronofsky’s 2014 movie Noah did to the Biblical story of Noah.

In the minds of many without an adequately wide reading of classic literature, Gulliver’s Travels (1726) is a children’s story. However, Irish writer Jonathan Swift wrote it as a satire of English and Irish society, largely its governance – though it is easy to see from its fanciful adventures why children love it (or at least its adapted plot in the movie).

Both content and form of the original Gulliver’s Travels clearly mark it as reading for informed adults. To belabor the point only a little, it’s original title was Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships. Quite a mouthful! (This type of descriptive titling was common in the 18th century.)

Commonly listed among the greatest novels of all time, Gulliver’s Travels (its modern title) is both loved and hated. It is a work of genius, but also a bane to modern (often high school) readers. Personally, I loved each of the four journeys within the book, but hated the staccato nature of the book by its division into discrete parts.

There are many ideas to pull out of its pages, but the one that most stuck out to me was the book’s emphasis on perspective. Much in the book deals with how Gulliver views the big, small, cultured, and uncultured peoples throughout his journeys. In fact, I believe that the central point of the book is a satirical critique at society’s lack of proper perspective.

What is Perspective?

Perspective is defined as “a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view”, and this is a fine definition for its use in this post. More loosely, I use it as our attitudes in relation to other people.

Perspective is both how we see those close to us (friends and family) as well as those far from us (celebrities, social media “friends”, and historical figures). And, rather than refer to the abstraction of “perspective” here, I am much more concerned with practical questions: How does our perception of others affect us? How do we obtain a holistic picture of another person?

Distance Begets Perfection

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkdIn, Snapchat, and a plethora of other digital phenomena have revolutionized the way family, friends, acquaintances, and even complete strangers interact on a daily basis. While the positive spin on the development of social media goes something like “connecting the world”, the downside is increased envy, online bickering, cyber-bullying, and a reduction of people’s lives to the “About Me” section of their profile, perhaps accompanied by several photos showing a perfect, happy life.

The social media sites are not really to blame with most of these negatives. I place the vast majority of criticism on the users of said platforms (myself included). The problem is not really what we post on the platforms, either. Rather, it’s the lens through which we interpret others’ lives through these platforms that I believe is most harmful. When we look to the Facebook and Twitter accounts of friends or celebrities as “evidence” of their success, their happiness, their problem-free life that we envy, we create an unrealistic standard by which we compare our own lives. Social media sites present a beautified, yet distorted, picture of other’s lives. “Friendships” through such platforms are thus inherently shallow, and hence not real.

The same applies to those whose lives we intersect only tangentially, obtaining only curated snapshots of their lives . There is a valid need for privacy, of course, but good friendships only really develop when a hole breaks through the wall of privacy.

Swift alludes to this perceiving only perfection in others’ lives from a distance in Part I (A Voyage to Lilliput), writing “I remember when I was at Lilliput, the complexions of those diminutive people appeared to me the fairest in the world: and talking upon this subject with a person of learning there, who was an intimate friends of mine, he said that my face appeared much fairer and smoother when he looked on me from the ground…”.

Even in a time when reading/writing, word-of-mouth, or face-to-face conversations were the sole means of communication, Swift recognized how social distance begot a familiarity only with the “good” in others’ lives, leaving out the “bad”. I must admit, however, I doubt the problem was ever as acute as it is now with the rise of the internet and social media.

Under the Magnifying Glass

To really know someone, we have to get up close. Much can be said about a person from their home, their family, and the ugly parts of their lives.

Swift recognized the need to get up close and personal in another’s life to see these ugly parts of their lives. During Part II (A Voyage to Brobdingnag), when Gulliver lived among giants, he noted how grotesque the giants were when he came close. Swift then writes, “This made me reflect upon the fair skins of our English ladies, who appear so beautiful to us, only because they are of our own size, and their defects not to be seen, but through a magnifying glass, where we find by experiment, that the smoothest and whitest skins look rough and coarse, and ill coloured.”

“…their defects not to be seen, but through a magnifying glass…”

Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels

Swift also writes in Part I (A Voyage to Lilliput) to the same effect, I took him up in my hand, and brought him close; which he confessed was at first a very shocking sight. He said, he could discover great holes in my skin; that the stumps of my beard were ten times stronger than the bristles of a boar; and my complexion made up several colours altogether disagreeable…”

The first statement describes that when Gulliver (the protagonist) observed the features of the miniature Lilliputians up close, he discovered all the imperfections invisible to him from afar. The second statement is a reverse of point-of-view. When a friend comes close to Gulliver, the friend discovers our protagonist’s “shocking” imperfections. 

In our lives, a “giant” may be a celebrity, whose life may look perfect from afar (from the news, social media, television). In their real lives, they suffer the same iniquities of many other people: failing marriages, addictions, inter-family drama, their own sins, and all the worries that come with wealth. The “giants”, in a broader sense, are those whose lives we view from afar. They all appear perfect until we get up close, just as the imperfections of one’s handiwork emerge upon close inspection.

Final Thoughts

It’s an odd happenstance that I am writing this piece as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds worldwide, leading to the rapid circulation of a new phase called “social distancing”. While certainly effective for mitigating the spread of the virus, I find our society has been, in a sense, practicing “social distancing” for quite some time.

Friends are now a list of people associated with our social media accounts, and face-to-face interactions are on the decline with online banking, online shopping, online dating, online fill-in-the-blank. The result is a society losing its interpersonal skills and true friendships, leading to increased rates of depression and suicide.

When the virus is gone, let’s not be afraid to get close to someone else, to see the ugly truth along with the good.

“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.”

Elbert Hubbard

The Catholic Founding Father

More than 90% of the Founding Fathers of America were Protestant. These “Founding Fathers” are those who did one or more of the following:

  • signed the Declaration of Independence
  • signed the Articles of Confederation
  • attended the Constitutional Convention of 1787
  • signed the Constitution of the United States of Americ
  • served as Senators in the First Federal Congress (1789-1791)
  • served as U.S. Representatives in the First Federal Congress.

The fact that most of them were Protestant is a large reason our nation’s founding is typically considered a “Christian nation”, as our laws and even the founding documents themselves clearly suppose a Christian framework. Regardless of how that impacts our laws today, who were the exceptions to the Protestant-dominated list of “Founding Fathers”?

The primary exception was Charles Carroll of Carrollton, one of the few prominent Catholics in America at the time (for reasons which will be made clear). He was an exceptional historical figure for many reasons.

Charles Carroll: Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise

Born in 1737, Carroll was an agricultural mogul of Irish descent, becoming the wealthiest man in America in his later life, which enabled him to wield considerable weight in American politics. His wealth at the time corresponds to roughly $465 million USD today.

Whether by his wealth, good luck, or some favor from God, he was also the longest living signer of the Declaration, outliving all other signers.

Carroll was a Federalist and one of the first advocates for independence from the British. His will for independence was exemplified prominently through his writings in the Maryland Gazette, where he was known by the pseudonym as “First Citizen”, a clear indication of his favoring an independent America. Carroll voiced the pro-separation stance in the Maryland Gazette and engaged in frequent written battles against loyalist advocate  Antillon. Their arguments developed into open vitriol with ad hominin attacks after Antillon’s identity was exposed as Daniel Dulany the Younger, a politician and lawyer loyal to British rule. Carroll once responded to attacks from Dulany with “virulent invective and illiberal abuse, we may fairly presume, that arguments are either wanting, or that ignorance or incapacity know not how to apply them”. Imagine for a moment if today’s public figures had such large vocabularies!

Not only was Carroll the wealthiest and healthiest of all the signers, but he was also the most highly educated. His deep intellect, including fluency in five languages, stemmed from his 17 year Jesuit education in France.

Early America: True Religious Freedom?

Carroll, though not a “framer” of the Constitution, provided the sole Catholic signature on the Declaration of Independence.

I was thoroughly surprised that when delving in to the early religious history of the United States I found freedom of religion was not immediate. Throughout most of the American colonies, Catholics were not granted the same rights as other Christians. Even in the heavily Catholic state of Maryland, Catholics including Carroll were barred from holding political offices, practicing law, and even voting! These laws proceeded from a 1704 act meant to “prevent the growth of Popery in this Province.”

Most concerningly, the act banned proselytizing, Catholic baptisms of new converts, and even Mass itself. Luckily, most of these horrifying laws were eliminated by the middle of the century. This all strikes a much different historical chord than what I imagined, since I believed that America was founded on the principle of religious freedom and hence free of religious persecution. 

Much more about the early Catholic history of Maryland can be found here.

The Curious Signature of Charles Carroll (of Carrollton)

Nonetheless, Carroll participated actively in the 1774 tea party protests and the sinking of the British tea-carrying ship, the Peggy Stewart. Two years later, Carroll signed the Declaration of Independence with a distinctive signature that has generated much speculation since. Mid-20th century journalist John Hix explained (though without sufficient proof) that Carroll’s distinctive signature arose from his hesitancy in adding “of Carrollton” to his name.

Each of the signers knew their signatures on the Declaration of Independence would identify them as criminals, guilty of sedition against current British monarch, King George III. Therefore, those with commonplace names (such as Charles Carroll) might hope for an escape from punishment should the revolution fail. Others with more identifiable names, such as Button Gwinnett, would be easily incriminated.

According to Hix, when Carroll signed his name, he originally wrote only “Charles Carroll”. Upon badgering from an anti-Catholic colleague of the Continental Congress due to the safety enjoyed  by Carroll (due to his commonplace name), he added “of Carrollton” to distinguish himself from other possible “Charles Carrolls”. Though mostly speculation, this story presents a viable history given the circumstances at hand.

Carroll in Politics

After the signing, the American Revolutionary War ensued, and Carroll generously funded much of the war out of his own pocket. This spending in support of America’s liberty later paid off (besides winning the war), as some believe the Constitution explicitly protected religious freedom in thanksgiving to Carroll for his war efforts.

Whether religious freedom was indeed protected for so peculiar a reason or not, Carroll took full advantage of his newfound Constitutional right to participate in politics and became Maryland’s first Senator (state-level) from 1781 to 1800. In fact, he also became a U.S. Senator while still holding office in Maryland; however, laws were soon passed to ban service at both state and federal levels, and Carroll resigned from the U.S. Senate soon after.

Later Life and Legacy

Later in life, Carroll helped establish the first railroad in the United States, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1830. Two years later, he died at the old age of 95 years. He is remembered reverently in Maryland’s state song, Maryland, My Maryland in the third stanza:

Thou wilt not cower in the dust,

Maryland! My Maryland!

Thy beaming sword shall never rust,

Maryland! My Maryland!

Remember Carroll’s sacred trust,

Remember Howard’s warlike thrust

–And all thy slumberers with the just,

Maryland! My Maryland!

Though one of the few Catholic Founding Fathers, Carroll was thoroughly an American revolutionary deserving of his place in history – and not to be forgotten.

Sources

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/americas-catholic-colony

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Carroll_of_Carrollton

https://www.adherents.com/gov/Founding_Fathers_Religion.html

How to Vote Catholic in America

Exactly.

Complete Christianity

nuns voting

The US Catholic Bishops have done little to nothing to help Catholics discern a clear political path in the United States. Their so-called “voters guide” (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship) has been a weak document that does more to confuse Catholics than help guide them. For this reason I’m taking it upon myself, as a simple Catholic layman, to try to give other Catholic laity some good direction that actually makes sense!

For Catholics in the United States, the number one issue facing our nation, our people, and our faith is ABORTION. This has been the case for nearly 50 years, and it will remain the case for the long-term foreseeable future. Every pope for the last half century (Paul VI, St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis) has militantly declared abortion the greatest evil of our time and the most preeminent issue facing Catholic voters.

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Sickness as a Sign to Slow Down

Today, as I lay there half-dead on the couch, checking on work emails, browsing Twitter, the WordPress reader, and the news, I came to the realization that maybe this sickness that’s overtaken me (and my whole family – that’s just how it is with kids) is God’s way of reminding me that I’m human.

We are mortal; we need sleep; we need food and water; we need rest. In a world that’s always go, go, go, and myself as one the worst culprits of constant work and worry, this sickness is perhaps a blessing in disguise. 


My life is currently constant havoc: I’m now four years into my Ph.D. and have two energetic kids, a wife who has foregone a bright career in engineering to care for them, a tiny 859 square foot single bedroom condo in a metropolis, and a paycheck that puts us well below the U.S. poverty line. On top of that, I’m a hobby-addict. I need several outlets for my busy-body self: this blog, photography, playing guitar, hiking, etc.

Monday evening, this sickness hit me hard, and all the business suddenly came to a screeching halt. All the technical paper writing, experiments in the lab, commute by train, and my hobbies suddenly became secondary to the simple goal of getting well and coping with my symptoms. (The only thing that can’t stop when sickness hits a mom or dad is caring for the kids, of course.)


We are only human, no matter how invincible we act throughout our busy days. The rule of moderation applies not only to food and drink, but also to the business of life.
I’m calling it short on this one; I’ve got rest and healing to embrace.

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