Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Memorable Thoughts of Socrates (Xenophon)

Finished a fourth book around the same time—woo. I have a bad habit of reading multiple books at once because I get interested in them, which is why it took me a total of 10 months to get through this one (and it's less than 200 pages long).

"The Death of Socrates" by Jacques-Louis David (1787)

The Memorable Thoughts of Socrates was written by one of his students, Xenophon, as a defense of Socrates against his accusers. Socrates was accused of heresy and corrupting the youth and was put to death in 399 BC by drinking hemlock. Since a large part of Xenophon's argument centered around Socrates being virtuous, it truly surprised me how Judeo-Christian some of his ideas seemed. He seemed to take joy in nothing else but to teach young men in the way of virtue—to be free from the grip of alcohol and debauchery, to be sexually chaste and responsible, and to love one's neighbor. Favorite subjects of his were also to teach young men how to manage money and a household, how to govern a Republic, and to stay away from comfort and excess.

On matters of religion he tailored his discourses for the youth to which he was speaking: once he blasted the foolishness of worshipping blocks of wood, and another time he encouraged piety in his listeners to a supreme divinity. Being uneducated into Greek paganism, I don't know what this "supreme" and "good" deity is, or if it even existed in the Greek religion. Furthermore, Socrates also claimed to be guided and advised by a "demon," which he called "my demon." I would like to read more about the religious overtones in the book and in Socrates' life, but so far I have only read the Memorable Thoughts and the Five Dialogues.  If anyone could point me to a good book, I'd be interested to read it.

Here are some interesting quotes I found in the book:
"If we were engaged in a war," said he, "and were to choose a general, would we make choice of a man given to wine or women, and who could not support fatigues and hardships? Could we believe that such a commander would be capable to defend us and to conquer our enemies? Or if we were lying on our deathbed, and were to appoint a guardian and tutor for our children, to take care to instruct our sons in the principles of virtue, to breed our daughters in the paths of honor and to be faithful in their management of their fortunes, should we think a debauched person fit for that employment? Would we entrust our flocks and our granaries in the hands of a drunkard? Would we rely on him for the conduct of any enterprise; and in short, if a present were made us of such a slave, should we not make it a difficulty to accept him? If then, we have so great an aversion for debauchery in the person of the meanest servant, ought we not ourselves to be careful not to fall into the same fault? Besides, a covetous man has the satisfaction of enriching himself, and, though he takes away another's estate, he enriches his own; but a debauched man is both troublesome to others and injurious to himself. We may say of him that he is hurtful to all the world, and yet more hurtful to himself, if to ruin, not only his family, but his body and soul likewise, is to be hurtful. (Xenophon, Loc. 420 of 2078)
I found that one to be relevant to electing corrupt politicians. Here's one that is just useful, common wisdom, as it relates to employment capabilities:
"The shortest and surest way to live with honor in the world is to be in reality what we would appear to be." (Xenophon, Loc. 905 of 2078)
So, no lying on resumes. Noted. On managing budgets:
"...for between the conduct of a family and that of a State the sole difference is that of a greater or lesser number; for as to all besides there is much conformity between them." (Xenophon, Loc. 1147 of 2078)
Interesting. So yes, the managing the federal budget really is a bit like managing a household budget. It would be nice if we had one, let alone followed it, since it is after all the first enumerated power of Congress, but I digress.

And a few more:
"...it is likewise folly for a man to persuade himself that, being rich and having no merit, he will pass for a man of parts; or that, not having a reputation for being a man of parts, he shall nevertheless be esteemed." (Xenophon, Loc. 1572 of 2078)
"Learn to know yourself better, Charmidas, and take care not to fall into a fault that is almost general; for all men inquire curiously enough into the affairs of others, but they never enter into their own bosoms to examine themselves as they ought." (Xenophon, Loc. 1310 of 2078)
"Know you not," said Socrates, "that in all things men readily obey those whom they believe to be most capable?" (Xenophon, Loc. 1096 of 2078)
Socrates had many other things to say on virtue, on not overestimating one's abilities yet being available and useful in the skills one does truly possess, on government, and even on exercise (he held that moderate exercise makes for a healthier and sharper mind). This was an interesting and engaging book that at times I couldn't put down. I found Socratic wisdom to be very practical and valuable. A lot of it I've already agreed with for a long time, but it was nice to have reminders to put those things into practice. It's not the Bible or anything, but I think that some of these principles do make for a happier and more productive life, so this is definitely now one of my favorites.

Sources:

1. Xenophon, The Memorable Thoughts of Socrates, trans. Edward Bysshe (London, Paris, New York & Melbourne: Cassell & Company, Limited, 1888), Loc. 420, 905, 1147, 1572, 1310, and 1096 of 2078.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex (And You Thought Bad Girls Have All The Fun) by Sheila Wray Gregoire

I picked this book up out of academic interest. It's written by one of my favorite bloggers—Sheila Wray Gregoire at To Love, Honor and Vacuum, so I knew I had to read it. It is very well researched from a psychological, sociological, and even spiritual perspective: she conducted her own surveys into married sex lives and what factors make it more fulfilling, and throughout the book she inserts anonymous answers to open-ended questions. In her research, she found that people who reported being virgins before marriage—or those who were not virgins but had chosen to wait with their husbands—had the best sex lives. Actually, the latter more so than the former. So it's not the "bad girls," as culture would have you believe.


The author confirmed what Christian moms have been telling us young women all along: that marriage, like wine, gets better with age. Fulfillment in sex isn't just about the physical aspect, she argues, but about the quality of the relationship and the spiritual connection two married people are meant to share. Focusing too much on the physical will result in doing more and more empty acrobatics in order to feel a "high," resulting in an addictive mindset and reducing sex to mere animal instinct. Sure, if sex were just about animal instinct, celibacy wouldn't make sense. But Gregoire argues that celibacy before marriage—whether two people are virgins or not—contributes to a better marital relationship because the engaged couple is forced to focus on things other than sex to build their friendship: something much needed for a marriage to stay together. And good sex is the result of a good relationship, not vice-versa.

But women do have problems, which Gregoire addresses from both a mental and physical perspective, giving advice as well as suggesting ways to spice things up. The book is divided into three parts: the first is addressing sexual problems that married women—couples, but she's talking to women—of any age have. The second is directed toward engaged virgins to know what to expect on their wedding night and beyond (hint: most people do not have a fantastic wedding night and honeymoon, but you literally have decades for it to get better and better!) And the third is about her research. Since the book does go into a lot of detail about specific sexual things, it's not that I wouldn't recommend a virgin to read it, but I would warn them first. However, she does focus on mental and spiritual just as much as she focuses on the physical, and I think all of it can be helpful as long as it doesn't present a temptation. But she does say that getting married when you know nothing yet is perfectly okay!

This is a book that I can recommend to married women, unmarried women, ministers, counselors and academics, because she addresses everyone. It's an easy read that doesn't take long to get through. And to compete with the ever-ubiquitous magazine covers and television telling us that illicit sex is the best sex and that married sex is boring, this message is definitely needed. It's not that married women have lukewarm sex—it's that they're not flaunting it for the world to see. I think she says somewhere near the beginning that if you need to flaunt your awesome sex life, it's probably not that awesome.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Growing Up Church of Christ (Mike S. Allen)

In case you were wondering, no, I did not "grow up Church of Christ." In fact, as a little foreshadowing to my lack of knowledge of the Church of Christ terminology in the book, I think I had to stare at the title for about 5 minutes before I realized that it was trying to say that the author grew up "the Church of Christ way." The book is a series of vignettes by the author and some other people he interviewed about growing up in the church of Christ. It does not have an agenda, nor is it overwhelmingly positive or overwhelmingly negative, nor is it in any way an academic read. It's simply the stories as the author remembers them, in the order in which he remembers them. Most of the vignettes are pretty lighthearted, although there are some heavy ones too.

Although the book (if it had a goal at all) was probably intended to make people who grew up going to a church of Christ feel nostalgia about a similar childhood, I found it helpful as a new person. Not everybody thinks to explain to you these little cultural tidbits—"the way things have always been"—when you're a new Christian and only have the Bible to rely on as a cultural reference. I was blessed to have started out in a church that was built around welcoming new people, so it had very few cultural idiosyncrasies—at least not without an explanation and a Bible verse to support it. But when I made my first church switch as a five-year-old Christian, I realized I knew nothing about being in a more "normal" 100-member church of Christ. People used terms I didn't know and had a specific, nonverbally understood way of doing things. I didn't really get the jokes, or the "big" issues. Stuff like that.

It's really easy to feel like an outsider (even when you're not) when there's an entire culture built around your church's..."thread"? (never to be confused with "denomination,"you know!). The author makes light of the cultural idiosyncrasies in the church of Christ while also expressing a great deal of respect for them, making it very accessible to me. I wish the author knew how much he helped me with my first church switch: it was harder than I thought it would be, because I didn't know what was "normal" for a church of Christ. I felt like I didn't know up from down! This book helped give me perspective—and besides, it was a lot of fun to read.

He also has a blog, which I'm assuming is how he promotes the book and where he jots down stories he remembers that never made it in there. I follow it because it's just like a continuation of the book! Also, his dad is Jimmy Allen. I've heard my current preacher say the name, so I'm sure he knows who that is.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Eugenics and Other Evils (G.K. Chesterton)

I just finished reading Eugenics and Other Evils by British author G.K. Chesterton. It was written in the 1920s at the height of 20th century Eugenic movement, before atrocities occurred all across Europe and America in the 1930s. We all learned in school about how many people were killed during the Holocaust—and the Communist movement—in the name of Nationalism or science (or both), but Chesterton outlines exactly why the philosophies that led up to it were dangerous, in England and beyond.

In the book, Chesterton decries making science our god, because of what people can do in the name of cold science—specifically vivisection, abortion and Eugenics. He warned against the false compassion that is carried along with Eugenic thought that deceives even the most well-meaning people, because there is nothing compassionate about wanting to control the marriages and birth rates of the poor. He relates this to the vague Feeble-Minded Laws that allowed England to imprison vagrants, and observed that most of those in favor of Eugenics were rich people who couldn't stand the quick reproduction rate of the lower classes. In the book, he denounces both Capitalism and Socialism, as the conditions were right to feel the worst of both systems in England: the rich wanted to control the poor with excessive Socialist laws, yet the poor were not given the opportunity to move up in society because of England's closed Capitalism. More than anything else, though, he decries scientific determinism, which allows people to judge the quality of life of others without asking them first.

The 20th Century Eugenics Movement was a major reason why the 20th century became known for its genocides, but it did not end after World War II. American Eugenicists like Margaret Sanger in the 1920s and communist feminist thinkers in the 1960s and 1970s worked hard to make support of birth control and abortion (respectively) in America quite mainstream—and they are still gaining in popularity. The very same evil philosophies that G.K. Chesterton exposed in Eugenics and Other Evils that led to the dehumanization and murder of our human neighbors eighty years ago are still being peddled today under the guise of compassion for the poor, female empowerment, and scientific advance. We have apparently learned no lessons from Hitler's massacre of the mentally and physically disabled, since compassionate abortionists today think it is morally acceptable to rid the world of Down's Syndrome by ridding the world of Down's Syndroms people. And many African-American pro-life activists—like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s niece, Alveda King—hold that the mystery that abortion victims are disproportionately African-American can be explained in Margaret Sanger's own words (although I still need to read her original works in order to be able to properly attribute quotes. Some people say they've read her works and the racist ones have been taken out of context—but of course, since her ideas about the disabled and the poor are accepted today in the pro-choice movement, those quotes have not been "taken out of context.").

In short, this book was eye-opening and very relevant to the discourse on abortion today, and made me really think about eugenic arguments, since he first explains what people see in them (almost as if it were written last week) and then why he thinks they're dangerous or terrible (in his usual scathing, humorous style). A great read. Read it if you enjoy philosophy, politics, history, and religion.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Santorum Suspends Presidential Campaign—And Why His Campaign was a Good Thing

Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) announced today that he is suspending his presidential campaign. This comes in the wake of the second hospitalization of his 3-year-old daughter Bella Santorum in just five months. Bella, who suffers from the life-threatening developmental disorder Trisomy-18, was hospitalized in January for pneumonia, and again over the Easter weekend (also for pneumonia). You can watch his speech here.

Rick Santorum and his daughter Bella, who has Trisomy-18

Trisomy-18 is characterized by the presence of an extra chromosome-18, similar to Down's Syndrome (Trisomy-21), except more rare and more serious. Most babies with Trisomy-18 are aborted in the womb, as they are not expected to live past their first year of life. People have lived into their 20s and 30s with the condition, but this is extremely rare. According to the Trisomy-18 Foundation, its symptoms include the presence of heart problems as well as a number of physical and mental defects, and the Washington Post says that pneumonia is especially dangerous because of the buildup of fluid that is already present in and around a Trisomy-18 sufferer's heart.

Rick Santorum, a devout Catholic, is a man who can be respected because he practiced what he believed. Typical politicians introduce laws that do not apply to them, but it was clear that to Santorum, abortion was not a matter of freedom, but of human rights. Our rights are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—but no one can have Liberty until the right to Life is respected! As a champion of ethics, Rick Santorum's story resonated with me during his campaign for the presidency more so than thoughts of the overreaching executive orders he might implement in the Oval Office. He may not have made the best President, but he was a darn good Catholic.

I'm glad I got to hear Rick Santorum's story. If he hadn't run for President, it wouldn't have been so much in the national spotlight, and I might not have gotten to. We're living in an age where women like me are taught to be selfish when it comes to planning a family—as if my personal accomplishments were what gave me, or anyone, worth! If I became pregnant with a severely disabled child who might not live very long, would I go through the pain and heartache of watching them suffer and lose them within a few years, or would I play God early on by aborting them and live with the nagging feeling that I'll never know what the outcome would have been? Assuming early death was certain (and when is it ever really certain?), the intense pain of love would certainly better than the dull pang of guilt. I hope Bella lives for much longer, because she has clearly already beaten the odds!

My mother-in-law chose to bear a child who supposedly had Down's Syndrome. My sister-in-law is intelligent, talented, and beautiful—and she does not have Down's. I'm sure glad she was pro-life! What would you do in this situation?

How do you feel about Santorum effectively dropping out of the race?