Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mohler on Large Families

The response to large families with several children is now like a litmus test that reveals what we really think about the family, about children, and about humanity. Remember that the next time you see that multiple passenger van pull up in the church parking lot. Do you smile?
- R. Albert Mohler

Read the rest: Put a Stop to Large Families?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Resisting Evil

The world of Norse mythology is a strange world. Asgard, the home of the gods, is unlike any other heaven men have dreamed of. No radiancy of joy is in it, no assurance of bliss. It is a grave and solemn place, over which hangs the threat of an inevitable doom. The gods know that a day will come when they will be destroyed. Sometime they will meet their enemies and go down beneath them to defeat and death. Asgard will fall in ruins. The cause the forces of good are fighting to defend against the forces of evil is hopeless. Nevertheless, the gods will fight for it to the end.

Necessarily the same is true of humanity. If the gods are finally helpless before evil, men and women must be more so. The heroes and heroines of the early stories face disaster. They know that they cannot save themselves, not by any courage or endurance or great deed. Even so, they do not yield. They die resisting. A brave death entitles them--at least the heroes--to a seat in Valhalla, one of the halls in Asgard, but there too they must look forward to final defeat and destruction. In the last battle between good and evil they will fight on the side of the gods and die with them.

This is the conception of life which underlies the Norse religion, as somber a conception as the mind of man has ever given birth to. The only sustaining support possible for the human spirit, the one pure unsullied good men can hope to attain, is heroism; and heroism depends on lost causes. The hero can prove what he is only by dying. The power of good is shown not by triumphantly conquering evil, but by continuing to resist evil while facing certain defeat.

Such an attitude toward life seems at first sight fatalistic, but actually the decrees of an inexorable fate played no more part in the Norseman's scheme of existence than predestination did in St. Paul's or in that of his militant Protestant followers, and for precisely the same reason. Although the Norse hero was doomed if he did not yield, he could choose between yielding or dying. The decision was in his own hands. Even more than that. A heroic death, like a martyr's death, is not a defeat, but a triumph. The hero in one of the Norse stories who laughs aloud while his foes cut his heart out of his living flesh shows himself superior to his conquerors. He says to them, in effect, You can do nothing to me because I do not care what you do. They kill him, but he dies undefeated.

- Edith Hamilton, Mythology

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Teaching The Odyssey

Today is essentially the conclusion of my third week of teaching. In a few hours, we are leaving with all of the Upper School (7-12 grades) for a retreat, thus rendering today a half-day and depriving the poor dears of any classes whatsoever tomorrow.

In my humanities class, we are currently reading Homer's classical epic, The Odyssey. We have made it through Book VI in our reading and have had some good discussions so far. Last week, I started giving them reading quizzes and the final question of each is one of a more philosophical nature that we subsequently discuss.

The first conversation we had was on the virtue (or vice) of being clever. Odysseus is a clever man, and Penelope, his wife, also demonstrates the same cunning. Their son displays it to a lesser extent now, but as the story unfolds, with the aid of Athena, who is herself very crafty and clever, Telemakhos becomes more like his parents. The Greeks clearly valued cleverness, but whether or not we, in our culture, value it, is another question entirely.

The second question I posed to the students was whether or not a hero who must rely on others, or in the case of Odysseus, the gods, really a hero? If the gods are enabling Odysseus to do heroic things, is it really Odysseus who is being heroic?

Yesterday, I asked them to consider hospitality. Time and again, how strangers are received is a point of emphasis in The Odyssey. While we clearly value hospitality in our time, do we value it to the same extent? Perhaps we do, but in my experience, most people only show hospitality to people they know. When a stranger or traveler is among us, are we so quick to take them into our homes and feed them?

I hope as the weeks go on, we can have many more conversations of this nature. If you happen upon a good topic in your readings of The Odyssey, please feel free to share it with me.