Love, or Rationality? Christianity vs. Classicism

Below is a passage from Diskin Clay’s introduction to The Meditations.

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I find this passage very informative. I truly admire the consensus among the Stoics in a divine Providence. Not just that, but the idea that our world exists as a unified Whole and not just a collection of disconnected parts. I think it’s only when we give ourselves up that we get everything back — this is necessary in order to see the world as a Whole and not just our individual Self. This “giving up of the Self” is almost a cliché idea but that doesn’t make it any less true. Does 2+2 = 4? Yes. Is that a cliché? No. That’s because it is knowledge, and not opinion. Facts never become cliché.

How can we put this idea in a way that does not feel cliché? We must phrase it so that the idea itself is a fact and not an opinion. It’s true that we must give up ourselves in order to see the world as a whole. But how do we do this? You see, that’s what makes the idea so unbelievable and trite. How do you give up yourself? The Stoics seem to think that you can achieve this through reason. It is rational to see humanity as one unified whole, irrational to think of yourself as the most important creature in all of creation. But our basest instincts and feelings and even our desires go against this. They all tell us, “You’re what counts!” And honestly, I don’t think every one of us has enough Reason to disagree.

I disagree with the Stoics on one point. I don’t think Reason is the solution. I think Love is the solution. I think that Love is the only way to truly get over yourself. I imagine that mothers and fathers think this way all the time. Not every mother and father, but the best ones out there aren’t thinking of themselves but of their children. The best rulers don’t think of themselves but of their subjects. While it’s hard to put ourselves in the shoes of a Roman emperor, any one of us can imagine what it’s like to be a parent. What instinct or emotion would inspire you to put your children before yourself? I highly doubt it’s reason. I think the real impetus is love.

And this where Christianity, in my mind, improves on Stoicism. Yes, the world is a unified whole. But we do not truly learn this fact through the faculty of reason. We learn it through one faculty alone, the most enduring faculty we have, that capacity and bold power that can withstand all sorts of illness, and adversity, and deformity, and oppression — slavery, even — and that is love. The best way we can benefit our neighbor is not through justice, truth, or beauty — the classical ideals — but through love. That is why Christianity dissents with Plato, when it formulates the foremost attribute of God. Plato talks about the “idea of the good”, but he talks mostly in relation to beauty, truth, and justice. Christianity improves on that. Christianity declares that God is love.

It is hard sometimes to find outlets for love. If one is not married, or if one has lost a spouse, or if one has lost their parents, or if one lacks family, then there might seem at first glance to be few opportunities. But this is actually not true. As a Christian, I know that any good church provides ample opportunities. If it did not do so, then it would not be doing its job. There are secular opportunities, too. When God says love your neighbor, you may literally love your roommates, or your colleagues, or your boss, or your friends. You may start with the person sitting across from you (“neighbor”) and work your way outwards toward the people who are less accessible, but need it more.

And what benefit is this to you, you might ask? Well, when you start caring about your neighbor, I like to think that God starts caring about you.

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ΑΘΛΑ ΤΕ ΚΑΙ ΜΙΣΘΟΙ ΚΑΙ ΔΩΡΑ ΓΙΓΝΕΤΑΙ ΠΡΟΣ ΕΚΕΙΝΟΙΣ ΤΟΙΣ ΑΓΑΘΟΙΣ ΟΙΣ ΑΥΤΗ ΠΑΡΕΙΧΕΤΟ Η ΔΙΚΑΙΟΣΥΝΗ

καὶ ἀνθρώπων ἆθλά1 τε καὶ μισθοὶ2 καὶ δῶρα γίγνεται πρὸς ἐκείνοις τοῖς ἀγαθοῖς οἷς αὐτὴ παρείχετο ἡ δικαιοσύνη, τοιαῦτ᾽ ἂν εἴη3.

καὶ μάλ᾽4, ἔφη, καλά τε καὶ βέβαια.5

And the prizes and rewards and gifts of men are made to those good men whom justice itself produces, such as those that could exist.

Yes, he said, they are both fair and sure.

(Plat. Rep. 10.614a)


1 ἆθλον, τό: prize of contest
2 μισθός, ὁ: wages, reward
3 εἴη (3sg pres. opt. act.): potential optative (could/would)
4 καὶ μάλ᾽: (Attic) (in answers) yes, certainly
5 These substantives are most likely neuter, and thus refer to the prizes, rewards, and gifts that Socrates was talking about.

Perplexed

Here are some definitions for “perplexed” from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. First off is the main definition.

  1. filled with uncertainty puzzled

This is a useful definition, and it explains what is meant when someone has a “perplexed look”. But another useful definition is at the bottom of the web page. This is the definition intended for English language learners and students.

unable to understand something clearly or to think clearly

Moreover, here is the etymology from etymonline.

late 14c. as an adjective, “perplexed, puzzled, bewildered,” from Latin perplexus “involved, confused, intricate;” but Latin had no corresponding verb *perplectere. The Latin compound would be per“through” (from PIE root *per- (1) “forward,” hence “through”) + plexus “entangled,” past participle of plectere “to twine, braid, fold” (from suffixed form of PIE root *plek- “to plait”).

The form of the English adjective shifted to perplexed by late 15c., probably to conform to other past-participle adjectives. The verb is latest attested of the group, in 1590s, evidently a back-formation from the adjective. Related: Perplexing, which well describes the history of the word.

This explanation gives another good description: “puzzled” or “bewildered”. We find out from this entry that it’s an old word, predating Shakespeare and Milton. The Latinate sense of “confusion” is still relevant, but it doesn’t quite capture the modern-day meaning. That’s to say, there’s a difference between being perplexed and confused.

Putting these definitions together…

perplexed (adj.):

  1. filled with uncertainty
  2. puzzled or bewildered
  3. unable to understand something clearly or to think clearly

amener, apporter, amener, mener

Inspired by this Stack Exchange answer, I wanted to write a brief post about the difference between amener and apporter, and furthermore, the difference between amener and mener.

amener/apporter

Both these words mean “to bring”, but traditionally, amener was used with people and apporter was used with objects. Over time, amener came to be used with both people and objects. The latter, however, can only be used with objects. You cannot use apporter with people.

amener/mener

The verb mener means (among other things) “to lead”. One example usage from Wiktionary is “L’équipe bleue mène 2 à 0.” (The blue team leads 2 to 0.) Another example is “Louis va mener ce cours”. (Louis is going to lead this course) (ibid.)

As stated in the amener/apporter section of this post, the common definition of amener is “to bring”. This makes sense if you consider the parts: à (to) mener (lead). This nuance is what separates the words, although they both share the basic meaning of “to take”.

A male, young in years, a programmer, an American, a Christian.