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From the Gospel according to Mark

10:23 And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! 10:24 And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! 10:25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. 10:26 And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? 10:27 And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.

12:41 And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. 12:42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. 12:43 And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: 12:44 For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.

4:18 And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, 4:19 And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.

From the Gospel according to Luke

1.53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

6.[20] And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.
[21] Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.
[22] Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake.
[23] Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.
[24] But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation.
[25] Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep.
[26] Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.

12. [15] And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
[16] And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:
[17] And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?
[18] And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.
[19] And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
[20] But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?

16. [19] There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
[20] And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
[21] And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
[22] And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
[23] And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
[24] And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
[25] But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
[26] And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
[27] Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house:
[28] For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
[29] Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
[30] And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
[31] And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

Nasty practitioner of the politics of envy, eh, that Jesus?
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There is no such thing as a man (homo sapiens) without religion, unless of course we count the victims of dementia. All human beings have an overall understanding, however tentative, of reality as a whole; a framework, instinctive or reasoned, that allows them to understand how things connect to each other, how they form a whole, what their meaning and goal and usefulness are.

That is what religion is. Every other definition is clearly fallacious. If we envisage it, for instance, as the search for what is morally or aesthetically highest, then a number of proven religions simply don’t make it. The ancient Aztecs sacrificed human beings in their thousands and in circumstances of the most horrible depravity; as for aesthetic excellence, it would be a curious taste that found it in their gods with their skeletal faces and corpse-like bodies. (There is indeed beauty of a sort in ancient Mexican art, but it is in my view to be found in the whole, in the design of the pyramids, the discs, the slabs of stone, rather than in the individual that populate them. You might say that it is a synthesis that builds up an overall beauty from details of horror.)

Was that not a religion, then? Heck yes! The Aztecs were convinced that the universe had the shape they envisaged, and, being the kind of place it was, it demanded that many human beings should be sacrificed to it. In doing so, the Aztecs fulfilled the duties that their vision of the world involved. Other religions have postulated, for instance, that there is a fundamental ontological difference between believers and unbelievers, such as that the unbelievers are so far out of the proper human level that their proper position is as slaves and prey to the believers; or that different classes of human beings amount to different kinds of being, so distant from each other that to think of sexual congress between them is disgusting, as we would think of sexual congress with a dog. (That is not so hard to understand if we turn from caste to race. The complex of taboos and horrified fascination that drove the destructive relationship between whites and blacks in the old south had its centre in sexual ideas, so that the idea of a black man possessing a white woman was both compulsive and terrible. That is how believers in caste regard sexual congress between a higher and a lower caste.)

It follows that religion does not have a dependent relationship on morality; it does not search for or obey a morality already made. This, if they were able to formulate enough, would be the most widespread stupid idea about religion of our day. People would say - and say with a straight face - that the practices of this or that religion which strike them as immoral cannot be to do with “what religion really is”, or even with “what that religion really is”. The general idea is that real religion must inevitably be moral; which is mistaking the stream with its source. Religion defines morality, not the other way around. The people who declare war on the world in the name of their God; the people who butcher men on high altars and raise their still-beating bloody hearts to heaven; the people who will eagerly commit murder rather than allow sexual congress between different castes or races; all these people are doing the right thing according to their own religion. They are following the dictates that teach that, because the universe is a certain kind of thing, because mankind and the internal divisions of mankind are a certain kind of thing, because the world contains certain relationships, therefore those acts are objectively good and dutiful. The Aztec priests were certain that, if their service to the gods with its thousands of butchered dead were to cease, the universe would collapse. The end of their drive came not just because the Spanish put an end to the sacrifices and the universe did not in fact collapse - that could have been remedied in any of a hundred ways (including to claim that the arrival of the Spanish had itself been the expected collapse, that had destroyed the world as they knew it). What put an end to it was a different view of reality and of God, the view taken in Cortez’s hulls by his Franciscan preachers and their books.

Religion makes morality. I will deal later (if any of my readers remind me) with the relationship of this with CS Lewis’ famous argument for an underlying universal moral sense or “tao”. For the present I will only say this: that religion as an understanding of reality - a philosophy of reality, as I call it - is, like any other aspects of philosophy, an understanding of reality. Reality is what it claims to understand, but reality comes first. And so, if religion delivers a structured understanding of morality, we have to understand that a moral impulse is a part of reality, a part, that is, of human nature. Religious doctrine, however, varies to such an extent that what one religion declares true - in the field of morality, mind you - another declares false.

Compare, for instance, two capital religious texts, Galatians 3.28 (St.Paul says the same thing in the same terms in two other letters, but I shall use this one) and the Purusa Sukta, RigVeda Hymn no.10.90 - but, like the Pauline verse, repeated in all the other Vedic collections. The interesting thing about these two passages is that they present almost the same religious image: a supernatural unity in the form of a man, in which exist at once, either all of creation, or the whole Church. The Purusha of the Vedic hymn is nothing else than The Man, cosmic unity in the image of a man, who is divided so that all of creation might have individual existence. All concrete things are found in him. In St.Paul, however, it is the Church that is at one and the same time The Man - the body of the Son of Man: “Now ye are the Body of Christ” - 1Corinthians 12.27. And this is cosmic body of the Son of Man is a very articulated thing indeed - nearly as varied as the body of the Vedic Man:

St.Paul:
13For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
14For the body is not one member, but many.
15If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
16And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
17If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?
18But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
19And if they were all one member, where were the body?
20But now are they many members, yet but one body.
21And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.
22Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:
23And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.
24For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked.
25That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.
26And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.
27Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
28And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.

RV 10.90:
6 When Gods prepared the sacrifice with Puruṣa as their offering,
Its oil was spring, the holy gift was autumn; summer was the wood.
7 They balmed as victim on the grass Puruṣa born in earliest time.
With him the Deities and all Sādhyas and Ṛṣis sacrificed.
8 From that great general sacrifice the dripping fat was gathered up.
He formed the creatures of-the air, and animals both wild and tame.
9 From that great general sacrifice Ṛcas and Sāma-hymns were born:
Therefrom were spells and charms produced; the Yajus had its birth from it.
10 From it were horses born, from it all cattle with two rows of teeth:
From it were generated kine, from it the goats and sheep were born.
11 When they divided Puruṣa how many portions did they make?
What do they call his mouth, his arms? What do they call his thighs and feet?
12 The Brahman was his mouth, of both his arms was the Rājanya made.
His thighs became the Vaiśya, from his feet the Śūdra was produced.
13 The Moon was gendered from his mind, and from his eye the Sun had birth;
Indra and Agni from his mouth were born, and Vāyu from his breath.
14 Forth from his navel came mid-air the sky was fashioned from his head
Earth from his feet, and from his car the regions. Thus they formed the worlds.

There are differences. St.Paul is in deadly earnest because he is addressing people who must be set straight here and now; the author of RV10.90 is calmly setting out an idea of the universe for people whose allegiance is not in doubt and whose individual salvation is not immediately his concern. But there are also subtler similarities: the Purusa must be offered as a sacrifice so that the worlds might exist; Jesus Christ, whose body is the Church, is also God as creator (“through Him all things were made”) and at one and the same time the ultimate victim in the ultimate sacrifice. Clearly these two complexes of ideas have much in common.

When it comes to societal morality, however, they contradict each other flatly. St.Paul stated clearly that, whatever the difference in offices and gifts, all members of the Church are fundamentally equal: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” And if there should be any doubt, "God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked, That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another." Specifically, it is the union of the Church with the sacrificed body of Jesus in the Eucharist that makes every Christian equal in dignity with every other. Conversely, the cosmic sacrifice of the Purusa creates, among all other separate and autonomous orders of things, the four Varnas or basic castes (the word “caste” in ordinary usage denotes a “jati”, which is a sub-group of the Varnas): “11 When they divided Puruṣa how many portions did they make?/ What do they call his mouth, his arms? What do they call his thighs and feet?/ 12 The Brahman was his mouth, of both his arms was the Rājanya made./ His thighs became the Vaiśya, from his feet the Śūdra was produced.” The Man, therefore, may be one, but men are many, and their differences are ontological, as much as those between Sun and Moon, thunderstorm and fire and wind, the air, the sky and the earth. (“13 The Moon was gendered from his mind, and from his eye the Sun had birth;/ Indra (the god of storms) and Agni (the god of fire) from his mouth were born, and Vāyu (the god of wind) from his breath./ 14 Forth from his navel came mid-air the sky was fashioned from his head/ Earth from his feet, and from his car the regions. Thus they formed the worlds.”) For a world to exist, such things as sky and sea, moon and sun, wind and fire, must have their own existence and be separate from each other; and for the same reason - the two groups of two stanzas balance each other and positively demand to be read as doublets of each other - holy men (brahmanas) and warriors (rajanya) and the mass of free men (vaisya) and the mass of serfs (sudra) must exist and be separate.

Since religion is the interpretation of reality, the philosophy of reality, it is at least terrifyingly difficult, and on the whole better left alone, to try and take a position outside religion and try to assess the religions in terms of a universal morality that can be found outside and above them. While the impulse to morality, like for that matter the fact of war, can be found in every society in the world, the way that it is conceptualized and formulated varies from religion to religion. Just as it is a matter of high morality for Christians to treat all men as equals, so it was a matter of high morality for the authors of the Mahabharata that the four Varnas should each recognize and perform their caste duties. That was one of the first thing that visiting ascetics asked noble kings, in particular the most just king Yudhisthira, when they honour their courts with a visit.

Ultimately such differences can be embraced by debate, though not necessarily undone - that would amount to conversion. But it is very important to accept that each person has his or her own religion, in the sense of his or her own view of existence; and that religion by its nature generates a picture of morality, gives the moral impulse a frame and a shape. There is therefore no more dangerous delusion than to pretend to judge and condemn someone else’s religion from the point of view of morality; and that is because the morality you invoke inevitably turns out to be that of your own religion. You therefore end up condemning the other guy’s religion on the grounds that it is not yours, and very likely he, not being necessarily any wiser than you, condemns yours because it is not his.
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One day after the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the free and united nation of Italy, the European Court of Human Rights voted by fifteen against two that the display of the Crucifix in school rooms does not violate any human right.

I was wrong in fearing that the Court might judge wrong, and equally wrong in doubting the Government's will to go on with this. IN spite of all his other enormous faults and flaws, Berlusconi has, at least once, acted honourably. Let us record this wonder (we are not apt to witness it again soon) and give thanks to God.

Non nobis

Oct. 13th, 2010 08:54 pm
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What just happened in Chile is awesome. The kind of titanic display of advanced technology, high competence and overwhelming organization that not so long ago seemed restricted to places like the USA and Germany has been deployed by a mid-sized Latin American country; little bits of help may have come from here or there, but the whole impulse, organization and direction of the immense effort was Chilean. Well may Chileans wax patriotic, wave their flags and sing their national anthem; nobody will begrudge it to them.

But there is another thing to be noticed. Everyone, from the President to the last miner and technician, spoke in religious terms. All the Chileans, the nation above and the miners below, did everything they could to achieve a positive result, with the most enormous display of human ingenuity, resolution and discipline; and then - they fell on their knees and thanked God. We have seen once more that feeling to which psalmists gave words 2500 or more years ago: "Not to ourselves, o Lord, but to Your Name give glory"; "Unless the Lord build the city, the workers labour in vain."
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The High Council of the Judiciary (Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura, or CSM) is a constitutional organ of the Italian state that has no parallel in Britain and America. Presided by the President of the Republic, it is both the professional body and the high governance court for the whole order of judges, from the lowest to the highest level. It is a body very jealous of its prerogatives and power, and it is at present practically at war with Prime Minister Berlusconi. So there is no suspicion of partiality in favour of the government or of the right.

Today, it passed the final sentence on a judge who has been suspended for three years over his refusal to have a crucifix in his courtroom. Long before the European Court sentence, Judge Luigi Tosti had made an issue of the religious symbol, blocking several trials over his prejudicial refusal to appear in a courtroom with a crucifix. The chairman of his court offered him the use of a room without symbols, which Tosti refused; it became clear that his goal was the removal of all crucifixes from all courts in Italy. In 2006, the Court of Last Appeal (Corte di Cassazione) suspended him for grave and unjustified refusal to perform his duties; today, the CSM has permanently removed him from his office and rank - the ultimate and most devastating sanction in its power.

Of course, the fanatic has declared that he will appeal to the European Court.

Brit Hume

Jan. 9th, 2010 11:23 am
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Like many American phenomena, the advice of veteran journalist Brit Hume to Tiger Woods, and its fierce by-products, have been heard well beyond the borders of the USA. I have not, however, read anyone, on either side, who actually pointed out what was really wrong, and indeed offensive about Hume's advice. Buddhism, he said, did not give the swift access to pardon and starting over again that Christianity does. But that is strictly beside the point. The only valid reason to preach, and indeed to believe, either Buddhism or Christianity or any other religion, is to take them to be true; you can only believe something if you believe that it is a true statement of fact (even a true statement of a falsehood, e.g. "it is absolutely false to say that [livejournal.com profile] kennahijja is talentless"). Anything else is groundless or worse. And Hume is not saying: go to this shop because its products are objectively better, he is saying: go to this shop because it will make life easier for you, because it supplies automatic forgiveness." REligion as a consumer product to be judged by how it makes you feel. Never mind that it does not; never mind that many people find the doctrine of Christianity - "die once, and be judged by an infinitely and dreadfully perfect Judge afterwards" - much more terrifying than that of Buddhism, which implies that it is possible, over infinite lifetimes, to become a Bodhisattva and even a Buddha by one's own efforts, and that one failed life can be just a stage for which you can atone. Never mind any of that; the point is - unless you believe a statement about truth to be true, and unless you are willing to argue from that position, keep your trap shut. Religion is not there for your consolation, let alone for your daily comfort.
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To judge by my f-list and other Catholic bloggers I have seen, Mary Eberstadt's article on First Things about the vindication of Humanae Vitae has made more waves than anything in years. I suppose that is because it goes further than most Christians had been thinking of going. While most people are aware that abortion is at least controversial, very many outside the Catholic Church do not give contraception a second thought, and even many Catholics, especially of the older generation, imagine that the matter is settled and over. However, the evidence is that it is not. Mary Eberstadt's article was not the only one to say the same thing, and to judge by the reaction, it addresses a mood that is definitely growing among Christians, let alone Catholics. And since Christians and Catholics do not live in a vacuum, it is finding unnoticed echoes even among the ordinary secular types.
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Why in God's name did I ever place my essay on JKR's religion on FA? Most of the responses I received have been appalling: those who did not insist that Christianity meant anything they wanted it to mean simply imagined that I was criticizing JKR for not holding it, on the supposition - which I explicitly denied dozens of times - that you cannot be a decent person without being Christian. God Almighty, the whole damned essay begins with me denying that Christian is a term of moral approval! Do these idiots even know how to read, or do they just play with letters like babies or monkeys?
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There is one tremendous and widespread mistake about atheism: that is, that it is not a religion - that it somehow even opposes religion. Many of us, including many Christians, accept this claim implicitly, using the nouns "atheism" and "religion" as opposites.Read more... )
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Most British are not Christian and have been socialized to hate and fear what they call "organized religion". This does not make all of them atheist: but the number of ranting, proselytzing, fanatical atheists is remarkably high. Two out of three of the Sorry Trinity, Hitchens and Dawkins, are British. What it does do is make them amazingly wayward in their thinking and profoundly incompetent in their arguing. Their ideas about religion are not only fanatical but astonishingly ignorant and stupid. It is only in British blogs dedicated to Christianity, for instance, that you find rabid, unreasoning vulgar Calvinists, with their idea of their own sect drawn not from the Institutio or from Jonathan Edwards but from base summaries in school textbooks, delivering religious opinions that a child would blush at. Religion discussion threads on British blogs, as compared to American and Italian, are of a very low intellectual level, because they come from people unusued to debate on that issue. (The same people may often turn out to be a lot more intelligent on politics, sports, economy or even science.) At the same time, you cannot make them shut up about it. If you take an American or Italian blog on religious issues, you may be sure that nearly every one of the commenters will be in sympathy with the blog's basic religious stance: Catholic blogs will draw Catholics or people interested in Catholicism, Jewish blogs will draw Jews or people interested in Hebraism, Evangelical blogs.... you get it. Trolls do exist, but are relatively rare as compared to constructive posters, and tend to get banned. And this has an interesting effect: because of the general constructive atmosphere and relative shortage of trolls, an outsider coming in will often feel a general sense of constructive engagement that may draw him/her in even if s/he does not share the local views, or at least give a picture of why and how this attitude can be felt to be reasonable and make sense. I have been on Evangelical or Jewish blogs where I agreed with 90% of what was said and felt able to criticize the rest without anger. On the other hand, take a British Catholic or Anglican blog - and I have the examples to prove it. From a half to two thirds of all interventions will be made by trolls. They will be mostly atheist (although I mentioned the occasional Jack T.Chick Calvinist or ranting Orthodox): always the same people, obsessional, sickening, coming back comment after comment with the same everlasting dreary hate-ridden jingle, hijacking the thread no matter what it was on - religion is superstition - you ought all to follow reason - your minds are diseased - etc. etc.

Such are the fruits of bad education. It is impossible to understand what these people get out of days, weeks, months of sabotaging other people's discussions and repeating without imagination, insight or interest their sorry message of ignorance and hate, except for one thing: that religion is something that affects them so intensely that they simply cannot leave it alone, they must come back again and again. They would say it is in the hope that someone will be converted to their way of thinking, but surely that is the most inefficient possible way to go about it. It cannot even be pleasant for them, all that bile - at least, I hope they know the difference. The truth is that the mere existence of Christians sickens them so intensely that they cannot keep away: they can neither cope with it, or keep away from them. And this, I assure you, is a widespread phenomenon in the United Kingdom.
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That the two parties today mean nothing like what I tried to describe earlier is self-evident. But where lies that difference? According to the Democrats, in the intrusion of religion in public life. Read more... )
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For lovers of history of religion only

Muhammad, the founder of Islam, is blamed for saying that the Jews regarded Ezra (‘Uzzair) as the Christians regard Jesus, that is, as the son of God.Read more... )
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One of the most memorable parables for the modern world was created, unwittingly, by the great cartoonist Bill Watterson.Read more... )
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Read more... )
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If I were to state in public - not my opinion, for that is too weak a word - but what has increasingly presented itself before my eyes as true, what I have thought upon all my life and drawn from all that I have done and felt and seen, what the whole world I have lived in has convinced me of - my view of what is true and what is false - I would lose half my friends. I would inevitably fall out with people I care for, whose happiness is important to me, people whom I cannot help but love, for whose kindness and talent I have nothing but admiration and gratitude. In order to keep their friendship, which I value, I have made dozens of tiny compromises, consented in millions of small ways to a view of the world which I know to be wrong - know from personal experience; I have violated my integrity in many ways.

Anyone who says that friends like that are not worth having does not understand what is at issue here. First, they are very much worth having: kind, talented, warm-hearted people, people whose presence would enrich anyone's life. They are not forcing their viewpoint on me; anyone who does that will find that I am not short of weapons. People who try to use force do not get far with yours truly. That is not the problem. What forces me to live with a viewpoint that I regard as wrong is that it is held by people whom I regard as precious. And who will never have any doubts about their view, because it is the commonplace view in their generation. And not only is this viewpoint prevalent, but it is fundamental in its claims about human personhood. On it hangs their sense of self,`their view of the world, of human society, and of their place in history.

I cannot say to them, it is not my place to say to them, "your view of yourself is mistaken". Great poets such as Euripides can stage such a statement - "You do not know your life, nor what you are"; but would they have said it to their own friends? I doubt it. I know that I cannot; not just because I feel fairly sure that I would get nowhere with any of these people, but also because, while I am convinced of the truth of what I believe, I do not believe that I am the right person to state it. If we started work on all the faults that my friends have to put up with, we would be here till Monday week. I have no moral authority of any sort and, as I love and care for my friends, I do not want to make them unhappy either (nor face them with undesirable choices). So... "But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue!"

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