Monday, April 27, 2015

The Payson Utah Temple

The new Payson Utah Temple is beautiful.  It is beautiful outside.  It is beautiful inside.  Most importantly, it points to even greater beauty:

"But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." (1 Cor. 2:9)

In the words of the Crusader's Hymn:

"Fair is the sunshine,
Fairer the moonlight
And all the stars in heav'n above;
Jesus shines brighter,
Jesus shines purer
And brings to all the world his love.

Fair are the meadows,
Fairer the woodlands,
Robed in the flowers of blooming spring;
Jesus is fairer,
Jesus is purer.
He makes the sorrowing spirit sing.

Beautiful Savior!
Lord of the nations!
Son of God and Son of Man!
Thee will I honor, praise, and give glory,
Give praise and glory evermore!

The theme of this temple is the Tree of Life, with leaves cascading down the sides and the windows.

"And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:7)

What is the Most Valuable Substance in the World?

"I want to begin by asking a simple question. What is the most valuable substance or commodity in the world? We might initially think that gold, oil, or diamonds have the greatest worth. But of all the minerals, metals, gems, and solvents found on and in the earth, the most valuable is water."

- Elder David A. Bednar, A Reservoir of Living Water

The Most Valuable Substance in the World... Water

Friday, April 24, 2015

Why Beauty Matters

Does beauty matter?  Philosopher Roger Scruton thinks so, and I heartily agree.  

"In this very short introduction, the renowned philosopher Roger Scruton explores the concept of beauty, asking what makes an object - either in art, in nature, or the human form - beautiful, and examining how we can compare differing judgments of beauty when it is evident all around us that our tastes vary so widely. Is there a right judgement to be made about beauty? Is it right to say there is more beauty in a classical temple than a concrete office block, more in a Rembrandt than in last year's Turner Prize winner? Forthright and thought-provoking, and as accessible as it is intellectually rigorous, this introduction to the philosophy of beauty draws conclusions that some may find controversial, but, as Scruton shows, help us to find greater sense of meaning in the beautiful objects that fill our lives." —BBC
  • "Beauty is the remedy for the chaos and suffering in human life...The beautiful work of art brings consolation in sorrow and affirmation in joy." —Roger Scruton
  • "Beauty can be consoling, disturbing, sacred, profane; it can be exhilarating, appealing, inspiring, chilling. It can affect us in an unlimited variety of ways. Yet it is never viewed with indifference." - Roger Scruton
  • "Beauty is more than subjective; it is a universal need." —Roger Scruton

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Speech of the Unknown Patriot

Even if it is only a legend, it makes for great reading.  If nothing else, the Speech of the Unknown, or the Unknown Patriot will at least bring to our remembrance the high price that was paid for the liberties that we now enjoy.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Fear Not

"Fear not: do not be afraid."

Throughout the scriptures, the Lord and His servants often encourage, strengthen and comfort God's children with these words.

Hopefully the message is clear: "Fear not: do not be afraid."

Monday, April 13, 2015

Path to Sufism

Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ghazālī
"Yet I believe with a faith as certain as direct vision that there is no might for me and no power save in God, the Sublime, the Mighty; and that it was not I who moved, but He moved me; and that I did not act, but He acted through me. I ask Him, then, to reform me first, then to use me as an instrument of reform; to guide me, then to use me as an instrument of guidance; show me the true as true, and to grant me the grace to follow it; and to show me the false as false, and to grant me the grace to eschew it!" - Al-Ghazali, Path to Sufism: His Deliverance from Error

This is just one faint glimmer of the gold that you will find in the pages of Al-Ghazali's Path to Sufism

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Equality by Default

In Book VII of Plato's Republic, Socrates presents the allegory of the cave.  As late-modern man reads this allegory, he may feel pity for the people who have been chained to the wall of the cave for all of their lives. Moved by compassion, he may even desire to emancipate these poor souls, dragging them out into the sunlight.

Nevertheless, as Philippe Bénéton lucidly illustrates in his book Equality by Default (De l'égalité par défaut), late-modern man may want to begin by shaking off his own chains.  One reviewer of the book explains:

"For most of our contemporaries, to speak of modernity is to think immediately of liberty, equality, and democracy—and to assume that all is well. But things are not so simple. For while the culture of modernity has spread gradually throughout the West for roughly two hundred years, it accelerated in the 1960s in such a way as to undergo a subtle transformation. Hence the paradox of the world we live in: by all appearances the 'rights of man' have emerged triumphant, yet at the same time they have been emptied of substance because of their radicalization. Modern man thus finds himself isolated and ensnared. By right, his autonomy should strengthen him; but in fact, he has been dispossessed of himself. The great artifice of our time is to give conformism the mask of liberty.

Philippe Bénéton, a prominent French religious conservative, has long meditated on Tocqueville, and Equality by Default is Tocquevillian in that it does not offer a partisan polemic, but rather paints a picture of contemporary life—a picture that is also a guide for discernment for those who have a difficult time 'seeing' contemporary liberalism for what it is. Artfully translated by Ralph Hancock, Equality by Default offers a unique and strikingly insightful account of the late-modern mind."   

Bénéton's Equality by Default invites late-modern man to see the cave in which he dwells for what it really is.  More importantly, it invites him to walk toward the sunlight outside of the cave where he can see things as they really are.


Monday, April 6, 2015

The Machine

"The machine is a powerful auxiliary to equality by default; it levels the world.  In so doing, it lifts me up as a spectator in relation to this world put at my disposal.  Seated in front of my screen, I participate in the technological mastery of the world.  I am above it and attend to it as I wish.  My ego finds this quite satisfying.

Unfortunately, man-as-spectator is living an illusion.  He believes that the machine is at his service; he feels more or less consciously that with the help of the machine he is able to raise himself up to a viewpoint superior to the world, when in fact he is falling into a trap: the machine produces alienation.  Thanks to the information machine, the external world no longer stops at the threshold of the home; it penetrates, it resounds, it invades intimacy, and it does so in the form of a scintillating and meaningless spectacle.  Man-as-spectator, who consumes every God-given day his portion of televised news, distances himself from his own world in order to open the door to a foreign world devoid of meaning...

Man-as-spectator becomes blind to living realities." - Philippe Bénéton, Equality by Default

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Learn a Foreign Language

Good morning. Bonjour. Buongiorno. Buenos dias. .صباح الخير. בוקר טוב

Do you enjoy learning languages?  Have you ever wanted to learn a foreign language?

Perhaps the best way to learn a foreign language is by total immersion in the culture of a country where the language is spoken, surrounded by native speakers of that language.

Nothing can take the place of firsthand experience with native speakers of a foreign language, but a good language course can help you learn basic grammar, vocabulary, writing, speaking and listening skills.  Since travel to foreign countries is not always practical (or cheap), there are many online resources to consider.

You have probably already heard of Rosetta StonePimsleur or Berlitz. Have you heard of the Michel Thomas Method, Speed Learning Languages, or Fluenz?  There is also Learn to SpeakTell Me More, Instant Immersion, and Rocket Languages.  All of these may be helpful tools, but they are not free.

Believe it or not, there are also free online language learning tools.  You may have heard of Duo Lingo or Livemocha.  There is also Busuu, Babbel, and Memrise.  For translation, you can try iHandy Translator or Google Translate.  In addition to these, there has been a recent proliferation of MOOC's (Massive Open Online Courses), including online courses with Coursera and edX.

In the not too distant past I worked for Middlebury Interactive Languages, a company that specializes in online language instruction.  I was recruited to help build a Gale PowerSpeak online Italian course, but I also helped edit several other courses.  Naturally, I am partial to these courses, but there are many avenues to explore for learning a foreign language.  You might even try watching your favorite movies, TV shows or YouTube videos in a foreign language.  

It can take a lifetime to truly master a foreign language, but hopefully these websites will at least kindle the desire to get started.  Enjoy!


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Man's Search for Meaning

I finally took the time to read Viktor Frankl's best-selling book Man's Search for Meaning. The afterword contains a portion of the wisdom that Frankl obtained through his suffering in four different Nazi concentration camps: "The meaning of your life is to help others find the meaning of theirs."

Many others have written eloquently about the Shoah, including ElieWiesel, Primo Levi, Corrie ten Boom and Anne Frank.  Frankl's book is distinguished by its emphasis on the sources of strength for survival and the theory of logotherapy.  

Viktor E. Frankl
In the foreward to Man's Search for Meaning, Harold S. Kushner describes what he considers to be Frankl's most enduring insight: "Forces beyond your conrol can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.  You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you."  In short, that which a human being has most control over is his or her own attitude.

Frankl frequently quotes Nietszche throughout his book, but there are more than a few noteworthy original passages:

  • "It is easy for the outsider to get the wrong conception of camp life, a conception mingled with sentiment and pity.  Little does he know of the hard fight for existence which raged among the prisoners.  This was an unrelenting struggle for daily bread and for life itself, for one's own sake or for that of a good friend."
  • "The best of us did not return."
  •  "An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior."
  • "At such a moment it is not the physical pain which hurts the most (and this applies to adults as much as to punished children); it is the mental agony caused by the injustice, the unreasonableness of it all."
  • "A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers.  The truth- that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire.  Then I grasped the meaning of the secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love."
  • "I was struggling to find the reason for my sufferings, my slow dying.  In a last violent protest against the hopelessness of imminent death, I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom.  I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard a victorious 'Yes' in answer to my question of the existence of ultimate purpose."
  • "I mentioned earlier how everything that was not connected with the immediate task of keeping oneself and one's closest friends alive lost its value."
  • "(The consciousness of one's inner value is anchored in higher, more spiritual things, and cannot be shaken by camp life.  But how many free men, let alone prisoners, possess it?)"
  • "The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action.  There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability supressed.  Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress... everything can be taken from man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
  • "We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us."
  • "Only slowly could these men be guided back to the commonplace truth that no one has the right to do wrong, not even if wrong has been done to them."
  • "The more one forgets himself- by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love- the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself.  What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it.  In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence."
  • "Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is.  After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord's prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips."  
  • "I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsability on the West Coast."
  • "The meaning of your life is to help others find the meaning of theirs."

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Winnie-the-Pooh Wisdom

"If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together.. there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.  But the most important thing is, even if we're apart.. I'll always be with you."

- Christopher Robin to Winnie-the-Pooh (Alan Alexander Milne)

And remember... Don't Do Drugs:

Monday, February 16, 2015

On Perfection

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

«Il semble que la perfection soit atteinte non quand il n'y a plus rien à ajouter, mais quand il n'y a plus rien à retrancher.» (Terre des Hommes, 1939). - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (29 Juin 1900 – 31 Juillet 1944)

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, French writer and pioneer aviator

(Credit to Dr. Daniel Peterson for sharing this insight)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Deliverance from Error

Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111 A.D.)

The introduction (or Khutbah) to Al-Ghazali's The Incoherence of the Philosophers might persuade anyone who reads it to investigate whether or not Allah ever granted his sincere request for deliverance.  Toward the end of his life, Al-Ghazali composed a spiritual autobiography, Path to Sufism: His Deliverance from Error, in which he recounts his quest to rid himself of "reprehensible habits" and "vicious qualities" in order to "attain thereby a heart empty of all save God and adorned with the constant remembrance of God." (p. 10) 

Al-Ghazali recognized that his "reprehensible habits" and "vicious qualities" were the result of impure motives:  

"I reflected on my intention in my public teaching, and I saw that it was not directed purely to God, but rather was instigated and motivated by the quest for fame and widespread prestige. So I became certain that I was on the brink of a crumbling bank....Mundane desires began tugging me with their chains to remain as I was, while the herald of faith was crying out: 'Away! Up and away! Only a little is left of your life, and a long journey lies before you! All the theory and practice in which you are engrossed is eye service and fakery! If you do not prepare now for the afterlife, when will you do so? And if you do not sever these attachments now, then when will you sever them?'" (p. 9-10)  

It may have taken him more than a decade to achieve his objective, but Al-Ghazali finally declared that God had delivered him from error: 

"At length God Most High cured me of that sickness. My soul regained its health and equilibrium and once again I accepted the self-evident data of reason and relied on them with safety and certainty. But that was not achieved by constructing a proof or putting together an argument. On the contrary, it was the effect of a light which God Most High cast into my breast. And that light is the key to most
knowledge." (p. 23)

In spite of his confession of such base desires, Al-Ghazali also considered that truth-seeking had always been a part of his nature:

"The thirst for grasping the real meaning of things was indeed my habit and wont from my early years and in the prime of my life. It was an instinctive, natural disposition placed in my makeup by God Most High, not something due to my own choosing and contriving. As a result, the fetters of servile conformism fell away from me, and inherited beliefs lost their hold on me, when I was still quite young. For I saw that the children of Christians always grew up embracing Christianity, and the children of Jews always grew up adhering to Judaism, and the children of Muslims always grew up following the religion of Islam. I also heard the tradition related from the Apostle of God — God’s blessing and peace be upon him! — in which he said: 'Every infant is born endowed with the fitra: then his parents make him Jew or Christian or Magian.' Consequently I felt an inner urge to seek the true meaning of the original fitra, and the true meaning of the beliefs arising through slavish aping of parents and teachers. I wanted to sift out these uncritical beliefs, the beginnings of which are suggestions imposed from without, since there are differences of opinion in the discernment of those that are true from those that are false." (p. 19-20)

Parts of Al-Ghazali's medieval account bear a striking resemblance to the account of a certain young man who sought truth in the midst of a "war of words and tumult of opinions" in the early 19th century.  Perhaps some 21st century problems are not as new as we suppose them to be.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Future of the Middle East

Bernard Lewis is a British-American historian who is one of the world's leading lights in Oriental Studies.  His specialty is the history of Islam and the Middle East.  The Bush administration frequently solicited his advice concerning the Middle East, and Martin Kramer (whose book, Ivory Towers on Sand, I introduced in a previous blog post) considers Lewis to be "the most influential post-war historian of Islam and the Middle East."
Lewis has written prolifically about Islam and the Middle East over a very long career.  He has written many books, including What Went Wrong and Islam in History.  A fun little introduction to his work is The Future of the Middle East: Predictions.  Enjoy.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Ivory Towers on Sand

After the tragic events of September 11, 2001 Americans were inundated with reports from Middle East "experts" and analysts.  As Martin Kramer argues in his book Ivory Towers on Sand, many of these "expert" voices were misguided because of ideologies that pervade the field of Middle Eastern studies.

In the preface to Ivory Towers on Sand, Fred S. Lafer and Michael Stein point out the basic problem that Kramer confronts in his book: 

"America is ill served by the way in which the Middle East is studied and presented at institutions of higher education across the nation.  The academic understanding of the Middle East is framed not by the realities of the region, but by the fads and fashions that have swept through the disciplines... Looking back, it is clear that the Middle East has completely defied the paradigms that have dominated the field of Middle Eastern studies.  Americans who have followed the Pied Piper of the academy have been surprised time and again by the real Middle East."

As Kramer indicates in the introduction to Ivory Towers on Sand, the purpose of his book is to "probe how and why a branch of academe once regarded with esteem has descended to such a low point in the public estimate, and what might be done about it."  Kramer was inspired early on in his studies by Elie Kedourie's essay "The Chatham House Version," and his direct intellectual influences include Fouad Ajami and Bernard Lewis.  As an American-Israeli scholar of the Middle East, Islam, and Arab politics it can hardly be claimed that Kramer is without biases of his own, but his perspectives provide an effective counter-balance to deeply entrenched biases in the field of Middle Eastern studies.

In Ivory Towers on Sand Kramer describes how America invented "Middle Eastern studies," a remodeling of the European "Oriental studies."  American Middle Eastern studies, Kramer explains, grew out of the international and area studies of the 1950s and 60s: 

"Academic entrepreneurship, not government initiative, launched Middle Eastern studies in America. Never were the leaders of Middle Eastern studies more inventive and responsive than in those early years, when support could not be taken for granted.  Not since then have the leaders of Middle Eastern studies had so profound an understanding of what it takes to win a share of America's bounty."

Gradually American advocates of Middle Eastern studies courted the social sciences, acquiring along the way a host of popular paradigms and enchanting theories.  In this way, Kramer relates, researchers in the field "would become more than scholars: they would become experts."  The development of Middle Eastern studies in America depended upon strategic views of the region, the prestige of social science, independent Middle East centers, academic homesteading, and coordination across a wide geographic area (thus the establishment of MESA, the Middle East Studies Association of North America in 1966).

Perhaps most importantly, however, the proliferation of Middle Eastern studies programs in America depended upon leadership, or as Kramer puts it, center directors with "both academic credibility and public visibility," such as the Lebanese-born historian Philip Hitti (and others such as Aziz Atiya, Majid Khadduri and Farhat Ziadeh).  These and other leaders learned how to "frame their appeals in political terms that made sense to their fellow Americans."  Soon Middle Eastern studies became more than an "academic field to be explored," but a "message to be preached" :

"Middle Eastern studies came under a take-no-prisoners assault, which rejected the idea of objective standards, disguised the vice of politicization as the virtue of commitment, and replaced proficiency with ideology.  The text that inspired the movement was entitled Orientalism, and the revolution it unleashed has crippled Middle Eastern studies to this day."    

Kramer, like many of his predecessors, is unrelenting in his criticism of Edward Said's Orientalism. He devotes much of the remaining chapters in Ivory Towers on Sand to understanding and exposing the revolution that Said's book unleashed.  "The tragedy of Mr. Said's Orientalism," wrote Bernard Lewis, "is that it takes a genuine problem of real importance and reduces it to the level of political polemic and personal abuse."      

One of the major problems with Edward Said's Orientalism, according to Kramer, was not only that it failed to predict Islamism, but that Islamists appropriated his work for their own ends.  A later don of Middle Eastern studies, John L. Esposito, was also complicit in distorting perceptions of the Middle East:

"Academics blinded by the paradigms of Said and Esposito continued to be surprised not only by America, where they lived, but by the Middle East, which they studied."  

Kramer demonstrates how, in large part because of Edward Said and his followers, Middle Eastern studies began to lose the trust of the general public as well as credibility within the academy.  Middle Eastern studies, as Kramer sees it, was busy cultivating irrelevance.  "Despite this record," Kramer continues, "major universities continued to host Middle Eastern studies, for three reasons.  First they enjoyed external financial support... Second, courses in Middle Eastern Studies drew undergraduate enrollments, especially when the Middle East figured in the news as a trouble spot.  Third, Middle Eastern studies, like all area studies, gave host universities an internationalist reputation."

Toward the conclusion of his book Ivory Towers on Sand, Martin Kramer calls for reform in the field of Middle Eastern studies, hoping specifically for internal regeneration:

"As in the past, so this time, it is generational change that will renew and reinvigorate the field.  The mission will probably be accomplished by people who are under forty, who are not implicated in the excesses of the recent past, and who understand how perilously close to the precipice they have been led.  Their task will be a formidable one... The breakthroughs will come from individual scholars, often laboring on the margins.  As the dominant paradigms grow ever more elaborate, inefficient, and insufficient, they will begin to shift.  There will be more confessions by senior scholars, and more defections by their young protégés."

"It will take years," Kramer concludes, "for Middle Eastern studies to restore its reputation for credibility and relevance.  But for better or for worse, the Middle East provides frequent opportunities for its interpreters to test and prove themselves.  It is not too late to begin anew."

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Student's Guide to Political Philosophy

Professor Harvey Mansfield
Professor Harvey C. Mansfield was commissioned to write A Student's Guide to Political Philosophy.  It is an excellent introduction to the discipline of Political Philosophy that contains an excellent list of some of the best books in the history of political philosophy:
Here are a few of my favorite passages from this introduction to Political Philosophy (for a more in depth discussion of the history of Political Philosophy, click here):
  • "Political philosophy is found in great books- those by Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Rousseau and others of the highest rank- and in books by professors.  You should spend much more time with the great authors than with the professors, and you should use the professors to help you understand the great authors; you should not allow yourself to be diverted or distracted from the great books by the professors.  Why not go for the gold?"
  • "The political philosopher knows for sure that politics will always be debatable, whether the debate is open or suppressed, but that fact- rather welcome when you reflect on it- does not stop him from seeking a common good that might be too good for everyone to agree with."
  • "But evil has a finger on the good; though it cannot grasp the good, evil cannot help admitting that the good is superior because that is what even evil wants."
  • "No society, not even one as free as ours, can proceed on the assumption that every custom and law is open to question, yet Socrates makes us see that every social practice is indeed questionable."
  • "Nature may incline us to what is good, but it does not tell us unambiguously what that is, or move us toward it without hindrance or distraction, as it does with other animals.  We humans are by nature political, but there is no single, programmed way of life as with bees.  Human nature includes both the freedom and the necessity to construct a regime, for we could not have freedom if nature had done everything for us."
  • "Which is more important to human life, the fact that all humans have reason, or the fact that they have it very unequally?"
  • "Jewish and Muslim political and religious traditions are often considered not to be Western, and that view of them makes sense.  But from the standpoint of the philosophical tradition, one may hold that any nation having had contact with Greek philosophy or science belongs to the West.  Certainly Muslim and Jewish philosophers were essential to that tradition not only for what they said but also for transmitting ancient philosophy to the medieval or modern West (in the political or geographical sense)."
  • "Just as for Plato the only true virtue is philosophic, so for Augustine, true virtue is Christian."
  • "It is thus of the utmost importance to understand what modernity is, how the moderns opposed the ancients (and the Christians, who in the moderns' view derived from the ancients), how modernity developed in stages, the history it experienced, and the crises it has suffered."
  • Machiavelli wondered whether he might not adopt this method himself, and oppose Christian ends with Christian means.  This was the germ of the Enlightenment, a conversion of peoples away from faith in God to faith in human control, led by philosophers (of the type we now call "intellectuals") and oriented against priests."
  • "We may be intrigued and impressed by Machiavelli, but I am obliged to say it would be wrong to approve of him.  The real remedy he provides is a cold bath for those- most all of us at one time or another- who are guilty of complacent moralism and find it easy to condemn others and hard to examine themselves.  But doesn't the Bible say some such thing?"
  • "The ancients tried to consider things from all points of view and to consult all opinions; they tried to understand and they aimed for wisdom.  Anyone who reads them now may question their relevance to today's issues, but one can hardly fail to learn from them unless one is entirely preoccupied with those issues.  But the moderns produce theories; they have a project and an aim for change or reform.  They would rather be right according to their theories than wise without a theory."
  • "Hobbes never gave much of a proof that all men are equal, but he launched the assumption that they can be taken to be equal.  The assumption is still unproven, but it has become immensely successful."
  • "It must not be forgotten that America- the 'regime' America, as Aristotle defines that word- began with a revolution, and one not merely for Americans but ostensibly on behalf of all mankind.  It must also not be forgotten that in comparison to the revolutions that followed, this was a moderate one, and perhaps for that reason it has proved more lasting."
  • "Boredom is a modern affliction that comes with modern rationality.  As life is made more predictable and secure, it becomes mediocre, uninteresting, and lacking risk or challenge."
  • "Science can enslave us as well as liberate us.  How obvious!  How could we have missed that point?"
  • "Thus the tendency of modern thought is to improve on itself and not to question itself."
  • "A fact is how things have turned out; nature is about how things have to be."
  • "Plato and Aristotle thought that facts come and go, but nature remains; nature is what should be studied."
  • "Peaceable liberal democracies, for whom wars over religion are now inconceivable, still have parties- the liberals and conservatives we know so well.  Actually, we would know them better if we studied John Stuart Mill (1806 - 1873) and Edmund Burke (1729 - 1797), the political philosophers who explain each the best.  Make sure you read both Mill and Burke, not just the one you like."
  • "This guide is not intended for other professors, so it is not equipped with footnotes.  I have written it to tell you what I really think (up to a point), but that is less important than the fact that it contains some of the most valuable information there is."
For other books by Professor Harvey C. Mansfield, click here.

Guides to the Major Disciplines

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute has produced an excellent series of small books as student guides to the major disciplines:

"The ISI Guides to the Major Disciplines are reader-friendly introductions to the most important fields of knowledge in the liberal arts. Written by leading scholars for both students and the general public, they will be appreciated by anyone desiring a reliable and informative tour of important subject matter. Each title offers a historical overview of a particular discipline, explains the central ideas of its subject, and evaluates the works of thinkers whose ideas have shaped our world. Published guides assess the fields of literature, political philosophy, U.S. history, economics, psychology, and other areas."

Here is a list of the ISI Guides to the Major Disciplines:

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What Are the Best Books?

What are the best books?

How does one propose a definitive answer to such a question?  

Is there a standard by which to differentiate between books that are good, books that are better and books that are best?

Certainly one may disagree with a particular standard of judgment, but a disagreement with one standard of judgment presupposes another.

The Standard Works
In answer to the question, "What are the best books?"  I choose to begin with the standard set forth by the canon of scripture of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aptly named the "Standard Works" :

As a mortal being, my understanding of this standard is necessarily imperfect, nevertheless it is the standard by which I choose to differentiate between books that are good, books that are better and books that are best.  It is a standard that points to Jesus Christ and testifies of Him.  It is a standard that leads souls to salvation and eternal life.  It is a standard that withstands the test of time. 

These are the best books. The best of these best books, as I understand it, is the Book of Mormon. Concerning this book the Prophet Joseph Smith said: "I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book."  A book that is best, therefore, is a book that is correct, and a book that contains precepts that draw souls closer to God.

The Book of Isaiah
There are even indications of that which is best within this best of best books.  After His Resurrection, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself declared to the Nephites: "And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah."  Isaiah is the most quoted of all the prophets of the Standard Works, and his words figure prominently throughout the Book of Mormon.  His words could be considered as part of the best of the best within the best of best books.  

If Isaiah is representative of the best of the best within the best of best books, then what is the best of Isaiah?  It would be difficult to do better than Isaiah 53, the great song of the suffering servant, a chapter that is quoted in its entirety by the Prophet Abinadi in Chapter 14 of the Book of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon, of which one of the best verses could very well be verse 7: "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb so he opened not his mouth." (Mosiah 14:7)  In one of the best verses of one of the best chapters revealed by one of the best prophets in the best of the best books, the very Best Son of the Best Father remained silent while He endured the worst afflictions and the worst treatment.

Is it ironic that such silence in suffering produced that which is best?




By Study and By Faith

In today's world, it is understandable that there are a lot of questions about a lot of things.  Many seek for answers. Some seek for truth.  Some can't handle the truth.

But consider how passionately the Prophet Joseph Smith loved truth: 

"When things that are of the greatest importance are passed over by weak-minded men without even a thought, I want to see truth in all its bearings and hug it to my bosom." (Joseph Smith's Sermon on Plurality of Gods, History of the Church, Vol. 6, p. 473-9)

The Prophet Joseph F. Smith, a grandson of Joseph Smith's brother Hyrum Smith, inherited and improved upon this legacy of truth.  He understood that true education and education in truth are not simply matters of filling a vessel, but the process of kindling, igniting and fanning a flame

"[Learning the] truth, combined with proper regard for it, and its faithful observance, constitutes true education. The mere stuffing of the mind with a knowledge of facts is not education. The mind must not only possess a knowledge of truth, but the soul must revere it, cherish it, love it as a priceless gem; and this human life must be guided and shaped by it in order to fulfill its destiny" (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine [1939], 269)

More recently, Elder Neal A. Maxwell expanded upon the definition of education to include the education of desire:

"Only by educating and training our desires can they become our allies instead of our enemies!"

In the Book of Mormon, the Lord revealed His standard for education through the Prophet Jacob:

"O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.

But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God." (2 Ne. 9:28-29)

One of the frequent counsels of God to His children is to seek learning and wisdom:
  • "And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith." (D&C 88:118)
  • "And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith;" (D&C 109:7)
  • "And do thou grant, Holy Father, that all those who shall worship in this house may be taught words of wisdom out of the best books, and that they may seek learning even by study, and also by faith, as thou hast said;" (D&C 109:14)
  • "And set in order the churches, and study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people." (D&C 90:15)
The Prophet Joseph Smith declared that, "The best way to obtain truth and wisdom is not to ask from books, but to go to God in prayer, and obtain divine teaching."  Even so, the Lord has counseled His children to seek words of wisdom out of the best books.  He has counseled us to seek learning by study and by faith.  He has counseled us to study and learn.  He has counseled us to become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people.

In a world full of questions, such counsel naturally gives rise to other questions.  What are the best books?  Where are these words of wisdom to be found?  What does it mean to seek learning by study and by faith?  What are the good books, languages, tongues, and people that we should become acquainted with?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Islam: A Very Short Introduction

There are a lot of misconceptions in the world about Islam.  

The Arabic word "Islam" means "submission," particularly "voluntary submission to God."  

If our understanding of Islam is limited to the reports we see on the news or to the stories we hear on the radio, then we are liable to embrace false caricatures of a vibrant faith that has produced, among other things, some of the world's greatest poetry, literature, philosophy, art, architecture and music.  

We do not have to condone acts of terrorism, such as those perpetrated in the Paris headquarters of Charlie Hebdo, in order to appreciate, with holy envy, that which is a source of truth, hope and inspiration to millions of people.  In fact, Muslim leaders such as President Sisi in Egypt have called for a "religious revolution," holding Imams responsible before Allah for leading this revolution.

In the mean time, might I suggest a short, simple book that provides a basic outline of Islam and underscores some of the essential elements of the faith?  If you have more time, read the Qur'an and try to appreciate how such a book (and such a man as Muhammad) could have arisen from 7th century Arabia. (For more resources on this topic, click here)


Thursday, January 15, 2015

One Thing Thou Lackest

"Our obsessions are as varied as our possessions. They may consist of a favored doctrinal emphasis, a favored Church program, or even a 'trademark' leadership style. Having pride in these things, we sometimes polish them carefully and stand especially ready to defend them. Sometimes, if only unconsciously, we even cultivate a cheering and reinforcing constituency which, perhaps unintentionally, encourages us in our obsessions. To us, sooner or later, it will be said, 'One thing thou lackest' (Mark 10:21). It is possible to have illegitimate pride in a legitimate role or in a deserved reputation. Such pride must go, for we are servants of Him who lived His unique life as a person of 'no reputation' (Philippians 2:7). Every obsession or preoccupation must give way in total submission. Only when we try to subdue our obsessions or preoccupations do we see how powerful they have become."

- Neal A. Maxwell, Not My Will But Thine, p. 93

Friday, January 2, 2015

Aubergine & Company

Aubergine & Company

I like eggs.  I like plants.  I even like eggplants.  But until very recently I had no idea that I would like an eggplant restaurant.  

If you are looking for a great place to enjoy a healthy, Mediterranean style breakfast, lunch or dinner, I enthusiastically endorse Aubergine & Company, located at 1365 S. State Street, Orem, Utah 84097 (Their phone number is 801 224-7484, and they cater).

With good reason, one may be suspicious of food that tastes this good while purportedly being good for you as well, but Aubergine dispels any doubts concerning either taste or nutrition.  What's more, the kind Brazilian owner, the friendly staff, the chic ambience, and the reasonable prices make Aubergine an altogether positive meal-time experience.

Even if you don't like eggs, or plants, or eggplants, give Aubergine a chance.  You might just like it.  

Not My Will, But Thine

A wise man and an astute observer of human nature once noted that "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.'" (C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce)  

As one who, however imperfectly, desires to belong to the first group of people, I have gained considerable inspiration from Neal A. Maxwell's enlightening and soul-stretching book "Not My Will, But Thine" : The Christlike Path of Submission to God's Will.  True disciples of Jesus Christ and earnest seekers of the Kingdom of God will enjoy how masterfully and eloquently Elder Maxwell unfolds simple and profound Gospel truths to the hearts and minds of those with eyes to see and ears to hear:

"In his superbly creative style the author explores this important principle of willing, loving submission to our Heavenly Father.  He clearly shows this to be not a sacrifice of will but an elevation to a higher purpose and privilege.  As such, it offers a life of faith, peace, and joy in the Lord."