Pedra, Papel e Tesoura

16 de agosto de 2020

Some advice from Augustine, part 1.

Filed under: Livros, Notícias e política, Saúde e bem-estar — Tags:, — Yure @ 17:01

I said last time that I was reading the City of God, by Augustine. Now that I have finished reading at least the first books of this work, I can share what I learned by reading them. I managed to get some things out of it that are still useful today, since Augustine is a very current philosopher.

Evil does not really exist, but it is an absence of good.

Augustine was once an Epicurean and the Epicureans define happiness as the absence of suffering, a condition that can be provided by the strategic use of pleasure. Although he left Epicureanism, I see a certain Epicurean influence on the Augustinian solution to the problem of evil. For Augustine, evil has no positive existence, it can only be defined as an absence: silence is a lack of sound, the dark is a lack of light, evil is an absence of good.Think of the world as a bright room, with a light emanating from above. If you enter this room, you cast a shadow. That shadow is evil. As the human being is imperfect, he removes the good from his surroundings through his wrong actions. Thus, if evil is “born” (by push the good away), it only happens thanks to imperfect creatures who choose evil, judging that they choose good. Thus, evil is our responsibility and the consequence of our choices. God created the world full of good. Evil was introduced by the misuse of freedom, be it men’s freedom or angels’ freedom.

Sometimes you must stay where you are, even if you are being chased.

At a time when Christianity was being persecuted, local Christians were wondering whether they should stay where they were or flee. It depends: if the ministry in that region is hampered by the decision to flee, then one should not run away. Observing this idea through a secular lens, leaving Christianity out, I immediately remember the “MAPs” (minor-attracted people). They are persecuted everywhere, but would their cause be helped if they ran away? Even if a MAP is banned from a platform, a MAP should not for that reason abandon the Internet. The same is true for other persecuted groups. You should only run away from persecution if running away does not endanger the cause.

Do not entrust your protection to anyone who has already been defeated.

If you have an enemy you need to defend yourself against, it is not with whom have already been defeated by such an enemy that you should seek protection. Make alliances with those who are still standing.

It doesn’t matter what you suffer, but how you suffer.

My nephew once said: “pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional”. Well, that’s almost it. We all suffer, but we deal with suffering in different ways. There are better and worse ways of dealing with suffering and we must choose the ones that work best for us. In this way, suffering will be sufficiently mitigated so as to not prevent neither reasoning nor action. I remember Seneca when I read something like that. Learning to suffer. Even Nietzsche (atheist philosopher) concedes that Christianity, in teaching the believer to suffer without despair, does something right. If all you want is not to suffer, the works of Epicurus and Seneca may teach you something new.

One should not commit a serious sin, such as suicide (which is a homicide), to avoid committing a minor one.

This advice caught my attention because I once shared the house with three Jehovah’s witnesses. As you probably know, Jehovah’s witnesses do not approve of blood transfusion, which they equate with the ingestion of blood, which is a sin. Augustine, speaking of Christians who killed themselves in order not to sin (or because they already had sinned), affirms that one should not choose to commit a serious sin, such as homicide, in order to avoid a less serious sin. Furthermore, as for those who kill themselves after sinning, they added an even greater guilt to the previous guilt.

Then, the Jehovah’s Witness who dies from refusing a blood transfusion incurred a serious sin, to avoid a minor sin (assuming the transfusion really equals ingestion). “Minor”, how? When asked about what to do to receive eternal life, Jesus responded with the six commandments that concern love of neighbor, among which “you will not kill”. Therefore, killing can result in the loss of eternal reward, but the punishments for violating the blood ban are earthly, like all the punishments that appear in the Law of Moses. Just because the commandment does not say “your neighbor” should we conclude that suicide is not included in “you will not kill”? And even if it was not, it is still not justifiable for the adult Jehovah’s Witness to refuse transfusions to his son, in his care. In such case, homicide occurs without a doubt.

There are people who are not worth arguing with.

Again, I remember the MAPs when I read this. Many MAPs get tired of arguing with so-called “normal” people who will never accept any argument in favor of the cause. What’s the point of doing this? Even if you present arguments, the person will not return arguments, but screams, curses or memes. Augustine says that a person who responds in this way is like an irreparable stupid. Not all medicine in the world can save an incurable patient. So turn to those who are willing to listen. From the moment the person responds to you irrationally, leave them.

A republic can collapse even if all its cities remain standing.

The republic is both an immaterial and a material asset. Even if Brazil does not receive a bombing, it can end if it is subordinated to the government of others. If Brazil submits to the United States, it ceases to be Brazil and becomes the United States, because it loses its autonomy. In addition, there are spiritual elements in the republic, such as laws and customs. If the laws are written by others, rather than by Brazilians, or if Brazilian customs fail to favor us as a nation, we can say that Brazil really is over. And it ended, for me, when the Brazilian fraternity was replaced by the polarization fostered by the mass media. Never has a Brazilian hated his fellow countryman as much as in 2018. Of course things would end up like this.

Peaceful times, because of lack of fear, provide a generation of unworthy men.

When there is a common enemy, the nation fights against that enemy together. In times of peace, agreements signed in exceptional circumstances are revoked and differences between citizens stand out. Internal fights reoccur. Unless the nation constantly has a common enemy, each citizen will see an enemy in his brother. Furthermore, the threat of an enemy keeps us alert, disciplined and ready. In times of peace, we became too relaxed and began to place too much importance on small problems. Take the example of a child: she cries for small things because she has never worked in her life. It is the great challenges of life that show us how not to care about petty things. We lived in times of peace and abundance in past governments. Of course, the generation raised in such an environment would be spoiled: they never faced famine, they went to school, they pursued dreams. I am not saying that one should not always seek the best conditions, but that the lack of serious causes to fight for will lead everyone to fight for petty “causes”. This is part of why we have a cancel culture. Something doesn’t have to be objectively bad to be canceled, it just needs to be something I don’t like.

When a republic fails, the people seek scapegoats to get rid of their own share of the blame for the destruction of the republic. Each people has the ruler it deserves.

Who is to blame for what goes on in Brazil? The Worker’s Party? Bolsonaro? Everything bad that happens in a republic reflects the failure of the people. Unable to swallow this, the people are looking for “scapegoats”. They put all the blame on the Worker’s Party before, just like how they now put it on Bolsonaro. I am not saying that the Worker’s Party is the worst party that exists nor that it is equal to Bolsonaro, but the right-wingers want it to be, so let’s pretend it is. Nor am I saying that Bolsonaro is not an objectively bad president. But both governments are limited by the votes, issued in a direct and democratic way.

We all share some of the blame for the government that we have: those who voted for him (because they chose badly), those who voted for Haddad (for not being able to convince other voters) and those who voted blank or null (for basically not voting, letting others choose for them). Thus, there is no point in criticizing Bolsonaro without talking to those who voted for him or those who did not vote for anyone. Even if Bolsonaro leaves the government, Brazil as it is now would elect someone like Bolsonaro. We need to understand that the problem is with each one of us, not just a ruler or a party. For Augustine, as God has power over governments, he gives each people the ruler they deserve. But, even through a secular lens, without resorting to Christianity, any republic that elects its governments democratically, insofar as the electoral process is fair, it can only elect rulers it deserves to have. Bolsonaro was the reflection of Brazil as it was in 2018.

There is no glory in improving the condition of a nation through war, because the best people are those who thrive even in peace. The nation’s growth is only fair without war, because war, when motivated by appropriation, is theft. Wage war against your nation’s internal ills, not other nations.

It’s amazing how nosy the United States is. It is not possible that there is no American finger in every conflict in the Middle East or coup in South America. Even if there were not, why do these conflicts happen, if not because a nation, unable to prosper with its resources and unable (or unwilling) to make agreements, try to steal what belongs to another nation, be it resources, territory or influence? You don’t see China doing that. How come? If China can prosper without going to war as often as United States, isn’t it better to do like China? Of course, we should imitate China in the good things, not when it comes to censorship or when it comes to the bat buffet. It is said that Lula, when invited by Bush tp an offensive against terrorism, replied to the then American president: “my war is against famine”. I agree with the extreme right when it says that Brazil has internal enemies, but I do not agree that such enemies are men or ideas. Brazil’s internal enemies are concrete enemies: hunger, the coronavirus, violence and ignorance. We must declare war on these things, not on Venezuela or the Communists, whatever that word means.

If things are going wrong, it is necessary to look for the concrete causes of the evil, instead of attributing supernatural causes. Soil does not become fertile by worshiping it as a deity, but by fertilizing it.

A lot of people go to church to see if they can get material goods. My brother once confessed that he was a Jehovah’s Witness just because he wanted his life to improve materially. But have you noticed that the bad guys also get material goods, money and power? This is because material goods, being of a lower value, are also dispensed to the bad. So, you shouldn’t go to church hoping to get rich (especially if your religion involves giving your money to the pastor), because it is sufficiently proven that it is possible to do well in life even being an atheist. So, what is the cause of your poverty? How to deal with it? With material techniques. It is study, work, opportunity and, unfortunately, luck. That’s right, luck. There’s that too. So, before considering the possibility of divine punishment, make sure there is no material cause behind your misfortune.

A government without justice is a criminal faction that seeks impunity in power.

There is something called a privileged forum (a Brazilian right granted to politicians, that allows them to be judged differently from the ordinary citizen), which I am not against. I understand that the privileged forum provides stability to the government. The problem is that a benefit like this is also a temptation. When you are a politician and commit a crime, you will claim your privileged forum, even if you have campaigned against the privileged forum. That’s when we know who’s who in politics: when a crusader who swears to fight impunity looks for ways to stop investigations against himself. Isn’t that unfair? Yes, but any unjust ruler will use his position to not be punished for his actions.

For those who have virtue and happiness, nothing more is lacking. No sage wants more money than is necessary to live happily.

For Aristotle, happiness is the supreme good. Everyone wants to be happy. As each one is subject to different desires, sufferings and loves, each one seeks happiness in a particular way: some through money, others through honor and others through power. But all of these things are means and not ends in themselves. The goal is happiness. So much so that if it were possible to be happy without money, no one would want money and perhaps few people would work. We work to have money and we want money to supply our needs. But why supply our needs? Because needing makes us unhappy. We satiate our needs to feel good, to feel happy. Happiness is an goal in itself. Nobody can ask the question “why be happy?” and be deemed normal. On the other hand, seeking happiness through unfair means creates fragile happiness, because you create enemies. But happiness accompanied by virtue is stable. So, if you are good and happy, what more could you want? If you need money, just have enough to sustain your own happiness.

A government that believes in the existence of “good lies” becomes particularly dangerous when it allies itself with the local religion.

There must be separation between church and government, so that the government does not corrupt the church, which has a greater ideological reach. When there is no such separation, the government can order the church to multiply “good lies”, namely, those that help the government to keep the people happy, even if the people have to believe something that is not true. What starts with seemingly harmless lies can become a habit and soon the government will use the church as an ideological device. And the faithful, who go there wanting to save themselves, may end up being instructed to do precisely what can cause their doom.

A nation that does not worship God can expand and grow, with God’s permission, if it is still a good nation.

For a long time, philosophy had a huge prejudice against the Far East because it was believed that China was an atheist empire. But what nobody wanted to face was the question: how is China so rich without being a Christian nation? Voltaire faced this question, but I admit that I don’t remember how he answered. In any case, a nation does not need to be Christian to prosper. For Augustine, this is because God is just: if a nation does something tot deserve wealth, honor, power, it will have these things, even if it is not faithful to him. Every good deed deserves a reward. This makes us think: what are you going to church for? Unless you want eternal life, you have no reason to go. Material goods and material growth can be obtained by material means. Not that God cannot grant them to whomever he wants, but you do not demand those things from the sovereign God.

People pay attention to what they like and not necessarily to the truth, which makes ordinary religion more popular than science.

Discussing the three types of theology listed by Varrão (poetic, natural and civil), Augustine begins to wonder why poetic theology is more popular than natural theology. It is that poetic theology is based on the tragic poets, who wrote all those stories that today we collectively call “Greek mythology” or “Roman mythology”. These stories are interesting and provide the identification of man with the deities represented in them. The natural theology, on the other hand, is philosophical. Most people understand a tragic or comedic poem better than boring philosophical reasoning, which speaks to the intellect, but not to emotions. By showing deities engaging in human behaviors, tragic poetry justifies human behavior and that is pleasant. “Even the gods cheat their wives!”, thinks the listener. Everyone likes to hear what validates them, that is why poetic theology is more attractive than natural theology. Nietzsche also recognizes this, although he makes a conclusion opposite to that of Augustine. For Nietzsche, the fact that there are bad or useless truths should lead us to question whether it is worth seeking the truth at any cost. For Augustine, this just means that the truth encounters barriers when trying to impose itself, not that Augustine considers any of the three theologies presented by Varro to be “true”.

I hate wearing a mask when I leave home. I hate to go to the market and come back carrying thirty kilograms of groceries with that thing on my face preventing me from breathing properly. But I need to use it because I want to live. No wonder, then, that a pastor who says that God will protect his faithful from the coronavirus causes so many to burn their masks. Because it is what the faithful want to hear, it is what validates them. The problem is that this is putting God to test, which is sin. It is the same principle (saying what the faithful wants to hear) as the poetic theology criticized by Augustine in the pagans.

There are functions that are more necessary than political functions, but they do not receive the same glory. Do not humble yourself in front of people you would not imitate.

Reflecting on what Varro calls chosen deities (twenty deities presiding over the Roman pantheon), Augustine wonders why Saturn, patron of seeds and time, could preside over a myriad of other lesser gods who are engaged in more important tasks than his and that maybe even have more power than him, like Fortuna (deity of chance) or Vitória (deity of success). Although the chosen deities are the leaders of the Roman pantheon, it is certain that they preside over other deities with more important tasks, as if the chosen ones were senators, tasks that the chosen ones do not understand. Reading this, I remember the Ministry of Health, occupied today by a military man, instead of a doctor. Why? He doesn’t know medicine, how does he preside over Brazilian doctors? In addition, the role of doctor is more prestigious in Brazil than the role of the Armed Forces and the government itself. Wouldn’t it make sense to have a doctor in that position instead of a guy who doesn’t seem trained for it? Brazil needs doctors more than it needs the military. A military man presiding over health is as strange as Jupiter imposing himself over Fortuna. And that is why doctors do well when they ignore recommendations, or even orders, coming from people who talk about what they don’t understand or who recommend procedures that no doctor with common-sense would adopt.

The matter is not enough to explain the reality of living things.

At what time and for what reason did the matter become alive? Where does the life in living beings come from? I find it hard to believe that matter alone produces life. Where does the thing that keeps my body alive and conscious comes from? My own body? So what happens to this principle at the time of death? Is it not a renewable principle? Why me and not others? Why are other types of matter not alive? The more I think about it, the more I believe that matter is animated thanks to God.

A good body does not necessarily accompany a good soul.

Following the reasoning that material goods, being of lower quality, are dispensed to the just and the unjust, it follows that a person in good health can be a bad person and that a good person can be in poor health. Again, this is because material goods can be obtained, maintained or lost due to material causes. God could grant you health, it is true, but only as long as it is in harmony with his divine and secret plans. Besides, he wouldn’t have given us intellect if it weren’t for us to use. There is nothing wrong with looking for both, health and kindness, but it would be better to seek health materially while you have the material means to do so.

A Christian should not worship the dead or offer sacrifices to them.

Finally, a curiosity: Augustine says that sacrifices should not be offered to the dead in exchange of favors, as if the dead could mediate between man and God. If he were alive today, he would be horrified, as there are Catholic believers doing almost that same thing in relation to the saints, among which Saint Augustine! Things like putting a small saint statue upside down in the water, as if the saint were the statue and could drown, are as ridiculous as taking food to the graves, as if the dead could eat them or even just smell them. These things are superstitions and Augustine would not approve of them if he were alive today.

1 Comentário »

  1. […] because some of my readings reignite my interest. For example: I have just finished reading Civitate Dei, by Augustine, and I found two pieces of advice that are useful for MAPs, even though the work is […]


    Pingback por So, I have started to post in English again. | Analecto — 17 de agosto de 2020 @ 15:33

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Deixe um comentário

Preencha os seus dados abaixo ou clique em um ícone para log in:

Logo do

Você está comentando utilizando sua conta Sair /  Alterar )

Foto do Facebook

Você está comentando utilizando sua conta Facebook. Sair /  Alterar )

Conectando a %s

Este site utiliza o Akismet para reduzir spam. Saiba como seus dados em comentários são processados.

%d blogueiros gostam disto: