Jesus vs. Aristotle.

Okay, people. I am being brave, and posting some academic-y stuff. Up first is the Jesus paper. Enjoy?!

Jesus and the Virtue-less Life

            Jesus seems like a pretty good guy. He heals sick people. He restores vision to the blind and hearing to the deaf. He has picnics with people and tells them stories. He stops people from stoning a woman by telling them to quit being hypocritical and get over themselves. He raises people from the dead after four days of deadness. He washes the dirty feet of his followers. There is that moment where he loses his cool and kicks everyone out of the temple-turned-marketplace. All things considered, though, he seems relatively down-to-earth for being the alleged Son of God: concerned primarily with helping others and spending time with the people whose existence the current religious leaders try to ignore. If I had to compile a list of people who lived virtuously, Jesus’ name would probably find its way on there. However, I don’t know that Aristotle would agree with me. That’s right. A philosopher whose writings become closely tied with the Roman Catholic Church does not necessarily consider Jesus to be virtuous. In fact, while there are many similarities between Christian and Aristotelian virtue, Jesus violates Aristotle’s criteria for virtuousness in a number of ways. Through an examination of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount we can see that Jesus, in a variety of ways, encourages both excess and defect, does not allow for tenets of virtue to be relative to the individual, and disavows acting virtuously for the sake of virtue itself—thus rendering Jesus and, by extension, his followers not only virtuous-less but also ineligible for happiness as Aristotle conceives of it.

            In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle defines virtue as “a characteristic involving choice, and that it consists in observing the mean relative to us, a mean which is defined by a rational principle, such as a man of practical wisdom would use to determine it” (43). In other words, virtue is a characteristic that one chooses to exhibit. Such a characteristic is defined by a perfectly virtuous, rational person. The way to exhibit such a characteristic is to choose to observe the mean. Aristotle defines the mean “by reference to two vices: the one of excess and the other of deficiency” (43). That is, the mean is the halfway point between excess and deficiency, or too much and too little.

However, the manifestation of this halfway point is different from person to person, meaning that while you and I may both be virtuous, our virtuousness may appear differently. You may be a billionaire and I may be poverty-stricken. As such, my generosity and your generosity will appear to be different because we will be giving vastly different amounts of money. That does not mean that one of us is more virtuous than the other in this regard, insofar as we both observe the mean between “extravagance and stinginess” (83), relative to ourselves. Thus, virtue is choosing to observe the mean between excess and deficiency, as it applies to the respective chooser.

            In the second book of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle outlines fourteen virtues (with the last two being types of justice). These virtues are as follows: courage; self control; generosity; magnificence; high-mindedness; proper ambition; gentleness; friendliness; truthfulness; wittiness; modesty; righteous indignation; distributive justice; rectificatory justice (Aristotle 45-8). All of these virtues are active qualities one can choose to exhibit. Notions of virtuousness within the bounds of Christianity deal with godliness. A person who is virtuous exhibits godly characteristics. Jesus lays out virtuous behavior in “The Beatitudes,” as given in his Sermon on the Mount. People who are virtuous according to the Christian tradition exhibit the following characteristics: poor in spirit; mourning; meekness; hunger and thirst for righteousness; merciful; clean of heart; peacemaking; persecuted for the sake of righteousness (Matthew 5). Some of the Beatitudes contradict Aristotelian virtuousness by encouraging excess or deficiency. The mean between poor and rich is comfortableness. One who is poor in spirit is exhibiting a deficiency, and cannot be considered virtuous by Aristotelian standards. A constant state of mourning, too, is a deficiency. Likewise, meekness is a submissive quality. A mean between submissive and dominant would be more assertive than “meekness” connotes. Hunger and thirst imply a deficiency; a mean would be pleasantly-filled or contented. Mercy exists on one end of a scale, with justice on the other. Mercy would then, by default, be an excess of whatever we might call the midpoint between it and justice. Perpetual peacemaking looks like Aristotle’s conception of cowardice (71), because a peacemaker would never opt for fighting. The final Beatitude, being persecuted for the sake of righteousness, does not qualify as a virtue because it is not an action one chooses. It is, instead, the result of the choices of others. We can conclude, then, that the virtues Jesus outlines in “The Beatitudes” do not conform with the criteria Aristotle sets forth, making Jesus and his followers virtue-less by Aristotelian standards.

Furthermore, in looking at the lists of virtues themselves, Aristotelian virtues seem to be more active than Christian virtues. The behaviors called for in “The Beatitudes” are more submissive characteristics than Aristotelian virtues.

            Many of these Christian virtues are also stringent standards with narrow interpretation. While Aristotle outlines that virtue “consists in observing the mean relative to us” (43), some of Jesus’ virtues leave little room to maneuver in terms of relativity. For example, poverty is less relative than generosity. While generosity is relative to the amount of money one has available to give, poverty always refers to an extreme lack of wealth. There are, indeed, varying degrees of poverty. Some people are more or less poor than others. However, someone in today’s American middle-class would not be considered impoverished, even in comparison to Bill Gates. Similarly, peacemaking is not a relative endeavor. Any violence is not peace and, therefore, cannot be considered peacemaking. As such, these characteristics cannot be considered virtuous, according to Aristotle. This same line of thinking also extends to Jesus’ teachings on anger. In an Aristotelian sense, virtue in relation to anger would not be a perpetual absence of anger, nor an incessant abundance of it. In contrast, Jesus teaches that one should never be angry toward her/his fellow person (Matthew 5). This is not virtuous behavior, by Aristotle’s definition, but a continuous deficiency and a non-relative behavior.

            There is particular instance, however, in which Jesus does call for action relative to an individual. In Matthew 7, Jesus says, “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.” This tenet, known as The Golden Rule, puts forth the impression that the things which separate individuals would like to experience in their interactions with other people are relative. In whatever way one would like to be treated, s/he should treat others in the same fashion. Nevertheless, the assumption in Jesus’ statement is that all people wish to be treated the same way (kindly, perhaps), negating the notion of relativity and, in conjunction, virtuousness.

            In outlining how one is to act virtuously, Aristotle states that “[one] must choose to act the way [s/he] does, and [s/he] must choose it for its own sake” (39). In other words, virtuous action must always be a conscious choice, chosen purely for the sake of being virtuous. If I choose to exhibit virtuous characteristics in the hopes of obtaining some sort of reward, I am not being virtuous—despite acting in accordance with virtuous behavior.

            This may be the most visible instance in which Christianity departs from Aristotelian notions of virtue. The teachings of Jesus do lend credence to the idea that we should act a certain way because it is a good way to act. However, the main purpose of acting in accordance with Jesus’ teachings is to get in to heaven; to obtain an eternal reward. Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroy, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Matthew 6). The whole purpose of leading a virtuous life is to obtain happiness, which Aristotle defines as “an activity of the soul in conformity with excellence or virtue, and if there are several virtues, in conformity with the best and most complete” (17). Following the precepts of Jesus is also supposed to lead to happiness, but that happiness is not ephemeral and exists only if God is willing to give it. Practicing Aristotelian virtue is how one lives a life of happiness. Practicing Christian virtue leads to eternal salvation, wherein happiness is a component. The practice of virtue is happiness, in the former, while the practice of virtue leads to happiness, in the latter. As such, practicing Christian virtue is not done for the sake of practicing the virtue itself, but so that the practitioner can obtain an eternal reward. This motivation makes the whole practice not virtuous, according to Aristotle.

            It seems doubtful that many people would classify Jesus as being a person void of virtue. However, when we compare the teachings of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount to the outlines for virtuous living laid out in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, we see that Jesus does not qualify for the stamp of virtuosity. He advocates virtuous behavior for eternal reward, instead of for the sake of virtuous behavior itself. Many of his virtues cannot be relatively applied to separate individuals. Most of the virtues outlined in “The Beatitudes” exist as a deficiency or excess, in comparison to Aristotle’s virtues of mean. Thus, we can conclude that one cannot act in accordance with Jesus’ teachings and still be considered virtuous by Aristotelian standards.

 

And there you have it.

Advertisements

Jesus Is Not Virtuous.

I stopped drinking caffeine on September 19th of last year. Considering that Dr. Pepper was a twice-daily part of my life, it was a pretty big deal. I did it because caffeine messes with my ability to have restful sleep and it makes me more anxious than I already am. That, and caffeine exacerbates my migraines. Welp. The 8-ish month stint of caffeine-free living came to an abrupt halt this morning.

Oh my goodness. I have missed Coke.

I seriously took one sip and let out this contented moan, with my eyes rolling up. It was that marvelous.

I got a Coke on the way home from work because I had to write a paper. I had the wonderful opportunity of arguing that Jesus isn’t virtuous. Aristotle says so. It was a lot of fun to write, albeit difficult with the heightened anxiety that the caffeine induced. Now I want to go to sleep. Instead, I am going to shower, and then return to the Philosophy world with Immanuel Kant. It’s looking doubtful that I’ll get any sleep before class, today. I’m going to try and track down an iced hazelnut macchiato before school. Why not overdose on caffeine after my first day back?

Jennifer and I went hiking on Monday. It was the first time I’d been hiking in years. We did a very, very short hike to a place called Grotto Falls. It was pretty. I’d forgotten how relaxing it is to be in the mountains and away from civilization. I’d love to live someplace along the coast of the Pacific Northwest. Someplace green. Someplace peaceful.

Someplace with breathable air would be a bonus, as well.

Here’s the falls:Image

Squares and Stitches.

i am the poet e.e. cummings.

I am the Poet,

Emily Dickinson.

I was once Poe, but was prematurely buried.

I am Didion. I am Atwood. I am Walker and Alexie and even Hemingway, when the mood strikes.

I am who I read. I am who I love.

I am so much more.

The more I read, the more I want to write. I have what some people consider to be a “nasty” habit of reading myself into the texts with which I interface. I find a way to connect with the text. What I read/watch/listen to becomes part of me. I’ve been told that this is cheating. I am to find my self and write my own story. The lives and stories of others are not there for me to usurp and wear like a patchwork quilt.

But my life has essentially been about me trying to create this thing that makes sense out of events and ideas and people that don’t fit, don’t connect, don’t match. The only thing that ties them together is me. I am the quilter and the stitching and the stuffing all in one.

I have always found the stories of other people interesting because I am not the only person in the universe who thinks about certain things. I am not the only six-year-old person who is unable to grasp why I can’t be both an astronaut and a prima ballerina before becoming President of the United States. I am not the only ten-year-old person to be bullied for not being “skinny.” I am not the only thirteen-year-old person who thinks that Nickelback is a really good band. I am not the only fifteen-year-old person who falls in love and scoffs when “grown-ups” say that I cannot possibly know what love is. I am not the only eighteen-year-old person to cope with trauma and fear through an increase in religious activity. I am not the only nineteen-year-old person to flunk college classes and never tell their parents. I am not the only twenty-year-old person who finds it ironic that I can enlist in the military but not buy alcohol. I am not the only twenty-one-year-old person who feels so jaded and alone that I write to the internet on the off-chance that someone listens or reads or cares.

I am all of these people, all at once. These people, and so many more.

I am a patchwork quilt. I will conjecture that you are, as well. It may be that we have some of the same patches. It may be that some of our quilt squares are the same fabric, in differing colors. Of course they are not the same. The combination of squares on mine are specific to me. The stitching is one of a kind. But it is ludicrous to say that each quilt is separate from the next when the only way we know how a quilt is to be put together is by looking at other quilts. By watching other quilters.

The more I read, the more I want to write.

This is what trying to figure things out looks like.

Hate Speech.

I have had the (dis)pleasure of working with a fair amount of creepy people, over the past few years. There was the one who told people he’d bring his M-16 to work if they pissed him off. There was the one who informed us on his first day that he’d been fired from McDonald’s for sexual harassment because he has a problem with boundaries.

I have been known to describe Jennifer as my “lesbian lover” to unsuspecting strangers. People frequently ask us to explain how our relationship works. Are we married? Are we dating? Are we brother and sister? How is it that we always know where the other is? Why is it that we spend so much time together? One day, I responded to someone by telling them that we’re lesbian lovers. It was my polite way of telling them that not only do I owe them zero explanation, but it is none of their business. I am pretty open at both school and work about being queer, and so this response makes sense…except for Jennifer’s status as a heterosexual male. People get a perplexed look on their faces when I respond to their questions in this way. Laugh uncomfortably. Never ask for an explication of our relationship again.

Well. A relatively-new coworker asked us this same question last night. Jennifer explained that we are long-time friends, and have worked together for quite some time. I added the bit about us being lesbian lovers, for good measure. This coworker’s response was, “If I had a gun, I would kill all the lesbians.”

Jennifer promptly responded with, “Whoa. Not cool, man. That’s not okay.” We don’t currently have a supervisor directly over us at work, so there was no one to reprimand said coworker for the threat. I stewed for fifteen minutes before confronting this coworker and explaining that if he ever makes a statement like that again, not only will I report it to the night shift supervisor, but I will file a complaint with HR because I consider that to be a threat against my own life.

His response? That, in return, I clean up my language because he is not one to stand up for himself.

My beloved missionary brother, Chuck, is a language-sensitive person. If he ever turned off a movie, it was for profanity. Though I don’t agree with his perception of what is “acceptable” and “unacceptable” in terms of language-use, I understand that some people are bothered by what our society has deemed to be profane language.

That having been said, the usage of swears does not EVER warrant death threats.

I never understood how people could not grasp that there is language much more harmful than a handful of four-lettered words. You want to hear profane?

“If I had a gun, I would kill all the lesbians.”

That, my friends, is profane.

That is hate speech.

Three Words.

My mom grew up in a household where “I love you” was not frequently said. Hugs were an anomaly. Her parents, for the most part,  did not take great interest in her activities. Perhaps this standoffish approach is a generational thing. My mom’s parents are very, very old (87 and 91). Maybe something about growing up in rural central Utah during the 20s and early 30s resulted in non-touchy-feely personalities that are quick to argue and slow to express affection. Perhaps my grandparents were just tired, when my mom came along. They were 42 and 45 when she, the youngest of six…spanned over 19 years, was born. Whatever the cause, my mom vowed to be the antithesis of her parents. That is, to be hands-on; to express affection; to support her children in their activities; to tell her children that she loves them.

In many ways, my mother is indeed the antithesis of hers. My grandmother is a post-WWII era housewife: quiet, submissive, passive-aggressive, OCD. From what recollections I have of my parents’ marriage, my mother was an equal partner. Decisions were made together. My mother was the assertive one. She may have acquired some of her mother’s preoccupations with a clean house, but she doesn’t scrub floors with toothbrushes. My mother has also gone out of her way to support me and my siblings in our extracurricular endeavors. She has attended numerous soccer and basketball games, swim meets, piano recitals, band and choir concerts, plays, marching band competitions, awards nights, and more. She reads my papers when I need another set of eyes to look at them. My mom is my oldest friend. Even after a yelling match, she hugs me and says “I love you.”

I don’t doubt it.

There are many ways in which I am different from my mother. There are many ways in which we are the same. I am a unique hybrid of her and where-on-earth-did-this-come-from-?. We are both loyal, almost to a fault. We firmly believe what we believe, though we believe in different things; our belief systems guide all our actions, and we are eager to share what we know to be true with those we encounter. We are criers. We think the solution to a crappy day involves Nora Ephron movies and chocolate and Redvines. If that doesn’t work, it is naptime. We believe in telling the people who matter to us that they do, indeed, matter to us. We see healing power in a perfectly-golden grilled cheese sandwich. We know how important the words “I love you” are.

Somewhere between the importance of Dr. Pepper and classic rock.

Baked.

I intended to go hiking, today. I had hoped that heading up to the mountains would help me clear my brain. I wanted that rejuvenated feeling that comes when you’ve spent miles traversing along a trail and sweat is dripping from every pore, like some sort of atonement for your inattentiveness to the world outside yourself.

Instead, I got to meet Jennifer’s grandparents. His grandmother is like mine: old-ish, but energetic; incredibly religious; convinced that chocolate is the most important food group. In the three years that Jennifer and I have been friends, he has managed to meet most of my family. I have met very little of his. So, today was a milestone, I suspect.

After his grandparents left, Jennifer barbecued. Then I made cookies. Oatmeal-craisin. They are a tad dry. I’ve never had my cookies be too dry, before.

I love to make desserts. I derive a great amount of joy from making safe spaces for other people. Desserts are like a Safe Space declaration, in my family. I like to extend those spaces to others–specifically, Jennifer. So, I frequently find myself making desserts for him. Well, for whomever wants them while happening to pass through his kitchen.

But, today, my cookies were too dry. And I didn’t go hiking. I have this need for detox that is not being met.

*sigh*

Nightmares.

I haven’t been very dedicated to taking my meds. Jennifer reminded me last night that I have to take them consistently, in order for them to work. I am on a few different meds. One for the anxiety. One for the sleep issues. One for the nausea caused by the other two, and to help with the migraines. One or a combination of them results in crazy nightmares that leave me feeling paranoid in a different sense than how I usually feel. So, I haven’t been incredibly diligent in taking them, thinking that the nightmares would go away.

Nooooope.

They are always the same. I’ve invested a fair amount of time and effort trying to ensure someone else’s safety. Then whatever was after said someone else comes after me, and I am left to my own devices. I pace through my mom’s house, my old schools, my old church buildings, my workplace, waiting for the arrival of some terrible force that is dedicated to my demise. The building that has become my fortress of safety starts to turn against me, with locks breaking and walls disappearing and windows shattering–making my fortress significantly less fortified. I call for help, and no one comes. I think about the people in my life who have inspired and believed in me (a group consisting mostly of previous teachers/instructors/professors), and wonder how they are doing. One of them shows up to tell me how I have become a disappointment, and the people who are after me arrive just after the disappointed person leaves. They talk for a great length of time about how I am all alone, a disappointment to everyone, replaceable, forgettable, and all alone. No one is going to help me. And then I wake up.

Dear Subconscious. Calm down. I don’t need my mind’s daily preoccupations magnified in Dream Land. What happened to dreaming about unrequited love or vacations on a Grecian Island someplace? Let us return to that place, yes?

Yes.

For the sake of my sanity.

In other news, I am looking for a place to go hiking. Jennifer and I are trying this new thing, where we do physical activity. Apparently it is supposed to have health benefits. I am skeptical, but Jennifer seems pretty convinced. Either way, neither of us has been hiking in quite some time. Do you think any of the snow has melted in the mountains, yet?

Me either.

In the words of Martin Freeman: We’re going on an adventure!

Recap.

Hey. I know. I keep disappearing for weeks at a time. I apologize…sort of.

I need someone to talk to and Jennifer is catching up on reading assignments. So, I’m just going to ramble for awhile. All right? Cool.

So. I…started a new semester. I have four incompletes that have yet to be finished, and I cannot bring myself to buckle down and finish the stuff. I have a massive panic attack every time I sit down to write a paper.

I’m not very good at taking my meds, which is probably part of my problem. But my body is being funky and I can’t decipher if it is tied to the meds or the anxiety or something completely separate and, of course, unknowable–because all medical issues in my life are fated to remain enigmatic until they result in my death. Super cool.

Chuck left for Guatemala on Tuesday. We said goodbyes at the airport and I’m all sorts of falling apart inside. I am trying to figure out how to be a good big sister. Do I be ultra supportive and fake my way through the next two years? Do I be me, and risk my brother’s refusal to acknowledge my existence? Do I just do what I’ve been doing and sit quietly on the sidelines, extending words of encouragement and trying my best to not stir up confrontation? Ugh. I just want him home. This is going to be a long two years.

I kicked ass in my ethics class (round trois, because I am the world’s worst student and stop showing up to class after three weeks) today, and think that I would have made a good philosophy major. My adolescent lit professor thinks the same thing, and probably would have preferred me having taken that path instead of this one. Instead, I approached Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics from a literary criticism perspective, today, and spent half an hour in adolescent lit, yesterday, arguing that xenocide is wrong and Ender’s Game is advocating a world in which no one should want to live.

Today, I read a book. A whole one, cover to cover. I cannot tell you how long it has been since I’ve done that. It felt…feels…good. I know that I am an English major and I should be reading many books cover to cover, but that doesn’t happen. I am the world’s worst English major, I guess.

I bought GRE flashcards and a prep book, both of which have made me panic about my decision to grow up, graduate, and go to grad school.

Why didn’t I go to BYU, find a nice RM, and get married? I could have had two or three kids by now. And I was skinny when I started college. Well. Skinny-er. I am all curves and contours, and that has been the case for the past twelve years.

In other news, I am learning to love myself. I wore shorts today. You can still see the purple marks on my thighs from the trauma-induced cycle of growing up too quickly. I don’t really care.

I’ve been avoiding my place of residence, because being there puts me back inside my head, amongst the toxic thoughts of panic and self-hatred. I’ve been staying at Jennifer’s. I like it here. I feel guilty for that.

I’ve stopped eating so much, which has turned into not eating enough, which is a constant reminder that I have an unhealthy relationship with food. But, I just don’t feel like eating.

I took Jennifer to meet my dad, on Sunday. It was Chuck’s farewell, and so he got to meet most of my extended family. I thought it only fitting that he meet my father, as well. So, we took a drive up to the cemetery. I think it freaked Jennifer out a little bit. I apologized. My dad’s not much of a talker.

Grotesque dead-dad humor, I know. It’s either laughter or crying.

These days, it is both.

“Little”

My “little” brother is leaving. I give him a hug as he walks out the door and I tell him to let me know if he wants company when he goes downtown. “I’ll probably just go tomorrow.” I feel something inside me drop. My heart. My stomach. Something vital and resembling an organ. “But we should do something anyway.” And my insides return to their positions, once again.

My “little” brother is leaving. And all I can think about is how to not let my existence increase everyone else’s burden. I want to tackle him to the ground, pin him down, tell him I should have tied a brick to his head so he stopped growing up so fast. I want to tell him how I don’t know if I’m going to make it through these two years. I want to tell him that even though things will be different when he gets home, I will always love him. And I hope he will always love me.

My “little” brother is leaving. Tears well up in my eyes every time I think about it for too long and, even now, my tear ducts prove to be in working condition.

My “little” brother is leaving, and I want to apologize for every time I did something that made him feel little. And I want to apologize for every time someone told him he had to be a man when he was still a boy. And I want him to know that despite the resemblance, he is his own person — he should grow up to be himself, and no one else. And I want him to know that whatever he grows into, while he is gone, I will still expect a hug when he comes home.

My “little” brother is leaving. And I feel so…little. I know that I grew up too fast, but I wanted him in Neverland forever. I wanted to be the first to leave so I did not have to cope with being left behind. I wanted to scout out what is ahead, and send word back. Be the big sister. Look out for him. I wanted more time.

But people tell me that is just part of life: wanting more time. Wanting something does not make it so.

So. I wish you well, little brother.

Love, Me