Digital Works vs. the Hard Copy Books

In the past, some of my students have opted for the Kindle-type digital books instead of ordering and studying the actual paper books. At first, I thought it was a viable option, but as I have progressed in my teaching preferences the last few years, I have evolved to consider only using the hard copies of the books themselves. My reasoning extends to three points:

  1. A serious student will learn to annotate in their books, argue with the author, underline the thesis, the problems, the solutions, and in the margin will write their interesting personal epiphanies from their studies.
  2. A serious student will begin to fill a bookshelf and eventually their little library of the great ideas that have changed their world. Each book will represent to them a turning point of thought, comprehension, and contemplation.
  3. A serious student will return to their books as they add experience and learning and will compare their past annotations to the current thoughts and understanding, thus showing to the student their deep growth and progress.

I am sure Kindle-type digital books have their place. Already I can think of a few reasons why one might want to read digitally. They are handy, searchable, and annotate-able. not to mention, a hundred books or more only weigh the weight of the Kindle Reader. Those are arguably excellent reasons to prefer the Kindle. However, a recent study shows that despite the availability, facility, and lightweight-ness of a Kindle, students comprehend far more from reading and studying a real tangible book.

Still, it is up to you, dear reader, to choose for yourself. The following books are awaiting your decision, whether you wish to purchase digitally or purchase the Real McCoy—The Genuine Article—.  May you enjoy your summer!

1776 The Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith, selections (video)
1798 Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
1815 Emma, by Jane Austen (a book on education, authority, worship, artificial people)
1818 Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
1838 Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville (Volume II, Chapters 1-26)
1850 That Which is Seen and that Which is Not Seen, Frederic Bastiat
1862 Les Miserables (Abridged), by Victory Hugo (used book link)
1848 The Communist Manifesto and Other Revolutionary Writings (Dover Thrift Editions)
1947 Diary of a Young Girl, by Ann Frank
1874-1965 Churchill, by Paul Johnson
1865 Annotated Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
1910 What’s wrong with the World, by G.K. Chesterton
1922 The Waste Land, by T.S. Eliot
1941 The Weight of Glory, essays by C.S. Lewis, The Inner Ring, Weight of Glory
1953 The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis
1954 Lord of the Flies, William Golding
1970’s Essays, A World Split Apart and A Reflection on the Vendee Uprising, and by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
2005 Queen of Katwe, Tim Crothers

Shakespeare’s Richard III Examined

Machiavelli, the father of Modernity, seems to think that if human nature is malleable, then he can shape the common mentality into any needful tool to sanction his decisions. Truth is not what he seeks, but “truth” that the prince may put in practice and call truth. Machiavelli seems to be removing the pillar of Christianity and the Ancient Aristotelian virtues in order to create a new ruler, who acquires state without the limiting influence of Christian principles and virtues.

Machiavelli on appearances, “Let a prince then win and maintain the state — the means will always be judged honorable and will be praised by everyone; for the vulgar are always taken in by the appearance and the outcome of a thing, and in this world, there is no one but the vulgar.” It sounds harsh, but Machiavelli may be the devil’s preacher. He has projected the power to turn good men bad and bad men worse still.

From the very start, we see the evil designs of Richard’s pretentious actions in Henry VI, “I can add colors to the chameleon, change shapes with Proteus for advantages.” (Part III, III, ii, 191) The audience witnesses his crooked twists and turns as he murders anyone in his path to the throne, but deceiving the rest. Before the people, Buckingham promotes Richard’s feigned appearance as he vocally observes Richard holding the Bible, “Two props of virtue for a Christian prince, to stay him from the fall of vanity; and see, a book of prayer in his hand—true ornaments to know a holy man.” (3.7.98) The Bible, a sign of religious instruction and inspiration and a hand, the sign of good action and leadership. The meaning, of which, never enlightens the limited intellect of the people. Maybe they are duped, but their cheers are forced and weak, but that without an alternative, they acquiesced. Meanwhile, Richard is elevated by his appearances.
Richard uses subtle, notorious and murderous schemes to destroy nations, whether completely or merely reduce the minds of whole nations to ignorance. Richard III is Shakespeare’s attempt to display the evil intrigue. As Machiavelli might say of him, he has “always led a wicked life at every stage,” (Prince, VIII, 51) and had a Machiavellian virtue of mind that he rose through the ranks and has been “determined to become prince and to hold with violence and without obligation to others,” (51) as he kills all in his way. Continuing to the end of the play, one witnesses how Richard III “maintains [his kingdom] with many spirited and dangerous decisions” (52) And yet, Machiavelli would say that Richard did not follow his advice. He did his treacherousness with “brutal cruelty and inhumanity and his infinite wickednesses do not allow that he be among the most excellent men.” (52)

Apparently, Richard ought to have studied more faithfully his master teacher, Machiavelli, for he did not surround himself with barons, rather, he killed everyone who surrounded himself…except for Buckingham. (IV, 25) Additionally and according to Machiavelli, Richard would have best attempted to do all the injuries together as to appease his observers. What “taste[s] less…offend[s] less” (VIII, 55)

Be Courageous: Fulfill Your Personal Mission

I cherish the opportunities to learn more about who I am and what God wants me to do. A couple of years ago, my family and I had one of those opportunities as we attended a gathering of youth and parents in our church about a new docudrama, written, directed and produced by our neighbor, Russell Holt.

His journey of research, discovery, writing and filming about the figure in question inspired us all and reminded us of who we are and what is our special purpose or mission in life.

Imagine a youth from a small hamlet, an untrained, unschooled, impoverished young person, who sees a resurrected heavenly being and who has received a call from God to do a great work on this earth. This youth forgoes the pleasure and security of a quiet life and pursues the divine call and completes the mission. Tragically, the youth is tried, pronounced a heretic and dies a martyr. Who might this be?

This youth became commander of the French army at age 17, was captured and imprisoned at the age of 18, and burned at the stake at the age of 19 in Rouen, France on May 30, 1431. Have you figured out who this youth is?

This courageous, virtuous youth was Joan of Arc. What moved her to take on such a daunting task? While at home in Domrémy, France she heard a Heavenly voice calling her and as she gazed toward the voice she saw a bright light wherein Heavenly Messengers bid her rise up and save France from the English domination and restore the Dauphin, Charles, to his rightful seat on the throne of France. Her faith and devotion to God and steady belief in this divine call prompted her to gather an army and eventually defeat the English.

Scrupulous trial records attest to her virtuous,  moral, character and to the praise she received by the men who served with her. She lived in a corrupt time in France, but she was fully committed to living the law of chastity. Her mission involved camping out with men and lying in the same tents. In the trial records it is stated that men desired to lie with her, but as they reached out, they were overcome with a strong restraint or felt like they could not touch such a pure, moral maiden. Joan never swore, prayed continually and required the men to pray twice daily. Joan had a thorough understanding of who she was and what God expected of her. Her army felt her powerful influence and leadership.

Many tales have been told of her courage and leadership. Scores of movies and tomes of literature have graced our theatres and libraries. Some depict her life well, some not. Many scholars and historians have not known what to do with her spiritual experiences and have played them down or changed them completely. I believe her experience was divinely appointed to prepare the world for greater things.

Richard John Maynes said of her mission, “Without Joan of Arc, there would have been no country of France. Without France and the French navy, George Washington could never have won at Yorktown, therefore there could have never been an America. Without America, there could not have been a successful restoration of the gospel. Joan of Arc was led by God to do what she did to guarantee the restoration.”

Jeffrey R. Holland turns our thoughts inward and inspires us, “A young girl could do that now in our day.” If God can lead and inspire an ordinary and simple young Joan of Arc, he can inspire each of you to carry out your purpose and mission. If you are to do it successfully, you must keep His commandments as Joan did. Be courageous and follow your personal revelation. Don’t be afraid to be different in our century.

Don’t Judge an Unread Book

My daughter attended a youth discussion with a mentor and she told me she had a good time. I wanted to know more, but it appeared she had nothing consequential to share with me and as a result, we changed our discussion to other matters such as Christmas plans, etc. However, the next day, as I was working on some studies, she came to me with a funny smile, “Mom, do you believe in what Plato said?” I said yes, but in my mind, I was thinking that my real answer would be loaded and deep. I kept my head turned toward my studies but began to think of what I really wanted to say to her. I turned and asked her about her query and she opened up her heart and mind to me in a genuine investigation. She recounted her experience the day before and apparently, the mentor had said that Plato’s works were bad, but that Aristotle’s were good. My daughter had read both Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics in a class I taught and over the course of two months, we gleaned many great things from both of the authors. Notwithstanding, we did discuss some of Plato’s strange ideas about educating children and the family unit, which is pretty much non-existent according to Plato. I would venture to say that those ideas and maybe one other would not be congruent with the Proclamation of the Family or the commandments of God. However, Plato’s discussion on Justice, his treatise on educating the philosopher king, his scolding of Glaucon’s promiscuity, his allegory of the Cave, and his ending testimonial lead the reader to believe in his goodness. Why would a mentor undertake to turn youth away from one of the greatest sages of all time? I think this is the case where one throws out the baby with the bath water.

I listened to my daughter try to figure out what to do with herself in a future situation like the one she experienced. She kept asking me what she could do when she knows that what the mentor is saying is not all truth and is using rhetoric that persuades youth to not even touch a certain author that my daughter has learned to love. I listened and listened and listened. As she spoke, I remembered Ralph Waldo Emerson in The American Scholar who talked of the idiocy of being a “parrot of other men’s thinking.” Many of us are caught up in the pretense of scholarship and feel so good about ourselves when we repeat the “knowledge” we get from hearing others. Unfortunately, I am not exempt from being a parrot at times. Ugh. It is one of my goals to improve.

My mind started wandering to Plato. At the end of the Republic, Socrates presents a choice for the individual to decide if he will be Just or Unjust. A person “will then look at the nature of the soul, and from the consideration of all these qualities he will be able to determine which is the better and which is the worse; and so he will choose, giving the name of evil to the life which will make his soul more unjust, and good to the life which will make his soul more just; all else he will disregard.” In other words, after examining each quality or vice, we need to discern whether they will lead us to a just life or an unjust life. For me, this is an excellent discussion to have with youth. Again, why would I want to discount Plato to youth?

Socrates’ final counsel in the Republic might be one of the greatest discussions, “Wherefore, my counsel is that we hold fast ever to the heavenly way and follow after justice and virtue always, considering that the soul is immortal and able to endure every sort of good and every sort of evil.  Thus shall we live dear to one another and to the gods, both while remaining here and when, like conquerors in the games who go round to gather gifts, we receive our reward.  And it shall be well with us both in this life and in the pilgrimage of a thousand years which we have been describing.”

Ah! What beautiful things Socrates had to say (Plato wrote them down and now he gets the credit). My advice to my daughter was to keep reading, annotating, writing and speaking up. My advice to you, dear reader, is to do the same, but to never discount an author unless you have read him and learned what he was really saying.


Ramblings about Anselm

Today in my study of Anselm of Canterbury (A.D. 1033-1109), the bishop over all of Christendom in England, I was inspired by his ontological argument that states that “God cannot be conceived not to exist.” He must exist. Stating that God, who exists, cannot exist, such as proclaims the fool in Psalms 14:1, is stating an unreconcilable contradiction. He is a fool, not so much because he is expressing something false, but because he is expressing nonsense. God exists because we exist and because the world exists, the heavens, the universe, the stars, the moon and the planets exist, we know that God must exist. All of us depend on Him. Therefore, He exists.

Of course, Anselm’s ontological argument makes no sense to the unbeliever, but only to him who lays his foundation of faith in Christ. “I believe, therefore I understand,” says Anselm. He does not believe because he understands, but he understands only because he believes first. Elder Bednar in the most recent General Conference states a similar principle of how belief, obedience, and covenant making come first before understanding, “Following the Savior also enables us to receive an actual knowledge that the course of life [we are] pursuing is in accordance with God’s will. Such knowledge is not an unknowable mystery and is not focused primarily on our temporal pursuits or ordinary mortal concerns. Rather, steady and sustained progress along the covenant pathway is the course of life that is pleasing to Him.” Elder Bednar.

Anselm explains further that we do not have to give up Reason to be a believer. In this world where so many are throwing away their faith in Christ to be true only to Reason, Anselm’s discourse is a beautiful anecdote that combines Reason with Faith. He says that Reason can do its best work when it sits upon the bedrock of Faith. Reason alone is empty, cold, and heartless. Real understanding must happen in the heart.

Those who wish to cling on to Reason without Faith in Christ have something wrong with their heart because the state of their heart doesn’t want God over them telling them what to do or how to think. If they want to know about the existence of God, they want that knowledge as a cerebral exercise only. That type of knowledge is futile. When their hearts are darkened, their heads are too, says Wes Callihan, my mentor at Roman Roads Media.

Referring to Anselm’s Proslogium, Mr. Callihan says, “Knowledge for its own sake is foolish. Knowledge helps us to glorify God, achieve union with Christ, draw closer to God and love God.” In other words, the best-sought knowledge is that which is sought through and for Christ. That knowledge is the one that is directed by faith in Christ.