Hope

An inscription over the gates of Dante’s Hell, we are told, reads: “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” As Dante is guided through Hell by the poet Virgil, he finds dozens and dozens of people who live forever without hope. Several times he feels sorry for the sinners but he is admonished by Virgil. After all, who is he to second guess God who, in His infinite wisdom, placed those sinners where they are? The New Testament tells us that there are three great virtues, Faith, Hope, and Love. The greatest of these is love and Dante finds very little of it in hell. Indeed, at the frozen core of hell he finds those who are incapable of love, whose hearts were frozen long before they died. The medieval thinkers married those three Christian virtues to the four pagan virtues wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice. These seven comprise the cardinal virtues of the medieval church, virtues that are all but forgotten today in our work-a-day world. But permeating through Dante’s Hell is the sense of lost hope. It is dreadful, indeed.

We here in Minnesota know about hope. Those of us who follow our sports teams live on hope, hope that next year they will achieve the Great Prize that almost always eludes them, and hoping we can forget last year’s disappointments. “Hope springs eternal.” For my part I hope that the world will be a brighter place for my grandchildren than in my darkest moments I fully expect it to be. I know in my heart that my generation is not leaving the world a better place than we found it — as we most assuredly should. I continue to hope that somehow the world will find itself at peace and that those who profess love for one another — as the New Testament admonishes us all to do — will in fact embrace this code fully and not merely pay lip service to those wise words. And, on a very mundane level, I hope that this twisted and convoluted political battle we see going on around us will somehow resolve itself without further violence and that a man or a woman with a grain of wisdom will finally be placed at the head of a fragile government that needs wisdom now more than ever.

I do hope for these things because without hope there is only cynicism and, while I tend in that direction, I refuse to allow myself to go there, because I know that to abandon all hope is to be living in Hell. The greatest virtue is of course love, but right behind it, surely, we find hope abiding.

 

 

The Tenth Circle

At the risk of disturbing Dante’s magnificent architectonic  which allows only nine circles in Hell — nine being the perfect number, since when multiplied by any other number the integers always add up to nine, and being the product of 3 X 3 (three representing the Trinity, of course) — I would suggest that if he were alive today he might want to allow for a tenth circle.

To review (there will be a short test next period), Dante places the treacherous against kith and kin, folks like Judas, Brutus, and Cassius, in the pit of hell which is not a fiery pit, but a frozen wasteland. It is frozen because it is as far away from God as is possible in Dante’s geocentric universe. Some of the sinners’ heads are barely above the ice and close enough together that each person’s head is being gnawed upon by his neighbor. Some are twisted beyond recognition in the frozen ice. Others cry and their tears freeze against their cheeks. All are beyond redemption because they love only themselves and they never repented their sins.

In the tenth circle, which we can now imagine to be below the frozen wasteland, there are spaces reserved for modern-day sinners — folks like Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and their loyal supporters; and, of course,those among us who promote hatred and trade on the fears of frightened and ignorant people in order to increase their political power and prestige. We can also see the immensely wealthy who are blinded by their greed and can see only the huge bags of gold that are just out of reach. Even when they manage to drag their way to one of the bags, others appear just beyond and they spend all their time and energy seeking more and more. They are desperately in need of water, but there is none, because their own activities have dried up the lakes and ponds that we can see in the background, whips of dust being stirred up by brief winds that do not cool. Not that these men need the gold. It won’t do them any good in Hell. But they want it just the same. It is an uncontrolled urge and Dante was very hard on those among us who cannot control their urges.

Now, Dante allowed for the greedy and avaricious a circle much higher in his scheme, but these men are not only greedy, they are greedy at a time when there is widespread starvation and the planet is in danger of irreparable harm from the determined attempts of men such as these to line their pockets no matter the cost. And they are more than treacherous since their greed tends to the destruction not only of their country but also of our world. Thus, they must share the tenth circle with those who pile lie upon lie in order to have their way and who spread hatred and fear wherever they go. But, then, it’s not a small circle. There is plenty of room for growing numbers of folks who share the worldview of these stunted and purblind men.

Bogus Christians

The following story caught my eye. Jesus threw the money-changers from the temple. He should return and throw this guy out of his plane….

You may have heard the story a few months ago about an Atlanta-based minister who claimed he needed a $65 million private jet so he could “safely and swiftly share the Good News of the Gospel worldwide.” But almost as quickly as Pastor Creflo Dollar asked his 200,000 followers to each donate $300.00 [each] towards the purchase of a luxurious jet, the campaign vanished and was removed from his website.

But now, the board of World Changers Church International — which also operates as Creflo Dollar Ministries, has announced it is ready to purchase the plane.

“We plan to acquire a Gulfstream G650 because it is the best, and it is a reflection of the level of excellence at which this organization chooses to operate.”

This has got to be one of the biggest shams ever, and there’s so much delusion it’s hard to even figure out where to begin.

Let’s start with the money. Imagine what could be accomplished with $65 million! That’s a lot of money. Do you think Jesus would have wanted his earthly representatives travelling the globe in luxurious accommodations? Or do you think Jesus would have wanted to see that $65 million used to feed the poor, help the homeless, improve education, or just make some kind of huge impact to help humanity?

The final paragraph says it all: think of the good that money could do, especially since “World Changers Church International” presumably was organized to help the poor. But this is an old story and isn’t restricted to this man or this obscene expenditure. The Christian Church since the days of Constantine, at the very least, has sold out to Mammon. Victorian Bishops lived in palaces and we read often about corrupt and selfish church officials that are bent on living in a grand style. Dante put numerous Popes in Hell because of their corruption which resulted from their succumbing to the lure of money and power. It is possible, I suppose, that Pastor Dollar (how’s that for a revealing name??) is a decent man, but it defies logic and history to suppose for an instant that he cannot be corrupted. If Dante were only alive today….

But, again, when one considers how much good the filthy rich could do with the money they buy trinkets with and hide away in off-shore accounts and homes in Europe one’s mind is already boggled. There is no argument I know of that allows us to say that the rich ought to help others. But there are religions that all agree this would be the right thing to do. It’s not a question of logic and argument; it is a question of conscience.

Education as Fraud

The eighth circle of Dante’s Inferno punishes those guilty or malice and fraud. One of the reviewers of my book on education some years back said that my “journey through the halls of the. . . university [were] reminiscent of Dante’s journey through Hell” — specifically the Malebolges of the eighth circle. When I read that I wasn’t sure what the reviewer meant. I now think I have figured it out.  All of us who attempted to educate the young people who came to us with high hopes coupled with no idea of what education is all about perpetrated a fraud. We promised them an education and we failed to deliver the goods.  To be sure, a few slipped through the cracks but they received an education in spite of the system in place, not because of it. A large part of the problem was that when the students revolted in the 60s and asked why they had to take courses in, say, history, the faculties didn’t know the answer. Another part of the problem was that by that time professional faculty had become immersed in their areas of specialization and knew little about anything else. The faculty the students looked to for guidance had no idea what education was all about or what it is supposed to do. That hasn’t changed.

“Education” is a word we use far too loosely. We use it when we mean “inform,” as in “he needs to be educated about the advantages of good health.” Education is a great deal more than information, though an educated person must be well informed. But an educated person must be able to assimilate and process that information and make intelligent choices. That is, an education must free the young person’s mind from stupidity, prejudice, and narrowness of vision — from the snares of “thugs who would teach them what to think and not how to think,” as Mark Van Doren once said. However, we are surrounded by such thugs and, sad to say, they abound in colleges and universities as well. Instead of putting young people in control of their own minds, setting them free, those who would engage their students’ minds tighten the chains of prejudice and stupidity. Educators  continue to insist that education is all about jobs, or we hand our students ready-made formulas for detecting the injustices we have determined surround us on all sides. The notion that we send young people to school and allow them to run up huge debts in the form of student loans in order to give them “know-how” is completely wrong-headed, as is the notion that the job of educators is to turn out hand-puppets who know only what they have been told by well-meaning instructors who hold over their heads the threat of low grades.

I cannot speak knowingly about the early grades, having only one year of experience teaching the lower grades, but I know that young people come to college ill-prepared to do the academic work and leave only slightly better off. I suspect, having paid close attention for years, that there the three reasons, at least, for this lack of preparedness for college: (1) the meaningless “certification requirements” that replace substantive courses in our teachers’ colleges and discourage many bright students from becoming teachers, (2) the lack of attention and preparation for school in the home before the child ever enters kindergarten, and (3) the mountains of paper-work required of teachers in the lower grades by administrators and boards of education that have nothing whatever to do with teaching the young. In any event, upon graduation from college they cannot read a difficult text or figure the tip in a restaurant. Their vocabulary has shrunk over the years and now consists of a few hundred words and gestures pathetically replacing complete sentences and full paragraphs. As though things weren’t bad enough, texting has now become all the rage, with its sentence fragments and bits and pieces of words. And yet we know that humans think in words and sentences, and we can predict that our college graduates, with rare exceptions, will be unable to think, speak, or figure beyond a primitive level. The reviewer was right: we are guilty of perpetrating a fraud and the students are paying for it through the nose and running up huge debts in the process.

Education as Fraud

The eighth circle of Dante’s Inferno punishes those guilty or malice and fraud. One of the reviewers of my book on education some years back said that my “journey through the halls of the. . . university [were] reminiscent of Dante’s journey through Hell” — specifically the Malebolges of the eighth circle. When I read that I wasn’t sure what the reviewer meant. I now think I have figured it out.  All of us who attempted to educate the young people who came to us with high hopes coupled with no idea of what education is all about perpetrated a fraud. We promised them an education and we failed to deliver the goods.  A large part of the problem was that when the students revolted in the 60s and asked why they had to take courses in, say, history, we didn’t know the answer. The faculty they looked to for guidance were so mired in their area of specialization they had no idea what education was all about or what it is supposed to do. That hasn’t changed.

“Education” is a word we use far too loosely. We use it when we mean “inform,” as in “he needs to be educated about the advantages of good health.” Education is a great deal more than information, though an educated person must be well informed. But an educated person must be able to assimilate and process that information and make intelligent choices. That is, an education must free the young person’s mind from stupidity, prejudice, and narrowness of vision — from the snares of “thugs who would teach them what to think and not how to think,” as Mark Van Doren once said. We are surrounded by such thugs and, sad to say, they abound in colleges and universities as well. Instead of putting young people in control of their own minds, setting them free, we tighten the chains of prejudice and stupidity. Educators  continue to insist that education is all about jobs, or we hand our students ready-made formulas for detecting the injustices we have determined surround us on all sides. The notion that we send young people to school and allow them to run up huge debts in the form of student loans in order to give them “know-how” is completely wrong-headed, as is the notion that the job of educators is to turn out hand-puppets who know only what they have been told by well-meaning instructors who hold over their heads the threat of low grades.

I cannot speak knowingly about the early grades, having only one year of experience teaching the lower grades, but I know that the young people come to college ill-prepared to do the work and leave only slightly better off. I suspect, having paid close attention for years, that there the three reasons, at least, for this lack of preparedness for college: (1) the meaningless “certification requirements” that replace substantive courses in our teachers’ colleges, (2) the lack of attention and preparation for school in the home before the child ever enters kindergarten, and (3) the mountains of paper-work required of teachers in the lower grades by boards of education that have nothing whatever to do with teaching the young. In any event, upon graduation from college they cannot read a difficult text or figure the tip in a restaurant. Their vocabulary has shrunk over the years and now consists of a few hundred words and gestures pathetically replacing complete sentences and full paragraphs. As though things weren’t bad enough, texting has now become all the rage, with its sentence fragments and bits and pieces of words. And yet we know that humans think in words and sentences, and we can predict that our college graduates, with rare exceptions, will be unable to think, speak, or figure beyond a primitive level. The reviewer was right.