Friday, June 6, 2014

Noah: The Wrong Outlook

             When I first heard that the story of Noah was being brought to the big screen, I thought it wasn't worth my time, so I ignored it. My interest was piqued, however, when I learned that Father Robert Barron had made a review of the film. After watching the review, my interest was high enough that I decided to watch Noah when I had the chance. I had that chance this past Wednesday.
             Although I walked into the theater knowing that the film was significantly different from the biblical account, I was prepared to be open-minded. So I sat down to be drawn into the story and to learn what I could from it.
             There was indeed much in the story that strayed quite far from the book of Genesis. A few of the deviations were intriguing, if not necessarily right, while some of the others changed the theme of the story. I would like to dwell on one point in particular. (Mind you, this is a spoiler, so watch the movie before you read the rest!)
             In Genesis, after God has told Noah to build the ark, he says to him, "For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you. (Genesis 6:17-18) Then he gives instructions for bringing the animals into the ark. According to this passage, it is God's express intention to save Noah and his family in the ark, so that he might establish His covenant with Noah. He is about to make a family bond between Himself and Noah's family. In addition, He wants to save the rest of the animal kingdom. This is what the story is about.
             The movie Noah presents a very different picture from the one just described. No mention is given to God's covenant with Noah. In fact, the film mostly focuses on saving the beasts, not on saving the human race, because the beasts are innocent, while Noah believes that man is so depraved that he is being allowed to die off. God never tells Noah whether it was ever his intent to save man at all. He lets Noah decide the question for himself (though in the end, Noah does choose life).
              Stress is laid on the inheritance of Seth, and the passing on of that inheritance from Seth all the way down to Noah, and finally to his sons. But the covenant between God and Noah, which is so important in scripture, gets no attention at all. Yes, there is a cool rainbow  special effect at the end of the movie, but it is taken out of context. In the scene just mentioned, Noah had passed on his inheritance to his children, and he (not God) had told them to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it. God's part in Noah's family is totally ignored.
              So despite the cool special effects, and some interesting twists in the plot that made me look at the Bible in a whole new way, the movie completely failed to bring across one all important fact: God wanted man to be part of His own family. He drew them to himself and even made them his own flesh and blood. In contrast, the God in the movie does not have any such friendship with Noah and his family. The God in the film does commission Noah to build an ark, but He is not the friend of Noah that he is in scripture. The point of the story was completely changed.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Latin Essays

             Over the past few months, my knowledge of spoken and written Latin has increased immensely. Not only have I been taking Henle Latin, First Year (which I just finished, by the way!), but I've been hunting after Latin videos on the internet, and my search has turned up some excellent results. In addition to all this video-watching and Latin-studying, I've begun to write Latin essays, some of which, perhaps, I will post on this blog. If there are any others out there who are literate in the Latin Language, it would be cool if you came and read my writings. I, for one, am obsessed with Latin. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Greek vs. Latin

                  Being interested in studying the Classics in college, I thought it only logical to get a head start on Greek before I go to school, so a month or two ago I bought myself a Greek textbook, thick with grammar and all that hard, gritty stuff. After getting past the excruciatingly painful sections that had to do with Greek spelling and accents and such (mega ouch), I now find myself already translating long and not so simple Greek sentences with some proficency--and enjoying it. While listening to recordings of ancient Greek and reading Greek text, I also find myself picking up one or two words and understanding their specific import. Greek really is a fascinating and strange language. Although it shares many things in common with Latin, it is also differs from Latin in many ways. Here are some of the ways that Greek is similar to and different from Latin:
                   (1) Both languages are inflected. This means that their nouns change form to show how they relate to other words in the sentence, and that their verbs change form to express different persons, numbers, moods, etc. The nouns in both Latin and Greek have several cases. The Greek noun has five cases: the nominative, genetive, dative, accusative, and vocative. Latin has all of these plus an extra two: the ablative and locative. Both languages use the cases that they share in common in many of the same ways. For instance, just as in Latin, the Greek nominative is used as the case of the subject, while the accusative is used as the case of the direct object. But the genetive and the dative in Greek have some additional functions that they do not have in Latin.
                   (2) Greek and Latin both share some of the same words, and some of the same noun and verb endings. For example, the Greek word for "I" is "ego," just as in Latin. The word for "assembly," which was eventually used by the Christians to refer to the Church, is "ekklesia" in Greek and "ecclesia" in Latin. All Greek verbs that I have learned so far have the endings "-o, -eis, -ei" in the singular of the Present Inicative Active. Compare that to the Latin "-o, -s, -t." But while Greek and Latin are very alike in some ways, they are very distinct from eachother as well. The endings of the present optative active, for example, are "-oimi, -ois, -oi," etc., a very weird bunch of endings for a student of Latin. The endings for the plural of one of the Greek declensions are "-ai, -on,-ais, -as, -ai" instead of the familiar "-ae, -arum,-is, -as, -is."
                   (3) Greek and latin share the same noun and verb numbers, and the same verb tenses, moods, and voices. But, oddly enough, Greek adds more to all of these things, sometimes to my bewilderment and wonder. Greek has the numbers "singular" and "plural," but it adds a third number, the dual which it uses to speak of things that come in twos. Greek has four moods, sharing three with Latin and including one of its own: the optative. Greek has seven tenses instead of Latin's six. The addition it makes is a tense called the "Aorist." Finally, Greek makes a mysterious and unheard-of addition to the voices of the verb. The voice of a verb tells us what part the subject takes in the action performed. There are only two voices in English and Latin: the active and the passive. The active voice tells us that the subject is performing the action, and the passive voice tells us that the action is being performed on the subject. In the sentence "He is smashing," the verb is active; in the sentence "He is being smashed," the verb is passive. I always thought, until I began studying Greek, that these were the only two voices that a verb could have, but I was totally wrong. Greek has three voices instead of two! The third voice is called the middle, and it tells us that the subject is performing the action, but it also shows that the action returns to the subject in some way. Since there is no middle voice in English, it will be a unique challenge to translate it.
                   Those are the points on which Latin and Greek agree and differ, although I'm sure there are many more. From my short time in studying this language, I gather that Greek grammar really is complex--more complex and subtle than Latin grammar. No wonder the Greeks were good philosophers! Their vehicle of communication was truly suitable for good thinking. I've heard, althugh I have only seen this in one or two instances, that Greek vocabulary is also very subtle, another feature of the language which makes it incredibly good for making tiny distinctions. I think that it is a very mysterious and awesome language, and I'm sure that I'll get a lot out of the experience of studying it.  

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What is Logic Anyway?

              "Logic," says Sarek to his son Spock in J. J. Abrams' first Star Trek film, "offers a serenity Humans seldom experience: the control of feelings, so that they do not control you." This, and other similar quotations from Star Trek, have provoked me to speak up on this subject. Throughout Star Trek, the Vulcans always insist that one must be logical, and I agree. But what the heck is Logic? Since no Vulcan ever offered a definition, I will have to provide one myself, to the best of my ability. Therefore, I have four questions to ask: (1) What is Logic? (2) Of what is it composed? (3) Where do the laws of Logic come from? (4) What is Logic's purpose?
              (1) What is Logic? Logic is not an easy concept to define because it includes many things, but I will do my best. Logic is the tool that the mind uses to think, and often, to gain new knowledge. It is the science of coming to a proper knowledge of concepts, making correct judgments about them, and reasoning validly from two or more premises to a conclusion. We all do these things all the time, no matter where we are. After all, we human beings are always thinking.                

              (2) Of what is Logic composed? Logic is divided into two main parts: Formal Logic and Material Logic. The former is involved with the structure of argument apart from the content. The latter is primarily concerned with content, the statements of argument, and not with the structure. Formal Logic is divided into deduction, which begins with universal principles and reasons to particular conclusions; and induction, which reasons from particular things to universal conclusions. There are a couple more divisions under deduction, but suffice it to say that under deduction lies the classical syllogism in all its forms, both categorical and hypothetical, and it is with these forms of reasoning that a Traditional Logic course is particularly interested.
              As I said above, Logic is divided into two main parts, Formal Logic and Material Logic. The second division, Material Logic, is quite a bit different from the first. Material Logic includes the Ten Categories, the Five Predicables, Definition, and Division (by which the concept we are now exploring is divided). All the things listed above help immensely in understanding concepts.

              (3) Where do the laws of Logic come from? The laws of Logic are some of the most fundamental laws in the universe, part of the structure of reality that God has designed. In fact, some of them are so fundamental that we cannot disobey them even if we want to. The law of identity, for example, is that everything is what it is. If you try to disobey this law by saying that things aren't what they are, then you are still assuming that they really are what they are by the very act of saying that they aren't what they are. But there are also many other laws of Logic (many of them formulated by Aristotle). For example, there are certain laws that govern the categorical syllogism, the hypothetical syllogism (in all its forms), the definition of terms, and the division of concepts.

              Finally, (4) What is Logic's purpose? Logic's ultimate and highest purpose is the discovery of truth. This truth can be universal and eternal, or it can be particular and temporary. Temporary truths are sometimes very important in our daily lives and sometimes useful. Eternal truth, however, is far more important, and it is toward this truth that we should look more.
              I hope this article has been informative. Unfortunately, I don't have time to write more, so I'll just close here.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Two Opposing Themes

         A few days ago, I saw the new Star Trek Movie Into Darkness. Of all the things that were in this movie, two opposing themes stuck with me. (WARNING: if you have not seen Into Darkness, then DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER. I'm about to spoil the movie.)
         The first theme that I noticed concerned the value of life. At many times, in many places, and in many ways, the filmmakers brought attention to the fact that life has worth. In the opening scene, Spock almost gave his life for the natives of a world that was about to be destroyed by a volcanic eruption. His comrades, in desperation, broke the prime directive so that they could beam him to safety. By so doing, they demonstrated that the many are sometimes willing to go to great lengths to save just one friend from trouble.
         Later on, a Starfleet officer killed several of his superiors, and escaped to the planet Kronos. Captain Kirk was therefore ordered to hunt this man down and kill him (or rather, Kirk requested permission to go). When Spock heard about this order, however, he objected that it is entirely unjust to kill a man without a trial. Although Kirk at first argued with Spock over this point, he eventually relented and decided only to capture the man and bring him back to Earth for court martial.
          In yet another instance, the Starfleet officer (who happened to be Khan) was about to be blasted to bits by special torpedoes. Khan, perhaps to the slight confusion of Kirk and Spock and Uhura, asked how many torpedoes they had. "72," they respond. Then, oddly enough, the villain laid down his weapon and surrendered. Only later was it revealed that these 72 torpedoes contained Khan's 72 fellow genetically altered humans. Khan had surrendered in order to save their lives.
          Sometimes, the characters were willing even to preserve the lives of their enemies. When Khan demanded that Spock lower his shields so that he could beam out his 72 precious torpedoes, Spock complied. But he had armed the weapons before they were transported; the torpedoes exploded, heavily damaging Khan's starship. When Kirk had heard the news he objected to the massacre of Khan's crew. But Bones said, "Spock's cold, but he's not that cold." It turned out that the doctor had emptied the torpedoes before returning them to Khan.
           Of course, there is one last story to tell concerning the value of life. At the end of the movie, Kirk saw that the only way to save the enterprise from a collision with Earth was to fix the warp core--but if he did, it was almost certain that he would die. And so with one last redeeming effort, Kirk gave his life to save his crew.
           That was the first theme that I noticed. The second was very different. From early on, it was clear that this was also story about revenge. Kirk was eaten up by a desire to avenge himself on Khan, who had murdered Admiral Pike, the only father-figure Kirk had ever had. Kirk did decide to get Khan a proper trial, but he hated Khan ever after. Instead of murdering Khan, Kirk severely beat him up before taking him up to the Enterprise as his hostage.
           Disappointingly, Spock also went down the path of revenge. After Kirk died, Spock hated Khan vehemently. He thought (illogically--hey, I thought Vulcans were logical!) that Khan had murdered Kirk--or rather, he blamed Kirk's death on Khan. (This was unreasonable of him. Kirk, and Kirk alone, had chosen to die.) When he had the chance, he went to beat the brains out of Khan, just as Kirk had done before him.
           In conclusion, I find that these two themes, put together in the same movie, are quite contradictory. Even as they protected the lives of those around them, some of the characters ignored the fact that revenge goes against the sound principle that seemed to have been upheld through most of the movie, the principle that all life is valuable. The presence of this contradiction was only brought more to home during Kirk's speech at the end of the movie, where Kirk acted as though revenge was wrong (even though, for the last two hours, the filmmakers had been portraying revenge in a different light). What are we to make of this contradiction?
          I hope this was thought provoking.

Monday, September 9, 2013


            Over the past year or so (maybe longer), I have been studying Latin using the Henle books provided by Memoria press. Now that I've gotten this far, I can actually orally construct some sentences on the spot with which I can say something useful and meaningful, so sometimes I walk around speaking the language. But I have two major problems: the first is that I have no one around me with whom I can speak Latin; the second is that some of the people around me have a deep-seated distaste for the language. Perhaps I cannot get near people who do speak Latin, and perhaps I cannot convince those who hate Latin to like the language, but I think that I really must say something in defense of it. Therefore, I will deal with these following points: (1) the claim that Latin is a dead language, (2) the apparent uselessness of Latin, and (3) the "impossibility" of learning Latin.
            (1) I have several times been met with the (apparently infallible and irrefutable) claim that Latin is a dead language. But what, may I ask, do people mean exactly when they use this term? There are two possibilities: either (a) "no longer used as a vehicle of communication", or (b) "no longer identified as the language of any country". If people use (a), they simply do not speak the truth. A minority of people worldwide still use Latin. If people decide on (b) then they do speak the truth; Latin is no longer the language of any country, and this has been so for centuries. But a look back at history makes even this definition of the word "dead" sound a little ironic, for although Latin was not the language of any country in years past, it was universally used and understood by all the scholars in Christendom. Sadly, that is not the case today, but it was so once.
            (2) I think that something needs to be said about Latin's uses, it's usefulness. It is useful, though it may not appear to be so, and though "usefulness" is not the only thing we should consider here. For what reasons should people study Latin? There are three kinds: (a) in order to learn grammar, (b) in order to learn word roots, and (c) in order to read the classics. These three reasons are not mutually exclusive; one can learn Latin for all of the above reasons. I'll deal with the first two; I will have to deal with the third some other time, though it is even more important than the other two.
            (a) The first reason to study Latin is to learn the structure of language. But why study Latin grammar? Why not English grammar? The answer is simple: Latin is an inflected language, which means that almost all of its nouns change form to show their function in a sentence. English rarely does this, except with personal pronouns, relative pronouns, and possessives. This absence of inflection, along with many inconsistencies, makes English grammar subtle and difficult. On the other hand, Latin grammar is very consistent, and this makes it easy to learn--if you only take the time and trouble (and if you have a good curriculum).
             (b) The second reason to study Latin is to learn word roots. The vocabulary of the English language (and of many other languages for that matter) relies heavily on that of Latin. Latin vocabulary is so pervasive in English that every other word is of Latin origin. If you know your vocab, then in order to understand a particular word, all you have to do is pick it apart and translate it.
             (3) Now I come to my last point: the "impossibility" of learning Latin. From some conversations with my friends and with others, I gather that there is a lot of frustration attached to the learning of this language. Not only that, but I'm certain that I know what causes this frustration: a lack of grammar. A couple friends of mine, when I asked them, described their Latin courses to me, and one thing seems to be certain: they were either stuck with courses that taught little or no grammar, or they simply did not want to learn the grammar that was being taught, or the course required them to dump immense amounts of grammar into their brains in too short a time. Whatever the case, they were not learning the grammar. But how else will anyone learn the language? When learning how to play a game or play an instrument or argue a point or write a book, what must first be done? One must learn the rules, of course. Otherwise, one will be totally lost in the subject and not understand its structure. Why shouldn't this principle apply to Latin as well? I think that some people, sadly enough, would prefer to learn the language without learning the grammar--but this would be a grave mistake, and would lead to all sorts of frustration later on. Latin grammar must be learned first and learned well, and constantly drilled and memorized--not too quickly, but at a pace at which a student can slowly master all of it. This process of learning the grammar takes time, but in the end it all pays off very well. I myself am a witness to that fact.
              I hope that with this article I have sparked some interest in this apparently dead language. It is a language that I believe deserves to live on, to be spoken, and to be appreciated. I hope that many others think the same.      

Monday, July 15, 2013

End or Means?

John: Hey, Socrates, wait up!

Socrates: Eh? Oh hello, John.

John: (Out of breath) Hi, Socrates. Could I join you on your walk?

Socrates: Certainly. You did not have to run so fast to catch me, you know. I like to walk slowly. This is a beautiful place.

John: Yes. Sometimes I realize that when I bother to come outside and walk. These trees are magnificent. So, what's on your mind?

Socrates: Nothing at present; I'm simply enjoying myself. Still, that could change quickly. You know how I am always concerned about philosophical inquiry, the search for truth.

John: Do you mind if I ask you a question?

Socrates: No. Ask.

John: One of my teachers once made the claim that a means is more important than an end.

Socrates: Really? On what did your teacher base this claim?

John: She told us the story of three hundred Chinese students that were shot for their Christian faith. She said that their means was more important than their end. I disagreed with her when she said this, and I thought--and still think--that she was wrong, but I'm not sure how to refute her. I know she's not in deliberate error--she's too honest for that. But what's wrong with her argument?

Socrates: You said that this story is the reason why she believes that a means is more important than an end?

John: Yes, pretty much.

Socrates: That is a rather strange reason to come to such a conclusion, and I find fault with it. You, as a Christian, would see through it clearly.

John: Why?

Socrates: You tell me. What was the Chinese student's end?

John: Heaven.

Socrates: And what was their means of attaining it?

John: Death by martyrdom.

Socrates: Now, is heaven infinitely important than all their deaths put together, or not?

John: It is.

Socrates: Then does it not follow that the end--at least in this case--is far more important than the means?

John: Yes.

Socrates: So, we have established that in at least one case the end is more important than the means. Do you think we should inquire further into the matter to see whether ends are always more important than means?

John: Sure.

Socrates: When you are on a journey, which do you care more about, the road, or your destination?

John: My destination.

Socrates: Why? Is it because the destination is the place in which you want to be, while the road only serves to get you there?

John: Yeah, that seems to be it.

Socrates: The road is your means, while the destination is your end; is that so?

John: Yes.

Socrates: Therefore, the end is more important than the means?

John: Yes.

Socrates: Let us try another example. Suppose that you decide to devote yourself to extensive exercise. What is your end in that case?

John: To become strong, I guess.

Socrates: And is this end enjoyable and profitable when it is attained?

John: Yes.

Socrates: But in order to become strong, you must drill and drill and drill, even when it is painful. Would you continue to do this unless you had your goal in mind, to become strong?

John: I don't think so.

Socrates: So this pain you experience, is it more important than the strength and endurance that come after it?

John: No. It is less important.

Socrates: So, once again the end is more important than the means. Do you think that this is because of the nature of ends and means?

John: Yes.

Socrates: Well then, if you don't object, we will look at the definitions of both those terms. Is an end the goal toward which any action is directed?

John: Yes.

Socrates: And what is a means? Is it that which is used or done in order to attain an end?

John: It is.

Socrates: Now, does the goal toward which any action is directed exist for its own sake, or for the sake of something else?

John: For it's own sake.

Socrates: What about a means? Does it exist for its own sake, or for the sake of something else?

John: For the sake of something else, for the end.

Socrates: Is that which exists for its own sake more important than that which exists for something else?

John: Yes.

Socrates: Does it not follow, therefore, that an end is more important than a means, since it exists for its own sake, and what exists for its own sake is more important than what exists for something else?

John: Yes.

Socrates: So we have proved this to be true, and we have simultaneously reached the end of our walk, since we have reached your home--unless you wish to continue.

John: Later, Socrates. We might want to talk next time about means and ends and what else follows from them. Maybe we could even explore morality using the definitions you just made.