The Importance of the Doctrine of Hell to the Martyrs

Week 23 Assignment – Western Literature I

The doctrine of hell was of great importance to the early Christian martyrs’ sacrifices. They probably would not have gone so willingly to their deaths if not for the knowledge of the sanctions of heaven and hell.

In the Catholic Church, there are two different types of contrition one can do for one’s sins: imperfect contrition and perfect contrition. Perfect contrition is the sorrow for one’s sins because they are offensive to God. Imperfect contrition is the sorrow for one’s sins for the fear of going to hell instead of paradise. 

The early Christian martyrs of the second and third centuries were not solely motivated by fear of hell, but it played a very important role in their sacrifices.

The Catholic Church taught that the giving of one’s life for the Catholic faith, the term for which is martyrdom, then that would ensure this persons place in heaven. However, without the threat of going to hell as a result of our actions on earth, or going to heaven because of our good deeds, the appeal of martyrdom wouldn’t have been so popular. The same could be said for committing good deeds in general. If the doctrine of the Church made no ‘guarantee’ of positive consequences for positive actions and vice versa, how would we act? One could argue that that the people in the world that are atheists commit good deeds simply for personal gratification, without the promise of eternal bliss against hell, but this is still a thought to be considered. 

Therefore, the knowledge that there was an afterlife waiting for us that we could either spend in hell or in paradise was certainly incentive for their sacrifice. 

However, if the doctrine of heaven existed and the doctrine of hell was never written, would the choice of sacrificing yourself for your faith still be appealing? No, it wouldn’t. Neither of these doctrines alone would do anything to spark the decision to sacrifice yourself. 

This goes for anything. If we knew that good consequences awaited us no matter what we do, what would we do? If we knew that bad consequences awaited us regardless of our actions, what we do there? 

The answer is anything we want. It is only the appeal of good versus bad that is the catalyst for martyrdom, and this is why the doctrine of hell was important. 

Who Should Set the Prices: the Free Market, or the State?

Week 7 Assignment – Government 1A

Should the free market or the state be allowed to set prices? Simply on grounds of what works, the free market should have the authority to set prices. The state should not. Prices are important signals that indicate what people want and therefore what should be sold. If the state sets prices, though, it disrupts those signals and thus deprives customers of their free choice about what to buy, and confuses employers about what to sell.

For example, if the state sets a price ceiling, which is a limit on how high an item can be priced, that will result in a shortage of a product. Even if customers are willing to pay more, businessmen are unable to sell at a higher price. Customers will initially rejoice to see a product being sold at such a low price, but then businessmen may not make a profit and will be discouraged from continuing to sell the product. After the initial sales, then, there will be a shortage of the product because producers do not think it worthwhile to keep selling, while customers still want the produced good. 

On the other hand, if the government sets price floors, which is the legal minimum price, businessmen might think this is a good chance to make a profit by selling one kind of good at a legally high price. Meanwhile, customers will not want to buy the good at the new prices, and the result is a surplus: basically wasted energy put into producing more of something than customers are willing to buy, rather than producing what the customers actually want. 

We see, then, that if the state sets prices, this acts as a signal to producers that ends up disrupting the relationship between supply and demand. 

The way ideal way prices should work is without state intervention, when producers see from prices and sales that customers are willing to pay for a certain kind of good, and therefore produce enough to satisfy the demand, benefiting the customers, at such a price that they make a profit, benefiting themselves. This would be a win-win situation.

This applies not only to this kind of market exchange, but also to the interaction between employers and employees. Employees know what they are looking for in a job, and try to sell their abilities in order to get what they want. Meanwhile, employers are in need of people with abilities, and look for the best employees. The negotiation between employers and employees leads to a wage, which is kind of  like a selling price agreed upon by both parties, and based on customers’ decisions, too: if customers like a certain industry’s products, job opportunities in that industry will open, and wages can go up because a profit is made. However, if the government were to set price controls or controls on wages, fewer people would benefit. If a business could only sell at a fixed price, for example, it might not make a profit, and therefore wages would go down for its workers or it would be forced to employ fewer people.

The official (quoted) definition of the free market is this: “…the free market is a system in which the prices for goods and services are regulated by the open market and by consumers.”.

Basically, the price of something depends on two things. One, the price of the same thing in competing free markets, and two, how popular it is. 

Because of this, prices don’t always tell us the quality of the object in question, because that doesn’t matter. What matters is how easy it was to make, how many people buy it, and how much it’s sold for in vying locations. 

For the sake of context, examples of free markets would be flee markets, farmer’s markets, etc. 

In conclusion, then, the free market, not the state, should be allowed to set prices. This is ultimately because customers, employers, and employees all know what they want and need better than the state does. Therefore, they should make decisions about this for themselves. The decisions of consumers will set prices in the marketplace that businessmen can then respond to and produce more or less of some good in response to the demand of consumers. Both producers and consumers are then benefited. The state, on the other hand, cannot know what individuals need as well as they do, and therefore should not try to set prices on what it thinks they want or need.

Scholasticism: Thomas Aquinas

Week 25 Assignment – Western Civilization I

The Middle Ages were full of technological, philosophical, religious, and political advancements. It was an extremely influential time full of events that would help determine the next century’s choices, opinions, and advancements. In this essay, I will discuss the scholastic movement and the beliefs of Thomas Aquinas.

Scholasticism was a medieval philosophic school of thought that introduced an analytical way of looking at philosophy. This was the dominating way of teachings in medieval universities in Europe from about 1100 to 1700.

This was a very revolutionary time because it enabled theologians and Christian thinkers to think about religion through reasoning rather through divine revelations. 

Thomas Aquinas, born in 1225, is one of the most famous thinkers of this time because of the sheer genius of his ideas. 

He wrote many books, including the Summa Theologica and the Summa Contra Gentiles that focused on proving the existence of God through reason alone. In the Summa Contra Gentiles, he introduced  his arguments on this subject and then attacked his own ideas with every possible argument. He came up with what he called the “Five Ways”. 

First, he discussed the argument from motion. He said that everything contains potential energy that can be actualized into kinetic energy. For instance, a person can either be still, or be running. When they are still, there is a certain amount of potential energy waiting to be converted into kinetic energy. However, potential energy cannot be actualized by itself; it needs external kinetic energy to do this. 

Based on this observation, Aquinas said that while this process is a constant cycle in the universe, we still have the ‘big bang’ to consider. 

When the earth came into existence, this means that something had to be set into motion, but scientists say that there was nothing before the big bang. So what could have caused it? Aquinas called this the ‘Unmoved Mover’. This is what we call God. God is the Unmoved Mover. 

Following this argument is the one based off of cause. For something to happen, there has to be a cause. Nothing can exist before itself. This series of causes exists ad infinitum into the past, because if it didn’t, nothing would exist now. Therefore, it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, and this is God. 

Third is the argument of possibility and necessity.  In nature, we find that things come into being and go out of being as well. This is called a contingent being. If we assume that every being is a contingent being, this means that there is a time that it did not exist (before it was born), and there is also a time where it will not exist (when it dies). It is impossible for a contingent being to have always existed. Therefore, there could have been a time when no things existed. If this is true, there wouldn’t have been anything to bring the current continent beings into existence, which means that nothing would exist now. 

Obviously, if we follow this assumption, we reach a faulty result. Therefore, not all beings are contingent beings. This means that some beings exist of its own necessity, and does not receive existence from another being, but instead causes them. This is God. 

The fourth argument is based off of the graduation of being. 

There is a gradation to be found in things: some are better or worse than others. Descriptions of temperature require reference to the “uttermost” case (e.g., a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest).

Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.

Last, but certainly not least, is the argument by design. This uses the observation that natural bodies work to some goal, and this is not purely coincidental. Most natural things lack knowledge (e.g. plants, animals, etc). How are humans any different? We are made in God’s image, which means that there is an intelligent being that exists by whom all natural things are directed, and this being is called God. 

The Mendicants, Magna Carta, and Philip the Fair

Week 24 Assignment – Western Civilization I

There were two mendicant orders that emerged in the 1200’s: these were the Franciscans and the Dominicans. They were called “mendicants” because members of both orders lived in poverty got their food and other necessities from people’s donations, not by buying it. Rather than working for money, they went around preaching. These orders, which still exist, have some similarities and some differences between them.

The Franciscans were founded by St. Francis of Assisi. As a young man, he gave up all his earthly possessions, and began to do acts of charity — such as rebuilding churches — and preached publicly and very simply. He and his followers became quite famous and respected, with many going to hear his teachings. One woman, named Clare, heard his preaching and decided that she also wished to follow this lifestyle of poverty and humility. Thus, Francis founded a women’s group called the Poor Clares, for women who wanted to live in the Franciscan way. His group of men was called the Order of Friars Minor. A third group, too, was founded, called the Third Order: it was for laymen and clergy who were unable to leave all their earthly possessions, but still wished to imitate Franciscan principles in their day-to-day occupations.

The Dominicans were founded by St. Dominic, who came from Spain. Dominic, a contemporary of Francis, had a different motivation in doing what he did: he wanted to counter the Albigensian heresy. Now, the Albigensians had a group of  “perfect ones” who lived very ascetic lives, and this made the worldly lives of some Catholic clergymen look bad — thus, the Albigensian beliefs seemed more authentic to some than the Catholic beliefs. Dominic wanted to show that a Catholic could also live such a self-denying life. His order also differed from that of the Franciscans in that, while the Franciscans (at first) said that spiritual knowledge and the simplicity of the Gospel was all you need, avoiding much scholarly study, the Dominicans were very much involved in book learning and in education at universities. They produced some great scholars, including Thomas Aquinas, and, with time, became a very dominant group in the Church.

Thus, this was the formation and the early contributions of the Franciscan and Dominican orders. Though differing in some ways, they were also similar in other ways, and both involved self-denial and the activity of traveling friars who preached from place to place.

The Magna Carta was a contract that was signed in 1215, and would protect barons and various nobles from a tyrannical king. 

 Although the Magna Carta  was at first mostly meant to be an agreement between the king and the upper classes, it grew in significance with time as ways of interpreting it changed. People began to look at it as a document that restrained the power of the king and formally stated that the king was under the law, and not above it. The Magna Carta became the origin, or at least the formal statement, of many important ideas about liberty that would come down through the ages in the English-speaking world. The Magna Carta is largely significant because it is the forerunner of several ideas about Western liberty that would grow in importance in the centuries to come.

King Philip IV of France (r. 1285-1314), known as Philip the Fair for his handsome appearance, is significant because his reign marks the transformation of France from a patchwork of unruly feudal lordships to a unified realm, loyal to a single, powerful, monarch. Philip was a firm proponent of the sovereignty of monarchs, and this was partly because Roman law, as codified under Justinian, was re-emerging at this time: this law supported the absolute power of the monarch and greatly downplayed the power of the people. Philip’s royal entourage was made up, then, not of the usual clergymen and nobles, but of lawyers who had been instructed in Roman law. Also, Philip demanded that all the people of France, regardless of any feudal obligations, should be directly loyal to him first, not their own lords. Furthermore, as we learned in our Wikipedia readings, he used government officials, not independent barons, to care for his land. Thus, in all these ways, we see Philip trying to unify France under one powerful ruler.

Philip is not only significant in that he got power for the monarch, but in how he used this power. Sometimes, he used it in unjust ways. For example,  he oppressed the Lombards (who were often the bankers) and the Jews in order to take their possessions because he needed money for his military campaigns. Furthermore, we see Philip trying to gain even more power in how he also suppressed the rival power of the Church. He tried to tax clergymen at a very high rate, but the pope opposed this. The conflict then resulted in Philip sending an agent to arrest the pope, who managed to escape, but soon died. The papacy, with a French archbishop as the new pope, was moved to Avignon, where it was directly under French control, and it would stay there from 1309 to 1377. Thus, again, we see Philip grabbing power for France and its ruler. Lastly, Philip is also significant because it was under him that the first meeting of the representative body called the Estates General met. Although this was not as powerful or important an organization as, for example, the English Parliament, it is still an example of a representative institution, and that, in itself, is a significant thing.

In conclusion, then, Philip’s contribution is that he made France a strong nation united under a powerful monarch. Under him, a bureaucracy obedient to the king was established, as was the Estates General. Philip grabbed power for France even to the point of making France a nation that controlled the Church. So, Philip’s reign does mark a turning point: the old France, a set of lordships loosely held together under a weak monarch, became a powerful and influential nation.

Paul’s & Justin’s Concepts of God’s Sovereignty

Week 22 Assignment – Western Literature I

Paul’s concept of God’s sovereignty is essentially that God predestines people to be saved or to be punished.

 However, Justin denies the idea that a person is absolutely fated to behave in a certain way, saying that man has a free will to choose either good or evil. Is Justin really contradicting Paul, or is he (perhaps erroneously) addressing a different idea of predestination?

Paul, in Romans 9, says that God is absolutely sovereign: it is He who decides on whom He will have mercy and whom He will harden (Rom. 9:18). He is sovereign, just as a parent is sovereign over his child. We cannot, then, argue with Him about the justice of judging people who have been made for judgment.

 Justin says that it would be unfair for God to judge people if they have been previously ordained 

to be either good or evil. Instead, he says, “But this we assert is inevitable fate, that they who choose the good have worthy rewards, and they who choose the opposite have their merited awards.” Thus, what Justin says IS preordained is not the person’s actions, but that the good will be rewarded and the evil punished. The person, though, has the responsibility over his or her own actions — that is how God can judge people for their actions. In other words, any given person has the power over his or her actions, but their ultimate fate is predetermined. 

However, Justin does not really mention redemption or man’s sinfulness and inability to justify himself in this chapter of his apology. He seems to be stressing people’s works.

 In contrast, Paul, previously in Romans, talks about how human beings are all sinful and cannot be justified by works: in Romans 9, too, he mentions that God’s calling us is not according to our works, but according to His mercy — “(For the children [Jacob and Esau] being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;)” (Rom. 9:11). Thus, Justin may be saying that it is of our own choice that we choose to do good and are rewarded, whereas Paul may be saying that God, regardless of our works, already has called some of us to mercy and others to wrath. Those who are called to mercy, though, will ultimately choose the good; those who are called to wrath will ultimately choose the evil. Thus, the predestined to mercy are essentially predestined to do good, and those chosen for wrath are essentially predestined to do evil. Thus, the teachings of Paul and Justin seem to be opposed to each other. Still, let us look at the example of Jacob and Esau again. Justin says, as an argument for free choice, that men make transitions from good to evil or evil to good, which he says would not be possible if we were fated to be one or the other: well, if we read about Jacob’s life in Genesis, we see that Jacob was certainly not perfectly good. He deceived his father in order to get his brother’s birthright, for example. However, Paul still argues that Jacob was one of the elect. How does this work out?

I think the answer is that Justin has the (mis)conception that saying you are predestinated by God means either being predestined by God for either a completely good life or a completely bad one, and that your reward will come as a result of your own actions. However, Paul’s teaching on God’s predestination is that, REGARDLESS OF WORKS, you are either chosen for mercy or for judgment. If you are predestined for mercy, that means you are chosen to put your faith in Christ, because that is the only way you can be justified and avoid God’s judgment: your works will NOT justify you. If you are predestined for judgment, then it means you will not put your faith in Christ. Thus, Justin’s idea of predestination (and he does not believe this definition of predestination) is that you are predestined either to do only good (pleasing God) or to do no good. However, Paul says that we are all sinful and not one of us is able to please God with our actions — thus, regardless of our works and dependent on God’s mercy, what we are predestined to is either to put our faith in Christ or not. Certainly, good or bad works will flow from this, and Paul even says in one of his epistles that there are good works ordained for Christians, but the difference between Justin’s teaching and Paul’s is this: Justin’s seems to be talking about predestination for GOOD WORKS, first, and thus for salvation; Paul’s is about predestination for SALVATION, first, and then for good works.

Thus, Paul’s doctrine of predestination is of being chosen for salvation and thus, through that, for good works; Justin’s idea of predestination (that he is refuting) seems to be that you are chosen for good works in order to get salvation. Thus, Justin may not be denying Paul’s concept of predestination, but, rather, a completely different concept of predestination. In this essay, I have not reconciled the disputed issues of predestination and free will, but I hope I have at least made the distinction between Paul’s teaching and Justin Martyr’s teaching on this topic.

Ethics: Zeus’ Behavior vs. Jesus’ Teachings

Week 21 Assignment – Western Literature I

To be able to compare the behavior of Zeus versus the behaviors and teachings of Jesus, we need to understand the core of the religions that these two figures are associated with. 

It’s widely known that Zeus was the most powerful of the Olympian gods in the religion of the ancient Greeks.

 It’s important to be able to distinct that he was the most powerful of the gods and goddesses that he was surrounded by, not in the universe. Put simply, he was not all-powerful. 

The fact that Zeus was a powerful god did not mean that he acted as such in terms of moral and ethical strength. His, and all of the gods and goddesses, codes of ethics and morals were no different than the ones of the mortals on Earth, and they made no effort to hide this. 

 Due to their superhuman abilities, their arguments affected their environment on a much, much larger scale than that of mortal’s arguments. Usually, their arguments (which were mostly very petty and had just began because of minor annoyances, rather than actual problems) would result in wars and disasters on Earth.

 Long story short, Zeus’ ethics were no different than that of any average, or even less than average, human. He was a womanizer, he manipulated his wife and friends, he started wars for no reason, and was insanely jealous of Hera’s (his wife) activities that did not involve him. 

On the opposite side of the moral spectrum is Jesus. Jesus came down to Earth as God in the flesh, and His goal was to save humanity from the drastic consequences to their negative behaviors. 

Considering that Jesus was literally an aspect of God, he was pristine in his ethics and teachings. Put in modern language, he ‘walked the talk’ rather than being hypocritical in his actions. 

He sacrificed Himself for humanity and spent three days in hell. His early life wasn’t easy, either. His family moved around multiple times in His childhood, and suffered from major criticism from Rome’s politicians and citizens. He had the ability to perform miracles, such as healing someone that was on the brink of death, or exorcising them of demons, and He could’ve used this to his advantage by showing it off and getting rich. At one point the devil himself even came to him and offered multiple gifts and tried to make Jesus doubt God.

But despite these hardships and temptations Jesus lived through, he always stayed true to who he was and why he came here. 

Zeus may have been the god of lightning and may have had super-strength, but he did not use these gifts for good. While he wasn’t necessarily evil either, he certainly would have had a lot to learn from Jesus. 

Government Subsidies: Can it Exist without State Control?

Week 6 Assignment – Government 1A

The formal definition of government subsidy is this: “A subsidy is a benefit given to an individual, business, or institution, usually by the government. … The subsidy is typically given to remove some type of burden, and it is often considered to be in the overall interest of the public, given to promote a social good or an economic policy.”.

Once we understand this definition, there are two main arguments that could form. One: If government subsidy is the state paying for something or giving someone money, then this automatically brings up the issue of freedom. If the subsidy is given to an individual, does the government have the right to dictate how this individual spends the money regardless of what this person wants? 

 However, it’s important to understand the distinction between ‘desire’ and ‘needs’. 

When I say ‘wants’, I don’t mean ‘wants’ in terms of desire, like ‘I want a jacuzzi’, but rather, if someone is given money to fund an institution that benefits the people, does the government have the right to censor information because of it’s involvement in it’s financial situation? Regardless of this question, people usually agree that if someone loans or gives you money with the promise of it being spent on something particular, like plumbing for the house or insurance, and then find out that it was not spent on what was promised, that person will want their money back. This means that yes, once you are in debt, whether it be financial, or obligatory, you are not in the driver’s seat, you are the passenger. 

So, the overall point of the first argument would be that yes, government subsidy spells state control, no matter what the specifics of the situation are. 

The second argument that could form would be that no, government subsidy does not spell censorship, and can exist without state control. Based on the Bill of Rights, any individual or institution has the right to freedom of speech and press, so this should prevent state control over you or an institution founded by you or any given person.

The question is, is the right of freedom of speech and press still observed as something that is God-given, and therefore, inalienable? Or, does government subsidy lead to the inobservance of this seemingly inviolable right?