Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Ō paupertās voluntāria!

for Bess

Q: How do you get a philosophy major off of your porch?
A: Pay for the pizza.

hee hee…


Once a week I tutor one of my fifth-grade girls in Latin. Though not head and shoulders above her classmates, she’s certainly bright, and whatever the case may be, she likes to have a bit of extra work to do. So we get together on Thursdays after pick-up and translate the short excerpts of original Latin prose in Wheelock’s Latin. It’s a lot of fun, especially when the content lends itself to a good conversation…which is almost always.

Today’s passage was no exception. I enjoyed it so much that I thought I would reproduce it for you here. It’s from the younger Seneca’s Epistulae 17.5:

Sī vīs studēre philosophiae animōque, hoc studium nōn potest valēre sine frūgālitāte. Haec frūgālitās est paupertās voluntāria. Tolle, igitur, istās excūsātiōnēs: “Nōndum satis pecūniae habeō. Sī quandō illud ‘satis’ habēbō, tum mē tōtum philosophiae dabō.” Incipe nunc philosophiae, nōn pecūniae, studēre.

If you wish to be zealous for philosophy and spirit, this zeal cannot be strong without frugality. This frugality is a voluntary poverty. Put away, therefore, those excuses: “I do not yet have enough money. If ever I will have that ‘enough’, then I will give my whole self to philosophy.” Begin now to be zealous for philosophy, not for money.

I love it: “This frugality is a voluntary poverty.”

Yessir; ’tis.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not claiming the ennobled status of ‘philosopher’ — just the fairly prosaic status of one who is, in a sense, ‘voluntarily impoverished’ in the hope that someday he will have gained his own tuppence of wisdom.

Yes, I’m sure that Seneca would have approved of my further self-impoverishment at local bars, since this can only show my dedication to philosophy…

…right? If you’re poor, it’s because you’re a great lover of wisdom?

Or maybe it doesn’t work that way. Damn.

(Quick…distract from illogic of statement with slogan:)

Starving liberal-arts graduates, unite!

Way to be clutch, prez.



Liberty, Martyrdom, and the HHS Mandate

Image by Sodoma.

Dear Robert,

Sorry for taking advantage of a “Reply-all” to people I don’t necessarily know, but here goes…

Instead of a “stand up for religious liberty” day, how about a “stand up for Christian conviction even in the face of imminent martyrdom” day?

I do not expect to get my religious liberty back, as the bare minimum of “reasonable religion” which Madison assumed when he wrote the following quotation is no more:

We hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, “that religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.” The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign. We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.

(Original citation here.)

Yet I’m sure that Madison, if you told him that it was your religious belief that you were the thrall of Satan, and that the man downstairs demanded human sacrifice, wouldn’t miss a beat in telling you, sorry, but your religion ain’t “wholly exempt from the cognizance” of Civil Society. Why? Because absent the bare minimum of natural law, and legislative and jurisprudential institutions which recognize it, nothing stands in the way of people citing “religious liberty” for all manner of civil disobedience, not all of which is truly in the public interest. This current situation with the HHS mandate is no such instance; however, neither is the real problem with said mandate its violation of a generic religious liberty. No, there are many instances where religious liberty has been duly constrained for the sake of the public interest, many of which we as Christians support.

To reiterate, then: the problem is not that this mandate violates a generic religious liberty, but that what it seeks to mandate is pure evil, thus contrary to the natural law, thus contrary to the public interest. If we fail to articulate this and choose instead to crow that our rights are being violated (a tertiary issue), we will miss an opportunity for true martyria.

I will end my preachment here with this excerpt from Thaddeus Kozinski’s excellent piece over at Ethika Politika a few weeks ago:

Do the Bishops want to send the message to Obama that his main sin is not being Lockean enough, in not adequately respecting the sacred “wall of separation” between church and state, in mixing politics and religion? Obama is being a bad liberal in not respecting the freedom of religion of some of the citizens, but he is also being a bad man in promoting an objectively evil practice. Do Catholics want to pressure other Americans in power to be merely good liberals, even if that would win Catholics a short-term reprieve? Should not the Bishops consider more carefully the long-term benefit for our country of declaring the truth, in and out of season, especially when it is becoming quite clear that nothing short of mass conversion to the Gospel can save us?

(Also by Kozinski; also excellent.)

With that said, trying to “get religious liberty back” right now, while the bodies-politic and social are as diseased as they currently are, can be about as successful as giving a sick man a blood-transfusion from his own leg.

Pessimistically (realistically?) yours, sed in Christo speo,