On Augustine

Ed Feser sent me an e-mail asking if I had written this Amazon.com review. I began typing a response, then realized I should really make it into a blog post. So:

I wrote the review as a joke. I thought that that would be obvious to everyone, especially after my first comment, but apparently not. But of course I know who Augustine was, and I regularly cite him as one of the most influential Christian theologians of all time. See here, here, and here, for example.

I do believe, in all seriousness, that a great many of Augustine’s arguments are worse than those of even the most notoriously bad modern Christian apologists (i.e. Josh McDowell). Now there’s something to be said for it being unfair to judge an ancient thinker by modern standards, but I think we also have to take into account the fact that Augustine didn’t get his status as a “great” thinker purely by force of argument. It helps that it was his faction (i.e. what we now call “orthodox Christianity”) who managed to violently suppress other view points, rather than the other way around.
Violently suppressing other viewpoints is something Augustine himself advocated; see his letter to Donatus.  See also the end of book five of City of God, where he gloats about the fact that other people were reluctant to publish a rebuttal to him because of the “danger” of doing so. I think we should always be suspicious whenever we find a  “great” thinker advocating violence to suppress other viewpoints.
When passing a law is the easy route
Avoiding divorce doesn’t make you a traditionalist
Peter van Inwagen’s argument for Christianity
Abolitionism vs. reformism
  • http://sheltered-objections.blogspot.com/ Alex

    I, for one, loved the review. :)

    I am myself knee-deep in Aquinas and epistemology, and I too find that these old giants of Christian thinking leaves a lot to be desired, and you wonder sometimes at the progression through the ages the doctrine has evolved from something rather banal to something very far removed from the original idea. (I’m struggling through Pelikan’s history of Christian doctrine at the moment. These people can’t write clearly to save themselves!) People today quote Aquinas as the father of empiricism, for example, which, had they known and understood his epistemology, would not do so in this day and age without a tinge of embarrassement. He certainly sparked something fundamental, but he was also disturbingly lodged in a priori de facto suppositions that even a cursory reading would reveal. I feel exhausted just thinking about it.

    I think both Augustine and Aquinas were rightfully great thinkers with tremendous impact, however what they wrote and believed is not what current day quote jockeys tell you about what their thoughts and beliefs are. Talk about making a saint out of their gish-gallop performance.

  • Jake

    So you admit to trolling amazon reviews?

    I have long suspected there is a contingent of atheists doing this…for one thing, we know John Loftus has some sock puppets there.

    Thanks for the confirmation.

    • http://oldtimeatheism.blogspot.ca/ andyman409

      Must we have a warning label at the end of a joke in order for it to be a joke? And wheres that loftus comment coming from. Whats it matter whether or not Loftus uses “puppets” or something like that.

    • Patrick

      Oh, for crying out loud. It was an obvious troll, done with humor, posted under his own name. You’re not doing yourself any favors.

    • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

      I don’t know what you mean by “trolling.” I wasn’t trying to deceive anyone (I wrote the review under my own name), nor did I write it simply to piss people off for lulz. It was intended to be an *obvious* joke to make the point that if you read City of God without being told in advance that it was the work of a “great thinker,” it would never occur to you to think that about Augustine. But apparently the joke wasn’t as obvious as I thought it would be.

      • Eric

        “But apparently the joke wasn’t as obvious as I thought it would be.”

        Hi Chris

        I think it was obvious until you began defending the review in the comments section. That’s what seems to have confused most people (it’s what confused me). The first comment could easily have been read as a continuation of the joke (why, the book was published in 2009!), but the second, where you stood by the *accuracy* of everything you said in the review, is what gave me pause. Anyway, I of course believe that you intended it as a joke.

        • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

          Hmmm… yeah, I wasn’t sure if the first guy didn’t get it, or if he was just continuing the joke. With my first comment, I was trying to give the joke away without doing it directly, and I thought pretending not to know what a translation was would be obvious enough. Huh.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=611455454 boselecta

            The trouble with the internet is that some people really are that wrong on it, and so, with no subtle non-verbal cues, other people are quite prepared to read a review like that as a non-joke.

  • http://neeroc.wordpress.com/ Neeroc

    But the question is, have you made it here yet? http://leasthelpful.com/

    • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

      DUDE! Are you allowed to submit your own stuff to that site?

      • http://neeroc.wordpress.com/ Neeroc

        You should! A full-on snark, ‘what an idiot’ submission *g*