So Weit Wie Noch Nie

December 22, 2009

I recently came across the song “So Weit Wie Noch Nie” by Jürgen Paape. Here are the lyrics, and my translation of them into English:

Wir hören ein Singen im Raum
Singen im Raum
Singen im Raum
Wir jagen die Monotonie

Wir machen aus Stunden ein Jahr
und Mondschein aus unserem Haar
Wir fliegen so weit wie noch nie


We hear a singing in the room
Singing in the room
Singing in the room
We hunt the monotony

We make out of the hours a year
And moonshine out of our hair
We fly higher than ever before.

What’s fascinating about this song, I think, is the sense of joyous fatalism that it captures. Some friends of mine who heard it said it reminds them of someone intentionally driving a car off a cliff, or maybe into a wall. These were people who don’t know German, but it fits with the lyrics; “we hunt the monotony,” and “we fly higher than ever before.” I used it as background music in a film for German class to impart a similar tone – that the characters’ actions are pointless, but that the pointlessness doesn’t matter, and is even perhaps beautiful.

It’s an interesting aesthetic, one of resignation, of recognizing and accepting the transience of human life.


The Paradox of Martyrdom

June 8, 2009

The concept of martyrdom is, on its surface, a simple one. A martyr is someone who is willing to die for their faith; martyrs are generally considered to be saints – meaning they go to heaven – and deserving of a special respect, since they were willing to die for their faith.

But the motives for martyrdom become confused. A martyr is someone who is willing to die for their faith – someone who is willing to endure something bad, death, because their faith is so strong. But martyrdom itself is considered good, and martyrs are rewarded with a special place in Heaven, and so quickly you have many people who desire martyrdom – not who are willing to be martyred for their faith, but who actively desire to be martyred.

These people’s faith would have to be strong, otherwise they wouldn’t believe that if they martyr themselves they will go to Heaven – but because they believe martyrdom is good, they no longer look at it as “willing to endure something bad because their faith is so strong” – they are willing to endure death, which is no longer considered that bad anyway because they will go to Heaven when they die, so that they can be a martyr.

This attitude has always been around, and it has generally been seen as severely flawed. There are references to it as early as the Martyrdom of Polycarp, a document from the second century AD, which is careful to point out that Polycarp didn’t have this attitude – he tried to hide from the people looking for him, rather than actively seeking out capture and martyrdom.

But something always strikes me as odd about these claims that specific saints did not seek out martyrdom. They were men of deep faith; they would have believed that, if they died a martyr, they would go to Heaven; why would they not seek it out? Because to do so is to seek out Heaven, rather than demonstrate faith in God, and so it makes you not a martyr at all. And so, whenever I read about how a given saint tried to avoid capture and execution, it feels like the saint was evading capture only reluctantly; they actually wanted to be captured, to be martyred, but felt that they had to avoid it because, counterintuitively, avoiding martyrdom was a better way of proving their love of God than being martyred.

I sometimes thing the reason counterintuitive situations like this arise in Christianity is that Christians are so focused on Heaven as where you go when you die, and how you are rewarded in the afterlife for your actions in this life. If there were no Heaven, after all, it would be silly to martyr yourself in order to get there – you would only allow yourself to be martyred because you would rather die – enter oblivion – than renounce God. Martyrdom would still be considered heroic, but it would be a kind of futile heroism, and not one that anyone would ever seek out.

I don’t think we should stop believing in Heaven just because it makes the issue of martyrdom confusing, of course. But I do think we might be better off if we stopped saying that “if you’re good, when you die you’ll to Heaven”, and start emphasizing instead that “if you love God, when you die you’ll be with God” – shifting the focus of hope from faith, the least of the theological virtues, to love, the greatest.

Halfway Done (May)

May 3, 2009

It rained more today than any day so far this semester. Not that I’m complaining; I love rain. I just find it amusing that I couldn’t wear long sleeves for the last week or so of April and then had to wear my long black trenchcoat today because it was so wet and cold outside.

Anyway, now it’s May. We have one week of classes left, then a week of final exams, then we’re done for the semester and I will have been at college for two years. (I’ll be a junior and almost a senior by credit-hours, but I’m still going to take four years to graduate, so it’s not like that matters.)

This feels really weird, because it means I’ve been at UD for as long as I’ve been at any school since 5th grade. I went to one school for K-5, but then went to four different schools over six years (one for 6th, one for 7th-8th, one for 9th, one for 11th-12th). And for the most part I was forced into a completely new group of people each time. When I go back to school in the fall it’ll be the longest I’ve spent at one school, with the same group of people basically, since I was ten years old.

But it doesn’t feel like I’ve been here that long; I still look at UD as the new place, with Cistercian as the old place that I went to for longer, even though I went there only two years.

It’s kind of like Rugnur, from the Scepter of Fire. He starts out assigned to a post at one of the dwarven gates, but after the campaign starts and he has to go to the dwarven council, he never returns, has adventures for fifteen years, and then dies. He didn’t spend fifteen years at his original post, or anywhere close, and did spend several years trapped in the land of the Shorbear clan, but I suspect he always looked at his original post as “his”, and felt like a traveler just passing through for the entire fifteen years of his adventures.

Is it a kind of self-deception, or is there something to it – are you more attached to where you spent time when you were younger, even if you spend more time elsewhere later on in life? I’m not sure.




November 6, 2008

A simple question… why do we inherit the possessions of our parents? It makes sense that we would desire to do so – the evolutionary imperative and all that – but why do we see it as just? It seems in some respects markedly unfair – if you’re born rich, you become rich when your parents die, and if you’re not, you don’t, with no reflection of your own merit.

Does anyone have a good argument for why inheritance is justified?

I’m not sure, but it perhaps is related to how we see the Constitution as having authority over us even though no one alive ever voted for it. It has been handed down to us, and so keeping it preserves order – there would be chaos if we had to rewrite our constitution every generation. Similarly, there would be chaos if all wealth was redistributed constantly from generation to generation. It is better to allow us to be bound by tradition, which G.K. Chesterton actually called “the democracy of the dead”.

Museums and Ruins

September 7, 2008

Just got back from Pompeii, Paestum, and the Naples Archaelogical Museum.

One thing I have noticed, about sites such as these, is how much is roped off or behind glass or otherwise set apart. You obviously can’t touch anything in the museum; at Paestum the three most interesting parts (the ancient Greek temples) were behind barriers; and at Pompeii, a lot of it was accessible, but a lot was not. And of course you aren’t allowed to go climbing or running around even the parts that are.

Something bugs me about this. The goal is to preserve these things for the future… but, if the future is only going to enjoy them as much as we do now, what is the point? Everything perishes – it’s fruitless to try to preserve these things forever. But it seems like that’s what we’re trying to do, at the expense of the good that we could get out of them now.

I know this isn’t really a brilliant argument, but it does seem to me that something is off with this… I would much prefer it if visitors to Paestum were able to go into the temples themselves, if the museums would allow people to touch the artifacts them have (at least some of them), if Pompeii would let you climb on walls and explore the area yourself… it would shorten the lifetime of those sites, but it would give us more out of them in the meantime.

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