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Apr 01, 2002
it was ok
Muhammad, Critical Lives by Yahiya Emerick (2002)
I once belonged to a men's non-fiction book club, and given the events facing the world involving rad Muhammad, Critical Lives by Yahiya Emerick (2002)
I once belonged to a men's non-fiction book club, and given the events facing the world involving radical Islam, it was agreed that we would try to understand more about the origins of Islam by reading this biography. The club didn't last long, as eventually there were only two people interested—the organizer and me. My review:
Muhammad, from the lineage of Abraham, was born in 570 and raised in poverty by a Bedouin tribe in a culture where custom, superstition and tribal leaders were all that held the various groups together. Civil government was unheard of in Arabia. Idolatry was the prevailing form of worship; Jewish and Christian influence existed but was limited. Muhammad became a recognized caring leader early in life, quite mystical and given to meditation, but didn’t have his first “revelation” until the age of forty, from the angel Gabriel. It thus became clear to Muhammad that monotheism was the only true basis for religion, which he began to announce with authority, much to the consternation of the idolaters. Early on, he established rules of tolerance and taking care of the poor, as well as recognizing Adam, Moses, Jesus (and others) as true “prophets.” He claimed himself, the last prophet, signaling God’s final messages for man on earth.
The book covers much about his ongoing revelations, the writing of them (the result being the Qur’an) the persecution of the growing group of followers, and the fight for a home for Islam. A good portion discusses major war battles with the idolaters and the hypocrites, the collecting of booty (he got 15%) and the taking of prisoners, often released after quick conversions to Islam. While there were setbacks along the way, with “God on their side,” the Muslims ultimately won all their wars and established Islam over much of Arabia. He died of natural causes at age sixty-three.
What a guy—a loving family man, tolerant, he cared for the poor, accepted other monotheistic religions, was open to intellectual inquiry, treated women with the utmost respect, was open to advice and criticism in his counsels (unless God gave him a specific instruction), and I assume, was kind to old people and puppies. In Christian terms, he would be a “saint.”
So who highjacked the religion? Either the book is a whitewash of his character and beliefs, conveniently ignoring the parts about stoning adulterers, crushing homosexuals, honor rapes and honor killings, beheadings, or tearing out fingernails of women who wear the wrong stuff; or a bunch of whacked-out fanatics made up their own rules along the way.
I know little about Islam. This book was “interesting,” mainly in assessing the comparisons and the clear distinctions to Christianity, but left a huge gap in reconciling the character of Muhammad, as depicted, and what we see today from the radical elements...the so-called “religion of peace.” ...more
Notes are private!
Mar 15, 2012
Sep 30, 2005
Oct 01, 2005
really liked it
The author, a distinguished Professor of Wesley Studies at Perkins School of Theology (SMU) says in the preface, “Wesley clearly has a distinctive the The author, a distinguished Professor of Wesley Studies at Perkins School of Theology (SMU) says in the preface, “Wesley clearly has a distinctive theology.” It is Abraham’s thesis that this theology is an “intellectual oasis lodged within the traditional faith of the church enshrined in the creeds.” I must admit that I was hooked right there because I enjoy rational inquiry into things not necessarily rational, remembering Wesley’s famous dictum, "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity," as guide.
His life: John Wesley (1703-1791) was heavily influenced by his mother Susanna, and steeped in the Anglican Church. “While he led a renewal movement…he never wavered in his own sense of loyalty.” At Oxford, he joined his brother Charles in a small-group ministry that became the “nucleus of his Methodist Societies.” Until he sailed for the New World in 1735 at age 32, he had spent most of his life in “Anglican educational institutions” thus inheriting “a rich theological tradition.” The author notes that, “He learned well how to articulate and defend his ideas even when they were daft and irregular” having developed “an abundance of skills and self-assurance.” In other words, he was a good rhetorician and might have made a good 21st century politician.
His commitment, diligence and spiritual discipline as a missionary in the New World was remarkable—a man obsessed perhaps, “on a quest for real Christianity.” But he was never truly settled spiritually at this stage and failed as a missionary—a matter of being too rigorous with a mixed bag of immigrants and a failure in his love life. (He had to sneak out of the country for “misconduct” having to do with retributive actions on miss Sophia Hopkey, who much to his chagrin married a rival.) And he failed “in his own search for a truly inward relation to God.” He had been in Georgia for all of twenty-two months.
Back in England, German Moravian Peter Bohler “introduced Wesley to a vision of the Christian life that put enormous emphasis on personal, inward certainty about forgiveness and victory over sin here and now…that is was possible to experience the love and power of God as something tangible….” This was not easy for Wesley but on May 24, 1738 he had his Aldersgate experience—he had met God for himself and he came to a clear understanding of justification by grace. “The Aldersgate encounter with God was more than some sugary, pious experience; it was a profound spiritual and intellectual reorientation.” He had found assurance in God’s love, acceptance, and wanted to share what he had discovered but recognized the need for “effective forms of new ministry.” (Perhaps his failure as a missionary in Georgia had an influence on his attempts to find effective means for religious awakening, i.e. evangelism.)
When the opportunity arrived, beginning in 1739, Wesley launched into a new phase of his life as preacher, spiritual leader, organizer, administrator, and clear-thinking theologian. He traveled England, Ireland, and Scotland for five decades preaching the gospel and developing institutional resources. The term “Methodist” suggests a “readiness to be methodical in all things spiritual.” One method was “the gathering of seekers into societies, bands… and recovery units that were truly effective in providing informal spiritual direction among friends.” Although he had the leadership style of “a benign dictator” and had an “arrogant cheek,” he learned over time to listen to good advice from others, although he went to war publicly with George Whitefield over their differences about predestination.
The author says that the 1740’s and 50s, was “a period of organization, of mob persecution, of theological conflict, of intellectual self-defense, and of fundamental theological consolidation” and he saw “the world as his parish.” He created new services of worship with singing, trained lay preachers, and gathered a “crucial group of coworkers.” By the 1750’s, he had “established an evangelical order within the Church of England.” He published a Christian library—fifty volumes between 1749 and 1755—that was rarely used by others. He married a 41 year-old widow, Molly Vazeille, but the marriage was a disaster since Wesley’s first priority required travel and taking care of business, that is, managing all things churchy. Much of the business involved factions—those wanting to separate from the Anglican Church, which he rejected; and those who were so self-assured in their perfection, having a corner on truth, that they got into the prediction business. Wesley “sent them packing.” He also had differences with Calvinist colleagues and his use of a woman “exhorter” (a preacher by another name) did not advance his attempts at unity for renewal and reform. The split with Calvinism over the issue of predestination became final and unalterable in the 1770’s.
“Methodism grew like a weed, not the least in the New World,” but the War of Independence sent “shock waves throughout the whole church scene.” (Wesley was not sympathetic “for the rebel cause.”) In 1784, he set up organizational structures and ordained bishops (Coke and Asbury) for North America separate from England— “he had crossed the line and invented a new Christian denomination.” He was an “incurable workaholic,” his marriage failed in the 1760’s, and his brother Charles died in 1788. John Wesley died on March 2, 1791. “From the age of thirty-six he had traveled 225,000 miles and preached more than 40,000 sermons, some to more than 20,000 people.
Development of a Theology: He was a small fry—a folk theologian— compared to those who provided a “systematic ordering of Christian teaching.” The author wants to give him his due, however, and discusses the Enlightenment, the road to modernity, and standard perceptions of Wesley in relation to those events. He then offers a different perspective:
“Wesley lived in a world where there was a confessional state…to be a political somebody or to get anywhere in…English society…one had to believe in the Trinity and…be part of the Anglican establishment.”
There was a sign-on fee for making it in the church… “Accepting the official practices and beliefs of the Church of England.”
“Wesley was the product of a university system that was shamelessly confessional in orientation.”
“Wesley’s day was profoundly Christian in its intellectual orientation,” not overtaken by Enlightenment thinking.
Five watersheds in Wesley’s intellectual journey:
He developed a passion for holiness, influenced by reading Jeremy Taylor and William Law… “Holiness of heart and life is the heartbeat of Christianity…inescapably inward and spiritual…the gospel changes people from the inside out and turns the world right side up.” His entire life was “a restless quest for authentic spirituality.”
Aldersgate in 1738—the rediscovery of the doctrine of justification by grace accompanied by the experiential encounter with God.
Wesley’s publication of “official doctrines” in 1764 were “the essentials of true religion as he saw them.”
The publication of Conference Minutes in 1770 whereby he addresses predestination and the idea that personal “moral transformation made an emphasis on works inevitable.”
The launching of a new church in North America in 1784. His primary commitment was “to the spiritual welfare of his people.”
Wesley’s strengths and insights were in the “theological materials he puts in place for his work as an evangelist and spiritual director” with nothing particularly “new’ to say on several Christian traditional concepts. He was more a medieval theologian than a modern one, a traditionalist. To Wesley, the “Reformation was not a fresh start but a course correction.” He was “committed to the ancient doctrines…and unashamedly supernaturalistic.” And “he challenged the nominalism and complacency that are the sins of all establishments not with liberal revisionism but by a radical retrieval of lost ideas and practices.” He is important for our day because he stressed a “combination of ancient commitment and present passion.” He showed us that “doing theology is both exhilarating and risky.” It is a “quest for a clarity that is never complete.”
Examining Sin and Grace: The author covers the nature of God and man noting “we were created for love” but that “we suffer from the effects of original and ongoing sin in our lives…egocentric to the core…In reality we are blind to the truth about God, the world and ourselves.” A “grim picture of the world is pivotal in Wesley’s theology as a whole….Wesley is convinced that it is only by recognizing the depth of human sin that we can fully grasp how deep God’s love and grace are.”
“Prevenient grace is the initial help God gives to everyone to see how grim things are and to form the first intention to get help.” But there is a theological problem when examining “freedom and grace.” The author explains it well, considers the options, and shows how Wesley juggles four distinct and conflicting convictions; but Abraham also finds Wesley’s solution to the problem as “less than compelling” and rethinks it. The author then comes back to Wesley’s theme but ducks drawing a conclusion.
Justification and Regeneration: Abraham faults Wesley for his occasional inconsistency, partly tied to his work as a preacher—“ sermonic hyperbole gets in the way of systematic clarity.” On the subject at hand though, Wesley is committed “to a vision that embraces both forgiveness and radical personal transformation….In justifying us God pardons and forgives us our sins….In regeneration, or rebirth, we get to make a fresh start in life,” i.e. sanctification. “God gives us power to live a life of love toward God and neighbor.” Wesley was certain we needed both elements—pardon/forgiveness/justification and rebirth/regeneration/sanctification.
“Wesley insisted that we need to use all the means of grace at our disposal rather than just sitting around waiting for God to zap us.” Wesley stressed the importance of good preaching as one of the means and he had no patience for weakness in this area. It is faith in God, “not some wishy-washy, sentimental thoughts about forgiveness and mercy that bring relief… Our conversion is inescapably personal.” But unlike Catholics, with a mediator, “the individual is left at the mercy of subjective feeling and discernment.” (That is, there is a problem of assurance and uncertainty.)
Wesley “is totally opposed to any vision of justification that will open a door to the denial or neglect of the moral law.” Here is where he combines the necessity of faith and works, love of neighbor, love of God. “Faith that fails to express itself in inward disposition and outward behavior is mere assent, mere dead orthodoxy….” In other words, “faith and works are inseparable.” To believe that grace is dominant is mistaken. Wesley does not see grace as some “syrupy, schmaltzy license to give up on the quest for virtue.” Transformation and action are required. “True freedom is not freedom from law [moral law]; it is freedom to be and become all that moral law requires of us in the good purposes of God.” It is, for Wesley, a “quest for integrity.” (A digression about integrity, not in the book: The Golden Rule—“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”—does not mean that because I want others to honor my demands, I should honor theirs. The “want,” in Christian terms, infers wanting others to minister to our saintly needs, not to our foolish, retributive, or corrupt desires; and our obligation is to treat others in the same way—as children of God—a matter of uprightness, being aligned with God’s plan.) We have misunderstood the meaning of freedom (with its tendencies toward nihilism) and see discipline to the moral law as a hindrance to liberation. But for Wesley, “integrity can be born again.”
With God all things are Possible (as opposed to “with American ingenuity, all things are possible,” or “by Presidential or legislative decree, all things are possible,” or “any country that can put a man on the moon can…you name it.” I’m editorializing here about man’s hubris, looking to other gods): “Wesley believed that it was possible to achieve spiritual perfection and genuine certainty about God in this life,” a matter that doesn’t wash with modernity. But Wesley was in search of the idea of “purity of intention,” recognizing a lack of knowledge, confusion and other constraints that do not allow for “absolute perfection.” The author delves into the details, the issue of “assurance,” our spiritual presumptions, our capability (or lack thereof) to discern. Wesley had to work out this witness of the Holy Spirit in his own life (as I presume most of us do.)
Abraham calls Wesley “something of a theological oddball” because he picks up pieces of many Christian denominations but also says he had an admirable and “unique vision of the Christian life.” (A syncretist but within the tradition?) Abraham then offers some interesting thoughts on the “complexity and simplicity of the Christian life.” (See pages 103-106)
The Church: Wesley had complaints about the stagnant church; he saw it as a “means to an end [rather] than as intrinsically significant…what mattered first was that people find God….He never really reconciled this with his high-church background and sensibilities.” (The Bible has other ideas; and I wonder of Abraham is correct here.) Abraham does comment on Wesley’s sound views on the universal church. (One of Wesley’s best sermons: “Catholic Spirit.”)
Wesley articulates his views on the “means of grace” but also includes works of mercy as good for the soul—a focus away from self and our religious activities. The means of grace do not provide “any ground for merit. We approach them in a spirit of trust….What God has promised is grace upon grace.” Wesley insisted, “God was not limited in his use of means. God is above all means.”
Making Moral Sense: The quest for holiness was at the heart of his theology but Abraham suggests that Wesley was more interested in the “production of morality” than any questions of the “meaning of morality.” It is a focus on transformation with Jesus as the “moral center of gravity.”
A dilemma worth examination: Wesley said, “Is a thing… right because God wills it? Or does he will it because it is right? I fear this celebrated question is more curious than useful….Tis hardly decent for man to call the supreme God to give an account to him.” Abraham’s interpretation of his answer (condensed): “The will of God is God himself.” And “we cannot know the difference between right and wrong independent of God.” It is “a robust theory of conscience as the foundation of moral judgment.” “Love is the prior virtue to justice, mercy and truth.” Wesley’s vision of ethics was “Love is the end, the sole end, of every dispensation of God….”
Politically, Wesley was a “High Tory” committed to traditional arrangements in England. But…at no time did “Wesley allow his ideas about politics to be cut loose from his fundamental convictions about sin, repentance, justification, sanctification, and the like. The root of all evil goes back to alienation from God, hence any solution to problems of human behavior and society will have to take into account conversion and growth in grace.”
Different People Sin Differently: Much of his theology “is devoted to addressing this dilemma.” Abraham examines some of the false trails: (1) spiritual fanaticism, (2) bigotry, (3) sectarianism, (4) spiritual depression, and (5) money, all worthy of scrutiny.
Providence and Predestination: (Closing with the easy stuff?) The author asks, “Is God’s action confined to the soul? Is God not at work in creation and history?” Wesley was cautious “of the place of human reason in theology” leaning toward divine revelation as the basis—we should stick to what has been revealed, stay close to the text of Scripture. He was also cautious about what we can truly understand about God. (God is other than we are.) For Wesley, “God was intimately at work in every event that occurred in space and time.” (Omnipresence.) But “the manner of God’s presence is incomprehensible.” And he does not deprive humans of freedom, the ability to make choices.
Wesley was not the great foe of predestination (determinism) as typically characterized, according to Abraham. He had a view of “double predestination!” Abraham says, “This God is no wimp…making up the rules as he goes along.” He knows from the outset what is going to happen; He is running the universe, not humanity. And God is totally committed to healing a fallen world. Two elements: “God has decreed that one group will be saved and another will not.” Because of free will—to accept or reject the “mercy of God in Christ”—the predestination involved is “conditional.”
Concluding Remarks: Abraham says, “All human beings are designed to be intoxicated with the love of God and neighbor, so we should stop fooling around and get with the program.” It sounds like something Wesley would say.
Notes are private!
Mar 15, 2012
Oct 28, 1968
Review also found at:http://www.jamesrament.com/review—eri...
The biography, Eric Hoffer: An American Odyssey (1967) by Calvin Tomkins is, first of all Review also found at:http://www.jamesrament.com/review—eri...
The biography, Eric Hoffer: An American Odyssey (1967) by Calvin Tomkins is, first of all, brief. The biography part is only sixty-eight pages long, including the introduction by CBS commentator, Eric Severeid. The balance of the book includes many of Hoffer’s aphorisms and photographs of him. A burly man, Hoffer, born July 25, 1902 died on May 21, 1983, writing eleven books during his lifetime. Two other books about Hoffer exist: One called Hoffer’s America by James D Koerner and the other Eric Hoffer by James Thomas Baker, both of which are difficult to find, but then the Tomkins book was difficult to locate. Given the content of his writing—his deep understanding of fanaticism, mass movements, and “change,” it’s a wonder that there hasn’t been a resurgence in interest in his work—it’s as applicable today as it was when he was popular in the '60s.
Although the book is short, the good news is that Tomkins was able to glean some enlightening information from his interviews with Eric Hoffer. He shows the reader a very different kind of philosopher. Hoffer never went to school! He was completely self-taught.
Eric Hoffer began life in New York City (the Bronx), the only child of German parents. His father was a carpenter and cabinet-maker earning a meager living and his mother died when he was seven years old. He taught himself to read English and German “easily” at age five, although he recalled that his mother helped him. His father was the town intellectual atheist and had all the necessary books that gave him that distinction. Hoffer remembered his father saying, “There is money in the cupboard,” where the books were. Hoffer had access to those books, which he claimed gave him the “capacity for generalization.” He said, “I have a tremendously high opinion of the age of five, by the way. I actually think that to become really mature is to return to the age of five, to become able to recapture the capacity for absorption, for learning, the tremendous hunger to master skills that you have at five years...I always feel that I was a brilliant child at the age of five, and that I’ve been declining ever since.”
When his mother died, he was taken care of by Martha Bauer, a Bavarian peasant who came over on the boat with his parents. That same year Hoffer inexplicably went blind and as mysteriously as he lost his sight, he recovered it at age fifteen. There is no explanation for this medical condition—they had no money for doctors—but it accounts for his lack of schooling. Hoffer doesn’t remember much from that time, but he knows that Martha Bauer took good care of him and that she was always cheerful. He also remembered that he had “a terrible hunger for the printed word.” When his sight came back, he read “ten, twelve hours a day....” He read everything he could get his hands on and a secondhand book store near his home provided a large library for that purpose.
In 1920, at age eighteen, Hoffer’s father died leaving him about $300. He took a bus to Los Angeles “because California was the place for the poor.” He spent the next ten years on Skid Row, his cheap room within walking distance of the Los Angeles Central Library. Early on, he didn't earn any money living there; he read books, but when the money ran out he started to go hungry and ended up going to the state employment agency. Tomkins quotes Hoffer with stories of these early work experiences, and then offers: “The fear of being trapped by life, by situations beyond his control, has always haunted Hoffer. Toward the end of the nineteen twenties, he found himself trapped by a man’s kindness toward him. Hoffer had taken a job in a pipe yard, planning to work there for a few days if it suited him. When he arrived for work that first morning, the owner...thought Hoffer looked pale, and he asked whether he was feeling all right. Did he get enough milk? Get enough sleep? From that moment, Hoffer says, ‘I thought he owned me. I could no more leave than fly.’ He stayed on...for nearly two years, wondering how he was ever going to break away.” The man died in 1929, which “set him free.”
Hoffer had a bit of money and decided to live as he pleased until it ran out. At age twenty-eight, he harbored thoughts of suicide, telling of an incident of taking poison, but aborting the attempt after the first taste. “The incident marked the end of Hoffer’s life on Skid Row. Feeling that he had reached a turning point, he packed his few belongings in a knapsack and walked out of Los Angeles....”
For ten years, Hoffer was a migrant worker, traveling all over California, working with the Okies and Arkies during the Great Depression. He also prospected for gold in the mountain streams near Lake Tahoe, working with a hand sluice and he took jobs with the forest service. Tomkins said, “It was a grueling life but a varied one, and he was never tempted to leave it for the greater security and servitude of factory work. Years later, when Hoffer felt that he was going soft on the waterfront, he used to take five dollars and a change of underwear, board a bus to Fresno, and get off at any small town that caught his eye along the way. ‘The idea was, you have five dollars, you get a room there, and then you have to cut the mustard. I used to come back with a hundred and fifty bucks. I did it time and time again....I always said that you could drop me anywhere in California, and within fifteen minutes I was going to have a job.’”
“Skid Row had taught Hoffer that a man could live without hope. During his years of wandering, certain other ideas about man—man as an individual and man in the mass—took root in his mind and slowly matured.” Here is where Hoffer developed his theories about outcasts and misfits as pioneers and makers of history. But he also realized that a more sinister path was possible. Later, in his most famous work, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, he says, “ When we lose our individual independence in the corporateness of a mass movement, we find a new freedom—freedom to hate, bully, lie, torture, murder, and betray without shame and remorse.” Tomkins adds, “The misfit, then, formed a volatile element in society, capable of either heroic individualism or mass tyranny.” Hoffer was a great observer of the world’s tyrants emerging during the thirties.
It was during this time that Hoffer discovered Montaigne’s Essays. Hoffer is quoted as saying, “You see, what really impressed me about Montaigne—here was this sixteenth-century aristocrat...and I found out that he was talking about nothing but Eric Hoffer! That’s how I learned about human brotherhood.” He also had said, “Montaigne gave me a taste for the good sentence...I never had the urge to write until after I read Montagne.”
Hoffer devoured Montaigne and Tomkins said his writing unmistakably reflects Montaigne’s clarity and measured cadence.
Hoffer spent most of his free time in libraries and no doubt seemed a “rare bird” to the other migrant workers. Occasionally, he would pour out those ideas he was developing and would quote Montaigne or Pascal. “His exuberance led him to personify ideas, act them out, give himself over to them body and spirit,” says Tomkins.
“Hoffer studied the men and and women he met, and one of the simple things that impressed him deeply was the prevalence of simple kindness—which seemed to go hand in hand with a sort of mindless cruelty.” Hoffer said, “Kindness is not instinctive with me. I have a savage heart, ungentled by schoolmarms. I never learned how to meet people or behave with people, and I’ve always been such a solitary person. with me, kindness is always such an effort, something I have to make myself remember.” The book quotes Hoffer’s stories of man’s kindness coupled with cruelty and closes the chapter with, “Man, Hoffer decided, was nature’s only unfinished animal. Eternally unsatisfied and incomplete, his soul continually stretched between opposites of good and evil, he achieved nobility in the attempt to become fully human, or, as Hoffer put it, to finish God’s work.”
All during the thirties, Hoffer taught himself to write, filling notebooks with his work. he established a relationship, by letters, with a magazine editor in New York. In 1941, he volunteered for the armed services but was rejected for an old hernia condition and he decided to look for “the hardest work there was,” and as Tomkins said, “preferably connected to the war effort.” He thus became a stevedore on the San Francisco docks and for “the first time in his life, he settled down to a steady job and a fixed way of life.”
During the lulls in work, Hoffer read and took notes. He took only the ordinary jobs and it was during those times that some of his best ideas came to him. He would do the manual work while he also worked on his thoughts, excited about when he could get back to his rented room and write it down. He said his teachers were Montaigne, Pascal, Renan, Bergson and de Tocqueville—all French; then, Bacon, Dostoevsky, and Burckhardt. He didn’t get much out of the Greeks or the Germans except Nietzsche and Heine. He said it was German superstition that if anything was to be profound, it had to be dark, abstruse, and difficult. He said, “They don’t know what lucidity is.” He also thought that Sartre and other modern French intellectuals were “writing like Germans.”
Tomkins wrote, “Slowly and without a conscious plan, The True Believer was taking shape. Hoffer did not acknowledge even to himself that he was writing a book, but increasingly, in the library and elsewhere, he looked for and found material that was relevant to his thinking about mass movements throughout history.” In 1951, The True Believer was published, dedicated to Margaret Anderson who helped get it published. He had fought the editors, wanting to preserve his carefully worded sentences and won. “On the other hand, the spirit in which he offered his work to the public was characteristically modest. As he wrote in the preface, quoting his beloved Montaigne, ‘All I say is by way of discourse, and nothing by way of advice. I should not speak so boldly if it were my due to be believed.’”
The book was critically acclaimed but it did not make him rich. He continued to live in his rented room on McAllister Street in San Francisco. “His requirements were simple...a bed, a worktable, a hard wooden chair. He had no expensive tastes in food, clothing, or pleasure, and no taste at all for property...The waterfront, in any case, gave him the opportunity to live as he liked.”
Being a loner, Hoffer had few real friends, but during this time, an intellectual with a Master’s degree in political science named Selden Osborne, invited him for dinner and a life-long friendship with the family ensued, including the wife Lili and the children. They “adopted” Eric and his friendship with the family was the joy of his life.
He also wrestled with a new idea—the problem of change, which was really underpinning all his previous ideas, and wrote another great book, The Ordeal of Change, published in 1963. He pursued these ideas further and published The Temper of Our Time in 1967.
Also in the early sixties, Hoffer was very concerned about the effects of automation. He “thought that automation was coming terrifically fast then...” He was “possessed by the idea” and began making speeches at Rotary clubs, lodges and churches. To the best of my knowledge, he never went so far as to suggest—as a Luddite might—that lawnmowers should be banned and the grass should be cut with scissors thus using more labor, but rapid technological advances obviously concerned him. Tomkins wrote that this lasted about a year. “Then, little by little, Hoffer’s faith in the adaptability of the American working masses reasserted itself.”
In 1964, Hoffer was given at appointment at UC Berkeley in the political science department at a modest salary. He spent one day a week in an office provided him where students came to him to discuss his ideas. He also lectured a few times a year. He knew and talked with many of the “anti-administration rebels” who participated in the 1964 “free speech riots,” but “to him they sounded like spoiled children.” The book gives a detailed account of his sentiments.
Hoffer became famous when Eric Sevareid interviewed him for an hour on CBS television, September 19, 1967. And it was repeated on November 14, 1967. The man was charismatic and had an appeal. He “touched the nerve of faith about ourselves and our nation” in that interview. He had to give up trying to answer all the letters he received. He occasionally would take a speaking engagement and said that the Jesuits, the Jews, and the psychiatrists were the most persistent in trying to get him. The invitation that meant the most was from President Lyndon Johnson. He was supposed to spend five minutes, shake hands, and move on. They spent fifty minutes together and Hoffer was thrilled.
He continued to spend a good deal of his time in libraries, at Berkeley, and with the Osborne family. He didn't’ see himself as an intellectual and said the reason was “that I’m not impressed by my ability to hold people with words.” (C.S. Lewis had a few things to say about “men of words” as did Hoffer.) Hoffer had this to say about himself: “I’m a common man, and proud of my commonness. But talent is common too—its all around us, only most of the time it gets wasted. You just can’t judge the intelligence, the talent of the American working masses by talking with them; you have to work with them to know that. I’ve worked with these people for forty-five years, and I never had a steady partner; always felt I ought to be able to work with anybody, and the technique I found for getting along with everybody was that you let them teach you....” (Emphasis mine)
Eric Hoffer epitomizes the kind of individual that lived out one of my favorite quotes from the preface of "The Great Conversation," book one of "The Great Books of the Western World," edited by Robert M. Hutchins and Mortimer Adler, December 1, 1951:
"We believe that the reduction of the citizen to an object of propaganda, private and public, is one of the greatest dangers to democracy. A prevalent notion is that the great mass of the people cannot understand and cannot form an independent judgment upon any matter; they cannot be educated, in the sense of developing their intellectual powers, but they can be bamboozled. The reiteration of slogans, the distortion of the news, the great storm of propaganda that beats upon the citizen twenty-four hours a day all his life long mean either that democracy must fall prey to the loudest and most persistent propagandists or that the people must save themselves by strengthening their minds so that they can appraise the issues for themselves."
Here was a man who, on his own, certainly strengthened his mind...and made the world a better place for what he gave us.
Eric Hoffer’s eleven books:
1951 The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements
1955 The Passionate State Of Mind, and Other Aphorisms
1963 The Ordeal Of Change
1967 The Temper Of Our Time
1969 Working And Thinking on The Waterfront; a journal, June 1958-May 1959
1971 First Things, Last Things
1973 Reflections on the Human Condition
1976 In Our Time
1979 Before the Sabbath
1982 Between the devil and the dragon : the best essays and aphorisms of Eric Hoffer
1983 Truth Imagined
Notes are private!
Apr 10, 2011
Apr 19, 2011
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