Essential Heresies : Manicheanism

Now, Manicheans are not exactly a heresy, but they appear in the Confessions, and they’re very important. So since we’re doing doctrinal ideas, Manicheanism is a teaching about good and evil that can be applied to other religions besides Christianity. Manicheanism basically says that good and evil have a real existence. There is a war in the universe between a good god and an evil one. And this may be applied outside of Christianity or within Christianity.

And within Christianity, the evil god is the devil, or according to the Manicheans of this period that Augustine for a while joined, the god of the Old Testament. Jehovah is the evil god, and the god of the New Testament, the Christian god, is the good one. Jehovah is the one who smites a lot of people. Jehovah is the creator god, because the Manicheans believed that matter is evil and is the source of evil. Spirit is good. The Christian god created spirit. Human beings are imprisoned in the body, and they have to figure out a way to liberate themselves from the dominion of the evil god. Vegetarianism, for a start, avoiding flesh.

But salvation means casting off the flesh. How is this different from Christianity? And doesn’t this sound to you like regular old Christianity, mistrust of the flesh? The devil is identified with sexual desire or physicality, generally. Manicheanism is very useful as an explanation of evil. And this may not be something that keeps you up at night, but it will at some point, intermittently.

Yale Open U – The Early Middle Ages, 284–1000, HIST 210 – Lecture 4 – The Christian Roman Empire, Paul Freedman

Higher Naivete

Now, you might think of this as, indeed, gullible. A former colleague of mine put the thing very, very well. He spoke about, and I like to claim this approach, the position of scholarship to which we call the higher naiveté. The way this works is, you start out, you don’t know anything, and you’re naïve. You believe everything. Next, you get a college education and you don’t believe anything, and then you reach the level of wisdom, the higher naiveté, and you know what to believe even though you can’t prove it. Okay, be warned; I’m a practitioner of the higher naiveté. So, I think the way to deal with legends is to regard them as different from essentially sophisticated historical statements, but as possibly deriving from facts, which have obviously been distorted and misunderstood, misused and so on. But it would be reckless, it seems to me, to just put them aside and not ask yourself the question, “Can there be something believable at the root of this?”

And just to give you some small defense of that approach, I always like to ask students, “Suppose we didn’t have a single historical record, no newspaper, no diaries. You know nothing totally reliable for what happened in the latter part of the eighteenth century in America.” Would we know anything about what happened? Of course, we would. We would know that there was a revolution; it was against Great Britain. I’m sure we would know that the French assisted in that. I am certain we would know that George Washington was the commander of our forces in our battle. Those are easy. There’s no getting around reading those things, and then it gets to be more interesting as we speculate. We would know as a fact that George Washington threw a silver dollar across the Rappahannock River, except that it’s impossible. So, we would dismiss that one. We would be told that he was very honest and told his father he chopped down a cherry tree, which would be baloney, but we would be told that too. But I think we would be told also very many true things, which came down to us. So, the hard job would be to select among these legendary things, to see what fact can be found, and it will never be easy or deadly certain. But that’s what I’m talking about here.

CLCV 205: Introduction to Ancient Greek History
Lecture 3 – The Dark Ages (cont.), Donald Kagan

What are some good college courses on iTunes?

Two classes I enjoyed and recommend without reservation. (I selected the audio classes. I think you can pick video if you want.)

Via Yale:
The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877, David Blight
(HIST 119) This course explores the causes, course, and consequences of the American Civil War, from the 1840s to 1877. The primary goal of the course is to understand the multiple meanings of a transforming event in American history. Those meanings may be defined in many ways: national, sectional, racial, constitutional, individual, social, intellectual, or moral. Four broad themes are closely examined: the crisis of union and disunion in an expanding republic; slavery, race, and emancipation as national problem, personal experience, and social process; the experience of modern, total war for individuals and society; and the political and social challenges of Reconstruction. This course was recorded in Spring 2008.

Introduction to Ancient Greek History, Donald Kagan
(CLCV 205) This is an introductory course in Greek history tracing the development of Greek civilization as manifested in political, intellectual, and creative achievements from the Bronze Age to the end of the classical period. Students read original sources in translation as well as the works of modern scholars. This course was recorded in Fall 2007.