Margaret Jean Cross Gibson, my Grandmother (January 17, 1926 – October 30, 2017)
My best memories of Grandma are connected with the old, Victorian home she and Grandpa owned in small town Alberta. I remember the flowers she planted around the house, the bird feeder in the back yard, the turned wooden banister and creaking wooden steps that led to the second floor, the dark, scary basement filled with jars of canned peaches and pickles, and the big ole freezer that usually held an ice cream pail full of cookies. My grandmother was always a welcoming and compassionate presence in my life.
In one of the last real conversations I had with my grandmother, she reminisced about the day victory was declared in Europe. She was in the yard, she said, when they heard the news. The hired hand picked her up and hugged her! She was only about 18 at the time. It was the very best kind of good news, like the word of God, which, though we like flowers fade away, stands forever.
Even to your old age I am he (ego eimi),
and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
I will carry and will save. (Is 46:4)
Today we start our dig on hill across from Et-tell, the ancient mound that should probably be identified with Ai. Last year during our survey we found this stone structure that looks worthy of further investigation. Was it an ancient altar? We hope to find out!
We can easily imagine, think of, contemplate and be attracted to the idea of giving our whole selves and lives over to God without actually doing it, and think we have done it because we have imagined it. Our imagination can even become an idol, a substitute. Dostoyevsky says: “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams.” We can think we love God when we are only dreaming about it. Here is a test whether you really love God. Have you done or avoided or given up a single thing today solely because you believed that God wanted you to? (Peter Kreeft and Pascal, Christianity for Modern Pagans – Pascal’s Pensees)
I listened to a lecture by Richard Dawkins some time ago in which he claimed that all intelligent men must accept that they have descended from turnips. I was surprised to hear Dawkins come right out and say this. Does Dawkins believe that turnips are a lower life form because they do not belong to his phyla? Then I submit that the opposite is true, that turnips are really superior to the human race, as can easily be shown.
The turnip harvests light energy from the sun and uses this energy to split one of the most stable molecules in existence… water. It accomplishes this tricky and dangerous task with the help of a complex molecular machine called the chloroplast. Even the authors of my biology textbook, who rarely display emotion, cannot help but raise their beakers with a toast to the chloroplast.
“…the splitting of water is the most thermodynamically challenging reaction known to occur in living organisms. Splitting water in a laboratory requires the use of a strong electric current or temperatures approaching 2000 deg Celsius. Yet a plant cell can accomplish this feat on a snowy mountainside using only the energy of visible light.” 1
By splitting water, the turnip plant takes what it needs from water (the 2H+ ions and 4e-) and releases what is left over… oxygen. And by absorbing CO2 and releasing O2 the turnip does a great service to those of us who need O2 and release CO2. But the turnip plant does much more than scrub the air. It uses the energy harvested from the sun and the carbon absorbed from the air and makes turnips!
It is good that the turnip plant makes turnips because human beings have not yet evolved photosynthesis. We need to get our energy from a different source than the sun and it so happens that a turnip contains a lot of energy… if we can get at it. But reducing a turnip back into usable energy is not easy. It requires another kind of cellular power plant… the mitochondria.
The mitochondria is a close counterpart to the chloroplast and uses a similar series of chemical reactions, except in reverse. Rather than splitting water and releasing oxygen, it uses oxygen to reassemble a molecule of water. In the process it releases CO2. Just as it was tricky for the chloroplast to split water, it is also tricky for the mitochondria to put the water molecule back together again. Here are the authors of my textbook again, positively ecstatic,
“A major challenge for investigators is to explain how [oxygen is transformed back into water]. Most importantly, the process must occur very efficiently because the cell is dealing with very dangerous substances; the “accidental” release of partially reduced oxygen species has the potential to damage virtually every macromolecule in the cell.” 2
These two little power plants, the mitochondria and the chloroplast, use each others waste products and final products. One splits water and releases oxygen, the other uses oxygen and re-assembles water. One uses CO2 to create a sugar or starch, the other uses sugar or starch and releases CO2. The complementary nature of the mitochondria and the chloroplast and the way they are both designed to make use of water, carbon and oxygen reveals a hi level of interdependence between turnips and men. However, if push comes to shove (metaphorically speaking), man will always need the turnip but the turnip only needs the sun. The conclusion naturally follows: the turnip is superior to man.
An Ode to the Turnip
with leafy green top
and pale yellow root.
You are very nutritious
although you taste
Carp, G. Cell and Molecular Biology: Concepts and Experiments, 2010 Wiley and Sons ↩
Much has been written down and preserved over the centuries that was not worth preserving. If the king had not paid his craftsmen to carve the words into stone, no one would bother to read them. And then there are words recorded on humble sheets of papyrus and parchment which were then copied and recopied, translated and copied again; loved and treasured by generations. Such are the words of Job!
Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! (Job 19:23-27 ESV)
As far as we know, Job never did get to carve his words in stone but many others have, the epitaphs of those who died with the hope that they too shall see God with their own eyes “at the last”.
And this is the testimony of the apostle John:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life– the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us– that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 Jn. 1:1-3 ESV)
That which we have seen with our own eyes… looked upon and have touched… the life made manifest… we have seen it… that which we have seen and heard… we proclaim. He is risen!
Henry Adams was a historian of 12th century France, the last of the Adams political dynasty. There is a section on him in Russel Kirk’s book “The Conservative Mind”. According to Kirk, Adams thought that state socialism was nearly inevitable in the West “and wholly odious; it would triumph over capitalism because it is cheaper, and modern life always rewards cheapness.” That prediction has turned out to be true (if “state capitalism” = “state socialism”) but I wonder how he came to that conclusion? He was writing long before Walmart, McDonald’s, and Levittown came on the scene. Why does modern life reward cheapness?
For centuries Protestant children have been taught that the chief end of man is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever” and Catholic children that “man was created for God.” But in Europe, in the 19th century, educators began to tell their students that “the true aim of our life here on earth… is the cultivation to the full of the talents with which we have been endowed.”1 This view of education can be traced to Rousseau’s Emile, where the philosopher summarizes his view of childhood development as follows: “Plants are formed by cultivation, human beings by education.”2
The skeptical philosopher, David Hume, and a friend of Rousseau’s (for a time), likewise states his conviction that the cultivation and nurturing of one’s natural inclinations is necessary to find happiness. In a short, autobiographical note he explains that “his whole life was lived in accordance with sentiments that he felt naturally springing up within himself – ‘and shou’d I endeavor to banish them, by attaching myself to any other business or diversion, I feel I shou’d be a loser in point of pleasure; and this is the origin of my philosophy.”3 Here are the twin creeds of modern western society. Pursue your bliss! Express yourself!
In Germany, philosophers like Kant and Fichte went on to build massive philosophical systems around the Ego – the ‘I’ – which replaced God as the source of truth and certainty. Their ideas began to go mainstream in Prussia in 1809 when Napoleon gave Wilhelm von Humboldt charge of the German education system. Humboldt developed a curriculum that emphasized “individual efflorescence” as the essence of Bildung [Education]. He believed that early education should stress general principles which would favor “the all-around development of the free individual personality”. 4 For this reason, Humboldt did not focus on teaching the boy’s specific skills but required them to study the Greek language and Classics in depth. Through the study of Greek, he hoped, students would become Greeks themselves. 5 Biographer Daniel Blue observes that this Humboldtian idea was “essentially secular and, while not inimical to religion, did not demand any specific reference to God. The allure of this crypto-pagan vision would have been the more insidious because it was internalized almost subconsciously.” 6 Humboldt expresses this “crypto-pagan vision” clearly in the following creed: “The first law of true morality is therefore: Develop yourself.” 7 Like the Greeks who engraved the epigram “Know thyself” above the door of the temple to Apollo in Delphi, Humboldt believed that knowledge and wisdom begin with Man instead of God.
Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is man. Alexander Pope
It not surprising, then, that the young Friedrich Nietzsche quickly abandoned his faith at Pforta, a Prussian boarding school for boys. Nietzsche’s friend Duseen recalls how their “faith began to weaken” due to their academic studies. He writes, “[Our fervor] was undermined unnoticeably by the excellent historical-critical method in which the older students were trained in Pforta, and which quite spontaneously was applied to the biblical field, for example when Steinhart in the Hebrew class at sixth-year level explained the Forty-Fifth Psalm completely as a secular wedding song.” 8
Nietzsche imbibed the ideal of self cultivation from his days at Pforta. He regularly wrote long reports on his life assessing his performance. In the ideal of Bildung [Education], “he found a metaphysic of self, the belief in an autonomous and guiding individuality that must find expression or die. If religion stood in the way, it must go.” 9 And where did this metaphysic of self take the young Nietzsche? Into the arms of Emerson, Feurbach, and Schopenhauer. Nietzsche was particularly enthralled by Manfred, a poem written by Byron, in which the hero defies God to the end and ultimately commits suicide. Inspired by these and other stories, Nietzsche wrote a musical composition entitled “Satan rises out of Hell” but abandoned it because he found it difficult “to strike the exact Satanic note.” 10
Let us jump forward to today. Why are students so quick to take offense at anything that threatens their own particular sense of identity or individuality? Are they not products of an education system that has taught them that they are “free individual personalities” that must find expression or die; or to put it more succinctly, that the chief end of man is to express himself?
Blue, D. The making of Friedrich Nietzsche : the quest for identity, 1844-1869. pg 102 ↩
On a side note, it is somewhat ironic that Rousseau should write a book on education. He fathered up to four children with a seamstress and then colluded with her mother to force the poor girl to give them up to a foundling house. ↩
Harris, J. A. Hume : an intellectual biography. Cambridge University Press. 2015. 120-121 ↩
Blue, D. The making of Friedrich Nietzsche : the quest for identity, 1844-1869. pg 104 ↩
Seneca was a Roman a stoic philosopher and important statesman during the reign of Nero. His letters give us some insight into the ideas circulating in Rome around the time of the apostles. Here, for example, is what Seneca has to say about religious observation and the quest for wisdom.
You are doing the finest possible thing and acting in your best interests if, as you say in your letter, you are persevering in your efforts to acquire a sound understanding. This is something it is foolish to pray for when you can win it from your own self. There is no need to raise our hands to heaven; there is no need to implore the temple warden to allow us close to the ear of some graven image, as though this increased the chances of our being heard. (Letter XLI)
At first it appears that Seneca is advocating pure humanism. “The truth is within you… etc.” But when we read further, it becomes less clear cut than that. Seneca argues for the futility of religion but nevertheless maintains that a man cannot be good without God.
God is near you, is with you, is inside you. Yes, Lucilius, there resides within us a divine spirit, which guards us and watches us in the evil and the good we do. As we treat him, so will he treat us. No man, indeed, is good without God – is any one capable of rising above fortune unless he has help from God? He it is that prompts us to noble and exalted endeavors. In each and every good man, “A god (what god we are uncertain) dwells.” (quotation from Virgil, Aeneid, VIII)
If you have ever come on a dense wood of ancient trees that have risen to an exceptional height, shutting out all sight of the sky with one thick screen of branches upon another, the loftiness of the forest, the seclusion of the spot, your sense of wonderment at finding so deep and unbroken a gloom out of doors, will persuade you of the presence of a deity. (Letter XLI)
Is Seneca thinking of the deity as the Creator here? I am not sure. But what is certain is that Seneca sees evidence for the existence of a deity in the natural world. (Rom 1:19) Seneca also thinks of this deity as imminent. “God is near you, is with you, is inside of you.” The apostle Paul also emphasizes the nearness of God (Acts 17:27, cf. Rom 10: 7-8) but the dwelling of God’s Spirit is conditioned upon being made right with God through the Lord Jesus. Seneca does not conceive of God in this same personal way. That being said, Seneca does believe that God will judge us for the evil and the good that we do. Some of Seneca’s ideas are similar to those of the apostle Paul. Some of the early church fathers maintained that Seneca corresponded with Paul which seems possible.
There is a cuneiform text from Bronze Age Ugarit that makes reference to a god named Rapiu whose temple was in Athtarat and Edrei.
May Rapiu (rpu), King of Eternity, drink [wi]ne ,
yea, may he drink, the powerful and noble [god],
the god enthroned in Athtarat,
the god who rules in Edrei
whom men hymn (d yshr) and honour with music
on the lyre and the flute (tlb),
on drum (tf) and cymbals,
with castanets of ivory,
among the goodly companions of Kothar.
And may Anat the power<ful> drink,
the mistress of kingship,
the mistress of dominion,
the mistress of the high heavens,
[the mister]ss of the earth (KTU 1.108)
The text refers to Athtarat and Edrei as twin cities. They also appear together in the Bible.
“Og King of Bashan, of the remnant of the Rephaim, who dwelt in Ashtaroth and in Edrei” (Josh 12:4)
These two cities came to an end at the end of the Late Bronze Age which means that the Bible accurately relates information from that time period. KTU 1.108 links these two cities with the god Repiu and the Bible says that the people who lived in these cities were named the Rephaim. Could it be that the people were called ‘Rephaim’ after the name of the god they worshiped?
The Bible says that the Rephaim were called the emim by the Moabites and the zamzumim by the Amonites (Deut 2:10-11,20). It also says that the Rephaim were considered like the Anakim. (Deut. 2:11) The Anakim may have been a people of Cretan / Greek origin who lived in the region of Caria on the east coast of Asia Minor before settling in the area around Hebron in the southern hills of Canaan.1 According to Numbers, Hebron was built seven years before Zoan (the Hyksos capital in the Delta region of Egypt) which means Hebron was founded around 1736 BC. 2
They went up into the Negeb and came to Hebron. Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, were there. (Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) (Num. 13:22 ESV)
The Bible says that Arba was the father of the Anakim. O. Margalith points out that a number of cities on Crete bear names like Arbion and Arbis, and there was a temple to Zeus Arbios built on Mount Arbion. 3 Greek legend tells how the nymph Dione bore a son to Apollo in Crete named Miletus. This Miletus roamed at the head of a band of Cretan warriors and reached Caria on east coast of Asia Minor. There he founded the city of Miletus. The country was called Anactoria, ruled by Asterius son of Anax. 4
If the Rephaim are numbered among the Anakim then it is probable that they too are of foreign origin, or at least their king was, for Og does not look like a Semitic name. “Og” is reminiscent of the names of kings from Anatolia such as Gyges, the king of Lydia, and Gog, the future king of a northern people mentioned in Ezekiel. An explanatory note in Deuteronomy adds that Og had an iron bed that was 13′ long which could still be seen on display in the Ammonite city of Rabbah. (Deut. 3:11) 5 Curiously enough, the Greek author Pausanius relates that Asterius, the father of Anax, was reportedly more the ten cubits long!
Before the city of the Milesians is an island called Lade, and from it certain islets are detached. One of these they call the islet of Asterius, and say that Asterius was buried in it, and that Asterius was the son of Anax, and Anax the son of Earth. Now the corpse is not less than ten cubits. (Pausanius, The Description of Greece)
According to Genesis 14, the Emim, Rephaim, and Zamuzumim were once the names of distinct people groups that inhabited the Trans-Jordan.
In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him came and defeated the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh-kiriathaim, (Gen. 14:5 ESV)
The Rephaim are also mentioned in a list of people groups that inhabited the land of Canaan recorded in the book of Genesis.
On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim,the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.” (Gen. 15:18-21 ESV)
This is the first place where the original inhabitants of the land of Canaan are listed. The list takes on a formulaic expression in Exodus and Joshua but noticeably missing from these later lists are the Kenizzites, the Kenites, the Kadmonites, and the Rephaim. 6
…the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. (Jos. 3:10 ESV)
Why don’t these later lists of the inhabitants of Canaan include the Rephaim while the list in Genesis does? One explanation is found in Deuteronomy where the Rephaim are called a remnant, suggesting that they had once been a much larger and more powerful group. (Deut. 3:11) Thus, the list in Genesis probably reflects Canaan in the time of Abraham. The Rephaim probably flourished in the Middle Bronze Age although almost nothing of their civilization is known. In this regards, we do well to take the advice of Thucydides who warns his readers from reconstructing history on the basis of archaeology alone. The people mostly lived in villages back then and so we should not expect to find much left of their civilization. 7 The arrival of the Rephaim and the Anakim in the land of Canaan is perhaps marked by the many shaft tombs discovered at Jericho and elsewhere that contain just a single body buried with weapons and distinctive “bloated” pottery. By the Late Bronze period, the Rephaim seem to have been confined to a small area of the Trans-Jordan.
As previously mentioned, the Rephaim are missing from the later lists of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, probably because they were no longer in the land of Canaan proper. The Kenites and the Kenizzites are also missing from these later lists, but for a different reason. They seem to have been partially assimilated into Israel. Moses father-in-law was a Kenite and this group was still distinguishable in Jeremiah’s day as the Rechabites who were commended by the prophet for their faithfulness to the laws of their ancestors. (1 Chron. 2:55, Jer. 35) Likewise, the Kenizzites seem to have been assimilated into the people of Israel. Caleb’s father Jephunneh was a Kenizzite. And the Kadmonites??? I don’t know but they are an interesting group.
KTU 1.108 provides some interesting information about the worship of the god Repiu.
May Rapiu (rpu), King of Eternity, drink [wi]ne… whom men hymn and honour with music, on the lyre and the flute (tlb), on drum (tf) and cymbals, with castanets of ivory.
Repiu looks a lot like Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and theatre, who was worshiped through frenzied dances and wild music as Aeschylus so vividly describes:
One on the fair-turned pipe fulfills
His song, with the warble of fingered trills
The soul to frenzy awakening.
From another the brazen cymbals ring.
The aulos blares out, but beneath is the moan
Of the bull-voiced mimes, unseen, unknown,
And in deep diapason the shuddering sound
Of drums, like thunder, beneath the ground.
If Repiu is a underworld deity like the underworld spirits called the Rephaim then this provides another point of comparison with Dionysus who is likewise connected with the underworld. It is curious that the name Og was found on a 6th – 5th century inscription from Byblos where he is perhaps identified as a underworld deity. (HALOT, “Og”) The Anake were also worshiped as underworld deities in Athens. 8 I don’t know what to make of it.
KTU 1.108 also tells us that Repiu’s consort is Anat a goddess whose attributes share much in common with Ishtar, the Mesopotamian goddess of sex and war. The full name of the city of Ashtaroth is ‘Ashtaroth Karnaim’ which means “the horned goddess”. Thus it would seem that Anat = Astarte = Ishtar. Astarte was worshiped in the Trans-Jordan through the Iron Age. A statue of a goddess wearing a three horned mitre was found in an Edomite shrine at Horvat Qitmit. And there are some much older depictions of what may be a three horned goddess from Egypt and from a symbol on a copper saw found in a stash of bronze weapons and tools at Kfar Monash in Israel.
The Kfar Monash horde is one of the more curious displays in the Israel Museum. It is very early. Some even make these bronze pieces contemporary with those found in the Cave of the Treasure (another large stash of unusually fine bronzes thought to date to the Chalcolithic period) although Ben Tor makes a good case for a later date. The casting evinces a high level of excellence. Furthermore, some of the spear heads are Huge! The largest is 66 cm long and weighs slightly more than 2 kilograms. If fitted to a properly balanced shaft it would make for an exceptionally cumbersome weapon. A short English pike typically weighed 2.5 kg’s… heavy ash pole included! Hestrin and Tadmor thought the larger spear heads from the Kfar Monash hoard might be used for ceremonial purposes. 9 I think Yadin suggested that they may have been used to dismantle enemy fortifications. 10 Also found among this hoard were copper plates probably used for armor. They are also unusually large. (The average size is 11 x 4.5 cm.)11 Typical scale armor from later periods uses bronze plates that are about 1/4 the size. 12 These weapons and tools probably date to the end of the Early Bronze Age.
The “Stelae of the Year 400” of Ramesses II discovered at San el-Hagar describes the coming to Tanis of Seti I, father of Ramesses II, in the capacity of vizir for Haremheb in order to celebrate a festival commemorating the 400th anniversary of the inauguration of the Seth cult in that place. – 1723 BC. Mazar, B., et al. (1986). The early Biblical period : historical studies. Jerusalem, Israel Exploration Society. ↩
Margalith, O. (1994). The Sea Peoples in the Bible. Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz. ↩
It has been suggested that the bed was actually a sarcophagus. ↩
The Genesis list does not include the Hivites in the BHS but they do appear in the in the LXX. ↩
Now Mycenae may have been a small place, and many of the towns of that age may appear comparatively insignificant, but no exact observer would therefore feel justified in rejecting the estimate given by the poets and by tradition of the magnitude of the armament. For I suppose if Lacedaemon were to become desolate, and the temples and the foundations of the public buildings were left, that as time went on there would be a strong disposition with posterity to refuse to accept her fame as a true exponent of her power. And yet they occupy two-fifths of Peloponnese and lead the whole, not to speak of their numerous allies without. Still, as the city is neither built in a compact form nor adorned with magnificent temples and public edifices, but composed of villages after the old fashion of Hellas, there would be an impression of inadequacy. Whereas, if Athens were to suffer the same misfortune, I suppose that any inference from the appearance presented to the eye would make her power to have been twice as great as it is. We have therefore no right to be skeptical, nor to content ourselves with an inspection of a town to the exclusion of a consideration of its power. (Thucydides, Book 1) ↩
We are all Keynsians now. In Canada, Justin Trudeau was elected on the promise that he would build Canada’s infrastructure (and run large budget deficits). Trump has also promised a massive infrastructure build out (with hundred year bonds!). Running multi-year deficits doesn’t seem to matter anymore. If anyone objects, the theories of John Maynard Keynes are always trotted out. So who is this guy exactly?
I encountered Keynes unexpectedly when I stopped to ask for directions while jogging on a road near Cambridge.
Me: Excuse me, can you tell me if there is a trail by the river that will take me back Cambridge?
Fellow: Oh yeah, just take this road to Grantchester Meadow’s and you will find a path from there.
Fellow: You know Grantchester Meadows? Pink Floyd?
Me: Oh, right! Pink Floyd! Of course! Thanks.
That was my first introduction to Grantchester Meadows and, admittedly, to the song by Pink Floyd apparently inspired by the picturesque meadow beside the River Cam. I also learned that Grantchester was the famous haunt of a group of Cambridge intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury Group who sought to bring about social change by embracing a new kind of paganism (if I am not mistaken, they referred to themselves as ‘neo-pagans’). Among them were influential writers, philosophers, academics and one economist, J.M. Keynes . During his university days at Cambridge, Keynes also belonged to an exclusive club called the Cambridge Apostles. Founded in the mid 1800’s, the Cambridge Apostles would become famous in the 1950’s when five former members of the club were charged with spying for the Soviets. Besides Keynes, several other Cambridge Apostles were also part of the Bloomsbury Group.
I am not sure what ‘The Apostles’ were like in the early days but by the time Keynes joined the group it was a philosophic debating club modeled on Plato’s Symposium. They were the educated elite who had stepped out of the cave of appearances into the broad daylight of reason. In practice this meant throwing off traditional and religious restraints that had come to define Christian morality.
Speaking of his relationship with Strachey, Keynes said that he and Strachey had “repudiated entirely customary morals, conventions, and traditional wisdom. We were, that is to say, in the strict sense of the term, immoralists. The consequences of being found out had, of course, to be considered for what they were worth. But we recognized no moral obligation on us, no inner sanction, to conform or to obey. … Yet so far as I am concerned, it is too late to change. I remain and always will remain, an immoralist.” 1
So what exactly does it mean to be an ‘immoralist’? The following biographical sketches are taken from an article that is sympathetic to Keynes. It pulls from documents that I presume are reliable. To begin, here is an excerpt from a letter Keynes wrote to one of his friends, Gerald Shove.
“I did in the end stroll out on Tuesday night and bring a boy back. He told me that there are many fewer this week because last week the police were active and locked two up.” His friend, Gerald Shove – to whom this letter was written – was concerned that he might be arrested. He had written, “I’m not sure your passion for low life isn’t vicious, but perhaps you keep it within bounds ” Continuing, he inquired, “I’m dying to know what your adventure was and whether you’re safe again. Of course, you can’t describe it on paper, but do let me hear when you’re escaped, or are arrested.” 2
Keynes had another affair in those pre-1914 years with a lovely “Cockney lad,” an actor by the name of Francis St. George Nelson. “St. George” – as Maynard and Duncan called him – was engaged in a rather profitless occupation, and Keynes often had to rescue him when he was stranded and broke in some seaside town. They both were very fond of the young man (he was in his late teens), partly because he was “a vicarious source of low-life adventures.” 2
Keynes sexual escapades with boys was an ideal embraced by the Cambridge Apostles whose members aspired to “Higher Sodomy”. Keynes used his position of power to force a young Indian boy in his late teens to become his lover and preyed on the boy’s vulnerability as a foreigner to get what he wanted.
The Cambridge Apostles had all the makings of a cult, with ideas every bit as absurd as the Branch Davidians.
Once elected, an Apostle swore the “curse,” or vow of secrecy, and placed all other obligations second to those of the Brotherhood. Embryos, Apostles, and Angels gathered behind locked doors every Saturday evening, to eat anchovy toast and to discuss a particular Brother’s essay delivered on the hearth rug. In addition to secrecy and ritual, the Brothers invented a coded language and a neo-Platonic schema of the world that divided “reality” (anything and anyone related to the Society) from the “phenomenal” (the non-Apostolic realm of women, politics, and the masses). Though they claimed they wanted “everyone” to “be Apostolic,” the Brothers believed that only they belonged to “a certain type, rare like all good things.” The Society bolted its doors to the uninitiated, allowing only the select few to “breathe that magic air.” 4
During the 1890s, Bertrand Russell argued that the inclusion of women would assist in the discussion of sexual matters, but the Brothers favored the logic of Angel Roger Fry whose paper “Ought We to Be Hermaphrodite?” made it possible to ignore the presence of women at Cambridge altogether. Fry expressed the “terrific thought” that no woman had ever existed or could exist as long as the Society admitted only males to Apostolic reality 5
Years later, the Edwardian Brothers still believed that any unnecessary contact with the opposite sex jeopardized the “Apostolic character” and was “sufficient to frighten others off the higher ground of Sodomy.” 6
The Apostles’ notion of fraternity met with some criticism. Overall, the Brothers described their relations with the opposite sex as “always degraded.” 7
Elected to the Society in 1890, J. E. McTaggart remained at Cambridge, lecturing on Hegel and inviting privileged undergraduates to pay court in his rooms on Thursday evenings. His Apostle paper, “Violets or Orange Blossom,” a defense of male love, was prized and re-read by future members of the Society. According to McTaggart’s theory of reincarnation, male friendships developed out of a recognition of souls that had loved one another in a previous existence. This communion of souls in the perfect love of friendship constituted a heaven in need of no God. McTaggart designated Love – male love – as the Absolute, and not even conjugal relations could erode what he called the “all-consuming bonds of spiritual love.” 8
Many will argue that members of this group were genetically predisposed to act this way. But according to the Apostles, it was their philosophy that led them to form homosexual relationships. Many of them eventually married.
Though he married in 1899, McTaggart promised the Society that his new state would neither replace nor transcend his ties to the Brotherhood. In fact, his “phenomenal wife,” Margaret Bird, seemed “almost Apostolic” in her fondness of metaphysical discussion and schoolboys. 9
Likewise, another of the Apostles writes that he was never interested in men until he joined the Society.
Dickinson himself did not discover the “highest reaches” until his election to the Society in 1890. In his memoirs he wrote that as a youth he expected to find love with a woman, but his participation in the Society reaffirmed his “discovery of Greek Love as he read of it in Plato.” 10
Keynes eventually settled down with a woman as did Lytton Strachey. Their homosexuality was an outward expression of their complete rejection of Christian religion and tradition. The symbols and rituals of the Cambridge Apostles seem to have been designed to replace Christian ones. They kept a book containing a list of former Apostles together with notes from their meetings. They called it ‘the Book’ and kept it in a cedar Ark along with essays written by former Apostles.
The Society’s bond of Brotherly Love searched the Society’s ark, a “charming cedarwood chest,” where previous essays and meeting minutes were stored, for a roster of Higher Sodomites and reminded his Brothers that only “Us the terribly intelligent, the artistic, the overwhelmed” attain Love. 11
They worshiped their idealized version of Man and believed that they were on the path to attaining that ideal. Having embraced the philosophic life they were ready to rule the world. And so they did! The membership roll of the Cambridge Apostles and the Bloomsbury Group reads like a veritable ‘who’s who’ list of intellectual elite in the UK.
Does it matter that Keynes ‘the economist’ was ‘an immoralist’? It doesn’t seem to matter to most commentators. Even those who sincerely oppose his ‘immoralist’ worldview seem to think that our current economic malaise is just a natural part of the business cycle. But if it is true that beliefs have real world consequences and that the greater the power and prestige of those who hold those beliefs, the more widespread the consequences will be, then yes, it does matter. The fiscal and monetary regime J.M. Keynes enabled may go down in history as the greatest conceit ever imposed on the human race.
For in pride is destruction and much trouble, and in lewdness is decay and great want: for lewdness is the mother of famine. (Tobit 4:13)
Hession, C. H. (1993). “PERSPECTIVE: Keynes, Strachey, and the Gay Courage To Be.” Challenge 36(4): 55 ↩