Gnaeus Mallius Maximus (thrived circa 100 BC) sought powers to grant Roman citizenship as a way to expand his power base. He also began to recruit men for his army from the very lowest census rank. With regard to these innovations, Sallust remarked,
If a man is ambitious for power, he can have no better supporters than the poor: They are not worried about their own possessions, since they have none, and whatever will put something into their pockets is right and proper in their eyes. (Sallust, Jugurthine War 86.3)
The poor have nothing to lose and therefore tend to vote their stomachs – or the NDP.
“Nothing in the horizon. Nothing in the sky… Around him are darkness, storm, solitude, wild and unconscious tumult, the ceaseless tumbling of the fierce waters; within him horror and exhaustion.” – Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
The people of Judah in Isaiah’s day might have identified with Hugo’s description of the drowning man. They too, were ‘up to their neck’ in a raging Flood that swept across the land – the Assyrian invasion. Picture the hills swarming with orcs like in the Lord of the Rings, and you get some idea of the absolute terror the Assyrian army inspired. Life in those days was short and brutal. Everything was constantly shifting and changing. But in those days of darkness and despair, the prophet Isaiah brought a word of comfort.
A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isa. 40:3-5 ESV)
The LXX version of this passage is quoted in Matthew, Mark and Luke in reference to John the Baptist. (Lk. 3:3-6, cf. Mk. 1:2-4; Matt. 3:1-3) And John the Baptist said that his ministry fulfilled these words of Isaiah. (Jn. 1:22-23) That this passage is quoted in all four gospels gives some indication of its importance. What makes this passage particularly significant is the context in which it appears. Isaiah connects the revelation of the glory of God with the Word of God and the proclamation of Good News.
A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isa. 40:6-8 ESV)
I recently read this verse with my grandmother and found myself choking up a little. I saw in her face, a vivid illustration of the meaning of Isaiah’s words. At 90 years of age, her outward beauty had faded away… As I read, I wondered if Isaiah offered any hope to my grandmother, and to the rest of us?
Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news (mevasheret tzion); lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. (Isa. 40:7-11 ESV)
The root word Isaiah uses for ‘good news’ (bashar) is always used in the context of war, and more specifically of news that the war is over and has been won. The one who brought the good news was a mevesheret, a herald of good news.
In ancient times, the swiftest soldier was sent from the battlefield to announce the news that the battle was won. Soldiers contested for the honor of being that person who announced to the cities that everything would be ok, that they no longer had to fear the enemy at the gate. This was truly good news although it is difficult for we, who have only known peace, to comprehend. If the battle was lost, it meant certain death for a great many; rape, pillage, and deportation for the rest. This has always been true in war.
I asked my grandmother what it was like to hear the news that WWII was over. Although she can barely speak, she can still reminisce a little about memories that are particularly vivid. She said, oh yes, she remembered when the news reached her small farm in central Alberta. The hired hand picked her up and hugged her. She was 19 at the time. My grandmother knew what it was like to hear the news that the war was over, and so did the millions of others who danced in the streets as church bells rang in every village and the boats on the Thames sounded their giant fog horns. It gave rise to a spontaneous outpouring of joy, the likes of which the world has rarely seen. The war is over!
Like so many other passages in the book of Isaiah, it is difficult to separate the near from the far, the historical from the prophetic. Although Isaiah’s words have a very real historical context, probably the invasion of the Assyrians, his words rise far above that event. When the glory of God is revealed, all flesh shall see it together. (vs. 5) Then all wrongs shall be made right and justice will be established on earth. (vss. 10-11) Isaiah uses the very real threat from the Assyrians and the good news that comes with victory in war to enable his listeners understand the real significance of an event that will bring world history to a conclusion. Our hope is in God, no matter how dark our own personal circumstances become.
The Hebrew word Isaiah uses for ‘good news’ (bishra) is translated as euangelion in the Greek and ‘gospel’ in English. (go = good + spel = story). About this good news, the apostle John declared,
From God we have received the eternal Word that “became flesh and made his dwelling among us… We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn. 1:1, 14 NIV)
And so the angels sang,
Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests. (Lk. 2:14 NIV)
Oh tidings of comfort and joy! Merry Christmas!
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light… (Is. 9:2a)
Be it mine to look up to your light, even from afar, even from the depths. Teach me to seek you, and reveal yourself to me, when I seek you, for I cannot seek you, except you teach me, nor find you, except you reveal yourself. Let me seek you in longing, let me long for you in seeking; let me find you in love, and love you in finding. Lord, I acknowledge and I thank you that you has created me in this your image, in order that I may be mindful of you, may conceive of you, and love you; but that image has been so consumed and wasted away by vices, and obscured by the smoke of wrong-doing, that it cannot achieve that for which it was made, except you renew it, and create it anew. I do not endeavor, O Lord, to penetrate your sublimity, for in no wise do I compare my understanding with that; but I long to understand in some degree your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand. (From Anselm’s Proslogion)
Plato gave the intellect priority over faith but Anselm reverses this so that where Plato’s system leads the common man to put his faith in ‘philosophers’ who have seen ‘the light’ (Plato’s metaphor of the Cave), Anselm would have all men put their faith in God and see the light. Of course, Anselm is simply echoing the ultimate book of wisdom.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. (Prov. 9:10 ESV)
The two major competing political ideologies in the west can be traced back to Anselm and Plato. Modern progressives would have us place our faith in enlightenment figures who are experts in their fields whereas conservatives are suspicious of claims of ‘enlightenment’ and would seek to protect us from the evils of fallen humanity.
The following is an excerpt from a letter that Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State, wrote to the relatives of a boy who survived the Holocaust.
I feel it necessary to write to you because I think a completely erroneous picture exists in the States of the former inmates of the concentration camps. Concentration camps were not only mills of death, they were also testing grounds. Here men persisted and, in a sense, fought for survival with the stake always nothing less than ones life. With the slightest slip, a fatal error. Such was the filth, the compulsion, the debasement, that a person had to be possessed of extraordinary powers, of physic and of will, to even want to survive. The intellectuals, the idealists, the men of high morals, had no chance. Having once made up ones mind to survive, it was a necessity to follow through with a singleness of purpose, inconceivable to you sheltered people in the States. Such singleness of purpose broached no stopping in front of accepted sets of values. It had to disregard ordinary standards of morality. One could only survive through lies, tricks, by somehow acquiring food to fill ones belly. The weak, the old, had no chance. And so liberation came. The survivors were not within the ordinary pale of human events anymore. They had learned that that looking back was sorrow, that sorrow was weakness, and weakness synonymous with death. they knew that having survived the camp, surviving the liberation was no problem. So they applied themselves to the peace with the same singleness of purpose, and sometimes with the same disregard of accepted standards as they had learned in the camp. Above all, they wanted no pity. Pity made them uncomfortable, jumpy. You would make a terrible mistake if you were to expect a broken boy. Helmut is a man. He has seen more than most people in a lifetime.
Kissinger’s letter plays on a theme that recurs throughout his career: the tension that exists, at least in his view, between morality and realism. Survival sometimes required a disregard for for moral standards that was inconceivable for those who had led sheltered lives. Isaacson notes that “Kissinger contrasted the cold realist, who survives, with the men of high morals who, in brutal situations, have no chance.” Kissinger describes the world in stark terms, “Life is suffering, birth involves death, transitoriness is the fate of existence. How can it be overcome? Only through the personal awareness and inward conviction that we each have of our own freedom”, Kissinger concludes. Having observed that, “the generation of Buchenwald and the Siberian labor camps cannot talk with the same optimism as its fathers,” Kissinger proclaimed his new historical creed, “The experience of freedom allows us to rise above the suffering of the past and the frustrations of history.”
Kissinger took the lessons he learned from Buchenwald and applied them to the political realm. Freedom is the power to defend ones own self-interests.
Both [Nixon and Kissenger] were practitioners of real politik, that blend of cold realism and power orientated statecraft that tended to be, to use Kissengers description of Bismark, unencumbered by moral scruples. They believed, as Kissinger had once written of his 19th century subjects, that foreign policy had to be based, not upon sentiment, but on an assessment of strength. In a conversation with Golda Meir, Nixon once twisted the golden rule into a power game, telling her, my rule in international affairs is, “Do unto others as they would do unto you” to which Kissenger interjected, “plus 10%”. Honorable men were often ridiculed by Nixon as prissy and weak. He preferred those who could be brutal, from Patton, to Conelly, to Colson. A willingness to talk tough and applaud ruthlessness was the best way to become Nixon’s co-conspirator against a hostile world.
In contrast, Christianity teaches that strength is found in sacrifice, not grasping after life. Freedom is found in exerting our will to do what is right, not what is in our self interest. This does not make the dilemmas of ruling a nation any less, but it provides a different framework for decision making; one that is rooted in humility and the fear of God. Is this idealistic rubbish?
The cold hard reality is that we cannot know what is in our own interest. It must have seemed like it was in our interest to sign a comprehensive trade deal with China, to make Saudi Arabia our main ally in the Middle East, and shovel billions at our bankrupt financial sector. What if we had tried to what was right instead?
The Bordeaux Pilgrim (333) – Mary is absent from the map of the Bordeaux pilgrim, even in Bethlehem.
Egeria (fifty years later) – Egeria makes no mention of specific sites dedicated to Mary.
Epiphanius (320-403) – In his Panariaon Epiphanius presents aberrant beliefs about Mary’s death as ‘popular misconceptions that he thinks could lead to heretical devotion’.
Jerome (347-420) – Jerome relates that Mary took part in the Nativity and the Flight into Egypt, but he mentions no distinct site dedicated to her. (386 A.D.)
Theodosius (530) – Theodosius mentions three places devoted to Mary : the Kathisma church on the road to Bethlehem; the tomb in the valley of Jehoshaphat and the site in Jerusalem where she was born, near the pool of Bethesda.
Pilgrim of Piacenza (570) – The Pilgrim of Piacenza states that he saw in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher an icon of the Blessed Mary, her girdle, ‘and the band which she used to have on her head’. In addition to the other, he mentions the New Church of St Mary (Nea) built by Justinian. This church was bigger than all the other churches in Jerusalem. Justinian wanted its glory to exceed that of Solomon’s Temple.
Most traditions relating to the biography of Jesus are based on the NT; most related to Mary derive from Apocryphal literature.
After the adoption of Christianity by the Roman Empires, Constantinople was made into ‘the City of the Virgin’. As early as the 4th decade of the fifth century, the Armenian lectionary bears evidence of a feast commemorating Marin in the Kathisma church on 15 August and other feasts followed: Annunciation (25 March), Mary’s Nativity (8 Sept) , her Presentation in the Temple (21 Nov) and, most importantly, her death (15 Aug).
At the Council of Ephesus in 431 Mary is declared Theotokos – Mother of God. By the 7th century the cult of the Virgin in the East “had reached a pitch that could hardly be surpassed”.
The 11th and 12th centuries saw rise of Marian devotion in the West. She was called Maria Regina, crowned, radiant and surrounded by angels; the mediatrix, mother of all humans.
“Pilgrims coming from Europe in the twelfth century could see the site of Mary’s original house, not its replica; the cave of the milk in Bethlehem, the source of the milk relics; the place where she tore her hair during the Crucifixion and the tomb in which her venerated garments were left behind. They could locate in space the events narrated in hagiography and celebrated in liturgy.” (Mary in Jerusalem 2014, 17)
The cult of the Virgin reached its peak in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries among the Franciscans.
Bianka Kuhnel, G. N.-B., Hanna Vorholt, Ed. (2014). Mary In Jerusalem. Visual Constructs of Jerusalem. Turnhout, Belgium, Brepols Publishers
In his 3rd Satire, Juvenal tells us what it was like to live in Rome in the late 1st century AD.
There is no room in the city for respectable skills, ‘he said, ‘and no reward for ones efforts. Today my means are less than yesterday; come tomorrow, the little left will be further reduced.
Those who got ahead were those willing to compromise and work as slaves for the wealthy elite.
…let those remain [in Rome] who are able to turn black into white, happily winning contracts for temple, river, harbor, for draining flooded land, and carrying corpses to the pyre-men who auction themselves beneath the owner’s spear… they are the sort that Lady Luck will take from the gutter and raise to the summit of worldly success, whenever she feels like having a joke.
Juvenal lists the frivolous kinds of tasks performed by servants for the super wealthy but he [Umbricius] would never stoop to doing such things to make a living. He writes,
…none will get help from me in a theft; that’s why I never appear on a governor’s staff; you’d think I was crippled – a useless trunk with a paralyzed hand.
The only ones who received patronage were those willing to lie and thieve.
Juvenal blames Rome’s decrepitude on the Greeks but he reserves his most vicious attack for the Syrians.
The Syrian Orontes has long been discharging into the Tiber, carrying with it its language and morals and slanting strings, complete with pipe, not to speak of its native timbrels and the girls who are told by their owners to ply their trade at the race-track.
Juvenal despises the change of dress, and with it, the loss of manhood.
Romulus, look-your bumpkin is donning his Grecian slippers…
I must get away from them and their purple clothes… We may as well face the truth. In most of Italy no one puts on a toga until he’s dead. On grand occasions, when a public holiday is being held in a grassy theatre,.. even then you will see similar clothes being worn by the stall and the rest alike; as robes of their lofty office, the highest aediles are content to appear in plain white tunics.
People lived beyond their means, purchasing clothes they could not afford.
Here the style of people clothes is beyond their means. Too much tends to be borrowed here from another’s account. That is a universal failing. All of us live in pretentious poverty…
Men were effeminate, speaking with high pitched voices, and playing the part of a woman on stage all too well.
What of the fact that the nation excels in flattery, praising the talk of an ignorant patron, the looks of one who is ugly, comparing the stalk-like neck of a weakling to Hercules’ muscles as he holds the giant Antaeus aloft well clear of the ground, admiring a squeaky voice which sounds as wretched as that of the cock, which seizes his partner’s crest in the act of mating?
We, of course, can pay identical compliments; yes, but they are believed. No actor from elsewhere is half as good when playing Thais, or the wife, or Doris who’s clad in no more than her tunic.
The ancient Romans are something of a mystery to me. Now and again, I come across a conservative Roman writer like Juvenal or Sallust who clings to an earlier, Roman ideal that was very different than that of the Greeks or the Etruscans. Where did the Romans come from?
St. Augustine viewed the ancient Romans with a mix of admiration and criticism. Their lust for glory was less bad than the “vices of the men of other nations or to the avarice, profligacy and love of luxury characteristic of the Romans in the latter days of the Republic and in the Empire…” (H. Deane, The Political and Social Ideas of Augustine, 51)
Glory they most ardently loved: for it they wished to live for it they did not hesitate to die. Every other desire was repressed by the strength of their passion for that one thing. (Augustine, City of God, 5:12)
In his Confessions, Augustine tells how he became suspicious of the appeal to reason made by the Manichee’s. In turn, he became more open to the possibility that not everything could be proven rationally. Augustine writes,
I thought it more modest and not in the least misleading to be told by the Church to believe what could not be demonstrated – whether that was because a demonstration existed but could not be understood by all or whether the matter was not open to rational proof – rather than from the Manichees to have a rash promise of knowledge with mockery of mere belief, and then afterwards to be ordered to believe many fabulous and absurd myths impossible to prove true. (Confessions VI.7)
Modern man mocks faith and believes the promises of science. But these same mockers end up believing many “fabulous and absurd myths impossible to prove true.” ie. the theory of how the first DNA molecule evolved from the primordial soup; or the multiverse theory that has been proposed to account for the fine tuning of our own particular universe for conscious life. Sometimes the modern Scientist looks a lot like the ancient Manichee.
Now, as individuals differ greatly from each other, in intelligence, sagacity, energy, perseverance, skill, habits of industry and economy, physical power, position and opportunity, – the necessary effect of leaving all free to exert themselves to better their condition, must be a corresponding inequality between those who may possess these qualities and advantages in a high degree, those who me be deficient in them. The only means by which this result can be prevented are, either to impose such restrictions on the exertions of those who may possess them in a high degree, as well place them on a level with those who do not; or to deprive them of the fruits of their exertions. But to impose such restriction some them would be destructive of liberty, – while, to deprive them of the fruits of their exertions, would be to destroy the desire of bettering their condition. It is , indeed, this inequality of condition between the front and rear ranks, in the march of progress, which gives so strong an impulse to the former to maintain their position, and to the latter to press forward into their files. This gives to progress its greatest impulse. To force the front rank back to the rear, or attempt to push forward the rear into line with the front, by the interposition of the government, would put an end to the impulse, and effectually arrest the march of progress.
Calhoun opposed the leveling of society because nature has not made all men equal. (Or to summarize Burke: ‘All me are equal before God but they are equal in no other way.’) He feared that a simple majority would begin to vote against the interests of minorities (ie. southern farmers). Although the South and its plantations were the first to suffer oppression from a voting bloc, they would not be the last. In a remarkably perceptive statement, Calhoun believed that industrial workers would eventually face the same fate as the southern farmer.
After we are exhausted, the contest will be between the capitalists and the operatives [workers]; for into these two classes it must, ultimately, divide society. The issue of the struggle here must be the same as it has been in Europe. Under the operation of the system, wages must sink more rapidly than the prices of the necessaries of life, till the portion of the products of their labor left to them, will be barely sufficient to preserve existence. For the present, the pressure is on our section.” (John Calhoun, 1828)
Calhoun wrote two decades before Marx and Engels but he perceived some of the same problems inherent in an industrialized, capitalist society. But Calhoun did not believe that a classless society was possible or desirable. Instead, he sought to protect each group’s interests from a ‘simple majority’ through the Constitution. Western society never bought into Marx’s Utopian ideals but neither did it adopt Calhoun’s conservatism. It chose instead to be ruled by ‘the Calculators’. This is the legacy of the Benthamites, of whom Coleridge writes,
It is this accursed practice of forever considering only what seems expedient for the occasion, disjoined from all principle or enlarged systems of action, of never listening to the true and unerring impulses of our better nature, which has led the colder-hearted men to the study of political economy, which has turned our Parliament into a real committee of public safety. In it is all power vested; and in a few years we shall either be governed by an aristocracy, or what is still more likely, by a contemptible democratical oligarcy of glib economists, compared to which the worst form of aristocracy would be a blessing. -Coleridge’s Table Talk – (cited by Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind)
Surprisingly, for me at least, even J.M Keynes recognized how badly Bentham’s utilitarian philosophy has served the West:
I do now regard [Benthamism] as the worm which has been gnawing at the insides of modern civilization and is responsible for its present moral decay. We used to regard the Christians as the enemy, because they appeared as the representatives of tradition, convention, and hocus-pocus. In truth it was the Benthamite calculus, based on over-valuation of the economic criterion, which was destroying the quality of the popular ideal.
Coleridge worried about an “oligarchy of glib economists” and Keynes thought that there was an “over-valuation of the economic criterion”. They were right. Today, our monetary and fiscal policy is entirely dictated by the markets. Who cares who the next president or prime minister is so long as central banks have the power to print money at will and lend it to investment ‘banks’ without cost. This perverse situation would not have arisen if a powerful oligarchy had not been able to buy the votes of a ‘simple majority’, as Calhoun fore saw.
Just noticed an interesting parallel between two historical episodes in the book of Isaiah. Isaiah warned both kings Ahaz and Hezekiah against making foreign alliances. Ahaz rejected Isaiah’s warning explicitly whereas it is not as clear where Hezekiah stood in relation to the prophet in the days leading up to the Assyrian invasion. Hezekiah would eventually come around, but only after Egypt proved to be every bit as unreliable as the prophet foretold. The Egyptian army was defeated on the coastal plains. Jerusalem was up to her neck in the raging Flood (Is. 8:6-8), “like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain” (Is. 30:17), “like a booth in a vineyard, like a lodge in a cucumber field, like a besieged city.” (Isa. 1:8b ESV)
Hezekiah and the Covenant with Egypt (Is 30:1-14)
Ahaz and the Covenant with Assyria (Is. 8:12-20)
Futility of foreign alliances
Egypt’s help is worthless and empty; therefore I have called her “Rahab who sits still.” (Isa. 30:7 ESV)
“Do not call conspiracy (or “alliance”) all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. (Isa. 8:12-13 ESV)
The prophet’s testimony inscribed in a book
And now, go, write it before them on a tablet and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come as a witness forever. (Isa. 30:8 ESV)
Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples. I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him. Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion. (Isa. 8:16-18 ESV)
The rejection of the prophet
For they are a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the LORD; who say to the seers, “Do not see,” and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.” (Isa. 30:9-11 ESV)
And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? 20 To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. (Isa. 8:19-20 ESV)
The Stoic philosopher, Epictetus (late 1st century AD), emphasized the importance of education for living a moral life.
“They are thieves and robbers,” you may say.
What do you mean by thieves and robbers?
“They are mistaken about good and evil.”
Ought we then to be angry with them, or to pity them? But show them their error, and you will see how they desist from their errors.
Epictetus goes on to argue that the thief and the robber are simply ignorant of what is good. They suffer from a deficiency in moral faculties like that of a person who cannot see. If the thief understood his true good, he would not have done it! Thus, there is no real basis for retributive justice.
“Ought not then this robber and this adulterer to be destroyed?”
By no means say so, but speak rather in this way:
“This man who has been mistaken and deceived about the most important things, and blinded, not in the faculty of vision which distinguishes white and black, but in the faculty which distinguishes good and bad, should we not destroy him?”
If you speak thus, you will see how inhuman this is which you say, and that it is just as if you would say, “Ought we not to destroy this blind and deaf man?” But if the greatest harm is the privation of the greatest things, and the greatest thing in every man is the will or choice such as it ought to be, and a man is deprived of this will, why are you also angry with him? Man, you ought not to be affected contrary to nature by the bad things of another. Pity him rather: drop this readiness to be offended and to hate, and these words which the many utter: “These accursed and odious fellows.”
The robber is like the blind and the deaf and so we ought to pity him instead of judge him. Knowledge is the solution. Educate him to his true his good and he will turn from his ways!
The essence of Greek philosophy may be summed up in the two words inscribed on a plaque and placed above the door of the temple of Apollo in Delphi: “Know Thyself”. The gnostic sects that emerged in the late Roman period likewise emphasized the importance of self awareness.
“Ignorance is slavery. Knowledge is Freedom. Seeking the Truth, we discover its seeds within us. If we unite with It, It will receive us in the Primordial Consciousness.” (“The Gospel of Phillip,” The Gnostic Society Library, http://gnosis.org/naghamm/gop.html)
Although modern humanism is more secular in outlook, it also begins and ends with man. And it also places a great deal of faith in education.
Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; The proper study of mankind is man. (Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man, Epistle II)
In contrast, the Bible tells us that we can and must know God, that we do not begin to live apart from God, and that only through the knowledge of the Holy One do we come to a true understanding of ourselves. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord… and I said Woe is me, for I am lost! (Isa. 6:1a,5a ESV)