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The Devil’s Dictionary Print E-mail
By Anthony Esolen   
Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Recent events at Providence College, where I work, led me to open a handbook that I came upon one day while I was waiting for a subway in the underparts of Washington. It had a sulfurous smell to it and was so sooty and well thumbed in places that I could hardly decipher it. I offer here a few of the entries for consideration.

Academic Freedom: That principle which, in its august impartiality, permits both liberals and conservatives to deride moral, religious, and intellectual systems many centuries old, without necessarily knowing anything about them.

Academic Responsibility: That other principle which, with similarly august impartiality, warns both liberals and conservatives against uttering criticisms against moral, religious, and intellectual fashions of the day, regardless of how deeply they may have considered them.

Association of American University Professors: A liberal political union that does part-time work fighting for better pay and lighter duties for professors, and higher tuition for students and their parents. Fairness, as defined in practice by the AAUP: “License for me; speech codes, sensitivity training, public censure, vindictive evaluations, cruel delays, loss of employment, and a ruined career for thee.”

Bigot: Someone who disagrees with the open-minded mob.

Catholics: Divisible into two groups, good and bad. The bad Catholic follows the teachings of the Church and of the popes with blind enthusiasm, while casting a cold eye on the ephemera of contemporary politics. The good Catholic attends Mass on Sunday and is otherwise blessedly indistinguishable from everybody else.

Collegiality: What professors who do not endorse the idée du jour never possess.

Equal Opportunity: A system that grants candidates equal chances for employment, after they have been nudged, up or down, according to various characteristics; as if a game of baseball were played with movable foul lines, and an expanding and contracting strike zone.

Free Discussion: What happens when a professor uses his classroom as a pulpit to browbeat his students with his own interpretation of current events, in response to which the students freely express their enthusiastic agreement, or freely remain silent, or freely express a tentative and hesitant disagreement, without suffering the slightest odium from their fellow students, or vengeance from the professor.

Jesus Christ: The man who was crucified for expressing progressive opinions, and who was also too timid to express progressive opinions, depending upon whether the date is odd or even.

LGBTQQIAA: A coded series of letters imparting secret information to devotees of a modern mystery cult known as “sexuality.”

Mao Zedong: A Chinese intellectual who may or may not have been responsible for a few deaths of his own people, by way of necessary modernization of his country.

Mockery: What neither Satan nor the academic can endure.

Multiculturalism: The study of people from various select groups, who wear the same clothes, listen to the same music, read the same newspapers, watch the same television, go to the same schools, and utter the same inanities. Thus: to read a book by a grouchy Chinese American woman living in a penthouse in San Francisco is multicultural; to learn Old Icelandic and to read the Laxdael Saga in the original is not.

Racism: The contemptible belief that we should judge a man by the content of his character, rather than by the color of his skin.

Religion: The cause of every war waged by man, with these insignificant exceptions: every war fought by Greece, Rome, Persia, Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, China, Japan, India, the Vikings, the Vandals, the Goths, the Celts, the Huns, the Mongols, the American Indians, the Aztecs, the Incas, and the Mayans; also, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War; the Crimean War, the Franco-Prussian War, the Russo-Japanese War, the French and Indian War, and almost every other war in which Islam has played no part.

Separation of Church and State: The insulation of statists from any influence arising from any coherent moral code whatever, especially if the code was commonly held before the day before yesterday, whenever that day may be.

Sexism: An irrational belief, drawing an unwarranted conclusion from the observation of every species of mammal and from the testimony of every human culture, that there are noticeable and significant differences between men and women.

Shared Governance: The principle whereby your plumber tells you what pipes and fixtures you want, your builder tells you what house you are going to live in, and your babysitter tells you when your children are to go to bed.

Student-led protest: KP to KP4.

Tenure: What not even your congressman possesses. Tenure was initially instituted to protect professors, in their investigations into truth, from the vindictiveness of intellectual factions. It is now a means of protecting the most popular factions from challenge, while allowing professors belonging to those factions almost unlimited license to do as they please in the classroom.

United States of America: A massive lactating sow from which the professoriate feeds, while blaming her and her bloated flesh for every evil in the world, especially those which are far away from the professorial sight and smell.

Western Civilization: That wicked brew of Christianity and Greco-Roman civilization responsible for the atrocities of Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Virgil, the Sacred Scriptures, Herodotus, Thucydides, Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Chaucer, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Leonardo da Vinci, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Palestrina, Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Doctor Johnson, and Saint Francis; guilty of inventing the disciplines of philosophy, theology, political science, systematic mathematics, historiography, geology, logic, linguistics, and musical theory; plaguing the world with orphanages, monasteries, universities, hospitals, schools for the poor, hospices, trade guilds, museums, chapels, and cathedrals; burdening mankind, in its Christian manifestation, with the dread calls to faith, hope, and charity.

 
Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. His latest books are Reflections on the Christian Life: How Our Story Is God’s Story and Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child. He teaches at Providence College. 
 
 
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Comments (22)Add Comment
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written by Randall, October 16, 2013
Should I laugh or cry?
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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, October 16, 2013
Why am I not surprised that the handbook did NOT contain a definition of "Catholic University." Now THAT would have been most enlightening (and entertaining).
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written by Rich in MN, October 16, 2013
Apparently, the new President of the University of St Thomas up here in St Paul, MN, Julie Sullivan, used her school year opening convocation address to put students on notice that: "We are called to love and support everyone in our community regardless of their sexual orientation.... And, I might add, regardless of the gender of their spouse." Based on this and a myriad of other examples, I think the dictionary should include a definition of "Dialogue: a conversation between Church and higher Catholic education mediated by the latter's ideological axe to grind."

Oh, and we in Minnesota take offense at your mentioning "war" and "Viking" in the same context. If the modern incarnation is any indication, the Vikings were a people with small swords and no shields....
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written by Grump, October 16, 2013
Democracy: A bludgeoning of the people by the people for the
people. (Oscar Wilde)
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written by Stanley Anderson, October 16, 2013
Can we assume that "devil" was not to be found in the book at all?
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written by Achilles, October 16, 2013
Brilliant! I will have to get a copy!
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written by John A. Dempsey, October 16, 2013
All the wars of the pre-modern world, at least the ones waged by the peoples mentioned in this post, possessed a definite religious element. The author is way off the mark in this regard.
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written by Athanasius, October 16, 2013
Gaston: "Lefou, I'm afraid I've been thinking."
Lefou: "A dangerous pastime."
Gaston: "I know!"

From Disney's Beauty and the Beast.
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written by Chris in Maryland, October 16, 2013
We Catholic parents, who cannot/will not face the truth of this situation, send our own children, our very lambs, to be fleeced of their own culture/identity by the false shepherds at our "Catholic" colleges, who lead these lambs beside the poison river of forgetfulnness, and make them drink.
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written by Chris in Maryland, October 16, 2013
John Dempsey:

I believe you are way off the mark here. The author was specifically addressing "the cause" of the wars pre-modern (and modern) - not thta they merely "had a religious element."

I believe you may have just given evidence that proves the authors point.
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written by Achilles, October 16, 2013
Dear Chris, your comments on the schools are dead on. I would to spend some time talking to you. Pax Christi, Achilles
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written by Chris in Maryland, October 16, 2013
Achilles:

I would be happy to discuss...we would have to find the way to connect. Thoughts?
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written by Brad Miner, October 16, 2013
Achilles and Chris in Maryland,

With your permission, I could make the introduction.

-ABM
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written by Lawrence Hall, October 16, 2013
Most interesting.

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written by Rosemary, October 16, 2013
Ouch! Your piercing comments are accurate, sad to say.
After visiting Providence College last year with our son, we were dismayed that the fabulous sports facilities were showcased so strongly. The academic and spiritual was presented as almost an afterthought. Surely, that would be denied by the college but that was the experience of our tour. This seemed typical of most Catholic colleges we visited except one. Another college bragged that its sports stars have great GPAs. Hmmm.
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written by Mr. Levy, October 16, 2013
Immortal!

Another inimitably witty and piercing column by Prof. Esolen.
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written by Sam, October 17, 2013
Dear Jack Dempsey. The claim "religion caused wars" is not the same as "wars possessed a definite religious element". All wars "possess a definite economic element" but that does not mean that "economics causes wars". All wars "possess a definite cultural element" but that does not mean "culture causes all wars". See? This isn't that hard.
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written by jason taylor, October 17, 2013
Amusing but the Aztecs waged war to gain prisoners for human sacrifice, ritual torture, and ritual cannibalism in order to get a god that sounds distinctly like a demon to take care of their crops. They were therefore waging wars for religion if their variety qualifies as such.
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written by Tony, October 18, 2013
Rosemary: We are a good deal healthier than that. I'd be willing to talk about it if you like.

Messrs. Taylor and Dempsey: In the miserable tale of human conflicts, men have generally fought for power, wealth, glory, land, fear, even for something terrifying to do. Whenever men do anything they consider important, they invoke their gods; but almost never, outside of Islam, have they fought specifically because of religion. The Romans never did. The Greek city states were constantly at one another's throats, and they shared the same religion; religious feasts were one of the things that got them to ease up now and then. The Vikings had a whole society based upon marauding; so did the uncivilized Celts; none of it had anything to do with religion. If anything, it is modern man that has been more likely to fight for an ersatz religion -- the materialist and inhuman ideologies of communism and Nazism are those that come most quickly to mind.

You will have to do better than that. The point is that "everybody" says that religion is a dangerous cause of wars. The historical record proves that that is nonsense. There was the dreadful Thirty Years' War, after the upheaval of the Reformation; but even that was more motivated by national pride and greed for land and glory -- as witness Richilieu's causing France to side with the Protestants against the Hapsburgs.
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written by Billy Bean, October 19, 2013
Will Anthony Esolen write it? Then I shall read it, and probably read it again.
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written by Nancy de Flon, October 19, 2013
Absolutely brilliant, Tony. Thanks to the fact of "W" (the letter, not the former President) being near the end of the alphabet, the best was saved till last: The definition of Western Civilization. I find it so tiresome feeling that we have to apologize for being descended from, and admiring, those "dreadful" white Europeans.
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written by Nancy de Flon, October 20, 2013
One further thing I should have added, in view of the fact that Columbus Day has just passed. At Union Seminary, from which I hold a PhD, it was customary never to celebrate Columbus Day; after all, Chris was a Bad Old Colonialist responsible for Atrocities. Thing is, though, in New York it's a day to celebrate Italian-American culture in general and not only Columbus (without whom, ironically, most of the people doing the trashing would never have been born!). But it's OK to trash Italians, isn't it? After all, they're white Europeans, the source of many of the atrocities you list under Western Civ, and -- gasp! -- Catholics.

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