Opinion | Columns

Trust and obey

 History majors and concentrators had to submit their plan of study forms this week to let the department know that they’ve been thinking about graduating and actually have a roadmap for getting there. It was a routine task, for me and for every Columbia history junior and senior: We’re used to jumping through hoops, preening and presenting ourselves, proving our credentials before a skeptical audience. At the end of our four years, we hope we’ll have done enough to deserve to graduate. 

As I left my adviser’s office on the sixth floor of Fayerweather, my eyes happened to take in one of those beautiful old maps that litter historians’ walls. It read, “Tracing the Irish Church: Influence Throughout Western Europe, 4th-6th Centuries.” 

That was a reference to the hundreds of Irish monks who left the rocky shores of the Emerald Isle. While the Roman Empire was crumbling, they sailed in tiny coracles to spread Christianity among the pagan Goths and Franks. Their work in founding monasteries, schools, and churches played a decisive role in calming the constant warfare of the Dark Ages. They were men like St. Patrick, still treasured in Irish culture for his role in molding Europe for centuries to come. 

The story of the brave, poor, frail Irish monks of the Dark Ages always inspires me. But it’s a story of triumph from weakness. It doesn’t fit well with the narrative that we tend to embody as Columbia students: a narrative of qualifications acquired, of merit won. 

That narrative orients us from pre-application to post-graduation. The future members of the class of 2018 are frantically putting together applications and writing essays to unlock a door into the power and privilege of Columbia. In Morningside Heights, seniors are working hard to line up job prospects and present themselves as excellently as possible in interviews.

Whether we’re religious or not, we usually assume that our “gods”—the things we want and sacrifice for in life—are obligated to look us on with favor if we fulfill the right criteria. Most religions assume it, too. I’ve had the great joy of reading the Dhammapada, the sayings of the Buddha, this past week. In the text, the Buddha becomes enlightened through meditation and self-control, and he teaches others how to reach nirvana too. The moral paradigm is that we try hard and are rewarded.

But Contemporary Civilization includes a different perspective. Exodus, the second book of the Torah, tells the story of God’s intervention to save a people from slavery. Genesis, the first book, recounts the creation of a world saturated with joy, peace, and love as God’s human viceroys cultivate it. 

But, blinded by pride and lust for power, the first man and woman fall from relationship with God and the world becomes riven by cruelty, injustice, and oppression. As Duke legal scholar Arthur Leff summarized world history, “If all men are brothers, the ruling model is Cain and Abel.” 

After choosing to save one particular people, the Israelites, from slavery in Egypt, God gives them commands in Exodus 20. This is the passage with the famous Ten Commandments, which are popularly associated with religious people, moral superiority, and complacency. 

The text opens, “God spoke all these words: ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.’” God acts first, saving the Israelites, and then gives them commands to live in harmonious relationship with him and with one another: “You shall have no other gods before me.” They are not saved because of their obedience. 

This idea is foundational for the Judeo-Christian understanding of God and morality. The New Testament has a lot to say about grace—because God’s action to identify with humanity and end all oppression and evil, the cosmic Exodus, is not something anyone could ever deserve. It’s freely, lovingly given. Then a relationship of love comes with moral obligations for the believer. 

Mahatma Gandhi once said, with his customary pithiness, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” I and every other Christian do fall terribly short of truly following Jesus in every aspect of life. I can, and must, pray and fight to learn to desire the good and replace self- and other-destructive patterns. But there is also hope, and healing, beyond myself. 

An eternal life filled with infinite love has been freely offered. I can fill out plan of study forms and navigate the choppy seas of Columbia with peace, knowing that what the history department thinks of me doesn’t determine my worth.  

Luke Foster is a Columbia College junior majoring in English. He is the president of the Veritas Forum, and a member of Columbia Faith and Action. Foster the Core runs alternate Fridays.

To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com

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welp posted on

If you study history, shouldn't you known that the Goths and Franks weren't pagans? By the fourth century, most of them were already Christian, no thanks to your "brave, poor, frail Irish monks." Now, they were Arians, which maybe doesn't match your hyper-conservative definition of Christian, but they weren't the godless "pagans" that you seem to be implying plunged Europe into darkness. You have some problems with condescending, holier-than-thou bullshit in a lot of your columns, but this is also some straight-up ignorance.

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Anonymous posted on

You can disagree with this article. But you have to do so in a respectable and reasonable manner. Also, you should not attack the author. Instead you should point out where exactly is he "condescending" or "bsing." If it is a problem with historical facts, it is just a mistake, but it has very little to do with the character of Luke or indeed anyone who has made a mistake. If you disagree with his worldview, where exactly do you have disagreement? Also, what is the foundation of your worldview? Does your worldview allow you to use profanity on those who disagree with you? If so, what kind of worldview is it?

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Not the same Anon. posted on

I have to question why all of Luke Foster's columns in the Spectator are somehow impervious to criticism on account of the perceived "friendliness" of the author('s tone). Moreover, I have to add that, on the contrary, much of what is wrong in this column has directly to do with Luke's character, the mold of which is so readily identifiable by reading a single paragraph of any of his articles. I wonder if his readiness to publish a thinly-veiled rehash of conversionary tactics has anything to do with the fact that he was raised by missionaries.
Regardless, his readers slog through hundreds of (fluffy) words dripping with moral sentimentalism, 18th-century conservatism and the accompanying worship of "heroism," "obedience" and other empty ideological constructions. I'm fed up.
Oh, Save us from the Moneylenders who so Mendaciously corrupt our Morality! Grace of God be upon Thee, Sir Foster! Someday we'll find the way to turn back to the clock of history, Luke. Don't you worry. In the meantime, keep your philosophical idealism in check.
The worst of all is that he (more or less) correctly identifies the ails of human existence under capitalism, then proposes a dumbfounding solution that would melt the hearts of all the manorial landowners of Early Modern Europe.

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Same Anon. as Above posted on

This perfectly captures the essence of all of Luke's columns:

"Owing to their historical position, it became the vocation of the aristocracies of France and England to write pamphlets against modern bourgeois society. In the French Revolution of July 1830, and in the English reform agitation[A], these aristocracies again succumbed to the hateful upstart. Thenceforth, a serious political struggle was altogether out of the question. A literary battle alone remained possible. But even in the domain of literature the old cries of the restoration period had become impossible.(1)

In order to arouse sympathy, the aristocracy was obliged to lose sight, apparently, of its own interests, and to formulate their indictment against the bourgeoisie in the interest of the exploited working class alone. Thus, the aristocracy took their revenge by singing lampoons on their new masters and whispering in his ears sinister prophesies of coming catastrophe.

In this way arose feudal Socialism: half lamentation, half lampoon; half an echo of the past, half menace of the future; at times, by its bitter, witty and incisive criticism, striking the bourgeoisie to the very heart’s core; but always ludicrous in its effect, through total incapacity to comprehend the march of modern history.

The aristocracy, in order to rally the people to them, waved the proletarian alms-bag in front for a banner. But the people, so often as it joined them, saw on their hindquarters the old feudal coats of arms, and deserted with loud and irreverent laughter.

One section of the French Legitimists and “Young England” exhibited this spectacle.

In pointing out that their mode of exploitation was different to that of the bourgeoisie, the feudalists forget that they exploited under circumstances and conditions that were quite different and that are now antiquated. In showing that, under their rule, the modern proletariat never existed, they forget that the modern bourgeoisie is the necessary offspring of their own form of society.

For the rest, so little do they conceal the reactionary character of their criticism that their chief accusation against the bourgeois amounts to this, that under the bourgeois régime a class is being developed which is destined to cut up root and branch the old order of society.

What they upbraid the bourgeoisie with is not so much that it creates a proletariat as that it creates a revolutionary proletariat.

In political practice, therefore, they join in all coercive measures against the working class; and in ordinary life, despite their high-falutin phrases, they stoop to pick up the golden apples dropped from the tree of industry, and to barter truth, love, and honour, for traffic in wool, beetroot-sugar, and potato spirits.(2)

As the parson has ever gone hand in hand with the landlord, so has Clerical Socialism with Feudal Socialism.

Nothing is easier than to give Christian asceticism a Socialist tinge. Has not Christianity declaimed against private property, against marriage, against the State? Has it not preached in the place of these, charity and poverty, celibacy and mortification of the flesh, monastic life and Mother Church? Christian Socialism is but the holy water with which the priest consecrates the heart-burnings of the aristocrat."

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cc'14 posted on

I can't deal with all this christian bullshit that Luke Foster continues to spew out. Think critically, please.

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Anonymous posted on

If we were all "thinking critically" here, we wouldn't be dismissing Luke's words as "christian bullshit" without even giving it a second thought. Luke is trying to convey an idea that we should all think of adopting - our worth isn't determined by what certain institutions think of us and what "qualifications" we have, but by the people we are and the values we hold. For him, that makes sense in the context of Christianity...for you, it might not. But please don't call the worldviews that people construct their lives around worthless.

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Hmm... posted on

Hmm, well first, beyond what may be thought about Mr. Foster's past work, let's not miss what he is presenting here: "Perhaps our value is not defined by our GPA, internships, and other things we strive for, but from something that is beyond that. Is life necessarily the meritocracy that many of us see it as? or is there perhaps another way to see and experience reality?" He is presenting a different perspective which you and I are welcome to reject or accept (or, crazy idea, think and chew on before rejecting or accepting).

Yes, it appears Mr. Foster is a Christian, a conservative of sorts, and loves history. However, all of us hold our own religious and political views, and love different subjects... but we should expect that (especially in an Op-Ed of all places) that those views and loves should and would be freely expressed, even if they may be different from what you think or even what most people think.

And to those who would like to or already have critiqued Mr. Foster, I hope you will also take the time to critique and engage him personally. If he really is simply ignorant and blind, then show him the light rather than laughing at him in the Cave and dismissing him.. but perhaps, even better, both of you may grow and see things more clearly instead of everyone just feeling bitter because of online bashing.

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Hmm... posted on

Well first, beyond what may be thought about Mr. Foster's past work, let's not miss what he is presenting here: "Perhaps our value is not defined by our GPA, internships, and other things we strive for, but from something that is beyond that. Is life necessarily the meritocracy that many of us see it as? or is there perhaps another way to see and experience reality?" He is presenting a different perspective which you and I are welcome to reject or accept (or, crazy idea, think and chew on before rejecting or accepting).

Yes, it appears Mr. Foster is a Christian, a conservative of sorts, and loves history. However, all of us hold our own religious and political views, and love different subjects... but we should expect that (especially in an Op-Ed of all places) that those views and loves should and would be freely expressed, even if they may be different from what you think or even what most people think.

And to those who would like to or already have critiqued Mr. Foster, I hope you will also take the time to critique and engage him personally. If he really is simply ignorant and blind, then show him the light rather than laughing at him in the Cave and dismissing him.. but perhaps, even better, both of you may grow and see things more clearly instead of everyone just feeling bitter because of online bashing.

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anon posted on

lolz

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