Old Dead Guys Weren’t Always Right

I know it has happened to you. You’ve been in the middle of a conversation or a debate on some issue, and someone has dropped an old dead guy quote on you and then smiled that smug smile as if to say, ‘Well, Spinoza said it, so it must be correct.

Yessiree, if some old dead guy said it, it must be a fact, no need to argue further. In fact, the older the ‘wisdom’, the better eh?

Why am I bringing up the reputed wisdom of old, dead guys? Because I stumbled across a quote today that was just so wrong that I had to start writing about it before I had even finished my first cup of coffee.

If you look to the right, under the “Quote of the Day” heading, you’ll see my RSS feed for, well, the daily quote. Today, Sunday, the 22nd, it was a quote from St. Augustine,

“The purpose of all wars, is peace”.

The absurdity of that quote forced me to swallow, in a hasty manner, the aforementioned, unfinished, but quite hot, beverage. This hasty swallowing led to much sputtering, coughing and spewing of this same beverage, which resulted in a premature cleaning of my very cluttered, but still useable desk.

Yes, the purpose of all wars is peace. That makes so much sense to me now that I know some, revered, dead saint said it. Forget religious or ideological differences, forget ego, or something as base as greed. The purpose of all wars is peace. And the early bird gets the worm.

What do early worms get…

And yes I wondered about the context of that quote, I also wondered whether he was trying to be humorous. Were saints allowed to have a sense of humor?

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  1. Although I’m not a Christianity scholar, I’ll venture and say that the departed st Augustine was somewhat of a politician.

    Being a politician, an advocate of war and a co-founder of the most influential religion today is very tough. And in order to get things done, he used the oldest trick in the book – he lied!

    Well, more then 1500 years later his lies became truth. That what happens when you win cultural wars.

    But just to ease your mind, in 500 years we will all be quoting dead Chinese politicians and the dear st Augustine will be forgotten.

  2. Jack

    Your bang on! Just because you are old and dead doesn’t mean your right. Perhaps the good Saint
    should of said ” The purpose of all JUST wars,
    is peace”. Thats presupposes that there is such a thing as a JUST war! Maybe Bush II should read
    your blog.

  3. You are right that you should not believe anything on the basis of authority alone, just as you shouldn’t judge others without information about them.

    The Augustine quote is misleading out of context. Augustine was trying to determine whether war was ever justifiable for Christians. His conclusion was called the “just war theory.” He held that war can be justified only in a very few limited circumstances:

    * the cause must be just
    * the government initiating the war must be legitimate
    * success should be reasonably expected
    * rights should not be violated
    * unnecessary harm should be avoided

    Augustine’s thinking was actually well considered, particularly in view of the attitudes of his time. In the Western tradition much ethical thinking about warfare builds on his foundation. (And, yes, Bush’s war on Iraq flunks the Augustine test.)

    By the way, Augustine lived hundreds of years after Christianity was founded.

  4. Kirby

    “The purpose of war is to serve a political end, but the true nature of war is to serve itself” – Denzel Washington as Lt. Cmdr. Hunter in “The Crimson Tide”

    Why quote old dead guys when you can quote movie lines?

  5. DG

    >>the cause must be just

    That’s pretty vague. All soldiers seem to feel that God is on their side, so even in context, St. Augustine still seems to be pushing propaganda rather than wisdom.

    My gripe wasn’t really about old saints or old sinners though, but about people that quote those old dead guys as if time passed and the reputation of the speaker confers absolute authority.

    >>dead Chinese politicians

    I try not to quote politicians, unless it’s Churchill ; )

    >>movie lines

    Yeah, like the dolphins… “So long and thanks for all the fish”. Or, “maybe if we build a large wooden badger”. ; )

  6. Kirby

    >>people that quote those old dead guys as if time passed and the reputation of the speaker confers absolute authority.

    Just like the Google algo.

    “maybe if we build a large wooden badger”.

    Between Churchill and Monty Python you can pretty much cover it all.




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