The Adamist

An essay I wrote for Expository Writing, in the style of G. K. Chesterton--specifically "The Methuselahite."

I read an amusing story a while ago that illustrates a central notion in modern morality. A man was imbibing merrily at a bar one evening when he glanced over at the patron seated next to him and noticed, under an upraised glass, a clerical collar. Now to be sure, one finds all sorts in a bar, drinking being, like many vices, no respecter of persons. But the man certainly hadn’t expected to find a minister there. Understandably reluctant to discuss this seemingly incongruous behavior, yet filled with curiosity, the man hesitated for a few moments before greeting his neighbor and asking awkwardly if he was actually a member of the clergy. “Why yes, I am an Adamist minister,” the stranger replied. Confused by this plain admission, the man asked why he was at a bar if he professed to be a minister. The Adamist responded, “I’m doing research for a sermon I’m writing on the evils of strong drink.”

In the interests of complete disclosure, I must confess that I have altered this account in one particular. The minister did not claim Adamism as his professed religion. But insofar as he was demonstrating the same fallacy for which Adam fell in the Garden, and because I do not intend to dispute with a particular religion, but instead with a particular philosophy, I have settled on the designation Adamism.

Now, taking this as an illustration of the prevailing moral sentiment, that answer of that minister says more than a hundred truckloads of movies and TV shows and magazines and popular songs today. All of society seems to be endeavoring to entice us with their particular version of contemporary morality, and yet this one phrase preempts them all. Just as Alexander sliced through the Gordian knot, so the words of this Adamist expose the inherent contradiction at the heart of popular morality.

Now when I am visited by an envoy of contemporary thought (and there is always a very large crowd waiting to accost me) I shall not be bamboozled by their sophisticated veneer. “In a classic tale about how crime doesn’t pay,” one begins, “our heroes steal the stolen gold back from the thieves . . .” “Stop, Adamist,” I shall say sharply, “I know who you are.” “Neo,” shouts another “represents a messianic figure who fights for . . .” “Oh no you don’t,” I shall interject, “there’s the door.” A third figure, dreadlocks flying, rushes in—“In his valiant struggle against the oppressive regime, our patriotic freedom fighter, V, uses terrorist tactics . . . ” “Hail, Adamist,” I will cry, and matching his frantic gesticulations with my own, I shall kindly bid him farewell. “I am not exactly sure what these lyrics mean,” begins the fourth, “but they contain some profound ideas, . . .” “You might not, but I do,” I shall say. “You’re writing a temperance sermon in a bar, and I will not listen any longer!”

Most contemporary morality is a merely the mixture of some constant good with some new bad. There have been theorists who polluted faith with intolerance, and called it the Defense of the Faith. There have been theorists who contaminated rationality with a contempt for the Scriptures and called it a Scientific Revolution. And we have heard of theorists who concocted that horrid brew combining honest scientific observations with a disavowal of Divinity and called it Naturalistic Evolution. It was only a matter of time before some brave society should stop beating around the bush and get straight to the mixing of plain evil with good. And in this vacuum of moral ambiguity, with what weapons shall we fight? “We must learn the value of filth before we can truly appreciate beauty,” says the artist framing a urinal. “I must know what slop really is before I can create a delectable dessert,” comes the voice of the chef from atop the compost pile. “How could I ever learn to be a successful pilot if I didn’t know how to crash,” queries the man emerging from the rubble of a 747. It would be quite as easy to defend an evil act as it was to call the inquisitor a Defender of the Faith or the atheist a progressive. And indeed, this very thing is happening with great frequency throughout our society today. People everywhere proclaim that they are better able to distinguish right by virtue of their wide exposure to wrong. But unfortunately, they aren’t.

For indeed, the weakness of this philosophy may be found in its blatant disregard for that great principle of the mind: by beholding, we become changed. Therefore, the seeds of its ultimate failure are evident in its very ambitions. As a matter of fact, no men are worse judges of morality than Adamists. The neglected paradox of morality is that the more a man knows of goodness, the better he is at discriminating between good and evil. Surely you have experienced the fallacy of Adamism in real life. For there is one riddle in that case which cannot easily be cleared up. What parishioner would be converted by a sermon about the evils of alcohol when he had been drinking with the minister in the bar the night before?

(c) Joel Kurtz, 2009



Toleration: A Two-Edged Sword


This also originated as an expository writing assignment--isn't it great that I can justify blogging for class?

Toleration is a funny concept great idea. Supposedly it means the act of acknowledging the right of someone else to be different. But if you take this concept to its logical end, you’ll understand how ludicrous wonderful it really is. Let’s say Joe wants to play loud music right outside my room. If I’m a tolerant guy, then I should let him do that, right? And when Ulrikke decides she needs to practice her axe-throwing skills in living room, then I should try to be understanding of our innate differences. Then when she gets bored with my car and starts hurling axes at me, I should just duck tolerantly, right? Can you see how this might not be is such a wonderful concept.

“No, you’ve completely misrepresented toleration!” What’s that? I haven’t presented both sides fairly? Hey, it’s my post, right? But because I'm tolerant, we’ll look at the other side.

Proponents of toleration would say that the above scenarios aren’t fair, because they ignore the fact that Joe and Ulrikke should be tolerant too. Ideally, Joe would realize that I preferred not to have loud music played next to my room and demonstrate toleration by desisting. Ulrikke should be tolerant of my desire not to have to duck flying axes in my living room. Then, we’ll all be tolerant together and we’ll each be tolerant of every other and nobody will be hurt by another’s intolerance.

Is that the way it works? No, obviously our world does not function in this utopian state of idealistic toleration. You can probably call to mind hundreds of instances of intolerance—someone cutting in line ahead of you, living next to a loud roommate, getting a parking ticket, having to abide by a dress code, getting a poor grade on a paper, being shushed in church, being told to turn your music down, etc. Yep, our world is chock full of a lack of tolerance.

You still don’t like my examples? What’s wrong with them now? Why are you feeling uncomfortable?

I’ll tell you why—because these are all examples of people being intolerant to you. It’s a lot harder to think of times when you’ve been intolerant to others than to recall times when you’ve been wronged. And that’s the problem with great thing about the doctrine of toleration. If you’ve been wronged, you can cry ‘intolerance,’ and if someone complains about your actions, just tell them to look up the meaning of the word ‘tolerance.’ It’s diabolical perfect!

Why I Like Mornings

Jonathan Gerrans, Fall '07.

I like the morning because it’s when the Sun shows up. Everything is dark at first—dark and quiet. Then a bird trills, and you realize that the landscape has begun to brighten. More birds begin to sing and there’s this overwhelming sense of excitement. You can almost smell the expectancy in the air.

Suddenly, it happens. A ray of light only eight and a half minutes old streaks over the hill and crashes straight into your face. The moment when the when the door of darkness cracks open and the brightness beams through is the most glorious experience of the day—maybe even of the century. You realize that you have been waiting for this moment all your life without even knowing it. The day is born, the world is new, and you were there to see it happen!

And then your roommate’s alarm goes off and fluorescent light sprays across the room; you remember that you have a test today and a paper to write, and that you really ought to fold your laundry. But somehow, the prospective is not as dreary as it should be. Because it’s morning and the Sun showed up.


my name is Joel, and I’m a senior at Southern Adventist University.

It’s been so long since I’ve posted anything, I thought an introduction/explanation might be a good idea.

Since last time I have: written an awful lot, read a whole lot more, and learned even more than that, ran in a triathlon, passed my senior oral exam, learned Mendelssohn’s 5th symphony, and received an invitation to Google Wave, among other things.

I have not: exercised very much, spent much time with my friends, had regular meals, been bored, been overwhelmed—barely.

I look forward to a time when I can post more regularly, but that time is not now. Thanks for your patience and your prayers.