Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Why You Should Never Open Your Eyes at the Colosseum

I'd like to share a passage from the book The Age of the Gladiators: Savagery and Spectacle in Ancient Rome that was introduced to me by my brother Jarrod:

"Even the great Christian Augustine of Hippo was more worried about the effect the games had on the viewer than on the hapless men dying in the sand. He wrote about a young friend of his named Alypius whowent to Rome to study law. One day this virtuous young Christian met some pagan friends in the street after lunch. They were off to the Colosseum to watch a gladitorial combat and invited Alypius to join them. He refused, but they dragged him off with them anyway. Alypius declared, 'You can drag my body there, but don't imagine that you can make me watch. Though I shall be there, I shall not be there. In this way I shall have the better of you and of your show.' The group of friends found seats, but Alypius sat with his eyes firmly shut. Augustine takes up the story:

'In the course of the fight a man fell and there was a great roar from the vast crowd of spectators which struck his ears. He was overcome by curiosity and opened his eyes, perfectly prepared to treat whatever he might see with scorn. He saw the blood and he gulped down the savagery. Far from turning away, he fixed his eyes on it. Without knowing what was happening, he drank in madness, he was delighted with the contest, drunk with the lust of blood. He was no longer the man who had come there, but was one of the mob. He was a true companion to those who had brought him. There is little more to be said. He looked, he shouted, he raved. He took away with him madness which would goad him to come back again and again. And he would not only come with those who first got him there, but would drag others with him.'

It is interesting to note what Augustine says about the effect all this had on young Alypius. 'He received in his soul a worse wound than the gladiator had received in his body. His own fall was more wretched than that of the man which had caused all the shouting that caused him to open his eyes and so made an opening of for the thrust which was to overpower his soul'" (117-118).

Spiritually speaking, most of us are at the Colosseum every day--albeit unwillingly and with our eyes closed. We are surrounded by media saturated with images and ideas potentially destructive to our souls--various factions would persuade us that pornography is natural, that marriage is an institution created by men, that we ought to depend on government instead of God. Only we can decide whether to open our eyes and minds to these influences. If we do, we, like Alypius, will suffer a fall far worse than that of the gladiator, whose physical death has passed; our spiritual deaths will linger and fester in our souls for an eternity. Can you keep your eyes closed while the crowd roars around you?


The Mormon Monk said...

You did a nice job sharing this. You were right,it needed to be posted. Great job. Amy Jo

Aaron H. said...


Mark said...

Stuart pointed me to your blog some time ago. I sometimes read your posts via Google Reader. It's good to write and think- keep it coming.

This post is interesting, but I do not think Augustine's story of Alypius accurately portrays human spirituality, psychology, or behavior, at least in the way it has been presented here. Furthermore, I believe it promotes a view common in Mormondom that is ultimately damaging - that the best way to remain righteous is to close our eyes and cover our ears whenever we anticipate being exposed to things that are "bad" (irregardless of whether that anticipation is accurate or even if what we deem "bad" is actually so). Simply and respectfully put, I don't think this is Truth.

When have you seen a person so fundamentally and adamantly opposed to an action or belief turn that belief completely on its end in a moment of forced experience? I've never observed it, and I don't believe our souls work this way. If we indeed did work this way, then our safety would lie in avoiding all evil, something that is not only unrealistic but is also simply not possible or even in the intentions and plan of our Heavenly Father! No, our freedom lies in our ability to understand right and wrong and to choose what we desire, particularly in the face of intense exposure to that which is evil.

The idea that Alypius's mistake lied in opening his eyes is, in my opinion, erroneous. Whether Alypius didn't understand principles of truth and love, or he flatly rejected them in the face of mob excitement, or he was just posing as a pious Christian before going to the Colosseum, or a beautiful woman sat next to him that he wanted to impress, or what his material mistakes actually were we will never know! Augustine probably didn't know, either.

The bottom line is that Alypius chose evil. His mistake was in that choice - not in his failure to extricate himself from that evil (I recognize that sometimes this choice does involve removing one's self from the situation, but extrication is often not the solution).

The scriptures counsel us to understand the world, its people, and its histories. We must understand the world and at least be aware of its evil if we hope to change it.

There was a missionary in my MTC district who, in the course of conversation, revealed to my companion and I that he didn't know what "pot" was. I commend this Elder and his parents' ability to protect him from mind-numbing drugs, but I don't commend them for shielding him from knowledge of their existence. As one who, although born in Utah, has lived outside of that awesome state for more than 12 years of my life, I think it is our duty to engage with those who believe differently than we do, in an effort to bring us all to a greater understanding of Truth. Tell me, if this Elder came across an investigator that refused to give up recreational use of pot, how on earth would he have been able to speak to him about it if he didn't even know what it was? He couldn't. I understand this is a hypothetical, but I've experienced this hypothetical many times on many subjects.

Lastly, I ask this question: if keeping our eyes closed in this Colosseum of life is truly the ideal we should strive for, where is the scriptural evidence for this philosophy? Why aren't we all monks? What individual in the scriptures is an example of having done this? Did Moroni, in witnessing all the war, killing, carnage and destruction (some of it performed, no doubt, by his very own hands) somehow keep his eyes closed to the evil surrounding him? No, I don't think he did, and neither should we.

Our safety lies in the Truth, not in avoiding the influence of its antithesis.

I type fast, and sometimes before I know it I've written a short novel. So sorry for this long comment. Sometimes when I respond at length it has the effect of getting people riled up. It's as if writing a lot raises the stakes in some prideful contest. Please don't interpret my comments this way - I only respond because I want to respectfully engage you on this topic.

priscilla said...

Interesting...and very applicable with todays pornography.

Jenny said...

I applaud the spirit with which this was written. I also find the comments section worth contemplating. Good food for thought.

Anonymous said...

Love it. I also appreciate Mark's comment. I don't think Zach meant that we should literraly close our eyes to the evil around us... but more that we can choose to see without really seeing.

It's the difference between someone who flips through the channels and stumbles upon something less than savory and chooses to watch and the person who chooses to ignore it and move on to the next channel.