By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Professor Rufus J. Fears
Lecture by: Professor Rufus J. Fears
Rufus Fears is an excellent story-teller. “Books That Have Made History” is a series of lectures given by Professor Fears that dwells too much on God but delightfully entertains all who are interested in living life well. (Professor Fears died in October of 2012.)
An irony of Fears lecture series about “Books that can Change Your Life” is his most revered historical figures, Confucius, Socrates, and Jesus, never wrote a book. He thematically presents a story that argues these three figures are witnesses to the truth. Fears believes Confucius’s, Socrates’, and Jesus’s truths have been played out and proven over centuries of writings and doings. Those writings and doings are recorded in secular and religious texts that range from Homer, to Plato, to the “Bible”, to the “Koran”, to “The Prince”, to Winston Churchill, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
Fears begins with Dietrich Bonhoeffer who insists on returning to Germany to protest Hitler’s totalitarian dictatorship. As a Lutheran pastor and theological scholar, Bonhoeffer publicly denounced Hitler’s persecution of the Jews. He was arrested in 1943 and transferred to a Nazi concentration camp and executed in April 1945.
Bonhoeffer is a symbol of moral and physical courage in the face of injustice. This is Fears jumping off point in arguing that theism as professed by secular and religious texts are “Books That Can Change Your Life”.
Justice, courage, moderation and belief that “wisdom comes from suffering” come from Homeric literature, the writings of Marcus Aurelius, Plato’s “Republic”, the King James Version of the bible, and the holy Koran. Fears emphasizes the transcendent impact of “Book of Exodus”, “Gospel of Mark”, and “Book of Job” as they become memes for moral belief.
In the “Book of Exodus” Fears notes the story of Moses and how Moses leads the Israelites out of slavery, a story repeated throughout history by the courage of moral leaders who fought injustice. The “Gospel of Mark” tells the story of Jesus, the sins of man, and the redemptive powers of forgiveness, and justice. The “Book of Job” symbolizes life as a struggle but, in struggle, one gains wisdom through faith in something greater than oneself.
Fears draws from many cultures to explore “Books That Have Made History”. He explains how the “Bhagavad Gita” identifies truth as a divine power and how stories like Gilgamesh and Beowulf suggest life is destiny, fated when one is born; while Aeschylus believes life is a matter of free will.
Plato posits a duality of being. Plato describes the mortal body and immortal soul. Fears notes that many religious and secular writings reinforce Plato’s concept of human duality.
The immortal soul is terribly and beautifully rendered in Dante’s “Divine Comedy”. Dante describes the torments souls endure if mortal life is lived in sin, but offers belief in redemption. Buddhist belief in reincarnation offers a road to peace or continued struggle. A Buddhist soul’s reincarnation may be as a beast if one’s former life is filled with sin. But as each new life approaches enlightenment, it offers opportunity for peace without struggle in a spiritual life that requires no further incarnations.
Fears moves back and forth in history to identify some of the “Books That Can Change Your Life”. He jumps to the twentieth century to tell the story of Winston, the defeated hero in Orwell’s “1984”. Fears explains how totalitarianism sucks struggle out of life but leaves dead bodies or soulless automatons in its wake. Fears notes how Stalin murders twenty million in a totalitarian system similar to what Orwell wrote about in the late 1940s.
Fears reinforces his argument by jumping back in history to tell the story of “The Prince”, Machiavelli’s masterpiece about totalitarian rule. Just as predicted in “The Prince”, Stalin lives to old age by following the rules set down in Machiavelli’s 16th century book. Stalin murders or imprisons any opposition to his rule. Stalin’s single minded objective is acquisition and retention of power. Stalin’s objectives are achieved through a police state that controls media, arbitrarily arrests citizens, and acts without moral conscience.
Stalin’s terror is revealed in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago”, published in 1973. Ironically, Fears notes that Solzhenitsyn returns to Russia and vilifies capitalist America for ignoring the plight of the poor by losing sight of its own values. Solzhenitsyn dies in 2008, near Moscow, at the age of 89.
This is only a smattering of the many books Fears talks about in his lectures. Fundamentally, one takes from Fears lectures, a belief that to live life well one must internalize a moral compass and have courage to follow truth in seeking justice, regardless of its cost to your person or possessions. And finally, one should live life in moderation, neither in excess or deficiency.