I’m a Catholic, and I strive to make that the source of my life. My faith took a philosophical bent when I chose my college, a Great Books Liberal Arts school in Southern California. Although I wasn’t aware of it, my own desire for a unified understanding of the world, what I call a philosophy, was stronger than my desire to continue learning in any individual discipline. Although I didn’t know it, that’s exactly how this school would help me grow.
People say, “So… Liberal Arts. Politics?”
No. “Liberal” in this context is about a freedom of soul that can be found reading the Great Books. They are an encounter with the greatest minds Western Civilization has ever known. To study them, to enter “the Great Conversation”, frees you from the preconceptions of your particular time and place, even as the thoughts you encounter are eternal and universal.
What job did it prepare me for? All and none. It’s about living. Whatever job I end up with, I will have a better life with the perspective I’ve gained and with the skills of knowing myself and understanding my ideas. Having a unified world view isn’t something to scoff at either. My schoolmates have gone into many different fields… and I’ve found love for them all. 🙂
As much as I glow about it now, I was pretty tired of books after four intense years. Although the school congratulated me on entering the society of “those who know”, I knew I was missing a lot. So I paid down my loans and went to England and Scotland. I lived with a family in Spain for three months. Taking care of five kids is an education in what’s important. It was just what I needed after all those heady intellectual thoughts; a firm base in reality. Beyond that, getting to see buildings older than any standing in America, things that hearkened to a heritage deeper than what we experience now… It opened my mind and heart to the fullness of the truth I’d read.
After that, I felt rested and full of truth. I couldn’t keep it to myself, or it would die in me, like a little plant without sunlight. And I wouldn’t be giving it a chance to grow. So I’ve decided to write! Which brings me to:
A Grain of Salt
What do I want to write about? I want to be a reminder that we should take time to think things through for ourselves and not just take the opinions of others. I’ve seen in every type of person the desire to keep what they have and to be content with it. If they strive after something more, they might lose everything. But if you aren’t striving, you aren’t living, and if you aren’t living, you’re dying.
The warning, “Take it with a grain of salt”, gets across what I’m thinking. So I explored it a little.
Historical grain of salt
Historians believe that the phrase “take it with a grain of salt” originated in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History. In Book XXIII, Chapter 77, (“Walnuts: Twenty-Four Remedies”), he recorded an antidote for poison. “Take two dried walnuts, two figs, and twenty leaves of rue; pound them all together, with the addition of a grain of salt; if a person takes this mixture fasting, he will be proof against all poisons for that day.” Eventually, the reference was shortened to the one we’re all familiar with.
The implication is that, if you take someone’s words or advice “with a grain of salt”, you will be proof against the negative affects. If you take the “news” reported on that station “with a grain of salt”, it means you’ll listen, but you are aware that they might be completely off. Your awareness of the fact will protect you from harm.
This is important for the philosopher. We must not only take the opinions of the world with a grain of salt; we should also take our own assertions with a grain of salt.
The power of salt
Before I’d read into the historical account of the phrase, however, I had created my own reason for it. When I was young, I didn’t like grapefruit. It was too bitter. But my mom sprinkled salt on my piece. When I took another bite, I was surprised. The salt had changed it, but it didn’t taste salty-bitter; it tasted sweet.
I was puzzled. Salt was anything but sweet; how had it not only caused sweetness, but also diminished bitterness? I figured that must be salt’s power. When you have just the right amount of salt, it doesn’t cover the flavor of the food, so that you only taste salt. Instead, it brings out the good flavor that is already there, but hidden behind the bad.
When we inspect a new idea, then, to take it with a grain of salt would be to inspect every part of it, and to bring out what’s good in it and leave behind what’s bad. Since philosophers are always evaluating and reevaluating ideas, it’s important for them to have this power.
Salt of the earth
In the Gospel of Matthew 5:13, Jesus says to his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.”
Of this passage, Pope Benedict XVI says, “Disciples of the Lord are called to give a new ‘taste’ to the world and to keep it from corruption with the wisdom of God.” He points out two uses for salt; it was for taste, and it was the main preservative in the ancient world.
I want this blog to be everything one little grain of salt (myself) can add. I want to season the world, make the poison in it harmless, bring out the good in what happens, soften the bitterness of the bad, and prevent corruption. I want to show that, through wisdom, we can be more alive and more engaged in the world than before.
Christ also warns that salt can become stale. If it does, there is no hope for it. So my goal is not only to share the grain of salt I’ve received, but also make sure that I keep it fresh in myself. Only then can I become more salty and not less.
Posts will come out once per week on Tuesdays.
A note about the pictures: I take all the “Featured Images”—those showing at the top of each page. I hope you enjoy them!