Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Against Heresies II: The Gospel of Thomas

A. Overview
This is the second in a series of articles refuting the heresies that threaten orthodox Christianity. In this article, I review the Gospel of Thomas, the first of the Gnostic Gospels. The Gnostic Gospels are part of the Gnostic Texts, which also include the Nag Hammadi scrolls and other writings. The Gospel of Thomas is among the most prominent of the Gnostic Gospels, and is prototypical of the other heretical gospels, in that it portrays a picture of a Jesus who strays significantly from the way God had revealed Himself to the Jewish people historically.
According to the Jewish Scriptures, God intervened in the affairs of man throughout history. From his command to Adam not to eat of the forbidden tree, to the Ten Commandments given to Moses, to the prophecies given to Elijah, Isaiah, Joel, Jeremiah, to Ezekiel, God always speaks in clear, unambiguous terms. The mystical, abstruse words ascribed to Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas stray significantly from this tradition.

B. God’s Words in the Jewish Scriptures Compared with those of the Gospel of Thomas
Throughout the Jewish Scriptures, God speaks in clear terms about right and wrong, about justice and fairness, and about Israel’s sins and need for repentance.
“'Return to me,' declares the LORD Almighty, 'and I will return to you,' says the LORD Almighty. Do not be like your forefathers, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.'” (Zec 1:3-6). His words are clear and sobering.
When God gives Moses the Ten Commandments, he does not give a list of mystical teachings, but hard and fast rules. “You shall have no other gods before me … You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below … You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God …” (Exo 20:3-7). He similarly instructs on the weightier matters of the law in the Book of Isaiah: “learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow” (Isa 1:17).
Similarly, when bringing Israel back into repentance, he is clear and direct: “’I have loved you,’ says the LORD. ‘But you ask, “How have you loved us?” ‘Was not Esau Jacob's brother?’ the LORD says. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob’” (Mal 1:2).

Contrast the nature and character of this God, who speaks clearly to Israel, with the character of Jesus painted in the Gospel of Thomas, reproduced fully below. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus gives no hard and fast commands on repentance, on the need to turn back to God, on holiness, on justice. He instead speaks in metaphors and with mystical expressions that elude common understanding.
Some of his sayings—e.g., “When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty” (v. 3)—sound more like excerpts from a self-help book written by Deepok Chopra than the words of love of a God who became man.
Among the sayings from which I, after much effort, am unable to derive any discernible meaning are the following:
- “The person old in days won't hesitate to ask a little child seven days old about the place of life, and that person will live” (v. 4);
- “Lucky is the lion that the human will eat, so that the lion becomes human. And foul is the human that the lion will eat, and the lion still will become human” (v. 7);
- “During the days when you ate what is dead, you made it come alive. When you are in the light, what will you do? On the day when you were one, you became two. But when you become two, what will you do?” (v. 11);
- “No matter where you are you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being” (v. 12);
- “If you fast, you will bring sin upon yourselves, and if you pray, you will be condemned, and if you give to charity, you will harm your spirits” (v. 14);
- “His disciples said, ‘When will you appear to us, and when will we see you?’ Jesus said, ‘When you strip without being ashamed, and you take your clothes and put them under your feet like little children and trample then, then [you] will see the son of the living one and you will not be afraid’” (v. 37).
Many other examples can be found below.

Compare these esoteric sayings with Jesus’ life-giving words in the canonical Gospels:
- “You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mat 5:43-48);
- “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mat 6:19-21).
- “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luk 14:11);
- “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” (Joh 8:7).
- “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” (Mat 16:26).
- “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Mat 7:12).

Christ’s words, as recorded in the canonical Gospels, cultivate virtue, love, and holiness. Christ’s words, as recorded in the Gospel of Thomas, cultivate confusion, doubt, and rebellion against God.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil: A dark, abstruse, sometimes impenetrable, but always whining diatribe

Beyond Good and Evil

The following review is based on the Penguin Classics 2003 edition:

Nietzsche opens his work by criticizing philosophers for their dogmatism, which conceals a series of personal prejudices and beliefs that can only be uncovered by peeling away layers of social conditioning. Nietzsche contrasts the dogmatism of modern philosophy with "the free spirit" of a philosophical methodology that is not bound by inherited past truths, but rather, pushes the way forward by true philosophers that are not afraid of experimenting in unpioneered ground.
Nietzsche then devotes a chapter to religion, which he accuses of leading to the "sacrifice of all freedom, all pride, all self-confidence of the spirit, at the same time enslavement and self-mockery, self-mutilation" (p. 71). He examines the natural history of morals, stating that "Every morality is, as opposed to laisser aller, a piece of tyranny against `nature', likewise against `reason'" (p. 110). He bemoans both the "commanders" of society, who "pose as executors of more ancient or higher commands" as well as the "herd-man in Europe," who glorifies "public spirit, benevolence, consideration, industriousness, moderation, modesty, forbearance, pity" (p. 121). Against this backdrop, Nietzsche praises Napoleon: "the history of the effect of Napoleon is almost the history of the higher happiness this entire century has attained in its most valuable men and moments" (p. 121).
The societal critique does not spare the scholars from piercing criticism. Nietzsche criticizes the "self-glorification and presumption of the scholars" and the herd-morality that has infused modern scholarship (p. 129). Nietzsche's ideal philosopher, in contrast, is not trapped in a system of rigid "truth" that holds to absolute, unchanging values. This rejection of absolute values carries into the chapter on virtue: Nietzsche rejects those values that have been inherited by the past and he instead defines virtue according to people's inclinations: "if we are to have virtues we shall presumably have only such virtues as have learned to get along with our most secret and heartfelt inclinations" (p. 147).
Nietzsche concludes with a chapter entitled "What is Noble?," where he affirms that there will be a few noble men in the future who will invent their own system of morality and rise to a place far above the herd and its slave morality, but this will be a lonely, solitary place.
Nietzsche's work is a sharp attack on traditional morality, on religion, and in particular, on Christianity. Nietzsche complains whiningly of the inherited ideas of the past but he fails to provide answers to his complaints. He suggests that every man be freed from slave morality and define his own system of truth, but he fails to explain to what end such inventions would serve. The book reads like a long, angry tirade that is occasionally confused and almost always abstruse or impenetrable. One is left wondering where Nietzsche was going with some of his passages and whether some of them were intended to have no meaning at all, thus exemplifying Nietzsche's thesis that all is meaningless.
As the first page of the book explains, Nietzsche "became insane in 1889 and remained in a condition of mental and physical paralysis until his death in 1900." I wonder whether Nietzsche's final collapse was the inevitable result of his thinking, that is, whether rejecting Christ and His teaching inevitably leads to such a state of complete and utter isolation from both God and man. This dark, godless state is one into which I descended prior to my encounter with the living God in Jesus Christ, who renewed and set me free.

Alexis de Tocqueville’s Classic Text on American Democracy

1. Introduction
Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) was a French aristocrat whose family lost its estate under the French Revolution. He came to America in 1831 after being commissioned by the French government to study the American prison system, but his study turned out to be a much more extensive study that examined the nature of the American people and democracy in America. His history and anthropology Democracy in America (De la démocratie en Amérique) came out in 1835 in the first volume and in 1840 in the second. This classic of history and political science analyzes a why republican representative democracy has succeeded in the United States while failing in other places. De Tocqueville seeks to apply the functional aspects of democracy in America to what he sees as the failings of democracy in France, to report on the tendencies of the hearts and souls of the American people, to understand what drives them, and to forecast warnings to the readers as to how this new experiment in government may head into troubled waters. De Tocqueville remains humble in his pretensions in the book, acknowledging that “Time has not yet shaped [the fledging United States] it into perfect form” (Part II, Fourth Book, Chapter 8, ¶ 1623) and thus some of his warnings and predictions may as of yet be premature.
It is perhaps ironic that it was a French aristocrat who wrote the definitive text on American democracy. De Tocqueville’s noble birth and aristocratic background offered him the leisure of carrying out such a massive study, as well as several others, including one on the colonization system of French Algeria.

2. De Tocqueville’s Conservative Liberalism
He does, however, view general progress in human history. However, he does not concede that this has necessarily led to an amelioration over the state of affairs of men. “No man, upon the earth, can as yet affirm absolutely and generally, that the new state of the world is better than its former one; but it is already easy to perceive that this state is different” (Part II, Fourth Books, ¶ 1621). This progress includes the annihilation of the feudal system and the vanquishing of king and has led to “the advantage of democracy” (Part I, Chapter 1, ¶ 9) and to the general “equality of conditions” of men who now stand equally in their political and economic opportunities (not in their economic condition) in life (Part I, Chapter 1, ¶ 10). “The gradual development of the equality of conditions is … a providential fact, and it possesses all the characteristics of a divine decree: it is universal, it is durable, it constantly eludes all human interference, and all events as well as all men contribute to its progress” (Part I, Chapter 1, ¶ 9). This is a general progress and evolution that history has never yet experienced; de Tocqueville finds “no parallel to what is occurring before my eyes: as the past has ceased to throw its light upon the future” (Part II, Fourth Book, Chapter 8, ¶ 1623).
The printing press, Protestantism, firearms, and a host of other factors have led to this leveling off and equality of conditions, all under the hand of Providence and divine decree. “To attempt to check democracy would be in that case to resist the will of God; and the nations would then be constrained to make the best of the social lot awarded to them by Providence” (Part I, Chapter 1, ¶ 11). “[W]e obstinately fix our eyes on the ruins which may still be described upon the shore we have left, whilst the current sweeps us along, and drives us backwards towards the gulf” ((Part I, Chapter 1, ¶ 12). Thus, for De Tocqueville, the coming of democracy is the inevitable pinnacle of a general progress within history at the hand of God. Yet as we will see, he is not a proponent of socialism or of the general redistribution of wealth among the populace.

3. Civil Society and Townships
Everywhere in America, de Tocqueville would find spontaneous local associations of citizens who would bind together to solve some problem that has cropped up, without even appealing to the authorities. Civil society was its own government. Yet when the authorities were appealed to, de Tocqueville found that it was local government in the townships that was most important. This emphasis on the political unit being closest to society would later take form in Abraham Kuyper’s teaching on sphere sovereignty and in the Catholic teaching of subsidiarity under Pope Leo XIII. It was a hallmark of liberty and independence in the American mind. In the laws of New England, “we find the germ and gradual development of that township independence which is the life and mainspring of American liberty at the present day” (Part I, Chapter 2, ¶ 77). However, in his analysis of townships as well as of other subjects, de Tocqueville appears to dismiss out of hand the south. This may be in part to support his thesis and praise of democracy, for the south lagged behind the north and continued to institute slavery during de Tocqueville’s visit. Yet it is more likely that he found the heart and essence of America to be found in New England’s culture and, particularly, its Puritan faith and culture, which he believed would ultimately set the tone for national culture and politics.
De Tocqueville analyzes political associations in Part II of his work as a force that strengthens civil society and protects young democracies from the forces of tyranny and despotism. He writes that an “association for political, commercial, or manufacturing purposes, or even for those of science and literature, is a powerful and enlightened member of the community, which cannot be disposed of at pleasure, or oppressed without remonstrance; and which, by defending its own rights against the encroachments of the government, saves the common liberties of the country” (Part II, Fourth Book, Chapter 7, ¶ 1613). In a democracy where no classes exist to protect each of their members from tyrannical acts, associations are formed to protect men otherwise set apart, isolated, and weakened. The press is essential within this framework, for through it, men are able to make their appeals to fellow men for assistance.

4. Political Associations
De Tocqueville also gives extensive treatment of political associations in the United States. In chapter 12, he describes those associations that Americans have established and “unsparingly applied to a multitude of different objects” (Part I, Chapter 12, ¶ 401). Political associations are formed for a multitude of purposes: “to promote public order, commerce, industry, morality, and religion” (¶ 403). Americans only make recourse to authority when doing so is unavoidable. Otherwise, they band together in voluntary associations to deal with public and private affairs.
While de Tocqueville’s general tone towards political associations in America is generally highly positive, he offers the reader a strong warning as well: “If, in a people which is imperfectly accustomed to the exercise of freedom, or which is exposed to violent political passions, a deliberating minority, which confines itself to the contemplation of future laws, be placed in juxtaposition to the legislative majority, I cannot but believe that public tranquillity incurs very great risks in that nation” (¶ 408). However, de Tocqueville concedes that “the unrestrained liberty of political association has not hitherto produced, in the United States, those fatal consequences which might perhaps be expected from it elsewhere” (¶ 415). Rather, the presence of these associations is highly beneficial, for they are needed to “prevent the despotism of faction or the arbitrary power of a prince” (¶ 416).

5. On Faith and Its Relation to Morality and Liberty
De Tocqueville ties freedom in America with the faith that imbues the American people. The link between faith and liberty is unbreakable: “Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot” (Part I, Chapter 17, ¶ 745). A people can only be free civilly if it submits to and pledges allegiance to some other law, which governs the people and keeps order. De Tocqueville asks rhetorically: “How is it possible that society should escape destruction if the moral tie be not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed? and what can be done with a people which is its own master, if it be not submissive to the Divinity?” (Part I, Chapter 17, ¶ 745). A people without a strong central government will evolve into anarchy if morality is not there to check the consciences of the people. In the words of de Tocqueville, “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith” (Introduction, ¶ 23). “Religion is no less the companion of liberty in all its battles and its triumphs; the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its claims. The safeguard of morality is religion, and morality is the best security of law and the surest pledge of freedom” (Part I, Chapter 2, ¶ 83).
The Americans “combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other” (Part I, Chapter 17, ¶ 742).
The strong role religion played in the United States was due to its separation from the government. According to the many members of the various denominations and the clergy that de Tocqueville interviewed, “the peaceful dominion of religion” was mainly attributed “to the separation of Church and State. I do not hesitate to affirm that during my stay in America I did not meet with a single individual, of the clergy or of the laity, who was not of the same opinion upon this point” (Part I, Chapter 17, ¶ 747). He contrasts this to France, where “the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom pursuing courses diametrically opposed to each other” (Part I, Chapter 17, ¶ 747). The connection between church and state in France led to an unhealthy antagonism between democrats and religion.
This separation of church and state in America has been made possible by the Gospel’s distinction of a heavenly kingdom that is distinct from the temporal world order. Christ does not consider his kingdom to be of this world. De Tocqueville contrasts this quality of Christianity with Islam, a religious system that also comprises a fully integrated worldview for law, society, and government: “Mahommed professed to derive from Heaven, and he has inserted in the Koran, not only a body of religious doctrines, but political maxims, civil and criminal laws, and theories of science. The gospel, on the contrary, only speaks of the general relations of men to God and to each other—beyond which it inculcates and imposes no point of faith” (Part II, First Book, Chapter 5, ¶ 1103). Based on this important distinction, he concludes that while the Christian faith is fully compatible with democracy, Islam cannot be. Islam “will never long predominate in a cultivated and democratic age, whilst [Christianity] is destined to retain its sway at these as at all other periods” (Part II, First Book, Chapter 5, ¶ 1103).

6. Equality
Throughout Democracy in America, de Tocqueville praises and endorses the equality that has developed in the natural course of events in American history. The equality he is treating is not, however, to be confused with oneness of economic conditions among the classes. Rather, it is an equality of conditions that allows all men to participate in their government and to engage in useful economic activities. This equality is manifested in a community where all of the members “take a part in the government, and that each of them has an equal right to take a part in it” (Part II, Second Book, Chapter 1, ¶ 1243). In such a state, “none is different from his fellows, none can exercise a tyrannical power: men will be perfectly free, because they will all be entirely equal; and they will all be perfectly equal, because they will be entirely free. To this ideal state democratic nations tend” (Part II, Second Book, Chapter 1, ¶ 1243).
Much of Democracy in America, and especially Part II, sets out to “point out the dangers to which the principle of equality exposes the independence of man” (Part II, Fourth Book, Chapter 8, ¶ 1622). De Tocqueville sets out the general dangers that attend to equality, including the possibility of despotism and the fear that some hold that equality inevitably leads to anarchy or to servitude. Refuting these claims, he takes a realistic view to the nature of equality in democratic nations, the dangers it can lead to, and the corrective measures that can be undertaken.
People in democratic nations, he says, love equality much more than liberty. The most perfect form of equality requires complete freedom. Yet imperfect equality can allow for great despotism. Equality is so deeply ingrained in laws, social conditions, mores, habits and opinions that destroying it would be extremely difficult. Political liberty, on the other hand, is easily lost. In addition, the dangers of liberty are immediate and easy to see, but the dangers of equality are subtle and visible only in the long run. Conversely, the benefits of liberty can only be seen over time and exercising liberty requires sacrifice, while the advantages of equality are felt immediately and easy to obtain. In most modern nations, equality preceded liberty, and it is a more deep-seated passion. As a result, democratic peoples want equality even if it means losing liberty.
However, de Tocqueville is not without his warnings. He writes that “the vices which despotism engenders are precisely those which equality fosters” (Part II, Second Book, Chapter 4, ¶ 1255) and that “it is easier to establish an absolute and despotic government amongst a people in which the conditions of society are equal, than amongst any other …. Despotism therefore appears to me peculiarly to be dreaded in democratic ages” (Part II, Fourth Book, Chapter 7, ¶ 1610). He contrasts aristocratic countries, which abound in wealthy and influential persons who cannot be easily or secretly oppressed, with democratic countries, which contain no such class of persons who “restrain a government within general habits of moderation and reserve” (Part II, Fourth Book, Chapter 7, ¶ 1611). However, private citizens in a democracy can combine together and constitute bodies of great wealth, influence, and strength, creating a class that by artificial means corresponds to the persons of an aristocracy, and in this way, guard the democracy from despotism or tyranny. These civil associations, combined with the power of the press and the general rights that all citizens equally enjoy under law give way to an active, provident, and powerful civil society unheard of in aristocratic nations.
This equality is not to be confused with socialism or equality of economic condition. De Tocqueville notes that Americans are a hardworking people that takes private property seriously: “I know of no country, indeed, where the love of money has taken stronger hold on the affections of men, and where the profounder contempt is expressed for the theory of the permanent equality of property” (Part I, Chapter 2, ¶ 96). The ideas of taxation and redistribution are foreign to the American mind. “In no country in the world is the love of property more active and more anxious than in the United States; nowhere does the majority display less inclination for those principles which threaten to alter, in whatever manner, the laws of property” (Part I, Chapter 21, ¶ 1518).

"Pure Poetry"

Search Amazon.com for the open door

This film is about a woman’s struggle to break free from the constraints and expectations of an oppressive society. After Laila is disillusioned with a romantic relationship marked by unfaithfulness and deceit, she swears never to fall in love again. Yet the idealistic hero Hussain, a fighter for the liberty of Egypt, relentlessly pursues her and urges her not to let a past relationship impede her from experiencing life to its fullest. With an unshakeable faith that he and Laila will one day be together, his constant love letters slowly prod open her calloused, wounded heart. Laila finally breaks off a wedding engagement arranged by her father and comes to accept the daring, bold, selfless Hussain, the man she always truly loved, while risking all of the comforts of her secure life to pursue him and to make his dreams of them together her own.

This is an outstanding film. Each line is written with deep insight into human nature, life, love, freedom, and happiness, and the words of Hussain are like pure poetry that pierce the heart and inspire the soul.

Sun Tzu's classic, "The Art of War": in some ways outdated, in others, prophetic

A. Overview
The ancient Chinese military general Sun Tzu lays out a blueprint for the effective waging of war. In his classic The Art of War, the successful war campaign largely revolves around two key elements: deception and surprise. Sun Tzu also describes the virtues that are required of effective military leaders, and, drawing from his many years of military experience, he gives wide ranging and insightful advice on knowing oneself, knowing one’s enemy, and how to keep the spirits of one’s soldiers fixed on victory. Throughout his treatise, his words are piercing, direct, at times witty, and often paradoxical. He writes, for example, “If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant” (I.22). “Simulated disorder postulates perfect discipline, simulated fear postulates courage; simulated weakness postulates strength” (V.17).

1. Virtues Necessary for a Successful War Campaign
The Commander is to be an exemplar of five virtues: wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and strictness (I.9). Discipline among the Commanders and soldiers is the key to victory. One can even determine which side in a war will be victorious by asking “(1) Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral law? (2) Which of the two generals has most ability? (3) With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and Earth? (4) On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced? (5) Which army is stronger? (6) On which side are officers and men more highly trained? (7) In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and punishment?” (I.13).

2. The Law of Deception
The Law of Deception is summarized by Sun Tzu with these words: “All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near” (I.18-19).
Sun Tzu goes to great lengths in justifying this assertion and in giving examples of how to deceive and to detect deception from the enemy. He writes, “Humble words and increased preparations are signs that the enemy is about to advance. Violent language and driving forward as if to the attack are signs that he will retreat” (IX.24), but “Peace proposals unaccompanied by a sworn covenant indicate a plot” (IX.26). “At first, then, exhibit the coyness of a maiden, until the enemy gives you an opening; afterwards emulate the rapidity of a running hare, and it will be too late for the enemy to oppose you” (XI.68).

3. Law of Surprise Attack
Surprise is also an important element in weakening the enemy. The military is to “[a]ppear at points which the enemy must hasten to defend; march swiftly to places where you are not expected” (VI.5), and, “[i]n raiding and plundering, be like fire, in immovability like a mountain” (VII.18). “Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt” (VII.19).

4. Effective Warfare
The rest of the treatise focuses on how to wage war in an effective manner. War is to be waged by first knowing oneself and knowing one’s enemy. Battle is never undertaken unless one is certain that he will win. Sun Tzu outlines the five principles of victory: “(1) He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. (2) He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces. (3) He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks. (4) He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared. (5) He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign” (III.17).
A successful war campaign is waged efficiently, with the Armed Forces knowing when and how to attack by expending as little effort as possible, for “supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting” (III.2). Few resources are to be expended in an effective war campaign: “The skillful soldier does not raise a second levy, neither are his supply-wagons loaded more than twice” (II.8).
Sun Tzu also seems to hint at a metaphysical plane in which warfare is fought. He writes, for example, that the effective Commander “wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated” (IV.13), as though war is first fought on some metaphysical plane before the victory and defeated is reflected in the visible, physical world.

B. Critique
Some of Sun Tzu’s counsel is outdated in the age of terrorism, military insurgencies, and digital and nuclear warfare. Some of Sun Tzu’s council revolves around the size and numbers of the enemy’s forces and one’s advantage relative to the enemy based on numbers. Similarly, much of his advice is based on obsolete forms of land warfare that are rarely fought in the modern day. He writes, for example, “Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted” (VI.1). This advice will rarely, if ever, be relevant in an age where most warfare is fought in the air or from long range missiles, with forces rarely clashing in land battles.
The advent of nuclear weapons also changes the entire equation of relative forces and makes the numbers of infantrymen almost irrelevant. Similarly, the introduction of insurgencies that blend into local populations have been able to render even large armies of well equipped soldiers ineffective and unsuccessful. Furthermore, the advent of digital and cyber-warfare makes the numbers of enlisted and commissioned soldiers largely irrelevant to foreign attacks.
Though the forms of warfare have changed over the ages, many of Sun Tzu’s principles continue to apply. Whether fighting a land battle or an air battle, the laws of deception and surprise attack are still relevant and highly effective. Furthermore, Sun Tzu outlines lessons that are important not only for the battlefield, but also for the general struggles of life. He writes, “You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended. You can ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked” (VI.7). This is advice that should be heeded by businessmen, political leaders, and anyone else in a position that requires defending against an onslaught of attacks or competition.