What if the greatest saints could have sat down with history’s greatest scoundrels and debated the big topics? What would debates between Edith Stein and Friedrich Nietzsche have looked like? Or what would Flannery O’Connor have to say to Ayn Rand if she got the chance?
In his latest book, Dr. Benjamin Wiker invites readers to join him as he interacts not just with the ideas that have shaped human history, but with the people who created those ideas. Within the pages of Saints vs. Scoundrels, you’ll find imaginary (and lively!) conversations between the great truth-tellers and the great peddlers of lies throughout human history. Not only will you learn incredible historical facts, but you’ll also come to know the great personalities of the thinkers who’ve sparked great conversations throughout the course of human history.
Dr. Wiker starts off his book by imagining how different our world would look if the greatest saints could have met the greatest scoundrels. “What we believe, how we live, and the effects we have on how other people think and live is immeasurably great, for better or worse,” he writes in the introduction. “Lives are salvaged and lives are destroyed. We know from history the enormous effects that people such as Saint Francis have had for good and people such as Machiavelli had for evil. The great debates are deadly serious because different answers given by different towering figures form later generations for good or ill.”
Granted, Saint Francis of Assisi never got the chance to sit down with Niccolo Machiavelli and hash out the details about the existence of God. But both of these historical figures and many others, have sparked movements and ideas that resonate in our own present day world. How amazing would it be if they had met and shared thoughts at a family picnic, or sat down with a cup of coffee in a living room? “If the scoundrels could have met the saints,” Dr. Wiker writes, “their lives and the lives of countless others they’ve influenced might have been radically different.”
In his book, Dr. Wiker brings to life debates between scoundrels and saints with his dynamic storytelling ability. And his latest book allows you to be a fly on the wall and listen in on the ultimate dream debates of Western civilization. He examines five dream debates in his new book. Here is a sneak peek at three of the debates and how the saints and scoundrels would’ve measured up!
1. Saint Augustine and Jean-Jacques Rosseau debate justice
Jean-Jacques Rosseau and Saint Augustine were both men who have had tremendous influence throughout human history. So what would happen if they debated about the subject of justice?
Wiker argues that if the two great minds has ever interacted, Rousseau would have been a much different man. He would have “realized that his entire philosophy of ‘natural man’ was all a fiction he invited to excuse his own treatment of women and the abandonment of his own children, and then changed it accordingly,” he writes.
If Rousseau’s view of justice had changed, Wiker wonders if there ever would have been a sexual revolution in the 1960s. But instead, Rousseau relied on a concept of justice that was exclusively of this world. He rejected the responses of Christ and Augustine when they both talked about justice.
So who was more passionate about justice? Wiker argues Augustine wins by a landslide. “In truth, St. Augustine was far more passionate about justice, which becomes clear especially in his City of God, where he chastises pagan Rome for its many brutish injustices perpetrated in pursuit of empire. As Augustine and the Church declare, justice is defined by God; it is, in fact, a virtue, one of the four cardinal virtues.”
2. Edith Stein takes on Friedrich Nietzsche and the search for truth
Friedrich Nietzsche is one of the most influential and misunderstood philosophers of the modern era. Wiker remembers how his professors in graduate school crowded around Nietzsche. Nietzsche understood that in a world without God, the only higher power left is human willpower. Unfortunately, the Nazi regime demonstrated just this type of deity.
Edith Stein was seized by the Nazis on August 2, 1942. She was shipped off to Auschwitz concentration camp and given the number 44074. In her martyrdom, she embraced the truth of the Crucifixion and the suffering of Christ. She understood philosophy and theology, and how the two subjects are often intertwined.
“I am often amazed at the ignorance and confusion of so many who call themselves philosophers but dismiss theology as irrational,” Wiker writes. “They pridefully proclaim that they have chosen reason over blind faith.” But, in doing so, they miss out the beauty of the truth.
“Edith Stein – every bit as intelligent as Nietzsche – searched diligently for the truth, first as an atheist, but then as a convinced Christian.” It is she who we should look to as an example of a modern philosopher and theologian.
3. Flannery O’Connor and Ayn Rand go head to head about narcissism
If Flannery O’Connor was ever introduced to Ayn Rand, things would get pretty heated. “I know that there are many folks, perhaps even some reading this, who consider Ayn Rand to be a kind of secular saint, a twentieth-century champion of the individual in the face of stifling, dehumanizing threats of socialism and communism. The problem with Rand,” Write writes, “is that her reaction in favor of radical individualism – a philosophy based on an entirely self-centered ethical system – was equally erroneous.”
If there was anyone to pick up on Rand’s narcissism, it would be Flannery O’Connor. O’Connor’s had a very refined theological sense, one that permeated her understanding of all aspects of who she was and the life she lived.
Rand’s philosophy reduces everyone around her to either a prop or puppet for her to manipulate. “That’s why there are no real characters in Rand’s Atlas Shrugged with the kind of depth that we find in any of Flannery O’Connor’s (much, much shorter) stories. Rand, unlike Flannery, didn’t believe that real, particular flesh and blood people were worthy of studying in depth. She was all that mattered,” Wiker writes.
The beautiful, intricate mess of humanity that Flannery O’Connor recognizes in her short stories makes her a knowledgeable critic of the narcissism that permeates Rand’s writing.
Want to read more about the ideas and people that shaped our world? Get your hands on a copy of Dr. Wiker’s book and learn about the history of the Church and the world with his dynamic storytelling ability and wit! You can find the book at your local Catholic bookstore or online at Sophia Institute Press.