It didn't bode well when I fell asleep just a few pages into Confessions. I had a long run earlier that morning, so I chalked it up to physical exhaustion and set myself to restart my attempt the next day....at which point I fell asleep again.
St. Augustine, you're not holding my attention very well. Maybe because he drones on and on in the first several pages:
And how shall I call upon my God--my God and my Lord? For when I call on him I ask him to come into me. And what place is there in me into which my God can come? How could God, the God who made both heaven and earth, come into me? Is there anything in me, O Lord my God, that can contain thee? Do even the heaven and the earth, which thou hast made, and in which thou didst make me, contain thee? Is it possible that, since without thee nothing would be which does exist, thou didst make it so that whatever exists has some capacity to receive thee? Why, then, do I ask thee to come into me, since I also am and could not be if thou wert not in me? For I am not, after all, in hell--and yet thou art there too, for “if I go down into hell, thou art there.”1111 Ps. 139:8. Therefore I would not exist--I would simply not be at all--unless I exist in thee, from whom and by whom and in whom all things are. Even so, Lord; even so. Where do I call thee to, when I am already in thee? Or from whence wouldst thou come into me? Where, beyond heaven and earth, could I go that there my God might come to me--he who hath said, “I fill heaven and earth”
Um....ok.... Augustine...I think that you're over-thinking this. Actually, I think what made the text less accessible for me wasn't Augustine's droning on, but the antiquated, stilted English translation I had picked up:
"which thou hast made"
"which thou didst make me"
"whence wouldst thy come to me"
Curious as to the date of the English translation, I flipped to the copyright page and found a date of 1905, not incredibly recent, but seemingly too close to the 21st century that all those Thees, Thous, and Arts come across as artificial. I'm wondering if a love for the KJV inspired this particular translation.
Normally if I am reading something from a period, like Shakespeare, or Chaucer, any number of English greats, I can wade through the strangeness of the language they use to get at what they are saying. For whatever reason, I just can't do it with this translation of Augustine, maybe because I know that there is no reason for it to be translated into this type of flowery, formal English. In the case of Shakespeare we preserve the hard-to-understand language because we are not only trying to absorb his ideas, but are trying to hear the poetry and cadence of his writing. With a translation from a foreign language, we are mostly trying to have access to the ideas in the text.
So, until I find a modern english version of the text...I'm putting reading St. Augustine off for another day.
One funny thing. I rolled my eyes when Augustine wrote this:
I remember this, and I afterwards observed how I first learned to speak, for my elders did not teach me words in any set method, as they did letters afterwards; but myself, when I was unable to say all I wished and to whomsoever I desired, by means of the whimperings and broken utterances and various motions of my limbs, which I used to enforce my wishes, repeated the sounds in my memory by the mind, O my God, which Thou gavest me. When they called anything by name, and moved the body towards it while they spoke, I saw and gathered that the thing they wished to point out was called by the name they then uttered; and that they did mean this was made plain by the motion of the body, even by the natural language
Most children learn to speak at about two years old and are usually quite fluent by the age of three. Most children also don't have accessible memories until they are about three or four, long past the time that they would be whimpering and motioning in order to learn words to communicate.
Verily I say unto thee, "Methinks thou dost exaggerate Augustine!"
As far as Sam Harris' book, a few pages in I had to yawn and put it aside. Nothing new or earth-shattering within it. I had picked out so many fallacies about what "must be" and had to ignore so many potshots at anything that isn't either militant atheism or rock-hard Christian fundamentalism, that I decided it wasn't worth my time.