Philosophy in the Bedroom by the Marquis de Sade

desade-philosophybedroomWhile everyone’s feeling naughty for reading E.L. James’s 50 Shades of Grey these days, I thought I would instead delve into something by the man who gave sadism its name. My fascination with reading Philosophy in the Bedroom actually stems from the fact that I’ve got a soft spot for an old Jess Franco movie called Eugenie, starring the gorgeous Maria Rohm. According to the film’s opening credits, it’s based on the de Sade book here under review. The story is simple: a rich and powerful woman, Madame de Saint Ange, with her brother, Le Chevalier de Mirval, take a naive teenage girl, Eugenie, under their wing and proceed to give her an “education” in the ways of being a libertine, over the course of a weekend. While Franco’s movie does little more than tease the viewer, the original work is quite a different beast.

The book is written in the form of a play, consisting entirely of dialogue – except for occasional stage directions about sexual positions, which came across as unintentionally comedic. I couldn’t imagine this actually taking place with actors, and I doubt it was ever made real in that fashion. However, I couldn’t help but visualise the actors from Franco’s adaptation in their respective roles. I use the word adaptation loosely, because Franco essentially did his own thing. Trust me, if he followed de Sade’s script, he would’ve been jailed.

I’m not easily shocked when it comes to sexual content, but I have to admit that I was surprised at the extremes depicted by the author. I won’t go into detail, but I simply had no idea that many of de Sade’s sexual kinks had even entered the imagination of man three centuries ago. I was under the impression that the excesses depicted in modern pornography were largely a product of modern pornography. Not so, it seems. They were here all along.

Parts of the book are actually very intelligent. There is a lengthy non-erotic portion concerned with libertine politics, which was rather boring for me. But I thoroughly enjoyed de Sade’s rant against Christianity. It was strikingly blasphemous for the time period, displaying a remarkable courage in a heavily Christianised society.

Central to de Sade’s philosophy is an appeal to nature. He views man, rightly, as a part of nature, not as a thing alienated from nature, as religion teaches. Man is not a creature that has to beat his natural instincts into submission in pursuit of some “higher” ideal. The passions of man have every right to be expressed and enjoyed without guilt, because man is an animal. Arguing thus, de Sade is well ahead of his time. It wasn’t until Charles Darwin proposed the theory of natural selection in the mid-1800s that we were able to scientifically defend what de Sade already saw clearly. Sadly, the author is unable to separate his ideas about nature from his own personal sexual neuroses. To him, every thought that excites him, no matter how deranged, is natural. It looks like the old cliche about genius and insanity being very close companions.

The erotic element of the story, frankly, does get tiresome after a while, and I almost gave up reading halfway through. I did like the philosophical side, though. How do I sum up the Marquis de Sade? Deranged genius? Maybe.

The Holy Bible: New Living Translation by various authors

Most visitors are probably thinking this is a rather strange item to find in a book review column, but a book’s a book, and the Bible is no exception. I became Christian when I was seventeen (fourteen years ago), and the fact that this is now the first time I’ve managed to read the Bible from cover to cover is a testament to how difficult an undertaking it is. As translations go, I favoured the New King James and New Internation Version over the years, but when I first started reading the New Living Translation (NLT), I found the task of understanding the Scriptures was made a lot easier. Other translations, such as the Good News Bible, have attempted this, but at the cost of accuracy. Take a look at the first two verses of the Bible in this little comparison:

King James Version:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

New King James Version:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

New International Version:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

New American Standard Bible:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.

New Living Translation

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was empty, a formless mass cloaked in darkness. And the Spirit of God was hovering over its surface.

Good News Bible

In the beginning, when God created the universe, the earth was formless and desolate. The raging ocean that covered everything was engulfed in total darkness, and the Spirit of God was moving over the water.

I realise we’re only considering two verses in the whole colossal volume, but you can easily notice how closely the New Living Translation sticks to the other widely accepted versions of the Bible, while the Good News Bible takes some serious liberties with the grammatical structure of the passage. On the flip side, a closer look at the above passage also reveals that the NLT is the only version which omits to mention “water” or “waters”; the idea of the earth being completely covered in water is omitted in the NLT. So, we’re certainly not talking about a perfect translation here. I think it’s fair to say that what you get is a fairly accurate translation that’s also highly readable.

During my reading I noticed a few departures from tradition with the NLT. Sometimes they were helpful, but other times I thought the translators went too far. Here are some that I can remember:

1. The term “brothers” in the New Testament is almost always changed to “brothers and sisters.” I think the idea behind this is that in the male-dominated 1st century the term “brothers,” when used as a greeting, was not stated in such a way as to exclude Chistian women. In the present day, it might be necessary to take away any ambiguity from the phrase in case some would think it’s referring only to males – and so, “brothers and sisters.” I’ll leave it up to you what you think about that move on the part of the translators.

2. Weights, measures and various Bible-time customs are generally changed to fit today’s culture. The practice of casting lots is helpfully re-translated as gambling with dice (which is what it was). However, I thought it was rather odd to have dollars mentioned as currency!

3. The great sea creature Leviathan, mentioned in the book of Job, is referred to as a crocodile. I’m aware of this interpretation, and I don’t think it’s the right one.

Overall, I think this is an excellent Bible translation, especially for children and teenagers. When talking with the young about God, it’s important to be able to quote God’s word without the hurdle of difficult language. And in a social climate where more and more people grow up without a church background, a translation like this is wonderful to have on hand. To illustrate the language difficulty, let me quote the famous prophetic passage, Isaiah 53, in two translations. Follow both carefully and note much easier the NLT is to understand:

New King James Version:

(1) Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? (2) For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. (3) He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; (4) Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. (5) But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. (6) All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. (7) He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth. (8 ) He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken. (9) And they made His grave with the wicked – But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth. (10) Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. (11) He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities. (12) Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.

New Living Translation:

(1) Who has believed our message? To whom will the LORD reveal his saving power? (2) My servant grew up in the LORD’s presence like a tender green shoot, sprouting from a root in dry and sterile ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. (3) He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. He was despised and rejected–a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised, and we did not care. (4) Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God for his own sins! (5) But he was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed! (6) All of us have strayed away like sheep. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the LORD laid on him the guilt and sins of us all. (7) He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. (8 ) From prison and trial they led him away to his death. But who among the people realized that he was dying for their sins – that he was suffering their punishment? (9) He had done no wrong, and he never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. (10) But it was the LORD’s good plan to crush him and fill him with grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have a multitude of children, many heirs. He will enjoy a long life, and the LORD’s plan will prosper in his hands. (11) When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of what he has experienced, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. (12) I will give him the honors of one who is mighty and great, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among those who were sinners. He bore the sins of many and interceded for sinners.

The NLT is not just for children; I’m using it as my main Bible for study purposes. It has rekindled my love for the word of God, and I have never been so motivated about reading it as I am today. I honestly do believe that The Bible is the word of God. Despite all the bickering over translations and all the questions on the accuracy of the source material that makes up our modern Bibles, there is undeniably something special about the book. It reveals human nature with an honesty that nothing else I’ve ever experienced has matched. It provides insight on how to live a successful life. Let’s not forget all the incredible history, such as the accounts of the lives of Joseph, Moses, Samson, David, Daniel, Jonah, and others. Then there is Jesus – God himself becoming a man in order to give himself as a sacrifice to rescue sinful mankind from damnation. When you start to suspect that this book may be divine in origin, then so much becomes possible: the forgiveness of your sins; the ability to break the grip of evil in your life; access to a loving God who answers prayer; divine protection in day-to-day living; and in the end, eternal life.

The Bible’s impact on history makes it the most powerful book ever written. Now, with the New Living Translation, it has never been easier to read. So, give it a try and make up your own mind.

Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan

John Bunyan is the author of one of the most famous books of Christian Literature: The Pilgrim’s Progress. This Grace Abounding is a short autobiographical volume about his life.

The full title is Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, an expression borrowed from the Bible. If I’m not mistaken, the Apostle Paul, who was once renowned as the strongest persecutor of the early Christian church, referred to himself as the “chief of sinners” after his conversion, in light of all the harm he had done to the church. Reading Bunyan’s account of his own pre-Christian experience, I can’t help but think the title is inappropriate. He speaks of his sins in only the vaguest terms, and I got a sense that he was a reckless sort of man who swore a lot and enjoyed dancing (which, presumably, was regarded as sin in those days).

Gradually, Bunyan came to have a sense of his own sinfulness, and after wading his way through some badly thought out theology, he eventually became a Christian. Far from being the answer to his problems, it proved to be just the beginning.

Bunyan was tortured mentally with “temptations” (as he puts it). On one occasion he was tempted to “sell Christ” incessantly over a period of days. At the end of his tether, he finally responded, “Let him go, if he will.” This led to Bunyan believing that he had committed the “unpardonable sin”. For years upon years he was tortured with this belief, having only brief moments of respite. He would talk about finding a verse of Scripture which would convince him again that he was truly in the Kingdom of God, but his high spirits would last only a day or two, and the verse would lose its power for him.

This struck me as a strange way of examining Scripture, constantly looking at one’s own emotions in order to determine the truthfulness of a Bible verse. From a Christian point of view, surely the Bible is true regardless of how it makes one feel. If a verse is interpreted correctly, it makes no difference to the truth of it whether one’s heart is warm or cold. Much of the book is taken up with Bunyan’s long and difficult inner pilgrimage towards a joyful Christian experience.

Grace Abounding was first published in 1666, and much as I hate to be critical of a book as old and cherished as this one, I can only be honest. Bunyan’s experience is largely alien to me. Perhaps the book would be of value to someone who suspects they may have committed the “unpardonable sin”, but it became a little tiresome to me. I was much more interested to read about Bunyan’s time in prison, and how he coped, but this was relegated to a very brief account near the close of the book.

I was a little amused to read a few paragraphs where Bunyan digresses to discuss his disapproval of men who kept company with women, not it any immoral sense, merely socially. Different times, I guess, but it seemed a little ridiculous.

On a brighter note, Bunyan’s long emotional distress resulted in an intense appreciation of his salvation, and a intense love for the Lord, which in turn led him to become a preacher. And if you’re wondering what it was that threw him into prison, it was his fearless attitude and uncompromising message in the pulpit. There are few of us like that.