In The Confessions, Augustine offers a personalized account of his struggle with conversion. While artful in presenting the dirty details, he consistently directs readers to a more general problem – what should one do when caught between what the mind knows and what the body desires? Augustine’s experience of this familiar tension largely focused on celibacy. Although intellectually certain of chastity’s virtue, his ‘broader’ loves left him to beg: ‘Give me continence … but not yet!’
Eventually, Augustine’s ‘wavering will’ did, of course, concede. His conversion is a ‘success.’ Yet, one wonders if the real gift of his autobiography lies less in the destination (albeit cliché) and more with his journey. Is it not Augustine’s ability to stand as an all too human wanderer (i.e., as a perfectly-conflicted seeker of ‘wisdom’) which transports The Confessions from ‘the interesting’ to ‘the iconic’?
Recent headlines reveal the wavering of another exemplar of sorts: American football great Brett Favre. Already well-beyond the standard age of retirement, the long time Green Bay Packer (who then retired, un-retired, signed with the New York Jets, and then retired again) can’t seem to resist the field. This season, the three-time MVP un-retired (dare I say, again) and signed (in spite of what all reason must be telling him) with the Minnesota Vikings.
Favre’s indecision has received nothing but criticism. Football fans seem unable to reconcile the hero with the man, his speed on the field with his stupor on the sidelines. And, perhaps, rightly so. Still, the source driving such criticism remains unclear. Is the problem that Favre (like Augustine before him) has not ‘succeeded’ as paradigm when faced with a life-altering decision? Or, is the problem that, in spite of a similarly iconic career, Favre has somehow managed to remain a (conflicted, wandering) human being? To read more, see this article in The New York Times.
Philosophy of Action and Philosophy of Religion,
Stewart Goetz , Ursinus College,
Philosophy Compass 0/0