The One-Eyed Man

John W. Pinkerton

When I awoke this morning, the first thought that popped into my mind was the expression, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”  The thought was a little curious but not disturbing; I often awake to stray thoughts which by the time I’m fully awake, I’ve dismissed.  But this morning the thought stayed with me, and curiosity about the origin of the expression nagged at me; to the internet.

It turns out that the father of this gem was a fellow by the name of Erasmus.  Yeah, Erasmus rings a bell; maybe something to do with the Catholic church.  Lord, I wished I’d paid more attention in school.

Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536) did have something to do with the Catholic church: he was a priest but never a practicing priest.  He spent most of his time as a secular priest standardizing the Latin version of the Bible, teaching, speaking with the great minds of his time, traveling the Western World, verbally kicking the crap out of corrupt members of the Catholic Church, and although somewhat of a sympathizer with Martin Luther and his Reformation, he opposed the movement hoping to reform the Catholic church from within.  Interestingly, his main objection to the Protestant Movement was its denial of free will.  Being a humanist and a Catholic, he did not believe in predestination.

Free will and predestination?  I remember giving these two concepts some thought as a youth.  I don’t recall if I was spurred to think about these concepts by a preacher or teacher or both.  Back to the internet.

It seems that the problem with free will and predestination in the theological realm is that God is universally seen as all-powerful and all-knowing which causes some logic problems when considering free will and predestination.

The problem Erasmus had with Martin Luther’s new version of the Christian faith was Luther’s belief in predestination which means that God determines before we are even born whether or not we are to be among the saved.  That pretty much cuts out free will.  However, if you want to know if you have been predestined to be saved, you can believe in the tenets of the faith, which means you have been predestined to be saved.  Sounds like a Catch 22 situation.  The Catholics, on the other hand, have a stronger belief in self-determination and free will.  Like most religions, they do and they don’t believe in predestination, but come down on the free will side a little more firmly.  The Jewish faith has little to say about free will and predestination.   They do believe everything is predestined but free will is given.  Okay?  Methodists believe that although God is omnipotent and knows what choices individuals will make, he gives man the ultimate choice or free will.  The Southern Baptists believe in predestination and the “elect.”

I know I’ve oversimplified my interpretation of what I’ve read and may have even misinterpreted what I read, but if you’d read what I read, you might have been a little confused also.  There are so many shades and convoluted expressions about the subject, I’d be a little surprised if very many members of any church could give much of a clear statement of their church’s beliefs regarding predestination and free will.

Now that I’ve reviewed the various views of free will and predestination, my memory of my early thoughts on the subject are coming back to me.  As I recall, I settled on accepting the question as a paradox, something for which no absolute answer can be obtained.  Whether my life was predestined or that I had free will I could not know.  At any rate, I decided to live my life as though I have free will.  Did I really have a choice?  (Did you catch the pun?)

Now back to Erasmus and his, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”  Erasmus was a humanist; that is, he focused on human values and concerns attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.  Well, actually he was a religious humanist which means he integrated humanist interests with religious rituals and beliefs.  Anyway, one of the human matters that interested Erasmus was his collection of nearly 5000 Greek and Latin adages or proverbs.  He saw these as having much sensible insight for folks.  His writings served as a vessel from which others could pluck adages to be reinterpreted in various languages.  Thanks, Erasmus.

Here are just a few of the 5000:

A monkey is a monkey, even if it’s wearing gold medals.

You’re trying to milk a billy-goat.

It takes one Cretan to best another.

The wolf may change his coat but not his character.

The Indian elephant doesn’t worry about a gnat.

The sow that was washed goes back to her mud wallow.

Think before you start.

Many hands make light work.

And of course:

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

Erasmus was Dutch.  Did you know that most of the Puritans who ended up on Plymouth Rock first left England seeking exile in Holland?  Well, they did.

The Netherlands region was once a province of Spain.  The Netherlands were able to separate from Spain via the Eighty Years’ War.  After they had won their independence, Zeeland, Holland, Groningen, Friesland, Utrecht, Overijssel, and Geire formed a confederation.  The Dutch Empire became the major seafaring and economic power of the 17th Century.  They established colonies and trading posts all over the world.  The place we now call New York was once called New Amsterdam.  The Netherlands was the first completely capitalist country in the world.  They established the world’s first full-time stock exchange.  They gave us both insurance and retirement funds.  Unfortunately they also gave us the boom-bust cycle which started with tulip mania.  (You should really look up “tulip mania”; this little episode is a hoot.)  Of course, France under Napoleon Bonaparte invaded and controlled the Netherlands for almost twenty years.  The Battle of Leipzig forced the withdrawal of the French.  The Netherlands in the 19th Century was slow to industrialize because of their infrastructure which depended so heavily on their waterways and windpower.  In the 20th Century they managed to remain neutral during World War I, but during World War II, the Germans invaded the Netherlands sending over 100,000 Dutch Jews to concentration camps.  Only 876 survived.  Wisely, the Dutch left behind their neutrality policy aligning with NATO.  The 60s and 70s were periods of great social change: the old divisions between classes and religions broke down; changes came about in women’s rights, sexuality,  and environmental issues.  In addition it developed a liberal drug policy, legalized euthanasia, and was the first nation to allow same-sex marriage.

You may recognize more folks from the Netherlands than you realize.  In addition to Erasmus, Vincent van Gogh, old one ear; Rembrandt van Rijn, you know, the prolific  artist who produced such works as “The Night Watch”; the actor Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner, Buffy the Vampire Killer); Anne Frank, the well-known Jewish girl who perished at the hands of the Nazis but left her story behind in her famous diary; Albert Camus, existential writer and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature; Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit who gave us the most commonly used temperature scale which sets freezing at 32 degrees and boiling at 212 degrees; and, most importantly, Gerard Adriaan Heineken, the founder of Heineken, the international beer company.  So, as you see, you have more in common with the Dutch than you realized.

By the way, many folks use the name Holland as an equivalent of the Netherlands, but, actually, Holland is a part of the Netherlands.  All parts are occupied by the Dutch, and Dutch is the language.

I began my day with “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king” stuck in my brain and ended it with the history of Erasmus, an examination of free will and predestination and a quick look at the Netherlands.  I recovered memories and added new facts. 

Linda’s calling me to take out the trash.  I’m going to exercise my free will and end this essay now.   Enough is enough.


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