Feser speaks up. Zmirak digs deeper.

Thomist Edward Feser defends the natural law prohibition on lying here, before going off on a tangent attacking the “new natural law” theorists.  I don’t see why this was necessary.  New natural law proponents may think they are attacking the idea of normative natural ends, as Feser says, but I’m hoping their writings will have a more constructive effect, that of helping people who have grown up in a Cartesian, personalist mental universe see how nature can be normative at all.

Meanwhile, John Zmirak has posted another defense of lying in extreme circumstances, and again he seems to be inadvertently doing everything in his power to convince me that this position is heretical.  He starts with some more belittling of sacred tradition.  He reminds us that the Church once didn’t recognize the wonderfulness of usury, a practice he thinks to be the key to modern prosperity.  The Church could always allow lying under extreme circumstances without throwing away the virtue of honesty altogether.  After all, “The Church’s embrace of religious liberty did not (as [traditionalists] feared) cause the Church to teach religious indifferentism.”  (I’d say the jury is still out on that one, actually.)  Then Zmirak introduces a new argument.  Given the evidence, he suggests that the Church hasn’t definitively settled her doctrine on this issue yet.  Faithful Catholics can disagree over whether Live Action did anything sinful.  I will agree with him there.  Therefore, people who think Live Action did do wrong shouldn’t present their arguments publicly, because that would be slandering people who haven’t violated a settled Church teaching.  So, the fact that we are allowed to disagree means that one side is not allowed to make its case!

Is forgiveness just? Is it supernatural?

Sometimes, people say that Christianity makes some weird and implausible dogmatic claims, but that everyone can agree that it made some decisive contributions to morality.  The idea is that you don’t have to accept specifically Christian doctrines (the Incarnation, the Trinity, etc) to accept what was once thought of as specifically Christian morality (love your enemies, forgive offenses, turn the other cheek, etc).  I’m not so sure.  Let’s take the example of forgiveness.  People who think this is a virtue for export may not realize how radical it is.

To be fair to both Christians and pagans, we must not alter the Lord’s command to forgive offenses in such a way as to make it “reasonable”.  Reasonable it is not, at least by natural standards.  Forgiveness doesn’t just mean to avoid vigilantism and let the police do their job.  It doesn’t just mean not retaliating disproportionately.  Pagans knew all about that.  Forgiveness means not even holding a grudge, not wishing ill.  It certainly doesn’t mean excusing offenses, imagining that the offender didn’t really know what he was doing or couldn’t really control himself.  When Aeneas spared Helen because it wasn’t her or Paris but the gods who brought down Troy, this was not Christian forgiveness.  The latter faces the evil will in all its monstrosity and still forgives.

Forgiveness is not just.  Justice doesn’t mean equal benevolence to all, like the rain falling on good and evil alike.  Justice means giving each person what he deserves.  A tooth for a tooth is justice.  Nor does justice limit itself to praising or condemning acts; it must praise or condemn their actors as well.  Everyone agrees that we should be grateful to those who do us a good turn.  In the same way, natural justice demands that we hold a grudge against those who wrong us.  Treating them the same as those who’ve never harmed us whouldn’t be fair.

Desire that wrongdoers be punished isn’t always selfish.  Not only our self-love, but our love of justice demands vengeance.  We often find it harder to forgive those who harm others rather than ourselves, because in this case the craving for justice stands in all its naked purity, with no mixture of self-interest.  Love of justice is a good thing.  An insensibility to wrongs is not Christian forgiveness.  A dog “forgives” like this, and it’s no virtue.  God–subsistent Justice Himself–shares our love of justice, so much so that He could not simply forget humanity’s transgressions without betraying His own nature, but rather sent His Son to become man and make expiation.

Christian forgiveness in its fulness is, I think, not a natural virtue at all.  It takes supernatural knowledge to see its goodness.  It’s only just to forgive the wicked because Jesus Christ has taken the world’s sins upon himself.  Though sinners, we are members of Christ; he takes our sin and shares his righteousness.  That may be hard to believe–or even understand–but if it’s not true, then vindictiveness is better than forgiveness.

Nonresistance to aggression (“turning the other cheek”) is the same, I think.  Naturally, this is no virtue at all, but rather a contemptible vice.  It only becomes a virtue in light of Jesus’ own nonresistence unto death, Jesus whose example we follow and whose image we more perfectly bear in the act of deliberate nonresistance.

There’s a counterargument to all this.  Even nonbelievers can appreciate the beauty of the Christian way, of forgiveness and passivity.  How can this be if they lack the supernatural knowledge that would justify this way of life?  Perhaps there’s a natural justification for Christian morality that they see and I ignored?  I think there are two cases here.  First, there are those who seem to appreciate Christian morality but actually misunderstand it.  For example, those who don’t believe in sin or personal responsibility may think they like the idea of forgiving, when they really like the idea of excusing.  These will praise Christian saints while thinking God the Father a monster for demanding payment in blood for original sin.  Second, there are those who truly grasp and appreciate the aesthetic of a Christian life.  I suspect that the Holy Spirit is at work in these, and I hope he will finish the work he has begun.

Foreign devils

We reactionaries are a proudly provincial bunch, at least where the interests of the Church are not concerned.  The less we have to think about those foreign devils and their strange ways, the better.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife said to me, “Have you heard about what’s going on in Egypt?”

Said I, “That’s where that whole Antony-and-Cleopatra thing happened, right?”

More on the Catholic argument about lying

Behold, a philosopher throwing away his integrity for a cheap rhetorical point:

Do you care more about protecting your own moral correctness than protecting your kids’ lives?

Because only pharisees worry about “moral correctness” when really important things are at stake, right?  I’ve just lost most of the respect I once had for Peter Kreeft.  Sophistry like this has no place in philosophy.  What Kreeft has just done is surrender to consequentialism.  But once he starts down that road, why stop there?  What if some people’s life fulfillment depends on those kids not existing?  After we’re done with our fun harassing Planned Parenthood, why don’t we settle down and work there?

As I said, I’m not completely sold on lying being an intrinsically immoral act (and therefore never justified), but these defenses of lying are pushing me in that direction.  I often find that my mind is made up on an issue by being repelled by one side’s arguments rather than attracted by the other side’s.  It was reading Thomas Bokenkotter’s celebration of modernism that turned me into an integralist.  It was reading Philippe Nemo’s celebration of capitalism that turned me against this inhuman system.  Evil and heresy seem to have a logic of their own.  At first, they seem reasonable, their deviation from orthodoxy ambiguous, but just let their followers work on them for a while, and their true nature becomes clear.  Let people remarry under extreme circumstances?  What could be more reasonable?  But there’s not much point arguing the issue either way, because those who decided to make the exception quickly found that everybody’s case is exceptional, and now they divorce and remarry at the drop of a hat.  The “reasonable” position proved remarkably unstable.  Similarly, the “birth control is okay, but only for married couples” position.  Logically, one can say birth control is acceptable, while fornication, masturbation, and the like are not, but no one seems to be able to hold this position for long.  Make the procreative end optional, and it’s hard to see why one should hold the line against the other stuff.

The first step toward evil is small, but the seed of what’s to come is all in that step.  Suppose the captain of a boat gives orders to his crew, and they all promptly carry them out.  Who is running the boat?  The captain, of course.  Suppose after the captain gives his orders, the first officer tells the crew to carry out all the captain’s orders except for one little thing, which he tells them to leave undone, and this the crew does.  Who is running the boat?  Just as obviously, the first officer.  Even though what the crew does is only slightly different, the essential structure of the chain of command is entirely different.  So it is when we say to God, “I will do all you ask, except this one little thing.”  Needless to say, given a little time, the deviations introduced by the first officer will cease to be minor.

In contrast, the anti-lying group seems to be avoiding these problems (see Kevin O’Brien and especially Mark Shea).

Zmirak flirts with consequentialism

Should one ever lie, even to save lives?  Catholic philosophers are arguing the point back and forth on the web.  Catholic moral theology is anti-consequentialist:  good intentions can only justify intrinsically good or neutral acts, never intrinsically evil acts.  On the other hand, does lying always fall into the latter category?  Are we so sure that we’d allow someone to be killed rather than fib and send the killer in the wrong direction?  John Zmirak has entered this debate on the pro-lying side, but in a distinctly unhelpful way.  People who say lying is intrinsically wrong are “pharisees” for obsessing over whether this or that act is “technically” immoral.  Worse, they are “heretics” who have distorted the gospel, hiding the reality of God’s love behind their scruples.  Oh, sure, there’s a lot of support from the Fathers and Scholastics for this “heresy” that Zmirak has identified, but that doesn’t matter.  Augustine and Aquinas (the two examples he mentions and dismisses) also believed some things that most modern Catholics don’t believe (e.g. that unbaptized infants can’t be saved, although I’m not sure why Zmirak is so convinced that the modern, optimistic view is correct–what evidence does he have?), so they can be ignored.

That lying is okay under extreme circumstances seems to me a defensible position (although I haven’t made my mind up).  It bothers me, though, that Zmirak has, the instant Catholic tradition says something he doesn’t like, embraced wholeheartedly liberal Catholicism’s favorite slogans.  The bull shit about moral absolutes being “technicalities”, that concern about them is being a “pharisee”, that a loving God would necessarily command utilitarian happiness-maximization, all this comes straight, word-for-word from the “Catholics for a Free Choice” play book.  You can use it to justify anything:  abortion, divorce, torture, bombing of civilians, euthanasia, adultery, apostasy, you name it.  Zmirak doesn’t even seem to realize that he’s giving the whole game away.  His goal is to support lying to discredit Planned Parenthood, but to do so, he’s banished the moral absolutism without which it becomes impossible to criticize their murderous business (a business that, after all, makes some people happy).

Suppose lying is not intrinsically immoral, but is immoral only when done with evil intent or in the face of foreseeable evil consequences.  In that case, it would seem that the martyrs were stupid and perhaps wicked.  If somebody points a gun at your head and says “Say that Jesus is not Lord or die”, how do you justify throwing your life away for a little matter like the truth?  Surely the Kingdom of Heaven will not receive “pharisees” who get bent out of shape about stuff like that.

Apology to readers

Since one of my criticisms of The Spearhead was that they’d published a defense of onanism, I had thought it would be cute to end that post with an insulting allusion to the solitary activities of men’s rights advocates.  I now realize that this was a mistake.  It lowered the tone of the ensuing discussion and unnecessarily gave offense to people who hadn’t attacked me.  I apologize to all of you.  I am convinced now more than ever that my general policy of avoiding personal insults (even of outright enemies) is a good one.  I’ll try to stick by it more carefully in the future.

A revolutionary today

Just saw this at Don Colacho’s Aphorisms:

A “revolutionary” today means an individual for whom modern vulgarity is not triumphing quickly enough.

I know I’ve said this before, but I don’t understand how Leftists can always be going on about how “enraged” they are, how “subversive” their beliefs are, and so forth.  If I were one of them, I’d be deliriously happy.  They’re the establishement.  Everything’s moving their way.