Objections

Objection:  Without in-group loyalty, there would be no persecution of outsiders.  Therefore, we should eliminate “us/them” categories from our thinking.

Reply:  I grant the premise and go farther:  group self-consciousness is what makes possible all the bad things ever done by collectives, because it is what makes any collective action possible, good or bad.  Following the objector’s advice would effectively mean the death of society.

Objection:  Natural law arguments have been used to justify bad things in the past.  Therefore, natural law reasoning should be rejected.

Reply:  I grant the premise and go farther:  natural law principles are the only things that have been used to justify bad things.  They are the only things that have been used to justify anything.  There is no morality outside natural law.  Other ethical theories are just truncated versions of this morality that arbitrarily and unjustifiably accept some natural law principles while rejecting others.

Objection:  Religious people are violent because they are too certain of their beliefs.  Agnostics are more tolerant because they are less sure of themselves.

Reply:  I deny even the premise.  Suppose on some Pacific island a tribe comes to believe that there is an 85% chance that their gods will kill everyone in the island unless they throw all left-handed men into a volcano.  I think it entirely possible that the heathen will carry out this violent act, entirely conscious of their uncertainty, in order to minimize the expected number of deaths.  How firmly a belief is held has nothing to do with how murderous that belief is.  True, someone is more likely to accept sacrifices (for himself or others) for a belief the higher its perceived probability of truth, but this would include noble and heroic acts as well as vicious ones.  In any event, the debate is academic.  We cannot function without acting on the belief that some or other propositions are true.  It would be better to direct our energies to finding beliefs with the highest probability of truth rather than engage in a futile quest for “neutrality” in which we can make decisions without acknowledging the responsibility of having made decisions.

Objection:  Everyone should become liberal; then there would be no religious persecutions.

Reply:  The premise is true, but hardly something for liberals to boast about.  It’s equally true that there would be no persecutions if everyone were to become Roman Catholic, Shia Muslim, or Latter Day Saint.  Just as is the case with these other faiths, if everyone were to accept liberalism, it would effectively mean the death of all other religions and the end of religio-philosophical diversity.  If liberalism is the true faith, than I guess this would be a good thing, but let’s not pretend that we are preserving meaningful diversity.

Pharisees and Journalists

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:  “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacterieswide and the tassels on their garments long;  they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues;  they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.  And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.  Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah.  The greatest among you will be your servant.  For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

–Matthew 23:1-12

Jesus spent a lot of time excoriating Pharisees and others he regarded as hypocrites.  “Hey,” says the journalist, “we’re like Jesus, because we too are dedicated to exposing hypocrisy.”  Not so fast.  Christ and the journalists do very different things.  The journalist lives to bring down anyone who defends the moral order–all authority figures, all religious figures.  Their weapon is to expose some way that the authority figure has himself failed to live up to the moral law.  Since we are all sinners, all authorities are vulnerable to this sort of attack.  Thus do the journalists make themselves our masters.  Authority figures are either intimidated into doing the newsman’s will, or they are “exposed”, socially destroyed, and replaced by the newsman’s own creatures.

Jesus, on the other hand, certainly did not condemn people for upholding the moral law, and never imagined that the public promotion of vice excuses its private exercise.  An official who publicly condemns adultery while keeping a mistress is guilty of adultery but not hypocrisy.  He is only a hypocrite if he presents himself to the public as an exemplary chaste man and seeks status according to this lie.  The latter is what Jesus condemned:  status-seeking through moral posturing, moral grandstanding like the hypocrites who make sure everybody knows when they’re fasting, self-righteous priggishness like the Pharisee who thanked God he was not like sinful men.  This message of the Gospels is extremely relevant today, but not in the way our media masters would like us to believe.

Why single out the Pharisees, though?  They’re certainly not the only, and probably not the worst, of history’s status-seekers.  (Also, it goes without saying that there were a number of honest, godly Pharisees toward whom Jesus’ criticisms were not directed.)  The social context gave their preening a particularly obnoxious flavor, though.  Among the pagans, I doubt one encountered this kind of moral grandstanding so much, not because they were more humble, but ironically because they were, in a way, less so–the pagans didn’t make personal virtue the key to social status.  Of course, being a good man was thought desirable, but if is was respect and power you were after, you would have been better off trying to convince your neighbor of your wealth, military prowess, and influence.  Among the Israelites, there seems to have been a competition between Pharisees, Sadducees, and Zealots for influence, based not on who was perceived as toughest, but on who was perceived as holiest.

Medieval Christians seem to have followed the pagan route.  Even in highly polemical writers, like Dante, one doesn’t hear a great deal of moral self-congratulation, of claims that one is on one side of a conflict as opposed to another because of one’s superior virtue, piety, or compassion.  Today, of course, things are different. We engage in far more moral posturing than the Pharisees of today ever dreamed of doing.  And who are the paradigmatic pharisees of today?  Who else could it be but the journalist?  The man who ruthlessly annihilates all rivals to his power, and then turns around and says that it was his overwhelming sense of justice that forced him to do it.  Like the praying Pharisee in the parable, the journalist’s core belief is in his own moral superiority to his fellows.  Like all hypocrites, he presents himself as a paragon of virtues he imposes on others but never practices himself.  He demands that religious believers keep their faith private, but he demands that the state enforce his atheism on the public sphere.  He demands that white Christians despise their cultural and religious heritage and make no efforts to protect their own group interests, while he ruthlessly advances his own hegemony and the interests of his own ethnic group.  The journalists are far worse than the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, and they deserve His strictures far more.  The Pharisees, at least, taught a good morality, and Christ Himself told His disciples to obey them.  Their code imposed real burdens on them, burdens they made some effort to meet (and made sure everybody else knew about it).  The journalist encourages and practices every vice, and discourages only those who challenge their power.

Against Christian Republicanism

The Mad Monarchist has a great three-part series on monarchy and democracy in the Bible here, here, and here.  I especially recommend the final part.  Not surprisingly to anyone who reads the good book honestly, MM concludes that God leans strongly toward monarchy, or at least that attempts to read republicanism as a Christian imperative are obviously bogus.

A man ill suited, continued

My last post struck a lot of readers as weird, and no wonder, because it was actually two posts that I had merged together (“redacted”, to use the biblical scholars’ jargon).  The first was about unhealthy trends in modern Christianity (both Catholic and Protestant, I believe, although my experience is mostly with the Catholic side).  It is too sentimental, too self-referential.  We spend all our time talking about our own feelings, rather than on the One we’re supposed to be having these feelings about.  Rigorous thinking–indeed, any attempt to read doctrines as saying something about anything other than our own mental states–is discouraged.  The aspects of religion that in times past had attracted men–a sense of the holy, loyalty to a transcendent cause–are ignored or denigrated.  Even the guilt issue is ultimately solipsistic.  In times past, people felt guilty because they realized they were in bad with God and the cosmos, and they wanted to make things right.  Now people just want to stop feeling guilty, and don’t care about their objective relationship to anything.

The second post was about my real spiritual inadequacies, or rather those of someone who has taken religion to the opposite, unsentimental and ideological, extreme.  (As I said, I don’t care to talk about my personal feelings.  Then I proceeded to write a whole post about them.  I’m sure many readers were itching to point that out to me.)  Is there not a danger that my loyalty is not to Christ or to God at all, but to an ideology that my mind has constructed out of them?  If Jesus is to me an idea and not a person, am I not falling into idolatry?  Probably the danger is not as great as the sentimentalists who run our churches claim, but it is not to be dismissed.

So why not keep things clear, and write two posts?  The thing was, I started to think it would be presumptuous for me to think I could be sure when aspects of the modern Church were rubbing me the wrong way for the right reason as opposed to the wrong reason.  There’s no reason to think the true faith should keep me in my comfort zone or ask only the sorts of things of me that I expect it to ask.  As Paige wrote

I think we are all ill-suited for Christianity in different ways, just some people are more aware of their inherent inadequacies than others.

Those with a warm/fuzzy faith often struggle to understand dogma, while those who understand dogma may struggle with the warm/fuzzy stuff.

I expect many of my readers share my basic psychological traits and find themselves similarly discomforted by the same aspects of modern Christianity.  It was useful to me to hear where you think the problem is with the Church, and where you think the problem is with us.

A man ill suited for Christianity

Well, another Holy Week has come and gone, and I’m reminded once again of how poorly suited I am for the Christian religion.  I’m not talking right now about Christian morals being too tough; I expect that humility and chastity don’t agree easily with too many of us.  I mean my temperment is all wrong.   I would have been a more natural fit for paganism, I believe, but I happen to believe that the Christian religion is true, so I’m stuck.  Here’s what I mean.  Maybe some of you can sympathize.

1) I’m supposed to love Jesus, but I don’t.  I know this is a great sin, the greatest even.  Nobody deserves my love more than my Creator and Redeamer, but I can’t seem to work up any of the warm feelings for him that I have for, say, my wife and daughter.  In my defense, I could say that it’s hard to work up an emotional attachment to someone one can only encounter through faith, but lots of other people seem to do it.  They’re always going on about their personal, loving relationship with Jesus.  The one feeling I do manage toward Christ is loyalty.  I do hope that, with his help, I would be willing to make significant sacrifices for him.  Then again, how dare I imagine that I would hold up better than Peter?

2) I’m not particularly interested in having my guilt lessened.  Modern Christianity seems to be pitched towards people who are suffering from guilt and low self-esteem.  The church tells people that God loves them and forgives them, so they love and forgive themselves.  Now, I know I’m a sinner–not a great sinner, but a petty sinner, and it does vex me that my petty sins more or less constitute my action in the world.  But I don’t think about it much; I simply find my soul to be a very boring topic.  Giving people peace and happiness seems to be the Christian idea of victory.  My idea of a victory for Christianity would be Fidel Castro’s head on a pike.

3)  The phrases “in our lives”, “opening our hearts to God”, or “joy” uttered by a priest during a homily induce in me a slight tingle of nausea.  The exegesis of television shows and children’s stories in homilies does not amuse me.

4) At least in our “enlightened” post-Vatican II Church, we are not supposed to really think about doctrine, and that annoys me.  They accuse us reactionaries of turning our minds off, but that’s really what they want from us.  Whenever a priest talks about a doctrine, he only talks about how that doctrine is supposed to make us feel, not what it actually means.  For example, suppose it’s the feast of the Ascension.  On this day, Christ ascended bodily into heaven.  So, when Jesus disappeared behind the clouds, where did he go?  Now, a modern priest will think that only a fundamentalist dolt would ask a question like this.  The point of Assension Thursday is that we Christians should not feel like Jesus’ presence in our lives (there’s that ubiquitous “in our lives”) is a ghostly thing; we should think of it as a solid “bodily” thing.  Or, we should not imagine that Christ’s return to his Father was incomplete, like there was some (bodily) portion of humanity Christ didn’t carry with him into the Father’s presence.  One gets the impression that, for our priests, doctrines have no meaning except the feelings they are supposed to invoke in us.  I cannot be satisfied this way.  The most natural explanation, that Christ subsists in an incorporeal way, is excluded by the doctrine of a bodily assension.  So “where is Jesus’ body?” is a valid question.  “I don’t know”, is an answer I could accept, but I don’t want to talk about my feelings.  To be fair, the pagans are even worse than contemporary Christians in this regard.

5) All the stuff I like about religion–dogma, ritual prayer and sacrifice, tradition, and hierarchy–are the things that get constantly denigrated in favor of a “purer” faith.  How I hate the prophets for spoiling the austere and unself-conscious religion of Moses.

Now, it’s true that some of this is a perversion of true Christianity and is quite alien to its historical norm.  On the other hand, a Christianity trimmed to suit my tastes would, I think, be at least as much of a perversion.

The good war

People call World War II “the good war”.  If one judges a war by its effect on the character of the victors, then WWII was certainly not a good war; it was a worse war than WWI.  WWI left us chastened and skeptical of schemes to redeem the world through bloodshed; WWII left us self-righteous and fanatical, prowling the world for demons to slay.  The lesson we took away from WWII is “never appease bullies”, which means “never compromise”, which means to become a bully oneself–all in the name of peace, of course.  WWII gave America, Europe, and the international Left a template for understanding the world:  the enemy is always Hitler.  The trouble is, this template hasn’t fit any situation since 1945.

Why do we remember the last great war so fondly?  I think it’s because it was the last time America and her intelligensia were on the same side.  We miss the days when our greatest authors and moviemakers were making propaganda for our side, rather than the enemy’s.  Also, the virtue of fighting with the Allies is the one point of American pride that our Marxist historians won’t touch.  Everything else in our history they have convinced us is tainted.  Suggest to an American that his country’s participation in WWII was wrong or foolish, and he will react with horror.  You would be taking away his one piece of evidence that his ancestors weren’t completely wicked, the one mark to unambiguously go on the positive side of the ledger.  I know; I was once one of these Americans.

Sure, Hitler was a bad guy.  (The average German, I’m sure , was no worse than the average American.)  But we shouldn’t base our collective self-image on having somebody worse than us that we thrashed.  (It was mostly the Red Army that thrashed him anyway.)  We shouldn’t be proud to be Americans.  Pride is a sin.  We should show piety toward America, our patria.  We do this not because of any particular past glory, and certainly not because it meets the Leftist ideal of communal virtue better than some other polities, but because it is our fatherland.  Like biological fatherhood (but in a much weaker sense), it is one of the symbols of God that He used in our formation, and we thus honor it for His sake.

Notable on the Web, April edition

At First Things, Wilfred McClay writes about The Moral Economy of Guilt.  We often hear that modern man has lost the sense of sin, and McClay does tell how our understanding of guilt has replaced psychological adjustment for the knowledge of objective transgression, but that’s only half of the story.  As he points out, guilt is ubiquitous in the world today.  For the first time in history, we can feel guilty about things happening across the world.  To escape the guilt, people desperately seek the status of victim, or seek to associate with an “official” victim in some way, and we prove our righteousness by scapegoating those accused of insensitivity.  I think this deserves further exploration.  It does seem to me that that the public sphere, and, especially, the academic sphere are more moralistic, more given to moral oneupmanship than it was in the past.  Thomists, Scotists, and Occamists were able to argue robustly without ever accusing their opponents of being heartless toward the poor or being dupes of imperialism or whatever.

Gerry Neal has presented an excellent series of posts on Christian soteriology from an evangelical Protestant perspective here and here and here.  I intend to address some of his points in detail in later posts, but for now I would just recommend readers check out his lucid presentation of the Protestant position.

I am really impressed by Alte’s work at Traditional Catholicism.  Just look at all the sources and different metrics she consulted to flesh out the rise of multigenerational households.  She’s also doing good work for patriarchy showing which kinds of welfare do and don’t undermine patriarchy and explaining to other women what men find endearing in a wife.

Ed Feser takes apart a particularly silly and obnoxious objection to theism here and here.

The Mad Monarchist remembers Pope St. Pius X, scourge of the modernists.  If only God would send another like him!

If Justin is right, it wasn’t just the Soviets who committed outrageous crimes against the post-WWII defeated German population.  I would not be a bit surprised if it is true, and I have no reason to doubt it.  The movies I’ve seen from the WWII era, and decades thereafter, demonized and dehumanized Germans to a shocking degree.  The rule in movies used to be (and, to a large extent, still is) that any person with a German accent is always absolutely evil.  There was never any sense that the enemy armies were composed of decent men, fighting for their country as we were.  The Enemy Below was noteworthy because that sort of thing was so rare.  The self-righteousness of the Allies was a terrifying thing.  What’s more, it’s still going on.  A while back, I saw a book in the Cornell bookstore lamenting the attention Germans gave to the bombing of Dresden.  Could it be, the author kept suggesting, a sign of neo-Nazi sympathies?  “Well I’m shocked”, I was tempted to say, “How dare those dastardly Germans mourn their own dead?!”  Today, our self-righteousness has inflated to such a degree that historians and Jewish organizations are hounding countries for being neutral during the war (c.f. the “shame” that allegedly fell on Ireland, Switzerland, and Vatican City for not jumping into the war on our side).

Finally, something totally apolitical.  Imagine what it would be like to have had Oscar Hammerstein as an uncle.