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.

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.

The denial of Peter

Peter was no coward.  He was ready without a second thought to die defending Jesus from the crowd at Gethsemane.  But Jesus wouldn’t allow it.  And so it was:  the Master was in the hands of His enemies, the populace had turned on Him, His disciples had fled ignominiously, the movement–whatever it was–was over.  Nothing left for Peter to do but wonder whether he’ll be able to get that fishing gig back.  Then a servant girl sees him and says, “Hey, aren’t you one of the followers of that lunatic they just arrested?”  Peter was ready to be a martyr, back when it might have made a difference.  Now the fight is over.  Standing with Him now won’t help the Master; He’ll never even know.  Why throw my life away now, for nothing, he thinks.  “I do not know him.”

Afterwards, Peter remembered what Christ had predicted.  When Peter had professed his loyalty to Jesus, what Christ had cared about was not Peter’s loyalty when it mattered, but his lack of loyalty when it didn’t matter.  The latter was the kind of loyalty Jesus really wanted.  That was the real test–will you stick by the Savior when the cause is already lost and as far as worldly eyes can see your sacrifice will do nobody any good?  Not just loyalty unto death, but loyalty unto pointless death.  Can you sacrifice to God purely out of devotion to Him, not to advance the Cause?  The Cause you place entirely in His hands.

All Christians owe Peter their gratitude for his subsequent heroism in service of the Faith, not least in his making sure that this story of his own weakness would be preserved for our benefit.  Its application to 21st-century reactionaries is apparent.

Muslim individualism, Christian corporatism

The key to the seemingly anarchic or ‘irrational’ growth of the Muslim city may lie in a singular fact of the Shari’a law:  the absence of the Roman-law concept of ‘legal personality’.  In Europe, the public right is an abstraction which can be upheld by defending it in law as a ‘legal person’.  Litigation between the public and private interest can therefore–for civil purposes–take the form of an adjudication between two parties.  In criminal law one party is always the state, which brings a case against a suspected criminal as though it too were a legal party on par with the accused.  This principle applies not only to the state but to companies and corporations, groups of individuals endowed for the purposes of the law with legal personalities.

The absence of juridicial personality in the Muslim law may not have been an oversight:  it is certainly consistent with the uncompromising individualism of the Shari’a.  Many aspects of Roman-Byzantine law and administration were taken over by the Arabs…but in the public sphere the Shari’a seems to have taken no steps to define the interests of the community vis-a-vis those of the individual….

This absence of a juridicial definition of the public sphere had far-reaching consequences.  Islamic law did not recognize cities as such, nor did it admit corporate bodies.  Whereas in late medieval Europe the cities came to be administered by powerful corporations representing the merchant classes, the Muslim city remained in certain respects a collection of villages in which the group interests of families predominated over class interests….In a discussion that covers much of the same ground Pervez Hoodbhoy evaluates the role of Islamic law in inhibiting or preventing the emergence of autonomous cities and corporations and of a self-confident bourgeoisie able to withstand the arbitrary power of dynastic government, a prerequisite for the scientific and technological revolution which gave birth to the modern world….

To add a few links to this argument I suggest that in the West the Church, the ‘mystical body’ of Christ which alone guaranteed salvation, became the archetype in law of a whole raft of secular corporations that suceeded it during the early modern period.  The mystic qualities of fictional personhood originating in the Body of Christ were eventually devolved to joint stock companies and public corporations with tradable shares.  Western capitalism and the bourgeois revolution that accompanied it has a distinctly Christian underpinning (one that is paradoxically ‘Catholic’ rather than ‘Protestant’ in origin, as Weber famously claimed, because its legal foundations are rooted in the idea of the Church as a distinctive body separated from society and infused with divine authority)….The corporate group becomes the vehicle for the accumulation of capital.  The burghers continually reinvest their money in the company which, crucially, not only transcends the sum of its individual members, but exists for eternity, just like the Church.  Whereas Islamic law requires that a merchant’s estate be redistributed amongst his kin upon his death…the capital invested in the western corporation may continue to grow…Hoodbhoy comes close to recognizing the significance of this process in registering a concluding irony:  ‘Paradoxically, a superior moral position–the right of the individual to interpret doctrine without the aid of priests–appears to have led to a systemic organizational weakness which proved fatal to Islamic political and economic–not to speak of scientific and technological–power in the long run.

–Malise Ruthven, from Islam in the World, pp. 167-170