In the city of the damned

Here’s a thought experiment.  Suppose you received a supernatural revelation telling you that you are, in fact, on of the reprobate.  No matter what you do, you’re headed for the pit.  This is very discouraging, no doubt, but what do you do about it?  Do you consider that you might as well go ahead and sin as much as you want, filling the hours between now and hellfire with cruelty, impiety, and lust?  Of course not.  Evil acts have an objective disvalue even apart from the harm they do to the soul.  They offend God–who, even if He damns us, deserves our fullest love–and disturb what Saint Anselm called “the order and beauty of the universe”.

Now suppose there were a city of reprobates, and that you ruled this city and knew the terrible destiny of all its inhabitants.  Or suppose you ruled a city of devils.  What kind of laws would you make?  Would you let them engage in every kind of wickedness, because no law could possibly help their salvation?  Would you have only a few laws to maintain basic civil peace, to make the temporal lot of these reprobates or devils as pleasant as possible?  Or would you enforce God’s laws?  I’m not going to argue with you about which is the correct thing to do.  To me, the answer is self-evident, and I expect it is equally self-evident to those who will disagree with me.  It seems to me that the social kingship of Christ can and should be established even over a city of the damned.  Every individual soul may opt for rebellion against God, but the collective will is distinct from the individual wills.  I think there’s some value in the public will being aligned with the Good.  It’s not as valuable as having immortal souls aligned with the Good, but it is still very important.  Besides, sins have objective disvalue, and preventing them from happening makes the cosmos a better place, even if it doesn’t reform the souls that are constrained from doing evil.  So I would make laws against theft, adultery, prostitution, euthanasia, and blasphemy and enforce them by the threat of harsh punishments if that was the only thing my wicked subjects would respond to.

Now, I still think this idea that having a depraved culture makes no difference to one’s chances of salvation is crazy, but even if it were true, you can see that it doesn’t change anything for me.  After all, as far as we know, we do live in the city of the damned.

7 Responses

  1. So I would make laws against theft, adultery, prostitution, euthanasia, and blasphemy and enforce them by the threat of harsh punishments if that was the only thing my wicked subjects would respond to.

    Up to a point, Lord Copper. One has to also weigh the corrupting influence enforcing harsh punishments on those doing the punishing, the fact that harsh enforcement of laws would tend to attract sadists and control freaks who don’t really care about the objective good, whether harsh punishments would be particularly effective in deterring what they were intended to deter etc.

    I detect a strain of utopianism here. Even Augustine and Aquinas, for example, accepted the inevitability of prostitution, for example.

  2. Bonald.
    I respect the speed and clear-eyed accuracy with which you grasp foreign ideas – like Game and Calvinism.
    Deep-Calvinism is precisely about securing ones salvation in the midst of a depraved society because it assumes conflict and always being outnumbered.. Crazy, perhaps, but there it is.

  3. I think that the issue lies in the concepts of the “collective will” and the “public will”, which (if you’ll forgive me for saying so) you have smuggled into your post. I can’t help of thinking of Rousseau’s “volonté générale”. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the “collective will” in your society would be the personal will of the ruler, who has the means to enforce conformity with that will by means of physical penalties. I guess we will have to agree to disagree as to whether or not such a situation would be pleasing to God.

  4. My position does indeed rely on the idea of a collective will. (I didn’t mean to sneak it in, by the way. I want to be explicit about it.) I would say that God would be displeased that all the individual wills are disordered but pleased that the collective will is disordered. I cannot imagine that He would object to people being deterred from sinning. Then again, this is because I’m assuming that God is not a liberal, which necessarily follows from my belief that liberalism is false. A liberal would infer God’s will differently. (When it comes to deciding how to order the polis, epistemic “humility” is not an option.)

  5. Well, I’d say that epistemic humility is a *necessity*….

    Nevertheless, happy Christmas to you and all your family.

  6. Is there any reason to suspect it would not be pleasing to God, provided the collective will roughly matches God’s will for man?

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