Faith in the Church

In his essay Faith and Doubt, Cardinal Newman argues that it is perfectly right for the Catholic Church to forbid her children to doubt her.  Not only must we accept what we currently understand to be Catholic doctrine, we must put faith in the Church herself as the “oracle of God”, and we “…must come, I say, to the Church to learn; you must come, not to bring your own notions to her, but with the intention of ever being a learner”.  I’m sure my own lack of confidence that in a year’s time the Church will still teach her true doctrine on sexual morality would seem to Newman already a sinful faithlessness.  The man who coined the phrase “development of doctrine” didn’t anticipate that kind of doubt, but I can surmise what he would have thought of it.  What of the great conservative Catholic hope that true doctrine will remain “on the books” (like the prohibition of usury, male headship, and the social kingship of Christ) even when forgotten and contradicted by the fallible teachings and practices of the bishops and pope?  No doubt Cardinal Manning would be horrified by this idea of constructing one’s own Catholicism from old texts in defiance of the Church’s contemporary voice.  Newman, the historian of Arianism, might have been a bit more sympathetic.

How difficult it has become to have a simple faith in the Church!

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Pope Francis Mau-Mauing his own Flak Catchers

The most important function of a royal court is to deflect the resentment government always brings away from the monarch.  So it has been with the Roman Curia, long a byword for corruption, obstruction, and overall evil for Catholics both orthodox and heretical.  We all know the standard story about “the Curia” being a bunch of grumpy reactionaries who tried to stop Vatican II’s “renewal” of the Church (which, if true, would make them heroes).  However, even conservative Catholics often talk about “reforming” or “cleaning up” the Curia as a major priority for renewing the Church, as if any of that matters when the pope, most bishops, most priests, and nearly all the laity are surrendering to the world.  It is said that the Curia is corrupt, but that isn’t quite right.  The sodomite lobby is not corrupt, but principled, like foreign spies rather than like bribed officials.  And what should we expect, when the fags run the Church at every other level?  Probably the proportion of holy men serving God is higher in the Curia than outside of it.  If the Church at large didn’t approve their sin, the presence of a clique of sodomites in the Vatican would be bad for their souls but irrelevant to the functioning of the Church.

This doesn’t mean we should launch a propaganda campaign to rehabilitate the Curia’s reputation.  If we had the power to launch propaganda campaigns, there would be much more important messages to send, and as I said, the unpopularity of the Curia serves a useful social function.  But this is the reason it is so unseemly for the pope to court popularity by publicly berating his own flak catchers.

More rules on efficient causality

Last time I suggested a couple of rules on efficient causality.

  1. Cause and effect are simultaneous.  Changes in state may certainly persist beyond the time the cause operates, the persistence then being something not explicable from the cause, but temporal succession is not a defining feature of causality.
  2. One way to identify an effect in a physical law is that it’s the thing with the highest time derivative.
  3. Identifying efficient causes depends on knowing what doesn’t need an efficient cause, what constitutes “default” behavior (which is a matter of formal causality).

To which I’d add

  1. For A to be the cause of B, it is not necessary that A always cause B given the same circumstances.  The universe might be such that this is true, but if so, it’s a synthetic truth about our world rather than an analytic truth about causality as such.
  2. Abstractions are not causes, only positively existing things.  In particular, “the laws of physics” don’t cause things to happen.  These laws only describe the way existing things exert causality; they are ontologically grounded in the natures of existing things.  It’s just crazy to think of an entity called “Faraday’s Law” pushing around magnetic field lines like the occasionalists’ God.  I had thought this was obvious to everyone until some years ago I read an article by (I think) Steven Weinberg claiming that the laws of physics might themselves be the First Cause in the cosmological argument.  At this time, I realized that what I had thought everyone understood to be a figure of speech was being taken very literally by many of my colleagues.  It follows that equations, Hamiltonians, and the like are not properly speaking causes, but descriptions of how causes operate.  We can be sure of this even though it may happen that scientists know the mathematical description of a causal relation but not its ontological ground.
  3. The main sense of causality is what acts to generate what actually exists.  Absences as causes or effects (e.g. “death due to lack of oxygen to the brain”) are valid in a broader, more abstract, sense of causality, but a philosophy of causality should first describe causality in its main sense.

What the Ten Commandments do

Mangan brings to our attention the newly-fashioned “Ten Commandments for Atheists”:

Somebody came up with the idea of a Ten Commandments for atheists. Here it is:

  • Be open-minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence.
  • Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you wish to be true.
  • The scientific method is the most reliable way of understanding the natural world.
  • Every person has the right to control over their body.
  • God is not necessary to be a good person or to live a full and meaningful life.
  • Be mindful of the consequences of all your actions and recognize that you must take responsibility for them.
  • Treat others as you would want them to treat you, and can reasonably expect them to want to be treated. Think about their perspective.
  • We have the responsibility to consider others, including future generations.
  • There is no one right way to live.
  • Leave the world a better place than you found it.

I am struck by the same thing Mangan was, that this list and Moses’ seem designed to do entirely different things.  Reading the Decalogue afresh, it’s clearly designed to order a society, not to provide general ethical principles like the atheist list (mostly) does.  Notice that the atheist commandments don’t mention any particular social station or forbid any particular act.  It does nothing to render social interactions smooth or predictable.  By contrast, the Decalogue is concerned with guaranteeing paternity (no adultery), parental authority (honoring parents), and property rights (no stealing).  Even the law against lying (“bearing false witness”) sounds like it has the reliable administration of justice mostly in mind.  The Decalogue begins by establishing the public cult and ends with safeguards against subversion by the rival socialist cult (no coveting).  There’s no attempt within the Commandments themselves to summarize the natural law or to give general principles that ground it.  Christians wanting to expound the natural law often organized it around the cardinal virtues or deadly sins (cf. Aquinas, Dante) rather than the second tablet.  When Jesus formulated principles on which the Law is based, He gave with two, both in the Torah but neither precisely corresponding to one of the Ten Commandments.  The point of the Ten Commandments is to translate the general principles of loving God and neighbor into particular duties, or rather to engineer a society that does this translating for us.

For why this is a necessary function, see Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.

Toward a useful definition of “social justice”

In common parlance “social justice” = communism or Leftism more generally, meaning for our purposes it can be translated as “injustice”.  We already have plenty of words for labeling general iniquity, and if this were all “social justice” is, we’d have no need for it.  Among Catholics, when “social justice” is used, the speaker is usually dividing up the moral law in his mind into “social” issues that have to do with money and “private” or “moral” issues that have to do with sex.  This use is unfortunate for implying a host of falsehoods:  that our business dealings and treatment of employees are not matters of personal sin and righteousness, that our conjugal relations don’t have enormous social ramifications.

When I use the words “social justice” (as I occasionally have), I’m trying to make different distinctions.  A more fruitful distinguishing factor of social as compared to private justice would be either 1) having to do with the irreducibly common good vs. individual goods or 2) having to do with the duties of large corporate bodies (especially states) entrusted with the common good vs. individual duties.  However one defines it, social justice should in principle deal with the entire moral law, only from the perspective of corporate justice rather than individual righteousness.

That viewing pornography is wicked and should not be indulged is a truth of private/personal morality.  That pornography should be banned is a matter of social justice.

If an employer fails to pay his employees a just wage, this is a personal sin for which he may well be personally damned.  That laws should forbid this and–as far as possible–the economy be devised to make it unprofitable are matters of social justice.

When we say that abortion is a matter of social justice, we mean that the natural law not only forbids women to commit this sin, but that it obligates communities to explicitly and legally renounce it.

What about those areas of morality where laws are counterproductive, such as politeness?  Even here, social justice makes demands, but in terms of what behavior communities commend and how their officials comport themselves.

Is causality absent from physical laws?

Is it true, as Bertrand Russell claimed, that the laws of nature as we know them involve only functional relations between successive states, with no reference to “causes” and “effects”?  And if it is true, is that because of all the possible laws of nature, acausal ones turned out to be the ones that are instantiated, or are acausal laws the only ones we’ve ever formulated to model the real world with?

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More on shifting the Overton Window

Vox Popoli has it exactly right:

The primary difference between the Left and the Right is that the Left instinctively defends its extremists and the Right instinctively runs from them and leaves them out to dry. The latter is an appeasement strategy, and it works about as well as the infamous failures of appeasement we all know from history.

All appeasement does is signal to the SJW what buttons he needs to push in order to force an opponent to retreat. When you dutifully point out that “you don’t agree with everything X says” or “don’t include the sexists, the woman haters and those who argue in bad faith”, what you are accomplishing is not the inoculation of your argument from their extremist taint, you are telling the SJW exactly how he can rhetorically defeat you by painting you as the very sort of extremist you disavow. And remember, rhetorical victory is the entirety of their objective!

Embrace the extremists. Defend them. Refuse to permit them to be cut off and isolated. Allow them to play their role as the intellectual shock troops they are. That is how you win. Because if they’re not taking the incoming fire, you are. And the shock troops are much better equipped psychologically to take it and survive than the average self-styled moderate.

I am an extremist.  Embrace me!