What “anti-monarchical lesson”?–cross-post

In the Leftist theological journal Concilium, Belgian professor Johan Verstraeten accuses Pope Benedict XVI of selling out to the capitalists.  Basically, the Vestraeten accuses His Holiness of concentrating too much on personal morality and individual charity instead of focusing on “unjust institutions”, for maintaining a generally positive view of business competition, and for stressing subsidiarity and refusing to equate Catholic social teaching with European social democracy.  Cheisa has here reprinted a defense of the pope by Italian professor and senator Stefano Ceccanti (H/T  The Pittsford Perennialist).  Ceccanti accuses Verstraeten of distorting Catholic social teaching by taking the few parts of the tradition that he likes and discarding the rest.  So far, so good.


Really, not much needs to be said of the Concilium critique.  We’ve heard this all many times before.  The accusation that the Church is holding back the Workers’ Revolution by preaching personal morality is actually a bit charming in its quaintness.  It’s like having a new movie come out where a black-hatted villain ties the hero’s girlfriend to railroad tracks.  A criticism of the Church that doesn’t involve condoms or sexual perversion?  How refreshing!  All we need to do is dust off the old reply.  What Leftists mean when they say “just institutions” is not what morally sane people would mean by that expression.  What Leftists mean is communism, which any believing Catholic regards as a grossly unjust institution.  By being an anti-communist, the pope is challenging unjust social structures in a significant way.

Ceccanti eventually gets to this response, but he puts it in a very weird way:

To tell the truth, however, the positions of Verstraeten and of others like him appear to be characterized theologically by a “leftist conservatism,” which has not yet taken into account the collapse of the Berlin Wall and its anti-monarchical lesson, against the overweening power of the state and of politics.

These currents criticize the magisterium precisely because it has instead taken that lesson into account. But by doing so, they reproduce in the social sphere the traditionalist rejection of religious freedom: a rejection that is also rigorously statist, motivated in defense of “iustitia in veritate” against the free choice of the erroneous conscience in good faith.

In short, Verstraeten and… Lefebvre have more elements in common theologically than one would believe by thinking solely along the political axis of right and left.

Let me see if I’ve got this straight:  communism and monarchism are basically the same?  The fall of the Berlin Wall was a defeat for monarchy?!  A traditionalist commitment to the social kingship of Christ is no different from a totalitarian atheist commitment to extirpating the Sacred?   Do these classical liberals realize how stupid they sound?  They think they’re being profound when they say that there are only two forms of government:  liberal democracy and everything else–all cases of everything else being basically the same and morally equivalent to Stalin.  In fact, to anyone who has ever thought outside the liberal box, this sounds as ignorantly provincial as a man who imagined that there are only two types of people:  Americans and foreigners–all foreigners being basically alike.

But doesn’t he have a point?  Don’t antimodernist Catholicism and communism have something important in common, namely that they both posit some idea of the good life and the common good, and they authorize the state to impose this by force?  Well, yes, but this is true of all ruling ideologies, including liberalism, with its fetishism of autonomy and officially imposed atheist utilitarianism.  No need to go on–everybody here knows the hollowness of liberalism’s pretense to be a “neutral” doctrine that upholds individual consciences in a special way.  As soon as we leave our part of the web, though, we see what strong a hold liberalism’s boasts still hold over the educated public.

In defense of natural law I: The audacity of natural law

Consider the following statements:

  • It is intrinsically immoral to have sexual intercourse with someone who is not one’s spouse.
  • Parents have a duty to raise their children, and children have a duty to obey and revere their parents.  Unless extreme circumstances make it impossible, children should be raised by their biological parents.
  • It is intrinsically immoral to deliberately cause a sexual act to be infertile.
  • It is immoral to drink live blood.
  • Suicide is intrinsically immoral.
  • It is always wrong to kill an innocent person, even if he has low quality of life and wants to die.

Setting aside for the moment the all-important question of whether or not these statements are true, what they have in common is that they all belong to the natural law system of ethics.  They all take a set of biological facts–coitus, filiation, death–and purport to read moral meanings out of them.  The natural law presumes that the human body is charged with meaning, so that biological acts and relations have their significance built into them.  The “natural meaning” of the act exists prior to and independent of what the actor understands or intends by that act, and yet he is morally bound by the natural meaning none the less.

I saw a nice example of natural law reasoning in the movie Vanilla Sky.  (It’s not very good; don’t watch it.)  I don’t remember the characters’ names, but in actors’ names here is the setup:  Tom Cruise has been sleeping with coworker Cameron Diaz in an informal relationship, and then he decides to leave her for Penelope Cruz.  (When you’re Tom Cruise, you can do those sorts of things.)  Diaz’s character becomes distraught and pleads with Cruise that he can’t just leave her like that after they have coupled.  ”Your body makes a promise even if you don’t.”  This is a natural law way of thinking.  We say that fornication is wrong because when you have sex with someone, you make her a promise–whether that’s what you and her want to communicate or not–and that promise is the same one a person makes at a wedding ceremony.

This way of seeing things is very different from the modern mentality (although, as we’ve seen, the old mentality pops up in unexpected places).  Modern man is, whether he admits it or not, strongly shaped by Cartesian dualism to see the body as “brute matter”, as res extensa distinct from the res cogitans (the soul).  Meaning, it is believed, is a distinctly mental phenomenon.  Its origin, and indeed its whole being, is in the mind.  What an act means is what the actor intended it to mean and what he knew his observers would take it to mean–no more, no less.

Modern ethics is usually consequentialist or deontological.  Sin is identified either as harming someone else or instrumentalizing him (treating him as a “mere means”).  Harm and instrumentalization are defined solely in terms of the person’s preferences and choices.  Natural law agrees that harm and instrumentalization are wrong, but it defines them differently, in terms of man’s natural telos and natural meanings.

Modern man finds this idea of normative natural meanings foolish and arbitrary.  Natural law advocates are said to be ignoring the person to focus on the body, of ignoring intention to focus on biological function.  Natural law is accused of committing the “naturalistic fallacy” by hostile philosophers; Catholic heretics accuse it of “physicalism”.  These accusations have the merit of getting at the essence of the disagreement.  It it’s “physicalism” to believe that sex, parenthood, etc. don’t just mean what we decide for them to mean, then we natural lawyers are physicalists.

The modern critique of natural law has an undeniable plausibility.  Biological facts can no doubt affect our and other people’s desires and thus indirectly become morally relevant on modernity’s terms, but it is not obvious how they can dictate duties to the res cogitans independent of these considerations.  And yet, there are strong reasons why we should give the natural law account a careful hearing before we dismiss it.

First of all, one must be clear that to object to physicalism means having a quarrel not only with a few Catholic ethicists, but with the consensus of all mankind.  Across ages and cultures, all peoples have believed in natural meanings.  If nothing else, they have all agreed on the moral import of filiation and kinship.  That one person emerged from the uterus of another is a biological fact.   The social state of “motherhood” recognizes not only this fact, but also duties and rights that are supposed to flow necessarily from it.  A man has no right to expect love from his neighbors or coworkers.  His behavior may warrant their respect, but love can only be an unearned gift.  He has no right to ask his secretary “Why don’t you love me?” nor would she probably have any answer.  Love was never “on the table”.  A man can expect his mother to love him; the very relationship gives him a rightful expectation.  ”Mother, why didn’t you love me?” is a natural question for an unloved son to ask.  There probably is a reason, although no reason could justify so grave a failure of duty.  I have special duties to my children and my kin.  Partly, this is because they happen to be the people who are closest to me, but this isn’t the whole story.  I would fail morally if my brother on the other side of the country were homeless and I didn’t fly him to me and take him under my roof; yet there are homeless strangers in my very county to whom I am not obliged to make such an offer.

The consequentialist and deontologist can only agree with these intuitions by accident.  They will often grant that having children raised by their biological parents is administratively convenient.  As a practical matter, it would be hard for the State to find enough caretakers to replace all these parents.  But the family is only a matter of practicality, and in fact its ultimate value is open to question.  After all, it puts children at the mercy of people with no childcare training and next to no official supervision, all because of a “biological accident”; our bureaucratic age wouldn’t tolerate such feudal anarchy in any other area of life.  Similarly, they may agree that a particular act of adultery was wrong because it hurt the other spouse’s feelings, but they must also admit that this is because that spouse is being irrational.  A regime of universal promiscuity, where sex is “just like shaking hands”, might well be a happier world, and, consent assumed, wouldn’t obviously involve reducing any other person to a “mere means”.

Here is the second reason to consider carefully before rejecting the system of natural meanings.    As the two examples above indicate, a world without them would be a nightmare.  Unchecked by natural law, consent, efficiency, and happiness maximization would replace the love of parents with the expertise of childcare professionals; it would erase the bonds of family, ethnicity, and nation; it would reduce sex to a meaningless pastime.  Our desires would be satisfied.  We would all be happier.  Or would we?  For me, one of the most important aspects of happiness is the knowledge that I personally matter to some particular other people.  Being a man of no great importance, these people are a half-dozen family members.  What I do matters because they depend on me and they care about me.  In the post-natural bureaucratic utopia, there will be nothing like this.  What I do won’t matter much to anyone else–this will be true by construction.  If anyone really depended on me, that would limit both our freedoms.  It would make my dependent unequal, because if I failed that person would suffer, through no fault of his own, relative to those depending on someone else.  There must be supervision, uniform rules, backups and failsafes, so that in the end I can’t be allowed to matter to anyone else.

As Hegel pointed out, there is a leap from abstract right and morality to the ethical life.  We have no way to put abstract moral rules (e.g. utilitarian or Kantian) into effect–no way to know what they mean–until we are embodied in an “ethical society” where everybody has a specific place and duties.  How, though, are we to assign these particular duties?  Modern abstract ethical systems can only produce abstract organizations and can never provide this element.  In the past, it has always come from relationships like marriage and filiation that rely on natural law for their normative character.  After they are wiped out, a utilitarian calculus of the future may register the unhappiness that results, but it could not replace what it had destroyed.  Natural law seems to be the only way to lock particular people in duties to each other.  There is true happiness from the sense of meaning this provides, and the utilitarian rulers of the future might be forced to reinvent natural law as a “noble lie” to fill this void.  Let us then see first if we can defend the theory honestly as truth.

A defense of natural law must establish several points.  To fail on any one of them is to fail overall.  First, it must defend the claim that there are natural meanings.  It must establish that these are not merely projections of our subjective wishes or the mistaking of the customs and assumptions of our own culture for universals of nature.  This will be part 2 of this series.  Next, it must argue that these natural meanings are morally binding.  This step is often skipped over, but I think it’s a crucial and underdeveloped part of the theory.  Suppose we allow, with Cameron Diaz, that sex has a natural meaning that includes commitment.  Why could not the man and woman simply agree that this natural meaning is not the one they intend to give it?  That way, no false expectations would be generated; moving on would not be a betrayal.  That natural meanings are binding I will argue in part 3 of this series.  Finally, we must ask how the two meanings, what something naturally means and what we intend, are meant to relate to each other.  We must show that natural law does not itself fall back into a different sort of dualism.  This will be the subject of part 4.

Birth control and the rhetorical tics of the Left–cross-post

The HHS mandate has certainly been a boon to bloggers.  Much worthwhile has been said about why are enemies are compelled by their beliefs to instrumentalize sex, marginalize the traditional family, and make war on the Church.  I’ve almost stopped getting angry at them for these things, since they do follow as a matter of logical necessity from the guiding beliefs of the age.  What I still find especially irritating about the Leftist hivemind is not just that they all have the same thoughts, but that they even come packaged and expressed in the same terms.  Leftism is being even more perverse than it has to be.

1) What about the men?

Contraception, we are told, must be free because it’s important to women, either to the sacred cause of “women’s health” or the even more sacred cause of “women’s choices.”  Now, just as you would never guess from the liberals’ rhetoric about “choice” that abortion actually involves snuffing out a fetus, you could listen to hours of their talk about “women’s health” without being reminded that contraception is about preventing the arrival of new children.  Liberals like to be abstract, but I expect most of my readers have already had “the talk” with their parents and know that not just any activity results in pregnancy.  We’re talking about heterosexual intercourse and nothing else.  Conception means that someone has just become a mother, and someone else has just become a father.  Becoming a mother is a big deal, but so is becoming a father.  So it seems that two people’s strong interests are involved in each contraceptive use.

So, why never mention the fathers?  Again, this isn’t Bonald being a heteronormative meanie–everybody knows that sex that results in pregnancy always involves a woman and a man.  One would think that it would actually strengthen Obama’s case to refer to the men as well; he could say that he’s protecting the interests of both halfs of the population.  Wouldn’t that make the mandate twice as good?  Neither women nor men are to be punished with babies!  Yet neither the White House nor its media lapdogs have done any such thing.

There are several reasons.  First, to bring up men’s interests would mean referring to what exactly it is that contraception is designed to frustrate, and the Left is squeemish about this, preferring their vague statements about “women’s health” and “family planning”.  More importantly, men are not a designated victim group.  It is therefore wrong to be solicitous of their interests.  They deserve to be punished.  In fact, a measure that benefits women actually becomes less attractive if it also benefits men.  The purity of the legislator’s intentions is brought into doubt.  How can we know that what motivates them is really the good goal (helping women) and not the bad, selfish goal (helping men)?

2) How much is hidden in “harm” and “fairness”

Jonathan Haidt claims that liberals restrict their moral reasoning to considerations of “avoiding harm” and “fairness”, which conservatives also consider authority, group loyalty, and purity/sacrality.  This is the case here.  Calls to protect “women’s health” protest some unspecified harm that comes to women who don’t have a free means to sterilize themselves.  Calls to protect their “choices” most likely derive their force from a sense that rich women get all these (unspecified) advantages of self-sterilization, so we must level the playing field for poor women.

Interestingly, it is the liberals’ criteria that are most reliant on a robust sense of human nature and human flourishing.  The harm and fairness cases both assume that contraception contributes to human flourishing, that it is a fundamental human good.  Of course, this is exactly the point in dispute.  If the traditional Christian and Catholic view is correct, then contraception is degrading and wicked.  Helping someone do something wicked and degrading is like sneaking drugs to an addict or porn to a compusive masturbator; they may be grateful, but you are not really helping them.  You’re keeping them enslaved to disordered desires and blocked from genuine goods.

But let’s be agnostic for a second, and not assume that Catholic sexual morality is correct.  Let’s not assume that birth control is intrinsically evil.  Suppose we even assumed that it is some sort of good.  One still hasn’t gotten to the liberal view of things.  They don’t just take contraception to be a good; they take it to be a fundamental good.  They say, in their confused but definite way, that denying a person birth control pills can block her from achieving the good life.  Why else employ the dread measure of state coercion?  The state doesn’t mandate that every good be available to every person.  There’s no push to make sure every poor person has their own microscope, even though knowledge about the natural world is generally regarded as a good thing.  It’s a fine thing to be able to look at cells, but some form of a good life is possible without it.

Liberals regard a situation where someone who is not in a position to have another child must abstain from sex as intolerable.

Is that true?  I certainly don’t think so.  One thing that is certain is that it is not a morally neutral claim.  With their birth control fanaticism, liberalism has abandoned its founding pretense to be a neutral arbiter between competing comprehensive moral doctrines.  It was always a sham, as everyone who’s been on the receiving end of the liberal stick knows.  A Cartesian view of the body as a meaningless machine coupled with a crude utilitarian ethic is the officially established and legally enforced dogma of the modern State.  There is no neutrality on matters of sex.  In the public schools and juvenile justice system there hasn’t been for a long time.  Government officials who would never dream of telling children to stop fornicating have no trouble ordering them to use condoms.

3) On the opposition “playing politics”

An interesting tick in liberal defenses of the administration, for example the ones Proph and Larry Auster have referenced, is their accusation that the opposition is engaging in some sort of partisan stunt.  I’ve seen this pattern over and over again.  The Left launches an attack on some sector of traditional society.  (They are the progressives; they are aggressors by definition.)  The attacked parties complain, which I wouldn’t think would surprise anyone.  The Left, however, is outraged by their victims’ behavior.  (They don’t feign outrage; I’m convinced they really feal it.)  The Left sees itself as the aggreived party.  What’s more, they don’t even give their opponents the courtesy of assuming that they are sincere in their beliefs.  They immediately accuse them of manufacturing a publicity stunt so that, out of pure malice, they can derail benevolent Leftist initiatives to which no one could genuinely object.

In this case, it’s those sinister Catholic bishops in cahoots with sinister Republican politicians who planned this whole thing just to make Obama and his health care initiatives look bad.  Why did they do this?  Insert any standard Leftist demonological explanation:  they hate women; they hate poor people; they hate Obama becaue he’s black; they’re the 1%, etc, etc, etc.

This is an interesting position to take.  The New York Times and the rest of the liberal propaganda machine have decided not to be outraged that the Catholic Church condemns contraception, but that it has decided to create publicity stunts designed to get Republicans into office.  This lets them salvage their tolerant & neutral credentials a bit.  But does it really make sense?  Put aside for the moment that most of the episcopate is pretty clearly pro-Democratic and pro-Obamacare.  If we admit that the Church’s prohibition of contraception predates (by quite a healthy stretch of time) any use it might possibly have for American partisan polemics, if we admit that the Church is sincere in its condemnation, then one must admit that the Church would have to find the mandate intolerable.  By their own principles, the bishops would be compelled to protest it.  So are the liberals angry about the way that Church went about this?  “Okay, so I understand that this is something that’s going to upset you.  Why did you have to generate all this publicity?  Don’t you know that this is going to help those people?”  Should the Church have been more discrete in its complaints?  Perhaps the pope should have addressed the president behind closed doors, with hat in hand, or maybe prostrated before the presidential throne.  He could then beg for a favor.  When summarily rejected, he would have the sense to thank the president for granting him an audience; then he’d go back to Rome and the Church would make no further trouble.

The problem is that the president and his officials are birth control fanatics; they refuse to reconsider or even discuss their commitment to universal contraception.  If anyone was to win any concessions, it would have to be against Obama’s will; he would have to be compelled by legal or electoral force.

As Proph has pointed out, it’s really amazing how a single perspective–not only a single position, but a single formulation of it–so quickly materializes over the whole Left.


Question:  Why does God allow evil?

Easy:  I don’t know.  Next question?

Really, I’m kind of surprised that people regard this as a serious challenge to faith.  Besides the monstrous impiety of presuming to judge God, just imagine what it would take to have a serious intellectual problem.  God has no obligations to creation; it’s shear gratuity that He decides to keep us in existence from one moment to the next.  Given that He doesn’t have to create anything, if He does create something, it’s hard to complain that what He made isn’t good enough.  But suppose we demand that God have some reason for the perfections He has withheld from granting to His creation, even though this is the height of ingratitude.  What would I have to know to say that God’s doing or not doing such-and-such doesn’t make sense?  I would have to know why He created the world, what His overall plan for creation is, which of course I don’t.  I would have to know what effect such-and-such will have not only on the entire future history of mankind, but on all peoples’ immortal souls, on the choirs of angels and the legions of demons, and perhaps on planes of existence of which I cannot even imagine.  It’s absurd to imagine I would ever know enough to criticize God.

The point of the “why,oh why,is there evil?” is moral posturing.  The person who says it is trying to show that he is more morally sensitive than theists.  “Why,oh why,is there sin?” means he is more outraged by sin than theists, and hence more righteous.  “Why,oh why,is there suffering?” means he is more outraged by suffering than theists, and hence more compassionate.  It’s easy, it seems, to be more compassionate than all the saints.  One might think that, if anyone had a right to pull the more-compassionate-than-thou act, it would be people like Vincent de Paul, Las Casas, or Mother Theresa, but they must not have been as compassionate as all of these rich college students who are so scandalized by the suffering of innocents that they decide to sleep in on Sundays.

What’s wrong with world government? Against nuclear arguments

Where in the Bible, the Catechism, the decrees of any ecumenical council, or the Summa Theologica does it say that multiple nation-states are better than a single world-empire, and that the latter is in fact wicked?  Were Jerome and Dante heretics for thinking otherwise?  Anybody who wants to convince me that the Pope has somehow apostasized by preferring a world authority had better be able to point me to something.  I would think we should have some humility before the great number of saints, Western and Eastern, who thought the world empire of Rome a benevolent instrument of God and who deeply regretted its passing.

There is an argument going around now that world government is not just a bad idea, but is actually heretical.  It supposedly denies man’s sinful nature, because it assumes that world authority would never be abused.  Thus, anyone who supports any supernational authority denies the Fall.  The other argument is that this is some sort of immanentizing the eschaton.  Thinking that all the nations can cooperate in this way means one thinks we can build a heaven on Earth, and that we have no need for God.

This is all rubbish.  The trouble with these arguments is that they work just as well against just about anything.  The argument about trust being a denial of the Fall could be used to declare any authority heretical.  Are we heretics for believing that fathers should rule their families?  For being appalled by the idea of giving children powers to “balance” that of their parents?  The “heaven on Earth” accusation could be leveled at anyone who wants to improve the human condition in any way.  Certainly, not all evils can be abolished, but some can be, and others can be mitigated.  Every one of us has some ideas of how we would like to make the world, or at least our little corner of it, better.

On the other hand, these “nuclear” arguments–they can blast away anything–do seem to make important points.  I wouldn’t want to throw them out entirely.  An uncritical trust of big organizations will lead to trouble, and so will the conviction that every problem has a solution and all we need is the right law or regulator.  Such warnings are simply very hard to weigh when making any particular decision.  For any particular issue, the advantages of another, higher level of control will usually outweigh the vague concern that lower levels are atrophying.  No particular reform can be accused of trying to bring heaven to Earth.  But if we keep making decisions one at a time, with such concerns always losing out to the more immediately evident benefit from high-level control, we’ll end up with an inhuman tyranny.  Can it be that no particular decision was wrong, but somehow the sum of hundreds of such decisions–all pushing in the same direction–was wrong?  But where do we draw the line?

Here I think authoritarians like me have an advantage.  We have some very clear lines that the state (or world-empire) may not overstep, even for the alleged common good.  Those are the authority of parents and the Church, which we believe derives as directly from God as does that of the state.  Indeed, I claim that the authority of the Church is categorically superior to that of the state, and the authority of fathers over their children trumps that of the state in a limited sphere.  I’m sure the Pope would agree that a world government would be subject to the same restrictions even if it were to destroy the sovereignty of individual nations–which no one is advocating.

This reminds me of another nuclear argument–the neocon’s warnings about “appeasement”.  We must never appease hostile powers, they say, or else we’ll just get more belligerence.  Remember Hitler!  Now, it’s true, some bullies are unappeasable, and so you simply must stand up to them when you’re in a position to.  If the hostile power breaks up his demands into small enough pieces, no particular one of them might be worth the trouble of fighting for.  Surrendering on all of them, though, might be worse than war.  On the other hand, if we let the argument “never appease” rule us, we will refuse to ever compromise; we will become the bullying, predatory power that not appeasing was supposed to stop.  Here again, some clear lines would be helpful, but I’m not sure what they should be.

What’s wrong with saying Islam isn’t a religion?

DanPhillips explains it:

What the “Islam is not a religion” crowd is doing, whether they realize it or not (and most don’t), is imposing on the definition of religion a philosophical concept that is relatively novel (historically speaking) and that potentially binds theology beforehand. Per their reasoning, in order to be a religion a religion must embrace modernist liberalism. This would have been news to anyone—Christians included—who lived, say, more than 300 years ago, give or take. One commenter I was debating with said that Islam is not a religion because it doesn’t embrace separation of church and state. Really? Are we that historically myopic? Neither did the whole of Christendom until a couple of centuries ago.

By their definition of religion, the Judaism of the Old Testament was not a religion. Was not the Judaism of the Old Testament an all-encompassing system that mixed church and state, had religion-based laws, had a social order dictated by the religion, frowned on pluralism, etc.? The Catholic Church, especially before Vatican II, is not a religion by this definition. Arguably, and it would be hard to argue otherwise, the Protestantism of Luther and Calvin wasn’t a religion either. Was Calvin’s Geneva a bastion of modernist liberalism? The Puritans certainly were not. One would have to look back no further than the Radical Reformation to find widespread Christian denominations that would meet the exacting liberal standards of the “Islam is not a religion” proponents. (And even some of the products of the Radical Reformation, such as the Mennonites, were quite illiberal in many ways internally.)

I hope you see the problem here. I would argue that liberalism is a modern philosophical concept that most modern Christians have read into the pages of the Bible (addressing this idea fully would require a separate essay). I do not think this liberalism is a theological concept that flows from a natural reading of Scripture. The Bible insinuates, if it doesn’t outright dictate, Christian particularism. Christianity should be the broadly encompassing worldview that Islam is accused of being (in type, not in detail of course) and it represents a failure of the modern Church that it is not.

This idea that Islam is incompatible with America and the West (what used to be called Christendom) because it is illiberal, implies that what truly distinguishes the West from the rest is its liberalism not its Christianity. This may be true and would go a long way toward explaining the sorry state of modern Christianity, but it is to be bemoaned if it is, not celebrated.

The anti-integralist fallacy

Suppose you buy a new dishwasher machine.  Everything about it looks the same as any other dishwasher, except that there is a mysterious red switch in the middle, which can be set in position “1” or position “2”.  The machine is on setting “1” when you bought it, and since you don’t know what that switch does, you just leave it there.  The dishwasher works fine.  One day, overcome with curiosity, you decide to try setting “2” to see what happens.  The dishwasher melts all of your dishes and spews water on the kitchen floor.  Properly chastened, you turn the switch back to setting “1”, and again things work fine.  A couple weeks later, you think to yourself, “I have had no more mishaps with the dishwasher for weeks.  Perhaps I no longer need setting ‘1’, and I can go back to setting ‘2’”.  You put the machine on setting “2” and run a load of dishes with it.  The machine once again melts dishes and spews water.  You think to yourself, “The fact that these old problems started right up again when I switch to setting ‘2’ proves that my going to setting ‘1’ was not a good solution.  It didn’t really fix the problem.  Nay, the underlying cause must have been festering underneath all this time.  Probably it is worse now than if I had left the machine on setting ‘2’ and had everything out in the open.  Bad behavior under setting ‘2’ means that setting ‘1’ is bad.  Therefore, I will leave the dishwasher on setting ‘2’, endure the messes it makes, and hope that the problem will eventually sort itself out.”

Now, nobody would never actually reason like this.  They only expect the Catholic Church to be that stupid.  For it is common wisdom, so common that I’ve never heard anybody else question it, that the post-Vatican II anarchy in the Catholic Church proves that the anti-modernist campaigns of Pope Pius X and his immediate successors were ill-conceived.  The reasoning is the same as above.  There was a problem with priests promoting heresy among the faithful.  The Vatican took disciplinary measures to stop it.  Bingo, the problem goes away, and it stays away until the policy is reversed.  Pope John the Fool decides that priests are such special people that they should be allowed to spread whatever poison they want from the pulpit and still have the laity pay their bills.  The Church immediately goes to pot.  Everyone says that this means discipline was a failure.

No it wasn’t.  Discipline was working fine.  Taking away discipline is what has obviously been a failure, unless your idea of success is reducing the Church to a pile of crap.  “But discipline is wrong, because people are bad when you take it away.”  So don’t take it away.  Duh.

Can someone give me a reason why censorship and authoritarianism couldn’t be maintained in perpetuity, in the Church or in other areas of life?  A priori, it seems like a more stable arrangement than the soft anarchy we have decided is the natural state of ecclesial and social life.

Liberal Christianity in a nutshell

The comments on Traditional Christianity are really good.  The trouble is that there are a lot of them, and you can easily burn an hour on that site without noticing it.  I always seem to show up too late for the discussion, so any thoughts they prompt in me tend to end up here.  Take Morticia’s article “What wives can learn from whores“.  Her main point was that wives should make at least as much effort into pleasing their husbands for love as a prostitute would do for money.  Whatever one thinks about that claim, what really interested me was the discussion, where commenter “A Lady” chided the others for being insufficiently respectful toward prostitutes.

Statements like the crap about them all being ‘dead eyed’ and well, much of this stupid thread are a big part of why it’s so hard to leave that work. Whores are beautiful, they are damaged in a different way by the nature of their sin and being sinned against, but to dehumanize them with that sort of remark is hardly Christian. They need love too. It’s hard to be buffeted by supposedly Christ-loving types sneering and snotting and putting on airs about how they are so superior and a pathetic whore has nothing to teach them.

What they have to teach is that there are ways to care about other people even when you are being ill used. They teach resilience, kindness, compassion and pity. They can teach about loving someone no matter who they are or what they look like. Bluh. The smug is so thick I could slice it with a knife. Oh well.

If you don’t think a whore can teach you anything, I guess Rahab is a figment of my freaking imagination. Bleargh.

[This is such a good statement of the liberal Christian worldview, I just can’t resist using it for myself.  Apologies to A Lady for ending up on this disreputable site through no fault of her own.]

Behold the Dumbledore Fallacy to the Nth degree!  It is possible (at least in our imaginations) that the grave evil of prostitution is conjoined in some particular soul with some real virtues.  Therefore, not only should we not look down on prostitutes, prostitutes are all our moral superiors!  They are–if not every one of them, at least more of them than in the nonharlotry world–kind, compassionate, and loving.  Why yes, those streetwalkers who spread their legs for money are actually exemplars of Christian love and charity.  They love people no matter who they are or what they look like.  Why, we should all aspire to be like hookers.  We should get down on our knees before the next whore to walk by and ask for her blessing.

The Dumbledore fallacy plays a particularly large role in the minds of liberal Christians.  (I think that outright atheists are less given to this particular form of silliness.)  They get a story in their mind about someone who engages in some sin but has other redeeming virtues, and then they imagine that these vices and virtues are conjoined not by accident but by essence.  They see enough westerns where an unattached stranger saves the day, and they imagine that particularist loyalty and courage actually oppose one another, rather than the one inspiring the other, as is more often the case.  The New York Times feeds them a steady diet of sodomites rescuing drowning kittens, or whatnot, and they swallow it whole.  In mysteries, the suspect with the antisocial or criminal past is always innocent.  The killer is always a priest, general, or respected businessman.  So liberal Christians imagine that respectability makes people violent, while gang members are sensitive souls underneath.

But surely there’s some genuine Christian message in all of these stories about sinners with bits of decency?  Indeed there is.  The message is that no soul on this side of death is beyond redemption, and God is working in every soul to the extent that soul allows.  The message is one of hope–we see hints of what these fallen men and women could be and may yet be through God’s grace.  And, of course, we’re all in this same situation to some degree, all sinners who may yet be saved by faith.  This message sort of gets lost though if we make out whores, fags, and crooks to be moral exemplars as they currently are.

Thought Prison: the fundamental nature of PC

I’ve just finished reading Bruce Charlton’s new book Thought Prison, the most radical attack on political correctness (by which Bruce means more or less what I mean when I say “liberalism”) that I’ve yet encountered.  You may be wondering why we need another book attacking liberalism and PC.  For a social view of PC as an instrument for smashing rival loyalties to the market and managerial State, we’ve got Jim Kalb’s excellent The Tyranny of Liberalism.  For a historical view of the rise of PC and the managerial/therapeutic elite, we’ve got Paul Gottfried’s trilogy of books of the subject.  For critiques of PC considered as an erroneous political philosophy, there are blogs like mine and Kalb’s.  Bruce has done something quite different, which makes his contribution essential; he’s provided a sort of existential analysis of the PC mindset, how from the PC adherent’s general sense of his place in the universe (or lack thereof), certain exigencies follow.  (This is not the same as a psychological analysis.  You all know that I hate explanations of one’s enemies’ beliefs in terms of their psychological or moral failings:  “He just doesn’t agree with me because his mom didn’t love him enough”, etc.  People of any caliber may fall into the PC perspective and be drawn to the same inhuman conclusions.)

The PC adherent sees the universe and human life as meaningless, and he sees truth as an arbitrary social construct.  He regards natural and customary human behavior as irredeemably corrupted with selfishness.  He finds moral purity rather in abstract organization, which alone can be truly altruistic because it can be undeniably unnatural and unspontaneous.  The specific nature of the alleged moral failings of prior systems are of secondary importance–more a matter of justification than real motivation.  How well the PC-managed replacement works is entirely irrelevant, because it is morally superior by definition.  The struggle to destroy the old, unjust, “reactionary” organizations re-fuses the world with pseudo-meaning;  PC has a greater need to identify enemies than belief systems that acknowledge an objective ultimate Good.  Bruce believes the PC overvaluation of abstraction goes back to the Great East-West Schism and is a core feature of the West.  Western civilization thus cannot be saved, because it contains the seeds of its own ruin.

The book is written in a brief, almost aphoristic style.  Bruce seldom deigns to give examples or evidence for the accusations he makes against PC.  He assumes his readers are already aware of the grotesqueries of PC and jumps straight to explaining them.  Not every objection or defense a PC defender might make is countered.  I expect this book will not convert many of the enemy, and Bruce says that this is not his goal.  The goal is to help those who are already somewhat alienated from PC to understand their adversary and to safeguard their souls against backsliding and despair.  The book’s ideal audience, then, is readers of this blog, who will profit, as I have, from Bruce’s many insights on the perverse workings of the modern world.

Why liberal assumptions don’t do us justice

The Damned Old Man has provided us with an excellent illustration of the inability of the liberal mind when confronted with nonliberal thoughts to deal with them fairly.  I hate to pick on someone whose done me the courtesy of reading my material and sharing his thoughts; we should all be humbled to think of how difficult it is to intellectually navigate on unfamiliar territory (and how seldom we do it).  Still, I think we and our moral code are not quite so contemptible as TDOM imagines, and it would be useful to consider the source of his error.

With regard to my recent post on suicide, he writes:

Damned liberals. Leave it to them to ruin the good Christian enjoyment of the sins of others. It’s not like growing old, sickly, and burdensome on others could ever lead to despair or the wish to end one’s life. We’re human beings after all, not horses and should be spared the mercy of death and forced to suffer to the bitter end. It’s the Christian thing to do.

I think this was more meant as an expression of hostility rather than a reasoned attack on my post (which itself was not a reasoned defense of my opposition to suicide/euthanasia, but rather presupposed it).  It has more in common with the liberals’ instinctive bullying, self-righteous “HOW DAAARRRE YOU!!!!” pose.   TDOM can certainly reason well with those he thinks deserve it, a group that obviously doesn’t include me or other Christians.  (As we’ll see below, he does in a later comment get to the heart of the matter.)  Still, the assumptions and tropes that come out when liberals are in sputtering condemnation mode are revealing.  Let’s look at them:

  1. It’s impossible, or somehow inconsistent, to sympathize with someone and yet not endorse their behavior, to say that you don’t approve of something but that you understand what drove someone to it.  This means you don’t really sympathize.  The liberal reads life through a rigid ideological lens, so normal human empathy without an ideology of permissiveness is inexplicable to him.
  2. If you prevent someone from using an illicit means to avoid suffering, you are causing their suffering.  Consequentialism is simply assumed to be true, with no argument for it deemed necessary.
  3. If you disapprove of someone avoiding suffering through what you regard as evil means, that means you are cruel and have no compassion.
  4. Dependency is degrading.
  5. There’s something perverse in condemning an evil act and yet appreciating literature where such an act is used as a plot devise.  As if people of all ideological persuasions don’t do this, and entirely legitimately!  Even before liberalism, there wouldn’t have been much literature without imagined sin.
  6. Appreciating fiction that contains depictions of immoral acts is a perverse “enjoyment of the sins of others”.
  7. All appreciation of literature is “enjoyment”.  Note how the Benthamite flattening of human experience has reduced everything to pleasure vs. pain.  Was the excerpt from Ovid above “pleasant” as opposed to “painful”?  Wouldn’t it be better to describe it as sad or touching, either beautiful or sentimental as its merits warrant?
  8. Because I don’t approve of suicide, I must not see how someone could be tempted to it because of suffering or degradation–even though my whole fucking post was about how I can appreciate this.
  9. The word “Christian” functions vaguely as a curse among liberals, the way “Freemason”, “communist”, or “Jacobin” do for conservatives.

I don’t think TDOM or my other liberal commenters actually believe these statements in the form I’ve written them.  But without them, they have failed to prove that I’m a heartless monster.

Later, TDOM does outline his position:

I see no one forcing anyone to commit suicide. I do see it as an acceptable option for those who choose it. Your religious beliefs should have no bearing on my choice and should not be forced upon me. My life is my own.

First, two quibbles:  by definition, no one can force anyone to commit suicide.  What people are doing in hospices right now is murder.  And who’s talking about religion?  I’m making my stand on natural law.  I oppose suicide for purely Kantian reasons.  TDOM certainly didn’t invent the idea, but somehow it’s become common wisdom that any ethics other than Benthamite utilitarianism is “religion”, therefore irrational, therefore unsuitable as a public motive.  When the hell did utilitarianism become the State’s established religion, so that only it gets to decide what’s forced on people?

We must credit TDOM with coming to the real issue, the central issue, in the end.  “My life is my own.”  That’s precisely where we disagree.  I say that our lives are not our own, and everything follows from that.  I expect that over the next decade, starting soon, he and I and everybody else will be arguing till we’re blue in the face about whether we do or do not own our own lives.