Saturday, November 21, 2009

Your Opinion

If absolute morality exists then Atheism, since it denies an Absolute Ground for absolute morality, is therefore false.

1.) Do you agree?

2.) Why?

3.) Are you a Theist, Atheist, Agnostic, etc.?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Euthyphro Dilemma

Last year I started a conversation on an Amazon blog under the topic “Religion” called God and Morality. At the end of a brief introduction I asked, "is the nature of morality purely subjective, or is it objective in some sense?" It was my intention to give my answer along with a demonstration in a follow-up post. One particular atheist, however, who had dealt with plenty of people like me, ehem, insisted that we must ask the same question of God, supposing He exists, and kept referring to the "Euthyphro dilemma" (Is something good because God says it is, or does he say it is because it is good; or, God must either create or obey the good); I therefore took the opportunity of this debate to demonstrate my point.

I said, first of all, that we have to be clear about the nature of the God we're supposing to exist. On the one hand, if we're to conceive "God" as like the things of our experience -- finite, mutable, corporeal, and imperfect -- then clearly "God adds nothing to" morality. On the other hand, if we're to conceive "God" as theists and deists have traditionally conceived of Him, as unlike the things of our experience -- not finite, not sensible, not mutable, and not imperfect -- with the positive exception that He's like the things of our experience in so far that He has existence, and is the source and goal of all other, limited existences; that I was then in a better position to answer his point.

Surprisingly, he agreed on supposing the second view of God's nature, said he assumed it all along, but that it made no difference. Now, I say "surprisingly" because it makes all the difference in the world, and anyone familiar with the central observation of Lewis' Argument from Desire ("the human soul was made to enjoy some object that is never fully given--nay, cannot even be imagined as given--in our present mode of spatiotemporal experience") is in perfect position to understand why.

If God contains all perfections, as my atheist friend and I agreed in our hypothetical, then that certainly includes eternal joy. Therefore, if participating in God's eternal joy IS the reward, the means to which includes morality, then we can say, with C.S. Lewis, "that God neither obeys nor creates the moral law. The good is uncreated; it could never have been otherwise; it has in it no shadow of contingency; it lies, as Plato said, on the other side of existence. God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God."

The fellow I was debating continued to insist that even if God gave us eternal joy this wouldn't tell us why we ought to seek it, why it wouldn't be mere preference to call it good. Our arguments, therefore, would conversely rise and fall depending on what he termed the "optional character" of goodness; that is, depending on whether oughts can only be hypothetical, or whether some can be, in fact, categorical. I had only, then, to reiterate a point from Aristotle: it is happiness alone which no one chooses for the sake of anything other than itself. There is no "optional character" to the fact that we seek happiness as THE end in itself. This fact is a fact of our will, of our own first person experience. It is, however, general -- as are all first principles.

My friend then said this had no more significance than one's preference for one alcoholic drink over another, to which I responded there's a difference in kind. One is (a) a perceived means, desired for the sake of something else; one is (b) the end, desired only for the sake of itself. Yet, I said, there's a further distinction in (a): some means flow from the essence of the end and are necessary, and some are merely accidental -- that is, some are needs, some are wants (preferences).
When it comes to choosing necessary means to that end we can therefore say, in some cases, that, as properties of happiness, we ought to choose them; to say otherwise is literally irrational.

For the Good is that which gives us the one thing we seek for itself and nothing else, which is happiness, and the necessary means to that end are therefore good. To go on and ask why we call that Good which gives us happiness, would be to ask why we desire happiness as the end in itself; that is akin to asking why something exists instead of nothing, or why the principle of non-contradiction is a principle, in other words, it’s irrelevant because it’s an undeniable, brute fact. By a brute fact of our first person experience, then, we can literally say -- So much for the Euthyphro dilemma!

If you take the fact that we ought to seek what is really good for us (what is part of happiness), and at the same time keep before your mind that God’s existence is understood from the standpoint of the via negative (which my friend agreed to “for sake of discussion”), then we’ve merely added one more negative, "that God neither obeys nor creates the moral law,” and the argument boils down to saying “we can’t understand God’s nature”, of which no one professes to have a *positive* understanding anyway – yet, nor do we of our own existence!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Objective Morality and the Categorical "ought"

Here's another example of misunderstanding objective morality: The Is-Ought False Dichotomy, by Francois Tremblay .

Mr. Tremblay writes:
In short, we can refute the is-ought false dichotomy in this way: (1) Actions have consequences.
(2) These consequences are within the province of causality, since they are material.
(3) Therefore, the relation between actions and consequences is objective.

To be sure, this doesn’t refute anything, it leaves it hypothetical and begs the question: given that certain actions lead to certain consequences, why ought I to desire a given consequence, and thus choose to perform a given action? For instance, Mr. Tremblay says, “If we eat and drink proper foods and in moderate quantity, we will survive”, but why ought we want to survive? Survival is not an end in itself (people die for higher ends, so survival is a means), thus, as it stands, we are confined to the subjunctive mood, and must begin, “*if* we want to survive, then we ought to ‘eat and drink in moderate quantity.’” As C.S. Lewis said, you cannot go from, “this will preserve society… to [you ought to] do this,”; as I said, you can only say *if*, which is hypothetical.

Objective morality, however, must be premised on a categorical *since*, thus leading to a categorical ought, not a hypothetical *if* producing a hypothetical ought. To be imperative it must be indicative, and since we cannot find anything in “observation attached from desire” to make it so, then we must find it in desire itself – or bust. This means, therefore, that there must be an end in itself that we desire, to which certain actions and consequences are then a necessary means. But where is this end in itself to be found? It is found in the intuition of the good. Since this is an intuition, it is therefore the basis of demonstration; it cannot itself directly be demonstrated. However, like any other intuition (for instance, the law of contradiction) we can indirectly demonstrate its truth; in this case we can do so by noting, as Mortimer Adler put it, our inability to finish the proposition, we want happiness because… The fact is, we simply do, and for no other reason than itself, so that that which really, as opposed to apparently, leads to it is what we’d call the really good. That being the case we can go on to say, *since* I desire happiness for the sake of itself alone therefore I ought to choose only what is really good, that is, really the means to happiness.

Once this categorical ought is established, which requires the inclusion of our subjective point of view (as does knowledge), then we can go on to include objective facts about human nature that can give us a “moral system,” that is, a system of consequences based on given actions. Now, precisely because this ought is categorical - as I cannot think it’s opposite - then I know it applies, universally, to all rational beings; because it applies to all rational beings then I must include all rational human beings as ends in themselves (a Kingdom of ends, as Kant called it), meaning our ends include each other. This interrelation between myself and all other rational beings forms the relation called justice, and answers the Ring of Gyges dilemma posed by Plato so long ago - A magic ring cannot erase your rational and personal relationship to others, the infringement of which frustrates the fulfillment of a potential our nature needs as a means to the attainment of happiness.

How does God relate to all of this? In two ways. First, he meets a transcendent desire (described so well by C.S. Lewis), which is a descriptive property inherent to happiness (the fulfillment of all desire). Second, He serves as the Ground “saving the appearances” by preventing a contradiction for the scientific method. In other words, the self-evident fact of first person experience that, as subjects, we cannot deny we desire an end for the sake of itself and nothing else is contradicted by a third person account of those same subjects which views them apart from an eternal Ground (as the cause of that unchanging end). Moreover, a pure third person account is a pure fiction, for it's always the subject in the first person using the third person; that is, you cannot escape the rational "I", with it's basic intuitions (including goodness), to view it "from nowhere", it is a precondition, it is logically prior, to any and all perspectives.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Check Mate

There are a multitude of reasons why I converted to Catholicism (from many forms of Protestantism). Incidentally, the reasons I would use presently to defend Catholicism aren't necessarily the reasons I found it convincing, so I was thinking to myself how I would best sum up the reasons that personally swayed me. Keeping in mind that for me the big move was not from Protestantism to Catholicism, but "clear" Christianity to "thick" -- and from there I followed what I saw to be the natural progression into Catholicism --, the general reason was put best by C.S. Lewis:

"There isn't really... this infinite variety of religions to consider. We may divide... religions... into 'thick' and 'clear'... If there is a true religion it must be both Thick and Clear ['Clear' practices involving intellect, reason, and conscience vs. 'Thick,' being imaginative and sensual]: for the true God must have made both the child and the man, both the savage and the citizen, both the head and the belly... Christianity... takes a convert from central Africa and tells him to obey an enlightened universalist ethic: it takes a twentieth century academic prig...and tells [him] to go fasting to a Mystery, to drink the blood of the Lord. The savage convert has to be clear: [the academic has to be] Thick. That is how one knows one has come to the true religion."

Saturday, April 11, 2009

What else dies with Christ?

Several years back, I overheard a fellow making light of the Easter event. Speaking on the phone to another, he rhetorically asked, “isn’t that [Easter] the day you celebrate when your god popped out of the ground?” Now, I’m sure the person on the other end was no learned theologian, and I have no idea what he thought or how he responded, but in my mind was almost instantly conceived the other side of my irreverent friends’ logic, which a-priori allows for no such miracle. For I immediately thought, well, then, what else has just popped out of the ground, so to speak, which my friend would have us bury beneath the dirt of trivialization? If a God does not exist - who, in principle, is able to do such a thing - then what of worth and value is there left not to shovel into meaninglessness?

Indeed, the choices seem simple to me. Either, (1) God exists, therefore purpose exists, or (2) God does not exist, and therefore life is meaningless. If the first option is the case, then why would we restrict God’s right possibly to act in such a way as Christians believe He has through Christ? But let me not stray too far from the main point, which must be a defense of what I said are the two simple choices; for all too often the reaction to this black and white statement is that the reader thinks it’s too black and white. Here, then is my reply.

As rational beings, our first-person perspective is governed by the laws of logic, which are universal. We know, therefore, that another person, who violates logic, is wrong – we can thus, at times, speak universally. If there are two apples on the table, two on the chair, and two on the floor, we know there are six apples in the room, and that anyone and everyone who says there are five is wrong. Well, we can likewise speak universally about the connection between moral acts, universally, but only if the object, or goal, is the same for all people. For moral acts are always made with some end in mind; as Aristotle said,

[W]e call that which is in itself worthy of pursuit more final than that which is worthy of pursuit for the sake of something else, and that which is never desirable for the sake of something else more final than the things that are desirable both in themselves and for the sake of that other thing, and therefore we call final without qualification that which is always desirable in itself and never for the sake of something else.

He then goes on,

Now such a thing happiness, above all else, is held to be; for this we choose always for itself and never for the sake of something else, but honour, pleasure, reason, and every virtue we choose indeed for themselves (for if nothing resulted from them we should still choose each of them), but we choose them also for the sake of happiness, judging that by means of them we shall be happy. Happiness, on the other hand, no one chooses for the sake of these, nor, in general, for anything other than itself.

But if there is no actual, eternal end, or goal, which is the cause of our desire for happiness, and which will grant us happiness once we’ve attained it, then this moral relationship to others, which is a perception of a logical connection based on this goal of our rational existence, is all meaningless illusion.

If choices, and courses of action, cannot be judged by reason according to an actual standard to which all are bound, and are, instead, a matter of individual taste, or what we call preference, then no one can say a choice or a course of action is really right or wrong, only that, based on feelings, one prefers this or that choice or course of action. This would mean, in real terms, that a sick-o child molester is no more wrong in his acts than you are for not wanting the child molested, or, put conversely, that you are no more right in not wanting the child molested than he is in his acts.

It seems, therefore, that my friend would bury more than just a belief in Christ, and that meaning itself depends upon his rising from death – and from the dirt of trivialization.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Who killed Christ?

When watching a movie like the Passion of Christ, or reading the gospel stories of the Passion, some people miss the personal dimension, thus the personal impact, and instead blame the Jews. Be we have to remember Aristotle's four causes here. The four causes are the material cause, the efficient cause, the formal cause, and the final cause. In short, the matter involved, the performers involved, the plan involved, and the purpose involved. Related to our subject, the material cause of Jesus' death is things like the cross, nails, and such. The efficient cause of Jesus death were, indeed, the Jews involved (whom Christ forgave as he died) -- and the Romans. The plan involved was God's plan. However, every single individual being is the final cause, for the purpose was to enable Christ to save us from sin; since we engage in sin, then WE are the very purpose for all the rest. We, therefore, have crucified Christ. I weep as I watch the Passion of Christ because I am doing those things to Jesus.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Intro to Distributism Series, #2

Brave New Alternative: Modern Distributism

The United States of America, at the time of its founding, was to be a nation governed by the rule of law -- by the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution’s Preamble, naturally, articulated its goals, among which was to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity”. Set in stone, therefore, were certain indispensable means to this end: a limited federal government with powers both clearly defined and which acted to check and balance. Somewhere along the way, however, something went wrong. When states and big businesses are vying for “their share” of billions of dollars in taxpayer money, when they are groveling at the feet of a federal government, which can set any condition it wants upon them, can it any longer be said that the federal government works within the parameters originally intended to “secure the blessings of liberty”?

Many people point the finger of blame at Fabian socialists (modern Democrats), rightly decrying redistribution of wealth. What many of these people forget, however, is that welfare is welfare by any name, thus corporate welfare, money to big farms, and all sorts of Republican earmarks “redistribute wealth” just as effectively as any liberal scheme. But even aside from this type of redistribution, big business globalists (modern Republicans) wind up enabling the very ideology they claim to detest. When only a fraction of the already tiny percentage of capitalists are “too big to fail,” then government has no real choice: it’s either “bail out” or let civilization as we know it sink. To many, our current predicament is an absolute surprise. But to some, it is really no surprise at all. For a while now, in fact, there have been “voices crying out in the wilderness”, and it may be time to listen to what they have to say.

The title for this article was inspired, as a case in point, by Aldous Huxley’s work, though not so much by his classic novel “Brave New World” as by an alternative he subsequently offered. From works like “Brave New World Revisited” and a forward he later added to “Brave New World,” one will find Huxley speaking of the need for economic decentralization and distributing property as widely as possible in order to remedy the oppressive partnership between big business and big government; in connection to these remedies he draws upon names like Hilaire Belloc, Mortimer Adler, and Henry George.

Though none of these men are any longer with us, their ideas are still very much alive. Belloc, for instance, along with well-known author G.K. Chesterton,
popularized a theory known as Distributism, and a simple Google search will turn up pages worth of modern Distributist theories, practices, and demonstrated successes. Among the successors of Belloc and Chesterton, John M├ędaille, who writes for a blog called The Distributist Review, is playing a part in advancing Distributism both by his insightful writing and by drawing upon allied elements -- like (Henry) Georgism, strategies evolved from Mortimer Adler by CESJ, and, in addition to Huxley’s references, E. F. Schumacher’s work (among others).

All of these men, incidentally, would agree with President Obama that change was long overdue; still, neither elitist socialists nor monopolistic capitalists, that is, neither Democrats nor Republicans have given, nor will give us anything but an insatiably power hungry “Servile State”. The answer may be, as the song goes, “blowing in the wind,” but, then again, perhaps the “winds of change” and a brave new alternative, are only a few more Google clicks away.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Intro to Distributism Series, #1

What is distributism?
by Thomas Storck

Much of the history of the Western world since the middle of the nineteenth century has been the history of the clash of competing economic systems. Ever since the Communist Manifesto of 1848, when it was claimed that a "specter is haunting Europe," a specter indeed has been haunting not only Europe, but the whole world. This is the specter not just of communism, but of rival economic and social systems which many times since then have convulsed mankind. But in the minds of many this rivalry of economic systems has come to an end: communism and socialism have both been defeated, and therefore only capitalism is left to reign triumphantly throughout the entire world. However, this is not the case. In a neglected passage of the encyclical Centesimus Annus, John Paul II points out that mankind's choices are not restricted to capitalism and the now discredited socialism. "We have seen that it is unacceptable to say that the defeat of so-called `Real Socialism' leaves capitalism as the only model of economic organization" (no. 35). If this is the case, then it behooves Catholics to take a look at distributism, an economic system championed by many of the best minds in the Church in the first part of the twentieth century, men such as G. K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Fr. Vincent McNabb and many others. Let us see exactly what distributism is and why many Catholics see it as more akin to Catholic thought than capitalism.

In the first place, we would do well to make a few definitions of the chief terms we will be using, and especially of capitalism. Too often this word is left undefined, and each person gives it some sort of connotation in his mind, good or bad, depending on his own beliefs, but never clearly defined. Now first, what is capitalism not? Capitalism is not private ownership of property, even of productive property, for such ownership has existed in most of the world at most times, and capitalism is generally held to have come into existence only toward the end of the Middle Ages in Europe. Perhaps the best way to proceed is to take our definition from a very weighty source, and then we will see how that definition does indeed fit the facts of history. We will turn, then, to the encyclical of Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno (1931), in which capitalism is defined or characterized as "that economic system in which were provided by different people the capital and labor jointly needed for production" (no. 100). In other words, under capitalism normally people work for someone else. Someone, the capitalist, pays others, the workers, to work for him, and receives the profits of this enterprise, that is, whatever is left over after he has paid for his labor, his raw materials, his overhead, any debt he owes, etc.

Now is there anything wrong with capitalism, with the separation of ownership and work? In itself there is nothing unjust about my owning a factory or a farm and employing others to work for me, as long as I pay them a just and living wage. But nonetheless, the capitalistic system is dangerous and unwise, its fruits have been harmful for mankind, and the supreme pontiffs have often called for changes which would, in effect, eliminate capitalism, or at least reduce its scope and power.

Let me explain and justify the assertions I have just made. And in order to do so, I must first make a brief detour to talk about the purpose of economic activity. Why has God given to men the possibility and need for producing and using economic goods? The answer to this is obvious: we need these goods and services in order to live a human life. Thus economic activity produces goods and services for the sake of serving all of mankind, and any economic arrangements must be judged by how well they fulfill that purpose.

Now when ownership and work are separated there necessarily exists a class of men, capitalists, who are one step removed from the production process itself. Stockholders, for example, typically do not care about what the company they are formal owners of actually makes or does, but only whether its stock price is rising or how large a dividend it pays. In fact, on the stock exchange, shares change hands thousands of times a day, that is, different individuals or entities, such as pension funds, are part owners of companies for a few minutes or hours or days, and then the stock is sold to someone else and they become owners of some new entity. Thus this class of capitalists naturally comes to see the economic system as a mechanism by which money, stocks, bonds, futures, and other surrogates for real wealth, can be manipulated in order to enrich themselves, instead of serving society by producing needed goods and services. As a result, men have made fortunes by hostile takeovers, mergers, shutting down factories, etc., in other words, by taking advantage of private property rights, not in order to engage in productive economic activity, but to enrich themselves regardless of its effect on consumers or workers.

The popes have indeed justified the ownership of private property, but if we examine how and why they have done so, we will see that the logic of their position is far from the logic of capitalism. Let us look, for example, at a famous passage from the encyclical of Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (1891).
Men always work harder and more readily when they work on that which is their own; nay, they learn to love the very soil which yields in response to the labor of their hands, not only food to eat, but an abundance of the good things for themselves and those that are dear to them. (no. 35)
But what happens under capitalism? Do men learn to love the very stock certificates which yield cold cash, in response to the labor of someone else's hands? The justification of private property that the popes have made is always tied, at least as an ideal, to ownership and work being joined. Thus Leo XIII: "The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many people as possible to become owners" (Rerum Novarum, no. 35), and this teaching is repeated by Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno (nos. 59-62, 65), by John XXIII in Mater et Magistra (nos. 85-89, 91-93, 111-115), and by John Paul II in Laborem Exercens (no. 14). If "as many people as possible...become owners," then that fatal separation of ownership and work will be, if not removed, at least its extent and influence will be lessened. It will no longer be the hallmark of our economic system, even if it still exists to some extent. And this brings us directly to distributism. For distributism is nothing more than an economic system in which private property is well distributed, in which "as many people as possible" are in fact owners. Probably the most complete statement of distributism can be found in Hilaire Belloc's book, The Restoration of Property (1936). Note the title, The Restoration of Property. For the distributists argued that under capitalism property, certainly productive property, was the preserve of the rich, and that this gave them an influence and power in society far beyond what they had any right to. Yes, the formal right to private property exists for all under capitalism, but in practice it is restricted to the rich.

A further feature of distributism that follows from this, is that in a distributist economy, the amassing of property will have limits placed on it. Before one objects that this sounds like socialism, he would do well to remember Chesterton's remark (in What's Wrong With the World, chap. 6), that the institution of private property no more means the right to unlimited property than the institution of marriage means the right to unlimited wives!

In the Middle Ages those quintessential Catholic institutions, the craft guilds, very often limited the amount of property each owner/worker could have (for example, by limiting the number of his employees), precisely in the interest of preventing anyone from expanding his own workshop so much that he was likely to drive others out of business. For if private property has a purpose and end, as Aristotle and St. Thomas would insist, it surely is to allow a man to make a decent living for himself and his family by serving society. But one living, not two or three. If my business supports myself and my family, then what right do I have to expand that business so as to deprive others of the means of supporting themselves and their families? For the medievals saw those in the same line of work, not as rivals or competitors, but as brothers, brothers engaged in the very important work of providing the public with a needed good or service. And as brothers they joined together into guilds, engaged priests to pray for their dead, supported their widows and orphans with insurance funds, and generally looked after one another. Who would not admit that this conception of economic activity is more akin to the Catholic faith than the dog eat dog ethic of capitalism?

I realize that much of what I say here must sound strange to many readers. Most Americans are acquainted only with capitalism and socialism. But a little knowledge of Catholic economic history and of traditional Catholic economic thought will be enough to convince any fair minded reader that there is an entire world out there of genuine Catholic thought on this subject nearly unknown in the United States. And if the current "science" of economics contradicts this thought, then ask yourself, what authority does that "science" have? It arose from the deistic philosophy of the so-called Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, and it is curious that some Catholics, while condemning (rightly) the philosophy of that unfortunate century, warmly embrace its economic theories, not realizing that those economic theories arise from the same poisoned well as Voltaire and the Encyclopedists. But it is not too late to remake our thinking after the very pattern of Jesus Christ and his Church--if we are willing to banish from our lives the idols that are worshipped in our own country and embark on the fascinating journey of discovering Catholic economic thinking.

Thomas Storck is the author of Foundations of a Catholic Political Order and The Catholic Milieu. He is a contributing editor of New Oxford Review and a member of the editorial board of The Chesterton Review.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Jaki’s Theses

Thomas E. Woods, Jr., in How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, talks about Stanley Jaki’s “theses” (Science and Creation); that in all the great cultures (Arabic, Babylonian, Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, Hindu, and Maya) “science suffered a stillbirth” due to a “burden of conceptual frameworks”, and that it was only in a Christian culture that science could, as indeed it did, flourish. Just as the secularist can witness evolution clashing with “conceptual frameworks” of many Christians, and the consequent numbing of the will when it concerns the specific desire for its development in such circles, so can we identify the sudden general halt which the technological advances in each of the aforementioned cultures met as the result of a similar clash; a clash of the scientific will with accepted metaphysical assumptions of a culture.

Galileo’s case, which is often used against Christianity, is actually instructive here. The Church’s opposition was not erected against Galileo’s theory, but against his general treatment of theory as fact. He suspected he was right, but he did not, yet, have the evidence to affirm it as fact. The Church, in this instance, was defending common sense and reason -- though I’m certainly not arguing that the way they defended it was proper. I say this case is instructive because Galileo had an intuition, a feeling, which he sought to explore; in scientific terms, he had a hypothesis, which he sought to verify; in theological terms he had faith seeking understanding. Whichever way you wish to term it, the scientific will precedes the intellect; once scientific presumptions become more intellectually explicit, once they catch up to the accepted metaphysical assumptions -- be they explicit or still implicit – we will find either a “numbing of the scientific will”, or, as in the case of Christian culture, a nurtured one.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Christianity in Light of Some General Misunderstandings

1. Christianity is existential, it appeals to our will, and is thus anchored to human nature; it is not a test to which we have to give the right answer if we just happened to be lucky enough to find it.

"[Christianity]... is addressed only to penitents, only to those who admit their disobedience to the known moral law… [i]t offers forgiveness for having broken, and supernatural help towards keeping, that law." --Lewis

When someone says that they cannot believe in Christianity they often seem to presuppose that Christianity is primarily an assent to propositions put before the intellect, so that the Virgin Birth, the Trinity, the Incarnation and the like (which in themselves cannot be understood by our intellect) almost axiomatically lack any compelling force and appeal whatsoever in terms of moving one to make the choice to believe. This lack of appeal is to be expected given this understanding, for clearly a bunch of static propositions which are inherently beyond comprehension, detached from the only motive to which Christianity finds them directly related, is going to be less than even mildly appealing. Christianity, however, begins by relating not to a detached intellect, but to an ailing will. It offers medicine to the will, so that the will must begin to partake in order to heal and find itself healing.

Aldous Huxley, himself not a Christian, once wrote, "In traditional Christianity…it was axiomatic that contemplation is the end and purpose of action." Now, by "contemplation" is meant the last stage of faith, union with God even here on Earth, a union so potentially close that, as Brother Lawrence noted, "faith becomes so penetrating… it could almost say, "I no longer believe; I see and I experience." This is the happiness which our ailing wills seek, the goal or purpose for which rational beings are made; the lack of this happiness is the symptom of our need for a savior. Jesus Christ claimed to be the shape of our need, the bridge to happiness, the Savior of man. Therefore faith does not begin in empty intellectual propositions, but is personal trust stemming from a very real human need; a need which is the rock bottom condition of man when all his false objects of happiness are stripped away: a need to which the voice of history answers by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, crucified under Pontius Pilate. That leads me to the second point I'd like to make.

2. God is not just another thing or object, but is both the source and goal of all things and objects.

Any "thing" is a limitation of existence; Joseph Conti, quoting W.N. Clarke, tells us to think about the fact of existence that it exists in different ways; existence can be horsey, or evergreeny, or elmy, or sparrowy, or… you name it. The way things exist is called their “essence.” So things exist in different ways, they are limited existences, or existence limited. We know that a horse is not a bird, and that neither are human beings; we know that existence is limited, here, to a horse essence, a bird essence, and a human essence. But is there something that is pure existence without limitation? In other words, is there a being whose essence is existence? Well, taking what we know is common to each and every thing, namely, existence, we can investigate its properties and come to the grandest, most noble conclusion of human reason: God, the being whose essence is existence, exists! Or, as was revealed to Moses, I AM WHO AM (the being whose essence is existence), actually is. But more than a conclusion of reason, more than, as Huxley said, being "content to know about the unmoving mover from the outside and theoretically," the goal and purpose of life is to come to know God "directly", unitively".

3. God is the objective ground of goodness and worth, which our ideas reflect and thus give to our minds that relation called truth.

"God, to be God, must transcend what is. He must be the maker of what ought to be." - Rufus M. Jones

Given number two, that we are, so to speak, invariably attracted to God, that he is what our will strives for as the object of happiness, as THE end in itself for all human beings -- and all creation --, it's quite easy to see that by the phrase "maker of what ought to be," Jones means the cause or reason (in the sense of final cause) for the path, which includes the intertwining paths of all other human beings, which we ought to take in order to achieve our end. This means, to put it bluntly, that because there is a goal which we seek strictly for itself, and since the path to this goal implicitly involves doing what we can to help others reach it as well, therefore we're able to combine a prescriptive statement (we necessarily seek happiness) with a descriptive statement ((God as the object of happiness) IS) to conclude that we ought to seek God by loving Him, and by loving our neighbors as ourselves (i.e., your perception of your loved ones' infinite worth is not just a projection of your own fantasy, it is a perception which everyone ought to respect -- it is real!). The Christian claim closes the deal, insisting that only Jesus, who is this goal Incarnated in human flesh, can help us achieve such a love.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Hey Bill Maher, St Augustine On The Trinity...

“For I remember that I have memory and understanding, and will; and I understand that I understand, and will, and remember; and I will that I will, and remember, and understand; and I remember together my whole memory, and understanding, and will… And, therefore, while all are mutually comprehended by each, and as wholes, each as a whole is equal to each as a whole, and each as a whole at the same time to all as wholes; and these three are one, one life, one mind, one essence.”