Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Frank van Dun’s Natural Law


The word 'law' means order, hence natural law is simply the natural order. …In short, natural law is the natural order of the human world.

I will examine natural law through the lens of Frank van Dun (FvD), beginning with this essay entitled “Natural Law.” 

The student of natural law is one who undertakes the discovery of this natural order.  It is a value-free undertaking – one is to discover that which is – to discover this natural order of human beings in the human world.  Yet, if natural law is to represent the natural order, it also seems clear that that which is, is also that which ought.

The most obvious (and to most people for all practical purposes sufficient) reason why we ought to respect the natural law primarily involves the fact that not doing so usually causes immediate harm or loss to some innocent people and is likely in the long run to be harmful to many more.

The natural order must respect the characteristics of these human beings:

…human beings that are capable of rational, purposive action, speech and thought.  Each one of us by nature is an element of the human world and each one us by nature is capable of doing, thinking and saying things, independently of what others are doing, thinking and saying at the same time.

By not recognizing these characteristics, and by not respecting these in others, we create disorder.  Examples of this disorder occur when we “obfuscate our true identity” or the true identity of others, when we take another’s work and lead others to believe it is our own, when we act toward another person not as a human but as an animal.

It happens most clearly when we treat another as a mere object that we may hit or hurt at our own pleasure. It also happens, and on a large scale, in most political societies that practice the arts of taking from some to give to others and of burdening or crippling some to give others a 'competitive advantage'.

These last two are most directly connected to the non-aggression principle.  Yet all of the above actions – including the ones not tied directly to the physical person or property – make it difficult to understand who did or said or produced what; they prevent us from rightly assigning blame.  All of these actions can compromise the integrity of a private property order.

What I take from this is that for person and property to have integrity, there must be trust.  Therefore, there must be truth.  This goes beyond the non-aggression principle, suggesting that there are underlying necessary values or principles if one is to come to protection of person and property.

FvD contrasts natural and positive law:

The natural law and the positive law are not alternative systems of rules that apply to the same thing. The natural law is the law of natural persons and positive law is a law of artificial persons. Thus, natural law and positive law relate to different things.

Regarding positive law, it can be obeyed or disobeyed; this is not the case for natural law.  Natural law just represents the order of human beings as persons.  It can be respected or disrespected – this is how FvD would put it.

I have had someone who is partial to FvD’s natural law views explain to me that natural law does not need to be defended, anymore than gravity needs to be defended.  Perhaps it is something like this when considering FvD’s statement.  Gravity can also be respected or disrespected.  Conceptually, I think I can grasp this.  Yet…

Gravity does a really good job of ensuring that you respect it – like right now.  Try disrespecting it while on a suspension bridge.  You will learn respect quickly.  Natural law?  It can be disrespected for an extended period of time, and quite thoroughly.  Sure, it eventually will flex its muscle – if it is the natural order based on humans as humans, it must.  But this could be decades, even centuries, in the making.

In the meantime?  In this sense, it seems to me that a) while demanding respect as gravity does, natural law has no similar self-generated instantaneous respect-enforcing mechanism, and b) therefore, someone or something must defend it.

FvD continues by examining the relationship of natural law and morality, noting that these need not be identical:

Respect for the natural law is a precondition of morality. This is not to say that because there is only one natural law there can be no more than one morality. On the contrary, there may be any number of different moralities, all of which are compatible with respect for the natural law.

FvD moves forward with an examination of natural rights:

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Two Topics


I will touch briefly on two topics, both seen through the lens of the following passage:

Matthew 22: 34 But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together.  35 Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, 36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  38 This is the first and great commandment.  39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

First Topic

I was recently listening to something or reading something – I don’t remember which.  I believe it also came up in my request on how I might understand some of the difficult Old Testament passages.  So, with apologies to any and all who triggered this thought….

Hermeneutics is the theory and methodology of interpretation, especially the interpretation of biblical texts, wisdom literature, and philosophical texts.

How one is to understand and interpret the Bible is to be governed by some hermeneutic.  There is a thread, a narrative, a purpose, a story.  What is it?  We can say that all of the Old Testament points to Jesus, and the New Testament is given to help us understand Jesus.  I think that’s right.  But what does it mean?  How can I come to understand this?

I think it means this – what is found in this passage.  Jesus gives the greatest commandment and a second which “is like unto it,” meaning, in my mind, that there is a connection, relationship, a similarity.

All of the law and prophets are to be understood through these two commandments; what we read – Old and New Testament – is to be understood through these two commandments.  This offers a light onto how we are to try to understand these passages.

Second Topic

I watched a two-hour discussion with Bishop Robert Barron and William Lane Craig on the topics of evangelism, faith and science, and secularism.  I want to point to the discussion on a couple of questions.  I must add: whatever I have to say on the responses to these questions should not take away from the fact that I find each of these men to be both brilliant and doing good work on behalf of the Christian faith.  I gladly listen to any talk from either of them.

So, to the questions.  First: Do you have any last thoughts on how to evangelize the culture today?  The responses were about five minutes.

From Craig: change the culture – in universities, in movies, and through the judiciary – especially the Supreme Court (counting on Trump).  From Barron: we have to understand the rhythm between when to go out into the community and when to hunker down sometimes when the culture grows hostile; maybe now we have to hunker down and learn about our stuff.

Second topic: How can we keep young people from leaving the Christian faith? The responses go for about three minutes.

From Craig: he prefers to deal with how to prevent this from happening.  The family, especially fathers, need to instruct the children.  From Barron: they are leaving because of science, because of the sexual teaching, confusion about God, violence in the Bible.  Engage them on these questions.

When compared to these two men, my response to these questions is somewhat and even much different.  As Jesus offered, we are to love.  Love is in doing.  I keep coming back to the role Christianity must play if we are to move toward liberty – and, so there is no confusion here, these are the exact same actions that I find necessary if one is to evangelize:

Monday, June 1, 2020

Left and Right


I have been thinking about this topic for some time.  It is clear that the mainstream definitions, such as those describing political parties, are meaningless.  It is also meaningless to offer that communists are left and fascists are right.  Stalin’s communists were international socialists, while Hitler’s Nazis were National Socialists.  Other than who was to be considered as part of the “in” group (not a small matter if you were in the “out” group), there is little separating the two ideologies.

It is clear in the US political scene that left and right (as commonly offered) is meaningless.  There were those traditionally on the left that voted for Trump in sufficient numbers to put him in office.  There are many on the right that hated the idea of him being in office.  Understanding why the groups reacted the way they did might help clarify their reasons – and clarify an understanding of left and right.

I have been paying some attention to this dialogue of the meaning crisis – brought to the fore by Jordan Peterson, carried on by John Vervaeke, Paul VanderKlay, Bret and Eric Weinstein, even Peter Thiel.  Most, if not all, participants can be identified with the political left yet the discussion has attracted many on the political right – so much so that Peterson is labeled a fascist (in the mainstream “right-wing” meaning of the term), and Bret Weinstein loses his teaching position for taking the wrong side in some social justice cause.

How is this possible, that these self-identified liberals are attracting – at least for a good portion – self-identified conservatives?  What I am finding through this dialogue is that the dividing line has nothing to do with left and right as is popularly understood; instead, the dividing line is to be found in the search for natural law.

To oversimplify, natural law (as I see it) is grounded in the following: All human beings are made in the image of God; humans act with purpose toward the good; the good is developed via focus on the four cardinal virtues (and, I believe, cannot be fully realized without also some grasp of the three theological virtues).  If these characteristics better define the right (as I believe they do), then most on the political left and many on the political right will, therefore, be considered “left” in this view.

The four cardinal virtues are wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice.  The three theological virtues are faith, hope, and love.  I have expanded on this here.  I have developed something of what I see as the connection of natural law and liberty here.

Then we come to the protests over the last few days – a perfect demonstration of left and right, divided not by any current concept of political parties, but on this notion of natural law.  We see the exact opposite of the four cardinal virtues on display.  Here, I suggest, is the precise definition of “left.”

The non-aggression principle provides only a few answers here – certainly regarding aggression against person and property in the case of these protesters, but nothing on the virtues that underlie respect for person and property.  Without these virtues, there is no foundation on which one can construct non-aggression.

Why am I writing this now?  Well, besides the events of the last few days that have pushed things over the top?  What I have written on natural law thus far follows a string from Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas and Lewis – with a few others thrown in here and there.  I have been reading recently some of G. K. Chesterton and Frank van Dun – on the former, much of what he writes fits into this topic; on the latter, specifically his writing on this topic of natural law.

But I am thinking that the best way for me to frame this as I read through Chesterton and van Dun (at least given my current understanding) is to consider left and right as I have offered here: the dividing line is natural law – with all men made in the image of God, humans act with purpose toward the good, and the good is understood through the virtues. 

If this strikes a chord with you, then consider yourself on the “right” in this discussion.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Pentecost


NB: lots of Christian stuff in this post, but there will be a tie-in to the role that I see Christianity playing in moving toward liberty.  Trust me.

The Christian Stuff

Acts 2:1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.  2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.  3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.  4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Sunday is the day of Pentecost; for the Eastern Orthodox, it is next Sunday.  While the Resurrection was necessary for salvation, Pentecost was necessary to change the disciples into fearless men.

For the most part, the Gospels offer a picture of confused disciples.  Confused about the role Jesus is playing in this drama.  The world in which they lived was certainly expecting a Messiah; he would be the one who would re-establish Israel’s kingdom on earth.  There were revolts as recently as a century or two before, known as the Maccabean Revolt.  This was an uprising against the Greeks; Antiochus IV issued his decrees forbidding Jewish religious practice.

The prophets anticipated a Messiah, and many Jews understood him to be the leader of revolution.  Much of the disciples’ confusion can be better understood if read with this view.

Peter was warned that he would deny Jesus before the sunrise.  Peter was certain he would not.  Mentally, we immediately move forward in the story to the denial, but in between, Peter cuts off the ear of the guard coming to take Jesus captive.  Peter was ready for revolution, not sacrifice.

It was only when this revolutionary act by Peter didn’t result in revolution that he then became fearful – and denied knowing Jesus.

Let’s skip over the trial, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.  Now those who followed Jesus would be targets – they were also revolutionaries, associated with “The King of the Jews.”  Their leader, though they saw him again, wasn’t leading them the way they thought.  Then He was gone, in the clouds.  Alone, did they fear their fate?

Until Pentecost.  Immediately after, Peter preached the Resurrection without fear.  Three thousand were added to their number.

There is no salvation without the Resurrection.  There is no Christianity without Pentecost.

The Liberty Stuff

Ephesians 6: 12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

I have written dozens of posts of debunking historical narratives.  One can label this as conspiracy thinking on my part.  So be it.  The history of the world is almost a continuous river of this reality.  Just since the beginning of the Progressive Era, we have:

·         A two-party system
·         Remember the Maine
·         Make the world safe for democracy
·         Central banks can smooth out the business cycle
·         We were minding our own business when the Japanese bombed us for no good reason
·         We had to drop those two bombs, else a million Americans would die
·         The single bullet
·         Gulf of Tonkin
·         Stabbing babies in incubators
·         Three building with two planes (and a dozen other problems with this story)
·         Weapons of Mass Destruction
·         Irrational exuberance
·         Pandemic

Take a look at the list.  Each one of these was used to diminish liberty; none of these were used to advance liberty.  These are the fruits of the rulers of the darkness of this world.  Call it a conspiracy theory.  It is bigger than most can imagine.  Could you have ever imagined the panic that took control over all of society a couple of months ago for fear of a bug?  Is this really all the doing of two-legged men?  Of Gates and Fauci?  Or does the never-ending list suggest something much deeper?

The apostles were only able to confront these rulers of the darkness after Pentecost – after receiving the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion

It is here where, institutionally, Christianity must fight.  Elsewhere in Ephesians, we are told to put on the armour of God.  The armour is of no use if we don’t understand that against which we are fighting.  Why put on armour if we aren’t to fight?

Ephesians 2:2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience

This understanding begins by recognizing those who perpetrate these acts designed to convince us to worship Baal.  This understanding begins by recognizing those who are the tools of the prince of the power of the air.  It begins by recognizing that the conspiracy runs much deeper and longer than humanly possible.  It begins by understanding that this conspiracy is designed to rob you of your liberty – in this life and (for those of us who believe such things) the next.

The apostles spoke truth to power after receiving the Holy Spirit.  Christians today must do no less.

Epilogue

The last couple of months have been tremendously disappointing, given how I see the path forward.  How quickly Christian leaders have succumbed.  From such as these I expect cultural revolution?

Well, this is what I have.  And, perhaps, out of this might come a smaller, yet more committed and more focused, body of Christ.