Thursday, January 21, 2021

Trading Today for (Maybe) Tomorrow

I wouldn’t trade tomorrow for today

-          Headlong Flight, Rush

Anyone familiar with the writing of Neil Peart, the lyricist for Rush, will understand the context of these words: Christians are so messed up, willing to sacrifice in this life for the promise of something more and better in the future – the promise of eternal life.  (In order to properly rhyme, he had to end with “today,” so the wording might seem a bit awkward.)

For Peart, this life was all there is.  I don’t know if he changed his views in his last years, knowing he would soon die of terminal cancer (which happened about one year ago).  I hope he is resting in peace.

This view tells us: There is no evidence of a future, eternal life; all there is we see around us.  Live each day to the full; eat, drink and be merry, because tomorrow we die; he who dies with the most toys wins.  Don’t sacrifice today for some unknown tomorrow.

“Christianity set itself the goal of fulfilling man’s unattainable desires, but for that very reason ignored his attainable desires. By promising man eternal life, it deprived him of temporal life…”

-          Ludwig Feuerbach, Lectures on the Essence of Religion

Christians are mocked for (supposedly) trading for tomorrow (eternal life) in exchange for giving up today (pleasure as I desire it, here on earth).

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Is it living, or just existence?

-          The Enemy Within (Part I of Fear), Rush

We have spent the last ten months depriving ourselves of temporal life in exchange, not for eternal life, but for (maybe, or maybe not) adding some days to our future life.  In other words, society has accepted a cheap, bastardized version of Feuerbach’s caricature of Christian longing for heaven.

We have given up 300 days.  Will we get those days back in the future?  Who among us will live 300 days longer because of this?  What have we gained for this sacrifice?  Something close to 100% of the people under 70 years old will never get any of these days back, because virtually none of those under 70 were at risk of losing life solely due to this bug, this corona.

Don’t kill grandma, we are told.  What has she gained?  She is scared to death, shut in her home, not seeing children and grandchildren, not visiting friends, not going shopping, not going to church.  She is stuck watching the television, telling her to be scared to death; she is stuck listening to her children, telling her why her life will be better if she doesn’t see anyone – if she lives her last days alone.

Will grandma have 300 days added to her life because of this?  No one knows, no one can answer this question.  The only certainty is that 300 days of life are now gone – permanently, never to be returned.  Is this how we want grandma to live her last days, to hold as her last (or everlasting) memory?

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Jonathan Pageau just put out a video, The Blindness of “Following the Science.”  It’s not long, just thirteen minutes.  But if you are looking for him to counter the science with science (for example, science demonstrates that masks for the general population are ineffective and may even be harmful to health), you will not find satisfaction.

We cannot just “follow the science.”  Science is always geared toward some end, but it cannot tell us the end toward which we should aim.  If we want to create weapons to destroy the world, that would have us follow the science toward that end.  If we want to make energy use more efficient, that would have us follow science toward that end.  You get the idea.

What “end” is the science of corona geared toward.  For every scientific “fact” one side presents about the need for lockdowns, the other side has scientific “facts” as to why this strategy is futile.  Well, it may be futile, it may not be, because this still doesn’t answer the question: toward what ends?

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With an iron fist in a velvet glove

We are sheltered under the gun

-          The Weapon (Part II of Fear), Rush

The “science” we are told to follow is, at minimum, geared toward throwing away days of life today for the possibility of gaining more days in the future.  We can speculate about many other things: controlling the serfs, the depopulation of the planet, trillions of dollars to the financial system (well, this last one isn’t really speculative; it happened, and it was likely the initial purpose).

Reasoned as these might be, it is speculation.  The one thing we know with certainty is that the science of corona is geared toward trading today for tomorrow; it is geared toward trading current temporal life – not for eternal life, but for a possible (but far from certain) future temporal life.  Give up a certain number of days now, and you may or may not get some unknown number of days in the future.  Is this a worthwhile trade?

When Christians offer their eternal version of this trade (yes, I know it is a caricature), it is labeled as nonsensical.  But when “follow the science” offers us this temporal trade, it is deemed righteous.

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Science cannot tell us of ends.  Philosophers can.  Christian theologians can.  The vast majority of both are failing at this today.  Most have accepted this trade: give up your life today (300 days and counting), and an almost insignificant number of us might get a few of these days back in the future.

Of course, those of us most likely to delay death by avoiding the corona (the elderly) are most vulnerable to the cost of being left alone.  The reality is, by scaring grandma into giving up those days today, we are also making it far more likely that we are reducing, not increasing, the number of days in her future.

If the only meaning of life is to avoid death, well… Dying from loneliness, from not seeing family and friends, from not seeing the doctor…is just the same as dying from the corona.  It’s just dying.

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We have come full circle, but ended up in a much worse place.  We used to believe that there was a future after death, and this future was something worth striving for, something for which we would sacrifice.  This future was eternal.

No longer.  We sacrifice our days today, but for something far less valuable – and for most of us, something that is non-existent: the possibility of getting these days back later.

We have given up meaning in life by throwing away the ends for which we are designed.  We have given up meaning for the sake of the materialism (or physicalism) of science that we have lived under for the last few centuries.  No longer do we aim for happiness (better understood as fulfillment through other-regarding action, or beatitudo). 

The last 300 days have shown us where this materialist path leads: the only meaning in life is to avoid death.  It is the road where the materialism of science (and Marx and Darwin) leads…inevitably.  There is no meaning in life other than to avoid death.  But we all die.  Hence, there is no meaning in life.

Is it any wonder that western man suffers a meaning crisis?

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Mostly I think about grandma.  I sure hope that if we are ever faced with such choices again in the future, my children don’t treat me this way.

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Modifying the quote from Feuerbach, above:

The science (or Fauci, Gates, Marx, Darwin, whatever) set itself the goal of fulfilling man’s unattainable desires, but for that very reason ignored his attainable desires. By promising man he can avoid death, it deprived him of life…

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The righteous rise

With burning eyes

Of hatred and ill-will

Madmen fed on fear and lies

To beat, and burn, and kill

-          Witch Hunt (Part III of Fear), Rush

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Separating the Men from the Boys

I have stumbled across a book review written by Lester Hunt.  He is reviewing The Ethics of Liberty, by Murray Rothbard.  The review was written in 1983, just after Rothbard’s book was published.  Hunt begins by putting Rothbard’s libertarianism in context:

Though he is an economist by training, the ultimate basis for the form of anarchism Rothbard defends is not economic but moral.

Rothbard’s anarchism is based on natural law, not on some concept of economic efficiency or other basis.  In this book, Rothbard connects the natural law as found in medieval philosophers/theologians such as Thomas Aquinas to his ideas of all rights being grounded in property rights.

I do not recall if Rothbard makes the distinction between natural law and natural rights in this book or elsewhere; it has been a while since I read the book cover to cover, and the last time I did, I would say that my understanding of natural law and natural rights was not very well developed.  Suffice it to say, I have come to the conclusion of agreeing with Rothbard: all rights are grounded in property rights.  And, as a brief aside, I will unpack this.

Natural law offers guidance as to how one should behave and act – toward himself and toward others; it is an ethical standard, not a legal standard.  For example, one should be charitable toward others, but one must not be forced by law to be charitable toward others. 

In distinction, natural rights offers guidance as to what one can demand from others: one cannot demand charity from others; one can merely demand that others respect his property rights – including, of course, the physical property of the body. (This distinction is further examined here.)

Returning to the review, Hunt suggests that readers will likely disagree with Rothbard’s anarchism as it is based on natural law:

Unfortunately, this doctrine, nowadays, is almost as unpopular as anarchism, and such a reader is also liable to disagree with it.  And Professor Rothbard does not try to prove that this doctrine is true.

How does one offer “proof” of such a thing, other than by persuasion via logical argument.  This isn’t a physical science.  Perhaps one proof can be evidenced in the trajectory of Western society, and the evidence is overwhelming in the thirty-eight years since this review was written.

Libertarianism has fractured in many ways, perhaps most fundamentally on this question of a moral vs. economic basis as foundational.  What we have seen in this divide is that which has also been seen in society at large: there are libertarians who hold to a moral standard that can be considered very individualistic and even libertine, and others who hold more traditional moral views.  I believe this can be best understood if natural law is identified as the dividing line.

The evidence in society at large points to a continuing loss of liberty – if liberty is defined as right to my life and my property – in the intervening four decades since this review was published.  The degradation in societal norms – OK if one does not hold to an ethical standard beyond the NAP, but problematic if one does – has clearly contributed to and accelerated this loss of liberty.

I, and others, have written too much about this connection for me to make it again here.  I have written extensively on the Search for Liberty, ending where one must – on Natural Law.  Guido Hülsmann has tackled the issue as well, for example, here (with my further thoughts here).  An extensive essay on the matter can be found here, focused on Aquinas, Rothbard, and C.S. Lewis, among others.

I will close with one further example, taken from a 1985 interview of Yuri Bezmenov, a KGB agent who defected to the West in 1970:

“Marxism-Leninism ideology is being pumped into the soft heads of at least three generations of American students, without being challenged or counter-balanced by the basic values of Americanism and American patriotism … The demoralization process in the United States is basically completed already … Most of it is done by Americans to Americans thanks to lack of moral standards.”

This is Antonio Gramsci writ large.  It is the moral standard of many in Western society today and of many libertarians.  Certainly, one can base their libertarianism on something other than natural law and not necessary also be a moral hedonist, but without a foundation of natural law society might not follow your lead.

Conclusion

Just because natural law is unpopular, as Hunt claimed and as is obviously still true today, does not make it wrong.  We have seen that ignoring natural law (by freeing ourselves from being bound by proper ends) has not been beneficial toward our liberty.

We require a standard that is above man’s ability to alter; this provides defense against the reason of the despot.  Market exchange is insufficient as this standard.  Rothbard had it right when he focused on natural law as necessary for liberty.  It has certainly ushered in a meaning crisis.

Libertarianism that rests on the non-aggression principle as the sole requirement for liberty is libertarianism for juveniles.  We have seen the liberty that comes forth when markets are set free without any moral underpinning, as this results in the crony-capitalism of today.

The idea of a liberty grounded in natural law is what separates the men from the boys.  Otherwise, all we are left with is this.

Epilogue

The author points to other potential disagreements with Rothbard’s conclusions or applications, for example that parents have no obligation to feed or clothe their children.  The author does not mention Rothbard’s support for abortion.  Of course, I find both a violation of natural law and of the child’s (born or unborn) natural rights.  But these are separate matters from the overall point of this post.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Grinning Gargoyles

Greek heroes do not grin: but gargoyles do – because they are Christian.

Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton (ebook)

Christ prophesied the whole of Gothic architecture in that hour when nervous and respectable people…objected to the shouting of the gutter-snipes of Jerusalem. He said, "If these were silent, the very stones would cry out."

The prophecy has been fulfilled as far as Chesterton is concerned, as seen in the gargoyles of the many gothic churches in Europe.

There is an appropriate end, or purpose, for a human life.  It is not random, as must be the case for the evolutionists.  It is this that Chesterton argues in this chapter.  Moderns argue that we must make things better, or good.  But when asked what this means, they talk in circles:

Evolution is only good if it produces good; good is only good if it helps evolution.

We cannot take our principles from nature – the nature we see around us – because there is no principle in nature.  We do not get equality from nature, nor do we get inequality.  Both require a standard of value, but what is the standard of value offered to us by nature?  Can nature tell us that cats are more valuable than mice (or one cat more valuable than the next)? 

Hence, evolutionists are left to identify their doctrine of good without a standard to lean on.  Nietzsche is described as offering nothing but physical metaphors.  When he said “beyond good and evil,” he avoided the need to say more clearly “more good than good and evil” or “more evil than good and evil.”  Had he done so, this idea would have been exposed as nonsense.

So, when he describes his hero, he does not dare to say, "the purer man," or "the happier man," or "the sadder man," for all these are ideas; and ideas are alarming. He says "the upper man," or "over man," a physical metaphor from acrobats or alpine climbers. Nietzsche is truly a very timid thinker. He does not really know in the least what sort of man he wants evolution to produce. And if he does not know, certainly the ordinary evolutionists, who talk about things being "higher," do not know either.

These others then come up with even sillier notions: whatever evolution brings was right, what was avoided was wrong; or whatever I want is right, and whatever I don’t want is wrong.  Reason, as Hume put it, is slave to these passions.  It is in this way that we progress – that we might be progressing down the wrong road is the question avoided.

Instead, we might consider reform.  To reform means something that was in form is now out of shape; the intention is to put it back in shape again.  Reform is the proper task for reasonable and determined men. 

And this is where the modern world has gone awry.  Progress should mean that we are changing things to suit a vision; instead, progress has now been taken to mean that the vision always changes – driven by our passions or desires.  We have freed ourselves to the extent that every day brings a new vision, a new “good,” a new end to be the pursuit of man.

As long as the vision of heaven is always changing, the vision of earth will be exactly the same. No ideal will remain long enough to be realized, or even partly realized. The modern young man will never change his environment; for he will always change his mind.

This, then, points to a requirement if one is to discuss progress: the objective must be fixed.  An artist might remain discontented with his pictures, yet not become discontented with his art.  A simple example will suffice: a man has as his objective to paint the world blue.  Every day he makes progress, painting a blade of grass, a tree, a patch of dirt.  Each one blue.  It is unlikely that he will achieve his objective in his lifetime, but that he has made progress can be easily seen and measured. 

But what if each day he decides on a new color: today, his objective is to paint the world blue, tomorrow green, the next day orange, and so on.  Can it ever be said that he is making progress?  Is his perfect world coming closer into view? 

Thus we may say that a permanent ideal is as necessary to the innovator as to the conservative; it is necessary whether we wish the king's orders to be promptly executed or whether we only wish the king to be promptly executed.

And with this, Chesterton felt a presence of something else in the discussion (keeping in mind that this entire book documents his realization that what he discovered was already in Christianity): “My ideal is at least fixed; for it was fixed before the foundations of the world.”  This fixed ideal cannot be altered; it is called Eden.  And for those orthodox who understand this of the ideal, there is always revolution:

In the upper world hell once rebelled against heaven. But in this world heaven is rebelling against hell.

This understanding offers a fixed ideal at which one can aim.  It offers a single morality.  Darwinism offers no such possibility – only offering two mad moralities, but not a single sane morality: when considering the kinship and competition that exists among and between all creatures, one can choose to be either insanely cruel or insanely sentimental:

That you and a tiger are one may be a reason for being tender to a tiger. Or it may be a reason for being as cruel as the tiger. It is one way to train the tiger to imitate you, it is a shorter way to imitate the tiger. But in neither case does evolution tell you how to treat a tiger reasonably, that is, to admire his stripes while avoiding his claws.

Monday, January 11, 2021

The Underclass

Paul VanderKlay commented: “The underclass knows the overclass better than the overclass knows the underclass.”  I replied, in the comments to the video (modified slightly for clarity):

Something really worth considering in understanding the political and world events (and the media that has covered these) that have played out over the last years.

This, in the context of events at the capitol, etc.

I have been thinking about when the political division in this country took such a toxic turn – not just toxic between and amongst politicians, but toxic toward and between some multiple number of tens-of-millions of people.

I would point to the roots of it in the political strategy of Antonio Gramsci, who knew that communism would not come to the West via a division between the workers and the owners/capitalists, but only through the creation from below of a new culture – one that by design would crush Christianity.  And this would be true enough; we are living it.

I would also consider the manifestation of this strategy in the 1960s and the cultural revolution that was plainly visible at the time.  Certainly, by the 1990s, the toxic ideas of critical theory would begin to permeate academia to the point where today the various disciplines of the liberal arts are all lost to corruption (with STEM now being dragged through the wreckage of their wake).

Yet, throughout this time – and for the most part – the debates and discussions were on policy matters; we didn’t turn the issues into ones where the other side was seen as totally corrupt and unpardonable.

Sure, there was a small minority of us who saw as totally corrupt some of the institutions and objectives: The Federal Reserve and the military adventurism and empire, as two examples.  But, given the overwhelming support that these received (either actively or passively, whether considered or ignored), the national personal animus was limited to something like everyone ganging up on Ron Paul (the most courageous politician of my lifetime) during a presidential debate.

I think that there were a couple of events that marked the divide – where the political debate turned into personal animosity, division, derision, disgust and disdain.  The first event marked it economically, and that was the bailouts in 2008.  Calls to congress were running as high as 95% against the bailouts, as I recall.  But we know how the rest of the story played out.  This made clear the purpose of the financial system.  But while it has contributed to the divide (or helped accelerate it), this is a separate issue to my point here.

The event that marked the first formal notice that the cultural divide was going to be forced upon us was back in April, 2008.  Sure, the seeds were planted long before: once Gramsci’s strategy was put in place – especially in higher education – the deck was stacked.  But in April, 2008, we were put on notice:

"And it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

So said presidential hopeful Barack Obama, when speaking about those who are frustrated with their economic conditions – said frustration, of course, quite warranted given the aforementioned financial crisis (and the economic divide that has been growing wider since Nixon closed the gold window).

Obama was speaking of the underclass – and it is the underclass clings to religion and guns.  Or, more properly: if you cling to religion and guns, you are underclass.  Religion and guns: two targets to be eliminated, as we know, by the overclass. 

Further, the underclass was labeled by Obama as being against others not like them – yet, this same underclass helped elect Obama to the office of president a few months later.

Hillary Clinton would reply:

"The people of faith I know don't ‘cling to' religion because they're bitter. People embrace faith not because they are materially poor, but because they are spiritually rich.”

Of course, her reply was based solely on the possibility that this would bring her more votes, as she was running against Obama at the time.  To say it was a cynical statement would be redundant, as this could be said about virtually every statement made by virtually every politician. 

As if to demonstrate the point of cynicism, and to further the seeds sown that have resulted in the divide, Clinton offered eight years later (and four years ago):

Thursday, January 7, 2021

It Won’t Last Forever

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever.

-          George Orwell

I think Orwell was wrong, or at least this is certainly not what is playing out in the United States today.

Since Trump’s election in 2016 – and even before he took office – it has been clear that virtually all democrats and most republicans have been out to take him down; certainly, the administrative apparatus has the same desire. 

Just a quick survey: Russiagate, Ukrainegate, impeachment, the corona, tanking the economy, voting (shall we say) irregularities.

Now, after yesterday’s debacle at the capitol – as if 13 days is too long to wait – we have this:

Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, and incoming Senate majority leader after the Dems victory in the Georgia runoffs, called for Donald Trump to be immediately removed from office, saying that the outgoing president was directly responsible for Wednesday's riot in the Capitol.

In a statement, Schumer said Vice President Mike Pence should invoke the Constitution’s 25th amendment, using support of the cabinet to take over in the Oval Office until Joe Biden is inaugurated on January 20.

“If the vice president and the Cabinet refuse to stand up, Congress should reconvene to impeach the president,” Schumer added.

Facebook has booted Trump, as has Spotify and Twitter.

This has nothing to do with stomping on a human face forever.  It is something quite different.  The target isn’t Trump; goodness, Trump has done many wonderful things for the establishment:  deficit spending without end, total support for Israel, increased military spending, rapid vaccinations.

No, the target isn’t Trump.  The target is those who have supported him.

What is happening (and has happened over the last four years, culminating in Schumer’s statements or potentially the reality that Trump is removed before January 20) is an overwhelming demonstration with just one objective.  That objective can be best understood as follows:

Beaten into submission: To put forth great effort so that someone learns or remembers something, especially through repetition.

Teach someone a lesson: to punish someone for doing something bad so that they do not do it again.

Show (one) who's boss: To demonstrate authority or dominance over one so that it is clearly recognized, especially by means of defeat or some form of subjugation; make it clear to somebody that you have more power and authority than they have.

No matter what, you will lose.  We are going to beat this so far into you that you will never forget it.  Even when you win, you will lose; even when you are peaceful (or especially because we count on you being peaceful), you will lose.

That’s what is happening.

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Once out of office, imagine what will happen to the social media world if Trump signs up with various alternative platforms, alternatives to Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.  Or online, alternative, news outlets.  I suspect any such platforms will instantly gain tens of millions of subscribers.

There will be many of his enemies who would have rather they allowed Trump to win the election.  Then again, I guess the various ISPs and browsers could block such content….

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This will, of course, only fuel the tension more.  Not that it isn’t going to increase in any case.  I am reminded of some wise words from Angelo Codevilla, written even before Trump won in 2016:

We have stepped over the threshold of a revolution. It is difficult to imagine how we might step back, and futile to speculate where it will end. Our ruling class’s malfeasance, combined with insult, brought it about. Donald Trump did not cause it and is by no means its ultimate manifestation. Regardless of who wins in 2016, this revolution’s sentiments will grow in volume and intensity, and are sure to empower politicians likely to make Americans nostalgic for Donald Trump’s moderation.

If the deplorables don’t get what they want with Trump, just wait who they elect (or what they will do) next.

And this:

You see the entire ruling class essentially rejecting the Constitution, the American way, rejecting the legitimacy of elections.  There can be no mild response to that, and there isn’t one.  Trump’s voters want certain results and they don’t particularly care how they get them.  The ruling class wants its power and doesn’t particularly care how it holds on to it.

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That boot isn’t going to be stomping on a human face forever.  While one side has been doing a lot of stomping in order to show who is boss, the real action will begin once the other side fully internalizes the fact that no one is playing fair.

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I am reminded of a novel I read regarding the Spanish Civil War.  A friend from Spain recommended this novel to me as the most accurate and best description of the realities of life during that horrendous period.  I have written one or two posts on this novel.  A couple of my comments from that post seems worth reproducing here:

Throughout the novel, even five years before the beginning of hostilities, one has a sense of the coming conflict.  The building of factions is developing.  There are episodes of strikes, countered by martial law and arrests.  These episodes are somewhat limited in scope and duration.

They then unleash terror in the city – burning and looting the churches, killing members of opposing parties by the hundreds through the first few nights of complete terror.

Merely owning a firearm, if one was a member of the wrong side, was enough to warrant execution – not only disarmament, but execution.

By the dozens, the so-called enemies of the people are jailed by day or taken from their homes in the night, subsequently marched out at night to face their fate.

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I don’t think we are going to get a Gorbachev.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Luther’s “Road to Damascus” Moments

First, the impasse: a position or situation from which there is no escape; deadlock; a road or way that has no outlet; cul-de-sac.

Two months before Luther posted (or merely distributed) his famous 95 theses, he penned 97 theses, these titled “Disputation Against Scholastic Theology.”  It is a list primarily concerned with questions of faith, grace, will, and works.  Not a single word about indulgences.  As an aside, his points that reference Aristotelian thought begin at item 41 and continue for 10 or 12 points.  

In any case, this list had no impact at all – not within the Church, not within the community, not toward Luther’s fame.  Nothing.  This would change with the publication two months later of the 95 theses, entitled “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.”  Yes, the key difference was on the point of indulgences.  In this latter, more famous list, the words “indulgence” or “indulgences” appear forty-five times – after appearing not at all in his list from two months prior.

It seems clear that it was this point that the Church noticed and it was this point that created the impasse between Luther and the Church.  To dispute about the relative merits of Aristotelian thought or the specific formula that explains the role of grace and the role of works – I don’t know this for certain, but I believe it safe to say that there were wide-ranging opinions on these matters within the Church.

But the indulgences – especially during this time of fundraising for the new St. Peter in Rome, and when the German nobles were especially tired of seeing wealth leave the region, and when the pope was extremely profligate and wasteful – these went to the heart of the power and authority of the Church.

With that out of the way, what of these “Road to Damascus” moments for Luther?  The first one is mentioned above – his struggle regarding faith, works, grace, and will.  On this point, at least from what I have read, it is difficult to point to a “moment,” a specific time or event when this concern crystalized for him.  It seems to be something he struggled with for years, slowly and steadily building a foundation of belief.

Luther’s other Road to Damascus moment regards his temperament.  It is well-known that Luther was hard-headed and hard-charging – for all the good and bad that might come with these characteristics.  But he didn’t start this way.

When his 95 theses first gained attention, he was regularly asking for an argument – a standard practice at the time.  Posting items for disputation to later be disputed, hopefully with an outcome of moving toward a common understanding.  And it is on this matter where Luther’s softer demeanor turned very hard.  And it began, clearly, with his engagement with Thomas Cajetan.

As is the case regarding all of my writing on such matters: my point is not to take one side or the other on the theological issues; instead, it is to examine this most critical point in Western history.  Whatever one believes about the theology, it is clear that the events – as historical events – were of tremendous import.

Cajetan was sent by the pope to the Diet of Augsburg to address many matters, one of which was to examine and test the teachings of Luther. 

According to Hilaire Belloc, "[Luther] had not been treated roughly by his opponents, the roughness had been on his side. But things had gone against him, and he had been made to look foolish; he had been cross-examined into denying, for instance, the authority of a General Council—which authority was the trump card to play against the Papacy."

I will add to this the further description of this engagement as provided by Michael Massing in his book, Fatal Discord: Erasmus, Luther, and the Fight for the Western Mind.

The Diet would be held at the Fugger Palace, the most sumptuous residence north of the Alps.  It was testament to the extraordinary wealth of this merchant-banker family, and, in part, a testament to the amount of wealth that was transferred through them to the Church in the form of indulgences. 

Cajetan was well-respected for his integrity, resented for his arrogance.  He was a staunch defender of Thomas’s Summa against the attacks of the Scotists.  He was also a strong supporter of reform, but also a defender of hierarchical authority. 

He was not in Augsburg merely for Luther.  He did his best to persuade the Germans to support a new crusade against the Turks – a war that would put to end, once and for all, the threat.  It was the diet’s duty to support a special tax for this purpose.  The reception was chilly, as calls to battle lately came as often as the change of seasons.

Nor was Luther to be the only complainant.  The diet submitted a list of grievances against the Church (these “sons of Nimrod”); this would become a rallying point for the German people, and would offer some hint as to the fertility of the soil on which Luther would plant seeds.  Cajetan would bear the brunt of these attacks; he was counting the moments until he could finally leave and return south to Rome.

Then came the direction: he was to interview Luther.  After three months of dealing with the Germans, he had little patience for this.  Yet he was determined to treat Luther as a loving father might treat a wayward son, thus guiding him on the path of revocation.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Human Dignity and the Law

Following are some snippets from a talk given by Robert George entitled “Natural Law, God, and Human Dignity” (video).  Robert George is a professor at Princeton University.  The entire video is about one hour, but I include below some sections relevant to our discussions here.  For each section, I have included the timestamp link.  The first one begins at about 25 minutes into the talk, and the others follow almost directly.

I just offer some notes for each section; no transcripts or further comments.  Certainly, the video is worthwhile; for sure the last 35 minutes.

Natural law, radical individualism, and collectivism

Natural Law theorists propose to understand sound principles of justice, including those principles we call human rights. 

Natural law theorists reject both strict individualism and collectivism. 

Radical individualism overlooks the intrinsic value of human sociability, and tends to view human beings atomistically and materialistically.  I enter into relationships solely because I see some gain in it for me, and not for anything to do with the other persons’ intrinsic worth.

Collectivism, on the other hand, instrumentalizes and subordinates human beings and their well-being to the interests of larger social units.

Both have theories of human rights, but both are defective.  Neither does justice to the concept of a human person – instead, either as a means to someone else’s ends, or as a being with no consideration for sociability. 

We must treat ourselves and others as ends, not as means.

The human rights of abortion

A “human rights” discussion on abortion.  This includes a comment on those who accept a utilitarian calculation for when it is right to kill an innocent person – say one or a few – in order to save many others.

To be made in the image of God

What does it mean that man is made in the image of God?

Can we not reason about ends?

Discusses David Hume’s reason as slave to the passions: we can never reason about ends – these are driven by passion; we can only reason about the means.  A comparative example between Mother Theresa and Hitler is offered – can we not reason about which of these two individuals held better “ends”?

Natural law as a basis for a common ethic

Can natural law provide some measure of common ground for a common ethic, even for those who are atheist?