Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The Destruction of the Society Without Meaning

This “meaning crisis” conversation will eventually come to a natural law ethic, or it will never resolve.

Chapter Five….

The practical result of education in the spirit of The Green Book must be the destruction of the society which accepts it.

The Abolition of Man, by C.S. Lewis

It will be recalled that The Green Book taught the lesson, albeit not overtly and maybe not even consciously, that words need not have meaning, that qualities are nothing more than personal feelings, and that there need not be anything objective in either – in fact, there can be nothing objective in either.

But what does it mean to say “which accepts it”?  Accepts what?  Accepts the idea that words need not have meaning and accepts the idea that qualities are not more than personal feelings; accepts the idea that there are no such things as objective values.

And what does it mean to say “the destruction of society”?  Can a society be destroyed if it is made up of individuals living a life of meaning?  (No.)  Or is a society destroyed when many living within it live meaningless lives?  (Yes.)  Can life have meaning if words have no meaning and if nothing is valued objectively?  (No.)

In other words, a society is destroyed only when the individuals who make up that society are destroyed.  And herein lies the crux of the issue – the connection of the loss of the objective values that underlie the natural law ethic to the meaning crisis that is consuming almost all of Western society.

However subjective they may be about some traditional values, Gaius and Titius have shown by the very act of writing The Green Book that there must be some other values about which they are not subjective at all.

This is, of course, the contradiction in which all subjectivists sooner or later are trapped.  Ultimately, to say that there are no objective values is a statement of an objective value.  But why should anyone buy this?  There is no reason, if all values are subjective.

The important point is not the precise nature of their end, but the fact that they have an end at all.  …And this end must have real value in their eyes.

It is not their own objective values that are being questioned by Gaius and Titius, but yours.  And such values must be embraced, not based solely on propositions about facts alone nor solely based on reason.  Facts don’t exist in a vacuum (the silliness of “trust the science” has made this clear, as science can be used toward any end); reason also does not exist in a vacuum (a course of action is reasonable or not, depending on the ends desired).

This will preserve society cannot lead to do this except by mediation of society ought to be preserved.

Why ought society be preserved?  There is no fact pattern that leads to this conclusion.  One can use reason to destroy society or to aid it in flourishing.  The end of preserving society must be taken as given; there is no other way to arrive at this end.

And this is described as Practical Reason – judgements such as society ought to be preserved are taken as given; these are not mere sentiments, but rationality itself.  The Innovator cannot accept the whole of this Practical Reason, as it binds him from ends of his innovation; Practical Reason takes the word “progress” and aims it only in certain directions – an unacceptable situation for the Innovator.

This opens up an entire conversation on the topic of free will.  Certainly, one is free to destroy one’s self.  One cannot claim that such an action is rational or irrational absent free will being bound by Practical Reason – there are some oughts that must be taken as given. 

…the judge cannot be one of the parties judged; or, if he is, the decision is worthless and there is no ground for placing the preservation of the species above self-preservation or sexual appetite.

Free will bound by oughts.  This goes beyond the oughts of the non-aggression principle: don’t hit first; don’t take my stuff.  Nothing about preserving society to be found here.  Why preserve society, if to do so one must give up something of his freedom – maybe even give up his life?  Yet, a lost society is one which is populated by lost people – people without meaning.

The idea that, without appealing to any court higher than the instincts themselves, we can yet find grounds for preferring one instinct above its fellows dies very hard.

We hear it from free-floating ethicists (those who deny objective value but embrace the idea that there is such a thing as “good” and such a thing as “evil”) all the time: they cannot describe the “good” in any meaningful way, but at least they know that Auschwitz (the go-to example) is evil.

But on what basis is this so?  Those perpetrating such evils surely have a rational basis for doing so.  Why are their reasons no less satisfactory than any other?

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Doctrine of Objective Value

This “meaning crisis” conversation will eventually come to a natural law ethic, or it will never resolve.

There is no natural law ethic without objective value.

Chapter Four….

‘Can you be righteous unless you be just in rendering to things their due esteem?  All things were made to be yours and you were made to prize them according to their value.’

From Centuries of Meditations, by Thomas Traherne, and as cited in The Abolition of Man, by C.S. Lewis

To render something its due esteem, to prize something according to its value…in order to do so, such things must have a value that is objective.  Otherwise, what amount of esteem is due?  After all, otherwise any amount of esteem will do.  What value is the thing’s accorded value?  Can any amount be just as good as any other?  Not if it has an “accorded value.”

We have seen that it cannot be so with words.  For life to have meaning, words must have meaning.  Objective meaning.  “Sublime” and “pretty” are not the same.  When describing the waterfall, one of these words is more objectively true than the other.  Rendering due esteem to the waterfall, esteem according to its value, requires the use of one of these words over the other.

St. Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it.

Virtue requires some standard; else any behavior can be deemed virtuous.  Can you envision otherwise?

Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought.

“Ought” requires some standard; else any affection can be afforded any degree of love.  Well, unless we are free to live without “oughts.”  For humans, some would describe this as liberty, but the same people would not be so callous in this attitude if describing a lion living without lion “oughts.”

[The young student] must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likable, disgusting, and hateful.

Students who have thus been taught in ‘ordinate affections’ or ‘just sentiments’ are able to find the first principles of Ethics when the age of reflective thought is reached.  Otherwise, reason is left free to justify every whim, every instinct.  Citing Plato:

‘All this before he is of an age to reason; so that when Reason at length comes to him, then, bred as he has been, he will hold out his hands in welcome and recognize her because of the affinity he bears to her.’

Absent the inculcation of these first principles of Ethics, Reason can justify any cause, any course of action.

In early Hinduism that conduct in men which can be called good consists in conformity to, or almost participation in, the Rta…. Righteousness, correctness, order, the Rta, is constantly identified with satya or truth, correspondence with reality.

Is it possible to have a life of meaning if one does not live in correspondence with reality?  Or, to frame it in accord with the premise behind this series of posts: if one does not live in correspondence with reality (say, for example, “birthing persons”), one will live a meaningless life – hence, a meaning crisis.

Friday, April 29, 2022

God’s Law vs. Natural Law

Anonymous: If you'd spend a fraction of the time studying and promoting God's law as you do so-called natural law, perhaps we could divert the judgment of God on this nation.

First of all, I must say: I had no idea that I held such authority and power in the destiny of this nation; me, a mosquito.  Yes, bionic…but still.

Yet the more interesting topic: God’s Law vs. Natural Law.  No, I don’t see a difference in any meaningful sense, but play along.

Now, I could point to the ability to find natural law strictly via Scripture, as I have done in the past; or I might suggest that God created a universe ordered on principle and pattern (He did), with each created being having a purpose (it does), a telos – hence, “God’s Law” and “Natural Law” are therefore one and the same thing (at least on all the meaningful features, it seems to be so).

But, instead, I will this time pull on a string that was first explored here, via the question “why the flood?”  In other words, on what basis was man punished before the Law was revealed? 

Now…that word “revealed.”  Is it only to mean “words I read in the Bible”?  Many who use the term “revealed” mean it this way.  But can it not also mean what has been revealed to us in and through His creation?  A simple question: does not the physiology, biology, and anatomy of a man and of a women “reveal” something of God’s law?

For me, the answer is yes – and therefore I have no need to continue this post; this “picture” given to us by God in His creation paints a thousand words.  But for many, this is a bridge too far.  So…we only know the purpose of male and female only by the words in Scripture (like intercourse, and therefore procreation, would never happen unless God commanded it).  Or…we know murder is wrong only because God said so (hence, it was not wrong before He said so).  So, for these, I continue.

Genesis 2: 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Here we have God’s first command to man.  Now, this command cannot be deduced from natural law in any way that I see, yet it remained a valid law.  It is for the violation of this command that man was removed from paradise.  After this event, the command held no more authority – man was removed from the tree and its fruit, hence man could no longer violate this command. 

The fruit was already eaten.  The cat was out of the bag.   The horse had left the barn.  You get the idea.

So, we are back to having no “God’s law,” in the sense that we can find written evidence in Scripture.

Genesis 3: 22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.

Really, the money verse.  Man knows good and evil (God’s law), not by any revelation from God, but…naturally…once he ate the fruit.  It is important that this is so, otherwise we are left with the accusation for which we have no defense: God is an arbitrary God.  Man must know the difference of good and evil without God’s law; he must know it by his nature, the nature inherent in him once he ate the fruit.

Genesis 4: 3 In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. 6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”

God had no regard for Cain and his offering?  Why?  God expected that Cain knew how to “do well.”  On what basis would God expect such a thing?

I find no law of God preceding these verses that Cain might have violated, nothing from God that said “I am not a vegetarian.”  On what basis was God displeased?  Was it a whim, random chaos, arbitrary requirements?

Or was it something else, something not written or spoken, perhaps something breathed into man in his creation?  Was it something from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?  If so, we don’t have the words, nor did Adam or Eve hear any words.  Merely by eating the fruit, did they discover the law…naturally?  The natural law?  Is this what they passed on to their descendants?

I don’t know, but I do know that whatever Cain violated, there is no “God’s law” that cautioned him against this.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

In the Beginning Was the Word

This “meaning crisis” conversation will eventually come to a natural law ethic, or it will never resolve.

Chapter Three….

In their second chapter, Gaius and Titius quote the well-known story of Coleridge at the waterfall.  You remember that there were two tourists present: that one called it ‘sublime’ and the other ‘pretty’; and that Coleridge mentally endorsed the first judgement and rejected the second with disgust.

The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis

The first time I read, and wrote about, this book, I thought – while reading this introduction… “I kind of get it…but is it more like a speaker starting with something humorous to get the audience engaged?”  Let’s see if that’s still the case….

Lewis begins his exposition of the fall of men – remember, we end this book with men without chests, men who aren’t men at all (the abolition of man) – with this story about words and their meaning.  He begins his exposition on the loss of objective values with this story about words and their meaning.  It seems Lewis is trying to say something about the importance of words and their meaning to the condition of man.

Genesis chapter one.  “And God said” ten times (well, one of these was “then God said”).  He said.  By speaking, He created light and an expanse in the midst of the waters; He gathered the waters in one place, He brought forth vegetation; He created lights in the heavens; He created living creature in the sea and on land.  Finally, He created man in His image.  He spoke to His creation: be fruitful and multiply.

By speaking, He brought creation into existence.  And He saw that everything He made was very good.

God did not create on a work bench, with tools useful for the purpose.  He spoke.  Words are the source and foundation of creation, the source and foundation for being.  Words must be meaningful if creation is to be meaningful – words must be meaningful if man is to be meaningful, if man is to have meaning.

John 1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Without the Word, nothing was made.  Without the Word, there is no creation.  Note: it was not an apprentice that was with God and was God; it was the Word.  In Greek: logos.  This is a bit of a complicated word to translate (like many Greek words, we need several English words to get some understanding), but here is a try:

Logos is … derived from a Greek word variously meaning "ground", "plea", "opinion", "expectation", "word", "speech", "account", "reason", "proportion", and "discourse".

In Greek philosophy: reason, thought of as constituting the controlling principle of the universe and as being manifested by speech.

God spoke being into existence; He used reason – the controlling principle of the universe – as the source of His creation.  To bring creation forth, to make it manifest, He spoke.

So, why does Lewis start with what might seem to many (including me, to some degree and at one time) a trivial point?  Sublime, pretty…pretty, sublime.  Lewis sees the language slipping away, and he sees where this will lead.  He sees this because words are the foundation of our being.

The schoolboy who reads this passage in The Green Book will believe two propositions: firstly, that all sentences containing a predicate of value are statements about the emotional state of the speaker, and secondly, that all such statements are unimportant.

Gaius and Titius did not overtly say that judgements of value are unimportant; they may not even have intended to so chip away at the schoolboy’s mind.  But their words will have this effect.

How far have we fallen since?  We know the quotes from Orwell, from his novel published just a few years after Lewis delivered his talks that resulted in the subject book: ‘War Is Peace. Freedom Is Slavery. Ignorance Is Strength.’  You know what Orwell never said in 1984?  A man is a woman.

Monday, April 25, 2022

The Answer is in C. S. Lewis

This “meaning crisis” conversation will eventually come to a natural law ethic, or it will never resolve.

As noted in my opening post on this matter, I am wanting to more fully and directly make this connection – the connection of the meaning crisis to the violation of a natural law ethic, and why restoring the natural law ethic is the only solution to the meaning crisis.

Again, while I call the previous post my opening post, in reality it is what I have been working through for a few years, but have decided I now need to try to pull it together in a concise form.

It has been a month since I published that opening post, “Nature, According to Our Purpose.”  Almost from the time I published it, I have kept getting pulled to C. S. Lewis’s book, the Abolition of Man.  The more I have thought about it, the more I have come to conclude that the answer to my dilemma is all in this book.  Lewis wrote of the problem and solution almost eighty years ago.

I have written about this book in the past.  My previous posts can be found here:

What I believed would be the case, and as I have started to re-read the book has turned out to be true, is that my thought has developed significantly since the time I wrote these earlier posts almost three years ago.  There are many parts that didn’t catch my attention the first time that now seem tremendously relevant.  So, I can’t take a shortcut and just say “read these old posts for the answer.”  Parts of it will be there, to be sure.  But I don’t think it ties together the way I hope it will today.

So, why The Abolition of Man?  Why do I believe the entire answer will be found in this short (less-than-forty-page) book?  Lewis quickly summarizes why we, as human beings, require objective values if we are to live as human beings. 

Now, consider that last sentence carefully: we require objective values if we are to live as human beings.  If he is right, then the clear implication is that if we do not have and hold to objective values, we cannot live as human beings. 

Hence, if we cannot live as human beings, our lives have lost meaning as human beings.  We can live as something else, but not as human beings.  Would this not result in a crisis of meaning, to live as something other than what we are – to not live as we are meant to live?

Lewis covers all of this.  Now, he begins with an example that seems quite quaint to our ears; a seemingly small little slight, an almost unnoticeable ounce of meaning stripped from a large inventory of stock.  It will be worth beginning by examining how far we have fallen since the time he wrote these words – from a small little gap in maintaining objective values to the chasm we now live with today (and we know the limits of widening this gap have not yet been reached).

The cost of the one little slight noted by Lewis at the beginning of this book can be understood if one understands the quote from Confucius with which Lewis begins his work:

The Master said, He who sets to work on a different strand destroys the whole fabric.

Just one strand out of place – in a different order, one not belonging to the whole – and the whole is ruined.  Once the unraveling begins, there is no end to it.  Once the principle is given up or compromised, there is no natural (principled) place by which one can say “it stops here.”

What is the fabric that is so delicate that one wrong strand, one strand out of place, will destroy the whole?  Lewis answers the question:

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

China, Galileo, and the Heavens

Over recent decades, however, the Ministry of Rites had made a succession of embarrassing mistakes.

Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, by Tom Holland

The time was the early seventeenth century.  The place was China.  The mistakes had to do with keeping track of upcoming eclipses and the movements of the stars.  The work was a strict monopoly of the state, and like all such state monopolies, mistakes are certain.

An eclipse was upcoming.  It was decided that a contest would be held: who could best predict the proper time and date?  The barbarians who had recently arrived from the furthest West were the most accurate.  As their reward, they were commissioned by the emperor to reform the calendar.  Johann Schreck, a Jesuit priest and a polymath – expert in astronomy, mathematics, linguistics and a physician – was to lead this effort.

Besides their interest in the stars, these barbarians and their Chinese counterparts held something else in common: a Catholic baptism!  Three years’ travel from Rome, and separated by Muslim Turks and others, yet here they were.

China was not to be treated as Spain treated the inhabitants of the New World.  Too ancient, too powerful (not much has changed, it seems).  The Jesuits would live as they had in other lands – by adopting as many of the local customs as they could without offending their Catholic faith.

Confucius had been bestowed with the same divine gift of reason that came upon Aristotle; Confucianism could even lead one to Christ.  Or so thought Matteo Ricci, an Italian who arrived in China in 1582.  Of course, some of his superiors were not so convinced.

Haughtiness toward the poor, an “obscene” number of wives, and certainly not a hint of worship toward the One Creator God of Israel.  In fact, no real concept of creation or of a god.  Fire, water, earth, metal, wood: these were the constituent elements of a naturally occurring order.  Yin and yang would provide balance.

Schreck, less than a year after his appointment, would die.  Investigating an herb that was said to induce sweating, he made himself the subject of the clinical trial.  A few hours later, he was dead.  Yet he left the others with some of the most advanced equipment in the world for observing the heavens.

Before he died, Schreck explained to his Chinese colleagues of the most glorious mathematician the world knows: Galileo Galilei, who had improved upon a lens that enabled one to better see the stars.  Schreck had met him several years before.  His lens would be christened a ‘telescope.’

His discoveries delivered a blow to Aristotle’s model of the universe – for example, a pitted moon could no longer be considered unchanging and incorruptible.  Impatient for fame and contemptuous of Aristotle and his admirers – yet, with desires to climb the social ladder.  The celebrity that would be his if he could convince the leaders of the Church to exchange Aristotle for him.

Off to Rome, where he would convince many of the faults of Aristotle’s cosmology.  Some of the most eminent mathematicians – Jesuits – had corroborated Galileo’s claims.  One cardinal, Maffeo Barberini, would even praise him in verse.  And not a bad supporter, as he would later become Pope Urban VII.

Monday, April 18, 2022

From Reformation to Benightenment

The two centuries inaugurated by the Peace of Westphalia on the continent (1648), the Stuart Restoration in Britain (1660), and the Halfway Covenant in New England (1662) witness the fundamental reorientation of Christendom.

The Age of Utopia: Christendom from the Renaissance to the Russian Revolution, by John Strickland

The East, as seen in Russia in the last installment, began to Westernize and turn to secular humanism as the West had – suggesting that the paradisaical viewpoint held in the East did not protect it from modernism.  Christendom began everywhere to exchange paradise for utopia; displacement became replacement.

For a time, the beliefs and values of Christianity and humanism would coexist.  But the Wars of Religion, as Strickland refers to these (as this is how these wars have been framed) would change this.  And here, again and as I have done during my review of this book and others that cover these same events, I will insist that these were wars of state building, not wars of religion. 

That France and the Holy Roman Empire – both Catholic – would fight against ach other should be sufficient to dissuade the use of this label, but it is also sufficient to see the desires of the many princes and kings – whether Catholic or Lutheran – to relieve themselves of sharing authority with Rome.

Blame the wars on religion instead of on the reality that princes wanted to consolidate power.  It isn’t like we aren’t familiar with such deceptive labeling in our own time.  Our wars are for today’s religion of western-styled liberal democracy, we are told; but these, too, are wars for nothing more than control.

For one more bit of evidence:

So great was the disgrace of Christianity in its post-schism, reformational form that the elite ceased to hold to it.

Because the elite become elite by minimizing any authority to which they are beholden. 

In any case, during this period some would embrace a form of pietism, others a utopian Christianity.  Still others would abandon the faith altogether.  Eventually, secular humanism would come to replace the humanism that existed with Christianity.

The two centuries joining the wars of Western religion [sic] with the rise of revolutionary ideology therefore represent in the history of Christendom a period not only of reorientation but disorientation.

This would be from the mid-seventeenth century to the mid-nineteenth century, when the roots of radical socialism and communism would be formed.  For some reason, we refer to this period as the Enlightenment.

But something else strikes me: the words “reorientation” and “disorientation” each contain “orient,” east being the direction of the alter in traditional churches.  Hence, to disorient or reorient is to move away from this tradition, it seems – both symbolically as well as practically.

A sixteenth century Dominican friar, Giordano Bruno, is introduced.  He offered that the stars were each suns with their own solar systems and that the recently revealed Copernican model was the valid model of our solar system.  He also challenged many doctrines of traditional Christianity.  Not mentioned by Strickland, but these included the doctrines of eternal damnation, the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the virginity of Mary, and transubstantiation.  He was executed for this list of heretical views.

Next comes Francis Bacon, the founder of the scientific method; empirical observation, not theology or revelation, was to be the important means through which proper science would be conducted.  He would write a treatise to introduce his utopia, The New Atlantis.  One of its citizens would declare:

“The end of our foundation is the knowledge of causes, the secret motion of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of human [dominion], to the effecting of all things possible.”

I don’t know if Bacon intended this to include the abolition of man, but, as CS Lewis offered, man is the last frontier of nature for other men to conquer.  We are, of course, living in precisely these times.