Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The True Face of Evil

The Dodgers won the World Series last night.  Two images will last.  First, Magic Johnson was in attendance – part owner and former basketball great.  Also, famously, tested positive for HIV almost 30 years ago – the ultimate co-morbidity, as we have been told.

Well, he didn’t anti-social distance, and he didn’t wear a mask.  Here, in this video, you see him surrounded by others – likely Dodger owners and executives – none of whom are wearing masks.

Then there is Justin Turner, Dodgers third baseman.  One of their real clutch hitters, he was pulled in the eighth inning, no explanation given.  Then we read this, regarding the Dodgers post-game, on-field, non-social-distancing celebration:

The Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series on Tuesday night, and in the moments after, the world learned that Justin Turner, the team's third baseman and pulse of the clubhouse, had contracted the coronavirus. Turner was asked to isolate. He did not abide. He strode onto the field, where his teammates were celebrating their 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 6, and joined. He removed his mask to pose for pictures with his wife, whom he kissed.

If that isn’t enough, and still maskless:

He planted himself on the ground as the team gathered for a photo to commemorate the Dodgers' first championship in 32 years. To his right sat Dave Roberts, the Dodgers' manager, who 10 years ago was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. To Turner's left, gleaming, sat the World Series trophy.

Hodgkin lymphoma.

But you aren’t allowed to go to work, you aren’t allowed to get a haircut, you aren’t allowed to open your shop, you aren’t allowed to attend church.  And the few things left that you are allowed to do must be done with a mask at six feet.


They really should have stopped the game and cancelled the World Series with Turner’s positive test.  Then we could have gotten the riots started a week early.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

New Tab

I have created a new tab at the top of the page, blandly titled “Key Links.”  This page will pick up more or less (with slight overlap) where my Libertarians and Culture page left off – that page ran its course awhile ago, as I have moved more into integrating Christianity and Natural Law as foundational for liberty.

I have also updated the Bibliography page.

Monday, October 26, 2020


[Otto III] had seen the villages of his own people burned and corpse-strewn, and he had torched the villages of the Wends… The Wends, unlike the Saxons themselves, had refused to accept the Prince of Peace at the point of the conqueror’s sword.

-          Millennium, Tom Holland

Otto III (hereafter, Otto for ease) was only three years old when his father died, casting him on the throne.  He was immediately a victim of a plot, an attempt to be overthrown by Henry.  The plot was eventually thwarted by Henry’s own bumbling, and he retired a resentful man to Bavaria.

Otto would struggle with the obvious contradiction offered in the opening paragraph – conversion by the sword was not fitting for the Prince of Peace.  Vigils, prayers, and rivers of tears – this is what Otto could offer...along with the sword. 

After his coronation in Rome, Otto would become acquainted with Adalbert, a monk that would admonish Otto: regard yourself not as a great Caesar, but as a mere mortal.  Adalbert understood something of this: having been run out of town in Bohemia by the local duke whose slave trade Adalbert attempted to halt, he would set his bishop’s title aside and become merely one brother among many.

To Otto, Adalbert offered a possible way out of this contradiction – a way through the darkness.  Adalbert, merely through prayer, could stop the frogs in Rome from croaking.  Indeed, it could be possible to bring the pagans to the City of God without the point of the sword.

In the summer of 996, the banks of the Elbe River were once again ablaze.  Adalbert was on the scene:

The following spring, by the side of an icy lake, a bare day’s journey beyond the borders of Poland and the protection of Boleslav, its Christian duke, Adalbert was hacked to death.  His killers were Prussians, a heathen and turbulent people, much given to tattooing themselves and downing pints of blood, who had scorned the missionary’s preaching as the sinister work of a ‘German god’.

The millennium was approaching, and Otto’s sense of dread was increasing.  Securing the Roman Empire and Christendom in time for this apocalyptic event weighed heavily.  Yes, the Wends had finally been tamed by 997, but time was running out.  And now Rome itself was under a tyrant.  Otto headed south.

In 998, the Holy Lance would be planted before the walls of Rome.  Siege engines were set against the city.  One of the instigators, Crescentius, would disguise himself, slip out of the city, and plead mercy from Otto.  Otto would send him back to face his doom.  Shortly after Easter, the city would be breached, and Crescentius decapitated.  His headless corpse was hung upside down for all to see.

This was a better fate than that reserved for Philagathos, the anti-pope and Otto’s tutor in his youth.  Yes, his life was spared, but his eyes were removed…then his nose…then his lips…then his tongue.  He was brought in this condition to Otto; Otto was appalled to silence, but not to clemency.  Philagathos was handed to the man he intended to replace, Pope Gregory, who had him fitted with a cap of animal skins, placed facing backward on a donkey, and paraded through Rome.  Finally, he was stripped of his priesthood and led away to a monastery to spend his days until his death.

Yes, Rome was restored – but at what cost?  Those from whom Otto most craved approval were horrified by his methods.  Nilus would confront the emperor and Pope Gregory, despite being ninety years old and weak from his Lenten fast: “For if you do not forgive him whom God has delivered into your hands, neither will the heavenly Father forgive you your own sins.”

This was Otto’s dilemma.  He was charged with preserving Christendom from Antichrist, yet all his brutalities served to put his fitness as God’s anointed into question.  Shortly thereafter, Pope Gregory fell suddenly sick and died.  How could it be seen by Otto as anything other than a result of Nilus’s curse?

Otto would head south toward Nilus. Along the way he performed many acts of public penance.  By the time he reached Nilus, it was evident that his contrition had been accepted as heartfelt:

Otto, slipping down from his saddle, knelt in tears before the hermit; and then removed his crown.

Nilus would return the crown to Otto, giving him his blessing.  With the one-thousandth anniversary of the Incarnation approaching, Otto would return to Rome to crown the new pope, Gerbert of Aurillac.  He would now be Sylvester II, a sure sign: just as the first Sylvester served Charlemagne, the new Sylvester would serve Otto.  Together, they would shepherd the flock.

Friday, October 23, 2020

The Sound of Inevitability

I recall reading about the lead up to the Great War, and the feeling of inevitability.  Europe, having had decades of peace since the Franco-Prussian War, offered a sense of foreboding.  War was coming, and there was really nothing that could be done about it.  All it took was a single bullet, the event that opened the floodgates.  But bullet or not, war was coming.

That’s how things feel today.  Not, hopefully, with such a cataclysmic result as in the Great War – approximately forty million casualties, more or less half of these deaths.

We know what is coming election week – everything will be contested, fabricated; nothing will be decided.  We know what is coming to the streets.  We see what is happening to the country – nothing approaching a nation, with some common values acting as glue.  We can envision this calamity carrying on for weeks, maybe months.

We know that there is no desire by any meaningful political or media leader to avoid what is coming – because to avoid it would require truth, and a good amount of prison time for countless thousands of politicians, bureaucrats, media personalities, university presidents, and church leaders.  And we know truth has been removed from society, and the justice of prison time is not possible without truth.

Let alone working to avoid it, these same actors are fueling it.  There is no conspiracy theory here, it is visible to see for anyone with eyes.

We know what is coming and we know it is inevitable.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Freedom and Aquinas

Peter Kreeft: The Meaning of Freedom in Aquinas; August 2019 (video)

This will be a bit disjointed; just trying to capture thoughts that resonated with me.  Some of my thoughts are mixed in here.  I suggest if something doesn’t sound quite right, it is likely my thought and not Kreeft’s.

Paraphrasing / summarizing Aquinas: The reason a thing is good is not simply because God wills it; rather, God wills it because it is good.  In other words, the will of God is an absolute, and the intrinsic reasonability of the good is also an absolute.

An excellent argument for free will, from Aquinas (but also what C.S. Lewis uses in Mere Christianity): If there is no such thing as free will, then all moral language – all praising, blaming, rewarding, punishing, counseling, commanding, and the very concept of justice, are meaningless. 

Aquinas would quote Augustine more than he did Aristotle.  Two types of freedom: one, the liberty to arbitrate within yourself to make a choice between alternatives, and two, the freedom from everything that takes away from all your freedom – basically, the freedom from addiction.  And the master addiction is to sin.

The whole point of free will is to gain something positive – happiness, joy, flourishing (beatitudo).  In today’s world, we find many errors regarding freedom, and Aquinas offers many arguments to refute these.  One error is determinism.  If you don’t believe in free will, then you are left with determinism.

Another error is a higher determinism: fate, necessity – history follows that line.  Then a view that has done enormous harm: voluntarism: the will doesn’t have to listen to the intellect, that authority doesn’t have to listen to reason.  This started with William of Ockham and continued with Luther.

Another error is its politicization.  You get this in every tyranny and in totalitarianism.  Another error is the opposite of this error: pure individualism; I am responsible only to myself and no one else.  Finally, a romanticism: feelings are the most powerful thing in us – ignoring reason and the will.

What would Aquinas say if he lived today about what we get wrong about freedom?  Our culture’s attitude is paradoxical and ironic.  On the one hand, we value freedom enormously – perhaps more than any society in history.  But most of us feel that we have less freedom than we had before.  How is it that we value something more but have less of it?  Perhaps it is because we do not understand the meaning of the word freedom.

We also have this paradox regarding power: we have far more power over nature than we ever did before, yet most of us feel impotent in the face of this – as our technology becomes more important, we become smaller.

Freedom has become an idol, an addiction.  Maybe we are all Gollum, and freedom has become our one ring.  His was a ring of power.  But freedom is also power – power to act.

We all repeat: all power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Why don’t we say the same about freedom?  All freedom tends to corrupt, and absolute freedom corrupts absolutely.

So, how to sort out this confusion?  We are confused in perhaps four ways about freedom.  The first is the distinction between the church and the state as visible public institutions, thus the distinction between religious freedom and political freedom.  The second is the distinction between the private and public sectors of life, thus the distinction between private and public freedom. 

These two have been mashed together, causing confusion.  Separating church from state (ineffective as it is, given the co-option of many religious institutions) – in other words, affording religious liberty to each individual – has grown into keeping the private religious voices out of the public political square.  It is illegal to pray in public schools, but not illegal to blaspheme anywhere; it’s illegal to display the ten commandments on public buildings (but don’t tell the Supreme Court this); quoting St. Paul about homosexuality got an Australian rugby player banned for life.  Believing some things in the Bible are now hate speech.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth

One of the things Christians are disagreed about is the importance of their disagreements.

-          C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Ryan Reeves, while discussing Calvin in Strasbourg, offers some commentary on the letters between a Catholic cardinal, Sadoleto, and John Calvin.   The timing is after Calvin has been banished from Geneva; the cardinal considers this a good opportunity to bring the Christians of Geneva back into the Catholic fold.  The letter is addressed to the leaders of Geneva.  You got in bed with the wrong people; you have rightly banished them.  Now come back to the true Church.

Reeves describes Sadoleto as somewhat reformist.  He was not a Protestant and was not going to become one, but he saw things in the revolt that he could appreciate: issues of doctrinal conformity to the Scriptures, the abuses of the papacy, etc.  It’s just that the Protestants had gone too far.

Sadoleto, in fact, was even suspect in the Catholic Church – too reformist.  He had later written an expository on Romans which subsequently was banned by the Church.  So, it seems, he was not Protestant, but he was coming close to a line.

As Calvin had been banished, why would he thereafter be the one to reply on the account of Geneva?  None in Geneva had the skill to answer the letter, so from Geneva the letter was forwarded to Bern.  From here, Calvin was pushed to the fore.  Of course, there were others who could easily have written a response, but it was decided that Calvin had reconciled himself sufficiently with the other Reformers, and that this was a chance for him to return to the fore and to the good graces of the church in Geneva.

Calvin’s response is perhaps three times as long as Sadoleto’s letter.  The focus is primarily the nature of the Church; if an example of reasonably good nature in Calvin was necessary (it was, given his past) this letter offers it.  Calvin’s response brings him back into the lead rank of Reformers. 

I offer excerpts from the two letters – only something from each introduction and each concluding paragraph.  These sections are quite cordial; the rest, not as much.  However if compared to some of the exchanges between Luther and the Church, you would say that this was merely a friendly squabble. 

If you have time, these letters in their entirety make for good Sunday reading.  The issues are quite plainly laid out, and in a manner, perhaps, as respectful as possible given the situation.  I read them and find validity in both arguments.  Am I lukewarm, to be spit out?  Maybe.  Or maybe I just find that the disagreements are, in most cases, so nuanced, that 99% of the adherents to one side or the other cannot really put into simple words the significance of the differences (except, maybe, regarding Mary – not even mentioned by either party in this exchange).


Sadolet's Letter and Calvin's Reply



James Sadolet, Bishop Of The Holy Roman Church At Carpentras, Cardinal, Presbyter Of The Order Of St. Calixtus, To His Dearly Beloved Brethren, The Magistrates, Senate, And Citizens Of Geneva

From the Introducing paragraphs:

VERY DEAR BRETHREN IN CHRIST, - Peace to you and with us, that is, with the Catholic Church, the mother of all, both us and you, love and concord from God, the Father Almighty, and from his only Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, together with the Holy Spirit, perfect Unity in Trinity; to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

…For, dearest brethren, this my affection and good-will towards you is not new, but ever since the time when, by the will of God, I became Bishop of Carpentras, almost twenty- three years ago, and in consequence of the frequent intercourse between you and my people, had, though absent, learned much of you and your manners, even then began I to love your noble city, the order and form of your republic, the worth of its citizens, and, in particular, that quality lauded and experienced by all, your hospitality to strangers and foreigners; and since vicinity often tends in no small degree to beget love, so, in a city, contiguous houses, as well as in the world, adjacent provinces lead to regard among neighbors.

The conclusion:

It only remains to beg of you to receive the messenger, who bears this letter to you, with the civility and kindness which your own humanity and the law of nations, and, above all, Christian meekness, require and demand. While this will be honorable to you, it will also be extremely agreeable to me. God guide and mercifully defend you, my dearest brethren.

Carpentras, XV. Cal Apr. (18th March) 1539




The opening paragraph:

IN the great abundance of learned men whom our age has produced, your excellent learning and distinguished eloquence having deservedly procured you a place among the few whom all, who would be thought studious of liberal arts, look up to and revere, it is with great reluctance I bring forward your name before the learned world, and address to you the following expostulation. Nor, indeed, would I have done it if I had not been dragged into this arena by a strong necessity. For I am not unaware how reprehensible it would be to show any eagerness in attacking a man who has deserved so well of literature, nor how odious I should become to all the learned were they to see me stimulated by passion merely, and not impelled by any just cause, turning my pen against one whom, for his admirable endowments, they, not without good reason, deem worthy of love and honor. I trust, however, that after explaining the nature of my undertaking, I shall not only be exempted from all blame, but there will not be an individual who will not admit that the cause which I have undertaken I could not on any account have abandoned without basely deserting my duty.

The conclusion:

The Lord grant, Sadolet, that you and all your party may at length perceive, that the only true bond of Ecclesiastical unity would exist if Christ the Lord, who hath reconciled us to God the Father, were to gather us out of our present dispersion into the fellowship of his body, that so, through his one Word and Spirit, we might join together with one heart and one soul.

Basle, September 1, 1539


I conclude with Lewis, regarding the different “rooms” that Christians find themselves in:

When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall.  If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them.  That is one of the rules common to the whole house.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Childlike Faith in Politics

Now, I have not lost my ideals in the least; my faith in fundamentals is exactly what it always was. What I have lost is my old childlike faith in practical politics.

Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton (ebook)

Chesterton was told, by those older and wiser, that as he matured, he would lose his ideals and focus on the practical.  It turns out exactly the opposite occurred.  It is not his ideals that have been lost, but his faith in those who pretend to speak for those ideals:

As much as I ever did, more than I ever did, I believe in Liberalism. But there was a rosy time of innocence when I believed in Liberals.

He was raised a liberal, and has always believed in democracy – meaning “a self-governing humanity.”  This is based on two principles: first, the things in common to all men are more important than the things peculiar to each man; second, the political instinct is one of those things held in common.

This might seem slightly off, but Chesterton will explain: the political instinct is made manifest in the laws of the state.  But Chesterton does not see this as time bound; tradition plays a fundamental role:

It is obvious that tradition is only democracy extended through time. It is trusting to a consensus of common human voices rather than to some isolated or arbitrary record.

Tradition is nothing more than the extension of the franchise, taking into account the knowledge and wisdom of those who came before, who learned lessons in our stead and passed these lessons on to us.  Tradition refuses to submit to the oligarch of the moment:

All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death.

A good man’s opinion is of value, whether he is alive today or in some time past.  And in this journey, Chesterton finds that all that he discovers has been discovered in the past – it had been discovered by Christianity.  But before coming to this, he begins with his childhood fairytales.

Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense. It is not earth that judges heaven, but heaven that judges earth; so for me at least it was not earth that criticised elfland, but elfland that criticised the earth.

Jack the Giant killer killed giants because they are gigantic – a mutiny against pride; the lesson of Cinderella he compares to the Magnificat; Beauty and the Beast teaches that a thing must be loved before it is lovable; Sleeping Beauty is blessed with all gifts, yet succumbs to death.  Yet it isn’t these details, but “the whole spirit of its law,” a way of looking at life, that Chesterton finds of value.

In fairyland we avoid the word "law"; but in the land of science they are singularly fond of it.

We understand why liberty is taken from the man who takes liberties, but we cannot say why an egg turns into a chicken, or a bear turns into a prince.  Which is the more strange?  After all, a bear is closer to a prince than a chicken is to an egg.  We must answer the same way that the fairy godmother answered Cinderella about how mice turned into horses:

We must answer that it is MAGIC. It is not a "law," for we do not understand its general formula. …All the terms used in the science books, "law," "necessity," "order," "tendency," and so on, are really unintellectual, because they assume an inner synthesis, which we do not possess. The only words that ever satisfied me as describing Nature are the terms used in the fairy books, "charm," "spell," "enchantment."

We enjoy love tales because of our instinct of sex; we enjoy astonishing tales because of our instinct of astonishment.  The youngest children don’t even need fairy tales to be astonished; mere tales will suffice:

A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door.

Monday, October 12, 2020

A Couple of Items

One of the criticisms of the medieval period and the role of the Church is this relationship of science and religion – the Church supposedly placing a higher priority on voodoo than on actual scientific inquiry, blocking discoveries that threatened the established religious dogma, etc.

The most famous example, false as it is, is that of Copernicus and Galileo.  This episode is mocked by the moderns, just as other examples – regardless of the facts or lack thereof – are mocked. 

“How could such people believe such things?”

“Look at the Church standing in the way of science!”

“Whenever science and religion butt heads, science is always proven right.”

I wonder what people will say in a hundred years or more from now of our generation.  Haven’t we thrown away science and replaced it with the religion of a virus, a religion of critical theory, a religion of money growing on trees?  Can any of these be thought of as anything other than a religion (in the worst sense of the word)?

We look back with scorn at the book burnings, getting rid of ideas of which the establishment disapproves.  But what is it that Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are doing that is different?  Are these not the modern version of the same thing, today’s book burnings?

What of witch hunts and burning witches at the stake?  One looks at the career ending cancel culture and sees that little has changed.

And let’s not start on the issue of child sacrifice.  We rightly look on such practices of the ancient world with horror: sacrificing a child in order to bring on a better world for the adult.  We have a modern word for the same thing: abortion.  It just that today the numbers are infinitely larger.

One of the big criticisms of God is the idea that this world cannot be the product of a good God.  Now, it isn’t any of the above modern practices that are at issue – it isn’t abortion, cancel culture, or the hell brought on by lockdowns and money printing that cause us to call into question the existence of God.  It is that we don’t live in some version of utopia: no child left behind, no one hungry, no one sick, no one poor, no one dying.  That sort of thing.

But I wonder: this world is not good compared to what world?  We have water, food, oxygen, natural resources that allow for an ever-improving standard of living in the right circumstances (private property and free markets).  Man has been given reason – a rational faculty.  We have been given everything necessary to sustain and enhance human life.  Have you tried living on Venus or Mars?

All of this leads me to wonder: the more we progress in the way that the left means that term, the more we return to the worst of humanity.  If there is one concrete feature of the left, it is that tradition is ignored, even mocked.

In order to progress, one must understand what one is progressing from and toward what one is progressing to.  Both the past (cultural tradition) and the future (toward what end) must be clearly understood and defined.  Otherwise “progress” means nothing more than “every day is a new day.”  One can never go wrong under such circumstances as there is not standard – either from the past or the future.  Here again, another concrete feature of the left; they can never be wrong.

Not learning from our past does nothing but bring us back to the same past.  Sure, we enhance the past with our modern technology.  I think for this we are worse off – we are more easily found, tracked, and traced.  We are more efficiently killed.  The meaning of life is much more easily taken from us.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Martin Luther: The Good…and the Ugly

To cap off Ryan Reeves’ look at Martin Luther, he offers some thoughts on Luther’s legacy.  There are parts of Luther that are quite Catholic – certainly to modern Protestant ears; there are parts of Luther that are quite difficult – even relative to others in his time.

Most popular stories of Luther seem to end around 1531, going from the thunderstorm to the monk to the reformer.  These stories seem to end about 15 years before his death.  The issue is that a good amount of what follows is troubling.

Luther dies in February 1546.  Within a year, the armies of Charles V take on the Lutheran Schmalkaldic League, a military alliance of Lutheran princes within the Holy Roman Empire.  The imperial armies of Charles crushed the league, but by this time Lutheranism had spread sufficiently such that military victory would not stop or reverse it.  Eventually, of course, this would be followed by what are commonly referred to as wars of religion – albeit I believe better identified as wars for state control.

What of this Catholicism in Luther?  He believed in baptismal regeneration, that salvation is wrought in baptism.  Not exactly as the Church taught it, but nevertheless it sounds more Catholic than Protestant today.  He also believes in physical eating in the Eucharist – again, not exactly as the Church taught it, but try telling most Protestants (or Catholics) this today.

Luther’s views of Mary comport almost entirely with Catholic views of Mary.  In 1521, he would write his Commentary on Magnificat, the moment when the angel comes to Mary and tells her she is going to be with child.  He believed in her perpetual virginity; while doubting that she was assumed to heaven, he believed in many other medieval views on Mary.

Some strengths of Luther during these later years: in 1535, he published his commentary on Galatians; it remains viewed as a compelling commentary regarding his Reformation breakthrough.  Second is what is known as his tabletalk – informal conversations with his students, perhaps with a little beer involved.  Luther would discuss all manner of topics, formal and informal; notes would be taken, and this is how we know of these.  Finally, Luther wrote many hymns, one of the most well-known is A Mighty Fortress is Our God. 

Then, the weaknesses.  Two primary weaknesses are mentioned: Luther’s negativity and vitriol toward others; real anger.  It strikes many as unbearable.  There even exists today a website: Luther Insulter; some examples:

·         You deserve not only to be given no food to eat, but also to have the dogs set upon you and to be pelted with horse manure.

·         Your words are so foolishly and ignorantly composed that I cannot believe you understand them.

·         You foster in your heart a Lucian, or some other pig from Epicurus' sty.

·         Are you ignorant of what it means to be ignorant?

·         Perhaps you want me to die of unrelieved boredom while you keep on talking.

You get the idea.  Yes, he was attacking in his earlier days – but this has grown significantly by these later years.  He doesn’t just attack who the person is, but he attacks the conscience of the person – that the devil has deluded him.  To challenge Luther is to challenge Christianity – hence, the challenger must be of the devil.

Second, his anti-Semitism.  Even compared to others in his time, he is over-the-top.  In 1523, Luther thought he could win the Jews to Jesus, writing Jesus Was Born a Jew.  He did not meet with success.  Twenty years later, in 1543, he published On the Jews and Their Lies.  This one is about as strong as it gets.

His language isn’t racial, it is theological.  He doesn’t focus on the idea of Jews as the Messiah killer.   Instead: burn all synagogues to the ground; confiscate the personal property of Jews; expel them all from Germany.  The Jews, he would write, speak for the devil; they lie.  They were converting Christians to Judaism.  The Jews are not merely wrong, they are diabolical.

He bases his thoughts on Deuteronomy 13, where the Jews are commanded to kill idolaters, etc.  Well, given the Christian views on the Kingdom, I think the connection – as Luther sees it – is clear.  He continues along this path until the day he died: his very last sermon, given the day before he died, was another anti-Semitic “rant.”  Luther wasn’t a man of his times in this regard.  None of the other prominent Reformers published anything along these lines. 

Unlike the offspring of Calvin and the Reformed, for much of its history Lutheranism remained quite insular – without doctrinal or denominational deviation.  Unlike the Lutherans, the legacy of the Reformed tradition was one of compromise, spreading the faith into many countries and regions of Europe.

Until the twentieth century, to be Lutheran meant to follow precisely the teachings of Martin Luther.  I am struggling with a respectful way to say it…this sounds more problematic than that which Luther fought against regarding the Catholic Church.

In any case, all of this is wrapped up as Luther’s legacy: the good and the ugly.

Monday, October 5, 2020

The Schism

I have noted a couple of times that I am watching a series of videos by Ryan Reeves. Having gone through the early church, I have recently been watching videos on Martin Luther and the Reformation.  There are several videos on Luther, and given the significant impact that the Reformation had in the West, I feel it is worth spending some time on this.

First, something about Ryan Reeves: he was Associate Professor of Historical Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; his PhD was from Cambridge University.  Further, Gordon–Conwell Theological Seminary is one of the largest evangelical seminaries in North America in terms of total number of full-time students enrolled.

Now, if you are thinking “oh, great, the Reformation explained by a Protestant,” well, yes, I guess it is.  I have found Reeves to be quite even-handed about all of this – having listened to his treatment of the Church during the medieval period.  To summarize: to the extent he is discussing some events or periods of which I have knowledge, he seems to lay out the story fairly. 

In any case, if you want to take it all with a grain of salt, that’s fine.  Following are my notes on five of the videos; this is, inevitably, a long post.  My intent is to focus on the history, not the theology; the events are historically as important as anything that has occurred in the West in 2,000 years.  Each video is about 25 minutes, more or less, if you would rather invest your time this way.

Martin Luther and Scholasticism

In this first video, Reeves intends to offer some context and background.  Luther’s initial aim was not a Church corruption, although as the years went by, he incorporated this.  Initially, he was after the doctrinal issues of indulgences and justification by faith. 

But this part of the story is yet to come.  We first must deal with scholasticism – meaning: from the schools.  It was a method, not a philosophy or body of doctrine: scholasticism was based on reasonable doubt, questioning, and dialectic. 

Humanism and late medieval theology would start to cast doubt on scholasticism: too much reason, not enough rhetoric and color.  Reeves offer the traditionally accepted narrative: Aquinas good, Ockham bad (or, I guess, the other way around, depending on your point of view).  Reason and the mind are unnecessary or even bad for helping to understand Scripture; Ockham is accused of separating reason and faith – we cannot reason ourselves to theology (i.e. no natural theology). 

Some scholars today say that Luther was reacting not against Aquinas, but to what Ockham had done with Aquinas.  This has been my understanding, but apparently the scholarship on this has changed.  Instead, Luther sounds more like Ockham – not going after Aquinas directly, but going after the influence of Aristotle in the Church.

Luther's Reformation Breakthrough

What are the things that cause Luther’s crisis and breakthrough?  Reeves offers: “the short answer is, I don’t know.  And any historian who tells you that they know exactly what happens and when it happens is lying to you.”

Even Luther’s narrative is given after the fact.  Is it a narrative that conforms to how events eventually played out, or is it the narrative that captures events as they were playing out?  Having been excommunicated, it is easy to say “I felt this way all along.”

From the evidence that exists, he didn’t really feel the same throughout; his views developed – I can’t say evolved, but developed.  There is little or no sign of any break through the mid of the second decade of the sixteenth century – say 1514 or so.  There is no single event or doctrine that one can point to and sat “here is the moment of his break.”

Now for the details: Luther’s breakthrough is brought on by his anxieties: first, the concept of Penance as practiced at that time in the Church.  The Church did not officially teach that Penance was a required work for salvation, but in practice it came across this way.  The second is the concept of how one’s will or personal desire came into play – Luther is never convinced that he has the conviction necessary, and this lack of conviction fed on itself.  Citing Luther:

“The more I sweated it out like this the less peace and tranquility I knew.”

Depression, doubt, anger, frustration…crisis.  Anfechtungen.  A sense of being lost.  When is he falling into this?  We don’t know.  There is no sense from those around him.  Scholars date Luther’s breakthrough anywhere from 1508 – 1519.  The latter date is after the 95 Theses, which Reeves believes is too late.  But I don’t know that it must be, given that Luther’s real animosity (I don’t have a better word; I know this isn’t the best choice) didn’t come until some time after the 95 Theses became public.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Objective Value in Economic Theory?

This is really a thinking-out-loud piece.  Something simmering in my mind for quite some time, brought to the fore by a couple of recent essays.  But I will come to those essays later.

The subjective theory of value is a theory of value which advances the idea that the value of a good is not determined by any inherent property of the good, nor by the amount of labor necessary to produce the good, but instead value is determined by the importance an acting individual places on a good for the achievement of his desired ends. The modern version of this theory was created independently and nearly simultaneously by William Stanley Jevons, Léon Walras, and Carl Menger in the late 19th century.

So, why my title?  Am I about to turn economic theory on its head?  Hardly.  I think my quest began here:

Value in the sense of valuation or utility is purely subjective, and decided by each individual. This procedure is perfectly proper for the formal science of praxeology, or economic theory, but not necessarily elsewhere.  For in natural-law ethics, ends are demonstrated to be good or bad for man in varying degrees; value here is objective—determined by the natural law of man’s being, and here “happiness” for man is considered in the commonsensical, contentual sense.

-          The Ethics of Liberty, Murray Rothbard

This rings quite true.  At the same time, something about this didn’t sit right.  The quite true part: in economic goods, we each place different “value” in various goods; if we did not, a trade could never occur.  Of course, that value is expressed objectively, in the price.  But each party in the transaction believes that what is being received is of more value than what is being given.  In ethics, without objective values we will drift into meaninglessness and nihilism.  So, the distinction Rothbard makes holds.

The part that didn’t sit right: Why?  Why the difference?  This question sat, but in a very low-temperature mode.  In the back of my mind, perhaps a related issue…the economic explosion that came after the liberalism of Enlightenment thinking was accompanied by a decline in ethical standards and, therefore, a decline in liberty.

The low-temperature mode would start to change when I came across the following, from E. Michael Jones:

After Foucault made his pact with the devil in 1975, he began teaching Austrian School Economics….

Michel Foucault is identified as a post-modernist, although, apparently, he rejected the label.  Post-modernism is a philosophy that deconstructs without offering anything to fill the void:

Postmodernism is generally defined by an attitude of skepticism, irony, or rejection toward what it describes as the grand narratives and ideologies associated with modernism, often criticizing Enlightenment rationality and focusing on the role of ideology in maintaining political or economic power.

I have done my share of this, being skeptical of many of the grand narratives of the West and criticizing Enlightenment rationality that is devoid of any higher authority.  But post-modernism does more…or less:

Postmodern thinkers frequently describe knowledge claims and value systems as contingent or socially-conditioned, framing them as products of political, historical, or cultural discourses and hierarchies. Common targets of postmodern criticism include universalist ideas of objective reality, morality, truth, human nature, reason, science, language, and social progress. Accordingly, postmodern thought is broadly characterized by tendencies to self-consciousness, self-referentiality, epistemological and moral relativism, pluralism, and irreverence.

Post-modernism tears down without replacing.  It deconstructs without constructing.  It takes away the narrative and says “there are no narratives,” albeit, that is a narrative.  So, what does a post-modernist have to do with the Austrian School of economics?

I looked into this further, considering that the connection could be the idea of subjective value – extended beyond the economic theory of Austrians and others, and into ethics.  This would be meaningful to a post-modernist.  I found the following, from the Jacobins:

Neoliberalism, being more open to pluralism, seems to offer a less constrictive framework for the proliferation of minoritarian experiments.

And the following, from a book by Jean-Yves Grenier and André Orléan:

On the occasion of this course [Foucault] takes another step, in a certain sense an ultimate step, in his rejection of sovereignty. He does so on the basis of a thesis inspired in part by Hayek’s thought: “The market economy escapes any totalizing knowledge.”

I continued my examination of this interaction of Foucault with the Austrians here.  The detail is too much to repeat in this post; I will offer my conclusion:

I can understand the connection of Foucault to the Austrian thinkers: as subjective value liberates markets, applied to ethics it liberates from all constraints of ethics.  Subjective ethics provides no check on the growth of state power.

Rothbard would note this problem, and wrote of this decades ago.  Those who value liberty should take note.

Which takes us back to the opening quote from Rothbard.  What is appropriate in economic theory is not necessarily appropriate for ethics.  And this comes back to my question: Why?  Must this be so, despite seeming contradictory?