Monday, April 12, 2021

The Borg Go to Jonestown

 

“We are the Borg."

-          The Collective

The Borg are an alien group that appear as recurring antagonists in the Star Trek fictional universe. The Borg are cybernetic organisms linked in a hive mind called "the Collective". The Borg co-opt the technology and knowledge of other alien species to the Collective through the process of "assimilation": forcibly transforming individual beings into "drones" by injecting nanoprobes into their bodies and surgically augmenting them with cybernetic components. The Borg's ultimate goal is "achieving perfection"

"They left behind their trivial, selfish lives, and they've been reborn with a greater purpose. We've delivered them from chaos into order."

-          Borg Queen

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On November 18, 1978, Peoples Temple founder Jim Jones leads hundreds of his followers in a mass murder-suicide at their agricultural commune in a remote part of the South American nation of Guyana. Many of Jones’ followers willingly ingested a poison-laced punch….

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Over the last few months, I don’t believe I have been on a call that hasn’t begun with “have you taken the vaccine?”  None of these people do I feel close enough to that I would bother explaining that it isn’t a vaccine, but in some cases I have offered some comment.  But before I get to that….

When did it become a thing to discuss openly – sometimes with dozens of people on the call (technically a zoom meeting or some such, but….) – one’s medical situation?  They will even ask about your – and tell stories about their – husbands, wives, children.  Since when is this normal?

We aren’t even allowed to discuss Joe Biden’s dementia, but we can discuss our jab status openly?  Does anyone discuss their hemorrhoids?  Prostate?  Impotence issues?  Menopause?  No…at least not yet.  But the shot?  They are almost giddy, telling stories about how they had to cross two states to get to a place that was offering a dose – some, even crossing country borders. 

Every call starts this way.  Like a ten-year-old letting his parents know about his Boy Scout badge, or a twelve-year-old telling his buddy about how he found his dad’s Playboy Magazine…. Giddy with joy if successful, agonizing if not.

When I am asked, I just say that I have never yet volunteered for a clinical trial, and I don’t intend to start now.  Usually this is followed by silence – either they all think I am stupid (probably the majority), or they are wondering why no one ever mentioned this (maybe an immeasurably small percent).

Rarely, someone will ask a follow-up – never on a group call, but if we are speaking one-one-one.  “Of course it is approved, why else would they be giving the shot?”  I patiently explain it is only an emergency authorization and that clinical trials aren’t scheduled to conclude for two years.

On an even more rare occasion, the person would say, “well, no one has been getting hurt from it.”  I then ask them if they are aware of the government database that tracks tens-of-thousands of adverse reactions, even including death.  Pretty much, they are silent after this.

Of course, there is much more that I can say, not only about the jab but going back to the “flatten the curve” era of a year ago.  But if they can’t deal with taking part in the animal trial phase of a medical experiment – a fact so well documented by official government sources – then they can’t deal with any of the truth.

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I have seen hundreds of cars lined up at sports facilities, for a drive-through jab: Jonestown, repeated in every city across the nation.  In the parking lot, a dozen or more tents, with cars lined up behind each one.  I assume (as I would never get close enough to be sure) that under this tent, the driver would put down his window, roll up his sleeve, then drive off.  Just like getting a burger at In-n-Out.

Having seen many individuals with negative reactions immediately after taking the jab (including passing out, getting dizzy, etc.), one wonders why these people are allowed to drive immediately thereafter.  Well, I guess it’s no wonder – because, as we have been told, there are no negative reactions – these are perfectly safe and fully tested.

Let’s just say that I don’t drive near the exit of these mass jabbing sites.

Friday, April 9, 2021

The History of the West

 

Before there was a West, there was Christendom.

The Age of Paradise: Christendom from Pentecost to the First Millennium, by John Strickland

This will be different.  John Strickland is an Orthodox scholar, professor, and priest.  This book is the first of a contemplated four-book history of Christendom – inherently a history of the West, but integrating the Christian East.

Strickland uses the term “Christendom” more expansively – not limited to the West from the eleventh to the sixteenth century, but covering the entirety of a civilization from its beginnings two-thousand years ago.

From its beginnings, Christianity engaged with the world – God, after all, came to the earth in the flesh.  It was always seen – at least until recent years only in some subset of denominations – as engaged with the kingdom in this world, not merely an unearthly kingdom in the next; the eternal kingdom was made immanent.

This was an active calling for its adherents:

From its inception, Christendom contained what can be called a “transformational imperative,” an evangelical mandate to participate in the renewal of the cosmos by bringing it into alignment with the kingdom of heaven.

This was unique to Christianity, and this is why Christendom became the civilization that most changed the course of history.

Strickland offers an interesting thought: for its first fifteen centuries – in both East and West – Christendom was grounded with some sense of humility, calling for the spiritual transformation of one’s own life.  But things turned in the West with the Renaissance:

Simply put, humanists and the nihilists that followed them ceased to see the world’s misalignment with the kingdom of heaven as their own fault and instead blamed it on others.

Detached from humility and the practice of repentance, this ultimately led to the secular Enlightenment, Jacobin France, and Communist Russia – a search for heaven on earth: utopia.  We have gone from the public ritual of Lent to the public ritual of political debate (or, worse, the guillotine and gulag).

This really is an interesting insight: since it is your fault, I need no longer be humble in my approach to change you; I am fully justified in using force to change you, as you are, in manner of speaking, a criminal.  We certainly live in a time when the Christian West has taken this idea to an extreme.  This is cancel-culture writ large; it is the sin of being born white – a fault that both cannot be erased and requires no humility to confront.

The lack of humility in the self-righteous of today is overwhelming, but is it just the flip side of the lack of humility in the Progressive Protestants of 100 years ago?  In other words, without the humility found in the first 1500 years of Christendom, are we left with only the extreme of self-righteousness?

It seems to me that this humility was grounded in the idea of Original Sin, or the reality that all men are fallen.  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn captured it well:

The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either -- but right through every human heart -- and through all human hearts.

Understanding this will make one humble.  Returning to Strickland:

Today we Westerners live in an advanced state of cultural oblivion.

There is a crisis of values; suicide rates, addiction rates, divorce rates, abortion rates – all point to a dark and self-destructive culture and society.  This at the same time that anti-Christian roots are taking hold while Christian roots are dying – or being actively destroyed.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Virtuous Governance

 

Ira Katz has offered a response, continuing the dialogue that began with his initial question: Is it inherent in the nature of free market capitalism for the most wealthy individuals and/or corporations to capture government power?  He answers, “Yes, but keep capitalism.”  He also graciously acknowledges my several posts in exploring his initial question.

I would like to follow up on a couple of tangential, and maybe not-so-tangential, points made in this current response.  Ira begins by noting an analysis by Hans Hoppe, where Hoppe recognizes the reality that Marxists see quite clearly the relationship of wealth and state power, just as libertarians and those who favor free markets do; the issue, or difference, is what to do about it.  Ira writes:

[Hoppe] ends his essay “…. the end of exploitation and the beginning of liberty and unheard of economic prosperity, means the establishment of a pure private property society regulated by nothing but private law.”

Ira does not agree, noting: “My original question and my answer imply that I do not believe so.”  In other words, “a pure private property society regulated by nothing but private law” is not sufficient in Ira’s view (nor, obviously, in mine).  Ira properly asks: “Can there be a virtuous government without a virtuous people?”  Of course, the answer is no; this is what I wish to explore.

For this, I must come back to Hoppe, and separate him from the other libertarians Ira notes.  There is much more to Hoppe than this.  In September, 2018, Hoppe gave a very important talk at his annual Property and Freedom Society Conference, entitled “The Libertarian Quest for a Grand Historical Narrative.” 

Why do I find it important?  If dry facts, rational arguments, and reason are sufficient to win the debate, libertarians and Austrians have won the debate, hands down.  These are not sufficient, as it is narrative that wins the day, that wins the argument.  We live in a narrative, a story; we don’t live in a formula.

Even if you believe that we are nothing more than an accident of nature, nothing more than random atoms smashed together randomly, we certainly don’t live as if this is true.  My mother and father are something more to me than blobs of matter.

The left understands this quite well.  They create stories about Russians and elections, viruses that make breathing a life-ending event.  The greatest of all: the story that destroys all stories – critical theory, the success of which has divorced us from all stories that give life meaning.  Hence, we are left to be molded by whatever destructive narrative the left chooses to foist upon us.

So, back to Hoppe’s talk.  His grand historical narrative was not one that demonstrated “a pure private property society regulated by nothing but private law.”  In this talk and after offering a sweeping background on the relationship of science, technology and engineering, Hoppe offers up…the Ten Commandments – seeing in these values necessary for a peaceful, cooperative society:

Setting the first four commandments aside, which refer to our relation to God as the one and only ultimate moral authority and final judge of our earthly conduct and the proper celebration of the Sabbath, the rest, referring to worldly affairs, display a deep and profoundly libertarian spirit.

Honor you father and mother; don’t murder, commit adultery, or steal; do not bear false witness; do not covet your neighbor’s wife or house or belongings.

Some libertarians may argue that not all of these commandments have the same rank or status.

Of course not.  Some of these do not violate the non-aggression principle.  As Hoppe notes, however, there is nothing said here about the severity or type of punishment:

Yet this difference between a strict and rigid libertarianism and the ten biblical commandments does not imply any incompatibility of the two. Both are in complete harmony if only a distinction is made between legal prohibitions on the one hand…and extra-legal or moral prohibitions on the other hand…

Some may be appropriately punished via physical violence; others by social disapproval or even ostracism.

Indeed, thus interpreted the full six mentioned commandments can be recognized as even an improvement over a strict and rigid libertarianism - given the common, shared goal of social perfection: of a stable, just and peaceful social order.

Hoppe offers: in a society where parents are habitually disrespected, where the idea of hierarchies are mocked, where marriage is discounted and adultery is exalted, where honesty is not respected…can one expect liberty to shine?  Do these characteristics make for a virtuous people necessary for virtuous government?  The answer is an obvious no.

My point is, Hoppe goes beyond a strict private-law society – and goes beyond the other libertarians mentioned in Ira’s piece.  Unlike some libertarian thinkers, Hoppe understands the necessity of this if one is after liberty.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Atlas is Shrugging

 

March, 2020: simultaneously, hundreds of millions of people were forcibly put out of work while at the same time multiple-trillions of dollars were created out of thin air.  What could possibly go wrong when demand is stimulated while supply is depressed?

·         The world is experiencing a computer chip shortage…

·         Resin shortages are affecting production…

·         Seat foam shortage could cut car production…

·         Shortages in lumber, steel, electrical supplies and lighting affect the construction industry…

·         Skyrocketing steel and lumber costs threaten to slow construction jobs…

·         Price increases in fixtures and fittings….

·         Oil and gas prices increasing…

·         Global food commodity prices rose for the ninth consecutive month in February…

Add to this, mother nature: Weather slams the economy….

All summed up nicely by the Wall Street Journal:

Everywhere You Look, the Global Supply Chain Is a Mess: Winter storms and crammed ports in the U.S. add to disruptions of production and supplies during the pandemic

Meanwhile, government deficits and central bank balance sheets have the full green light to grow…to infinity and beyond.

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Taken from the Cliffs Notes book summary of Atlas Shrugged:

The country is in a downward economic spiral with businesses closing and men out of work.

Check.

Worsening the economic depression in the U.S. is the unexplained phenomenon of talented men retiring and disappearing.

Not exactly.

None of this is happening in our world because talented men are retiring or disappearing.  It is those believed to be the talented men – that our society rewards as the talented men – that are behind today’s reality.

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Francisco d'Anconia: If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders-what would you tell him to do?

Hank Rearden: I . . . don't know. What . . . could he do? What would you tell him?

Francisco d'Anconia: To shrug.

It isn’t talented men that are shrugging.  It is something far more valuable and far less forgiving.  It is the natural law ethic, and the natural rights of private property that are derived from this.  Natural law is shrugging, and she is a far less forgiving master than was John Galt.

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Jeff Allen, citing John Galt: "'I will put an end to this, once and for all,' he said. His voice was clear and without feeling. That was all he said and started to walk out. He walked down the length of the place, in the white light, not hurrying and not noticing any of us. Nobody moved to stop him. Gerald Starnes cried suddenly after him, 'How?' He turned and answered, 'I will stop the motor of the world.' Then he walked out."

It is the talented men that stopped the motor of the world, all right.  Not for any righteous, John Galt-type crusade, not for any noble purpose – and certainly not for the purpose for which man was made.  Their purpose is wealth, control, and power.  Their purpose could be even more sinister – population reduction and some sort of trans-humanism.

Friday, March 26, 2021

The Way Out and the Way To (Part Three)

 

This will be the concluding post in addressing the question raised by Ira last week:

Is it inherent in the nature of free market capitalism for the most wealthy individuals and/or corporations to capture government power?

My first two posts can be found here and here, and if you have not read these, then this current post will make little sense (and it may also be the case even if you have read these).  I am at the point of addressing Ira’s final request:

My challenge to the LRC community is to refute this charge against capitalism addressing the historical context, the current dilemma, and future directions.

In the first of the two earlier posts, I answered the initial question – will free market capitalism always devolve to crony capitalism?  Yes, it will.  Just as almost any value held in common will devolve into a system controlled by those who most excel at demonstrating that value, who then sit at the top of the hierarchy.

In the second of the two earlier posts, I addressed the historical context and the current dilemma.  In this post, I will comment on future directions – the way out of our current dilemma and the way to a functional society, that – oh, by the way – will also respect private property, free markets, and libertarianism…at least better than any other system available to human beings.

The only way out of this dilemma of devolution – whether regarding free market capitalism, libertarianism, or any other value that is placed as the highest common value in a community – is to identify and point toward a value that, when those who excel at it are seen as the top of the hierarchy, inherently cannot so devolve due to the nature of the value.

Let me try this another way.  Perhaps an easy way is in sports competitions – sports with objective measures.  It will not be a perfect analogy, as analogies can never be perfect, but here goes.  In basketball, those who best exemplify the characteristics associated with a good player – scoring, rebounding, defending, facilitating a teammate – will rise to the top of the basketball hierarchy.  The system does not corrupt, as it is in the interests of those associated with the game to continue to win.

But such a system does not correspond to the life people live.  Excelling in basketball is a desired intermediate end for some; in any case, such an objective system cannot translate into the subjective lives we live every day.  But hopefully the example serves to clarify the point: what is the value that, when placed as the highest commonly-held value in society, inherently cannot be corrupted?

At the risk of losing many of you, I offer the answer first and some explanation after.  For those in doubt, perhaps just try to stomach your way through this.

Matthew 22: 36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?  37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  38 This is the first and great commandment.  39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

What is the value of loving God?  There are many things that can be discussed on this point, but I will stick to those relevant to this particular discussion.  Loving God puts us in a position to recognize that there is something (an entity, being, idea, whatever – we don’t really have a word for this…besides “God”) above and outside of the control of man – something that man’s laws cannot touch, something that man cannot veto.

Many will suggest that this might be a fickle God, dangerous for us to love.  Perhaps.  But is He any more dangerous to you today than those who live and legislate as if He does not exist, or as if His law can be freely violated, or as if love is irrelevant to a functioning society?  What has your faith in men brought you?

What of loving your neighbor?  It is interesting that Jesus a) gave two commandments when only one was asked for, and b) that the second is “like unto” the first.  In other words, the second is just as the first, or in equal standing, or maybe it is the way through which we demonstrate the first in our lives.  Whatever Jesus’s purpose in giving two commandments, love is, inherently, the greatest commandment.

Some might stumble over this word “love.”  As if it is a word requiring us to accept all behavior, forgive all trespasses.  Well, yes, and no.  forgive me for citing my own previous comments…

The West is in such chaos because different of us are grappling with different aspects of the story, and very few are looking to the whole.  We demand love, but ignore truth; we demand respect, yet ignore humility; we demand liberty, yet ignore responsibility; we demand repentance, yet ignore forgiveness.  The Christian story demanded each of these.   Today’s chaos is driven by a society that chooses only one side without being held responsible for the other.

Love demands charity, respect, liberty and repentance toward and from another.  It also demands truth, humility, responsibility, and forgiveness toward and from another.  We live in a society that focusses on only one side of this while ignoring the other: charity without truth, respect without humility, liberty without responsibility, repentance without forgiveness.

Love requires action.  It is not a feeling, as if we are all teenagers just coming into puberty.  Love is a verb, it is something we do, not something we feel.

What does all this have to do with private property, free market capitalism and libertarianism?  I am getting to that, give me time….

The best ethical philosophy that I have found that a) places God at the top of the hierarchy and therefore gets man out of the law-invention business, b) identifies love as the highest value from which a hierarchy will then be determined, and c) is supportive of private property, is natural law.  I can only summarize here, but will thereafter offer many links for those interested in understanding this further.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Free Market Capitalism as the Highest Value (Part Two)

 

Returning to Ira’s question:

Is it inherent in the nature of free market capitalism for the most wealthy individuals and/or corporations to capture government power?

I begin with the conclusion of part one, as I believe it will be valuable to restate and summarize my earlier thoughts:

Certainly, building wealth has always been of value, throughout man’s history.  But it has only been the highest value in the last centuries, at least in the West – and the best means to achieve this value is through free markets and capitalism…in other words, respect for private property.  It need not be the highest value for each individual for it at the same time to be the highest value on which society could agree.

In fact, isn’t this precisely the message by advocates of free markets and capitalism?  When we trade, it is irrelevant the other values we do or don’t hold, whether we agree or disagree on these.  This is quite true.  Few of us need to hold free markets as the highest value for us to have agreed that it should be (at least for a time) the highest common value.

I think it can be argued that this has been the case since the Enlightenment, at least until recent decades, where this hierarchy based on egalitarianism is being attempted.  It is on this topic that I will focus next, when I begin to address Ira’s request to address “the historical context, the current dilemma, and future directions.”

I say “begin,” as I don’t think it will happen in one additional post.

We are speaking of the highest common value, the value which is supposed to hold society together.  Depending on the ends of any particular individual or entity, there are various different values placed at the highest.  For example, if the end is to win a championship in basketball, the hierarchy would be determined based on the ability to score points, defend, rebound, facilitate one’s teammates, etc.  But winning a basketball championship isn’t the highest end in life – and certainly not for the overwhelming majority of individuals on the planet.

If our highest common value we hold is free-market capitalism, there is only one way by which we can measure success: wealth.  Wealth is the objective measurement used to determine those who are best at the game of free-market capitalism. 

Yet, it is contrary to human nature for those who have achieved wealth to place it at risk in defense of the abstract idea of free-market capitalism – just as it is contrary to human nature for those who achieve success at what is held as the highest end in life to place their position in the hierarchy at risk (well, other than for one specific end, but I am skipping ahead an installment or two).

Returning to Ira, and his challenge:

My challenge to the LRC community is to refute this charge against capitalism addressing the historical context, the current dilemma, and future directions.

If free market capitalism (with success measured in the accumulation of wealth) is the highest end, this cannot be refuted.  As I noted previously, free-market capitalism requires a respect for private property – all other factors can be derived from this fundamental position.  As the non-aggression principle also requires this condition as foundational – with all other factors derivable from this – my thoughts apply equally to this.

In other words: just as free market capitalism, if held as the highest end, will devolve into crony capitalism, the non-aggression principle if held as the highest end, will devolve into a loss of liberty.

“But no one is claiming either of these as the highest end.”  While recognizing that there are exceptions, I can agree with this statement – very few, individually, claim either of these as the highest end in their lives.  But, as a society, what have we claimed – certainly since at least the Enlightenment?

We have claimed that as long as we trade freely, we need not concern ourselves with the behaviors or choices of others – we need not concern ourselves with what is chosen by others as their highest end.  Live and let live, anything peaceful, free minds and free markets.  As offered by Jacques Barzun: the unconditioned life.  We have claimed that as long as no one initiates violence, we similarly need not concern ourselves with the value-choices of others.

Sounds good in theory, but history has certainly proven otherwise.  As Ira has first asked for a historical context, I will begin here.  This obviously has to be considered a simple overview, as the subject and the threads of history are quite involved.

What we have come to know as both free-market capitalism and libertarianism both have been born in the West.  This seems to me to be an undeniable fact of history, and, therefore, quite relevant to the reality.  Yes, many aspects that are important to these specific economic and political philosophies are also found in other philosophies, but not in total – and not on some very key matters.

What was it in the history of the West that made this so?  What was unique about the West – different than the cultures or traditions found elsewhere in the world – that brought this about?  What we know today as Western culture and tradition cannot be divorced from its foundation in Christianity.  Therefore, I will begin here.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

One Answer to An Important Social / Political / Economic Question of Our Time

 

Ira Katz has written a piece entitled “An Important Social/Political/Economic Question of Our Time.”  In this, he examines some of the many criticisms of a free market, capitalist order.  He ends the piece with an important question, and a challenge to the LRC community to answer the question, as follows (emphasis in original):

I believe hierarchy is a natural and necessary development of a functioning economy and society. But it seems to me most people believe in “equality” and that the dangers I have described are the results of capitalism itself. I am ready to defend a true free market and capitalism in every sense but on the surface it seems there can be some truth to this charge today. So I pose this question:

Is it inherent in the nature of free market capitalism for the most wealthy individuals and/or corporations to capture government power?

I believe the answer is critical in our efforts to maintain a free society and in determining ways to oppose this power? Mass disobedience is critically needed so people must be convinced that freedom is the basis of our civilization and the free market is one of the pillars that maintain it.

My challenge to the LRC community is to refute this charge against capitalism addressing the historical context, the current dilemma, and future directions.

Consider the following my humble contribution to what I hope is a more robust dialogue around this important question.  I suspect that even my meager contribution will take more than one post…. I suspect this, because Ira’s question has brought to focus an issue I have been struggling with, an issue that I wasn’t sure how to succinctly address, one that – when outlined, as I have done – required an extensive list of topics. 

My struggle was something along the lines of Ira’s challenge: “…addressing the historical context, the current dilemma, and future directions.”  It is an overwhelming idea for me.  I have written around this, many times and in many ways.  But not succinctly, in a single narrative thread.  I guess I should both thank Ira and curse him at the same time…

To begin, I will offer my understanding of some of the terms and concepts in the excerpt from Ira’s post, above. 

“I believe hierarchy is a natural and necessary development of a functioning economy and society.”

To clarify, I will use the following definition of hierarchy, which, I believe, is also consistent with Ira’s intent:

…any system of persons or things ranked one above another.

Given this definition, it seems to me that “hierarchy is a natural and necessary development” …full stop.  It could be toward a dysfunctional economy and society just as well as a functioning one.

There will always be a system of rankings and ordering.  The only question is: what is the value that provides the basis for determining the rank and order?

“But it seems to me most people believe in “equality” …”

Equality (or, I suspect more accurately, egalitarianism) is the value that current society is attempting to use to provide the basis for determining rank and order – hierarchy. 

Egalitarianism: belief in the equality of all people, especially in political, social, or economic life.

The contradiction in this is overwhelming, as long as every value inherently establishes a hierarchy (and I defy anyone to demonstrate a functional or dysfunctional example otherwise).  Egalitarianism is a value that requires that there is no hierarchy.  It is a value that says we are to value nothing over anything else; that we are to value all things and all people equally.

Yet this is the value at which society is aiming today.  That this is inherently contradictory – and that it is a contradiction that by definition cannot be overcome is demonstrated in the competition known as the oppression olympics: he who has the most letters attached to his identity wins the hierarchy battle.  But then he is no longer “equal” to his peers as there is a hierarchy (and forgive me for using he / him in this; the English language cannot be so twisted to make any sense of our current reality).  And this is why society is falling apart.

Which comes back to my initial clarifying point: there will always be a hierarchy, a system of ranking and ordering.  The only question is: what is the value used to determined the basis on which things are ranked and ordered?

“…the dangers I have described are the results of capitalism itself.”

I will, for now, merely say “yes…and no.”  But I will come to this later.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Why Truth Cannot Survive on a Foundation of Sand

 

Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton (ebook)

Chesterton opens the final chapter of this book with a look back at the road he has travelled thus far.  He has built his case that Christian orthodoxy (as he uses the term in the context of this work) is the only logical guardian of liberty, innovation, and advance. 

We require the doctrine of Original Sin to bring down the prosperous oppressor; this cannot be done via a belief in human perfectibility.  Mind must precede matter if we are to uproot inherent cruelties; this cannot be done if we believe matter precedes mind.  We require a Transcendent God, not merely an Immanent God; souls must be in real peril; it must be God that was crucified, not merely a sage or hero.

Assuming he has convinced at least a few sceptics of his reasoning, he is left with one final challenge: 

A reasonable agnostic, if he has happened to agree with me so far, may justly turn round and say, "You have found a practical philosophy in the doctrine of the Fall; very well. You have found a side of democracy now dangerously neglected wisely asserted in Original Sin; all right. You have found a truth in the doctrine of hell; I congratulate you. You are convinced that worshippers of a personal God look outwards and are progressive; I congratulate them. But even supposing that those doctrines do include those truths, why cannot you take the truths and leave the doctrines?

His first answer is that he is a rationalist: if he is to treat man as fallen, he must hold to a belief that he fell; if he is to understand man’s exercise of free will, it helps to believe man has free will.  Having found the moral atmosphere of the Incarnation to be common sense, he found arguments to the contrary “common nonsense.”

Many a sensible modern man must have abandoned Christianity under the pressure of three such converging convictions as these: first, that men, with their shape, structure, and sexuality, are, after all, very much like beasts, a mere variety of the animal kingdom; second, that primeval religion arose in ignorance and fear; third, that priests have blighted societies with bitterness and gloom.

The only objection Chesterton has to offer against these arguments is that they aren’t true!  Regarding the first: when considering beasts and men, the startling matter is not how alike these are, but how unlike these are: the ape has hands, yet does almost nothing with them; elephants build nothing of ivory; having an infinite supply of camel’s hair brushes, camels do not paint.  Ants have a civilization, yet not a single ant-hill has been found with pictures of famous and important historical ants.

So that this first superficial reason for materialism is, if anything, a reason for its opposite; it is exactly where biology leaves off that all religion begins.

To the second objection, Chesterton points to the conjectures offered by the moderns toward the reasons behind the rise of religion, offering that these are precisely that: conjecture.  This is because religion arose in pre-history – the time before history. 

To the third, Chesterton sees the opposite – at least where Catholic doctrine remained: singing and dancing, colorful dresses and open-air art.  Yes, Christianity has walls – it is within those walls where liberty can flourish.  He describes the walls surrounding a flat grassy field, protecting the children from falling to the cliffs below.  Could they play so freely without these walls?

I agree with the ordinary unbelieving man in the street in being guided by three or four odd facts all pointing to something; only when I came to look at the facts, I always found they pointed to something else.

Chesterton offers three additional arguments against Christianity, and finds these equally wanting: Jesus was a sheepish, gentle creature; Christianity arose in the darkest of ages; religious people are weak.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Mere Christianity: The Prequel

 

In the classic Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis, the most important writer of the 20th century, explores the common ground upon which all of those of Christian faith stand together.

Lewis sums up this common ground:

The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start.

The “somehow” part often causes great difficulty.  Lewis continues:

There are three things that spread the Christ-life to us: baptism, belief, and that mysterious action which different Christians call by different names – Holy Communion, the Mass, the Lord’s Supper.

Each one of which has proven, throughout history, to be a minefield.

As is well-known, such controversies have plagued Christians from the beginning.  The Apostles Peter and Paul had a falling out, and it doesn’t get much earlier than that.  The earliest official Church split came after Chalcedon, on a point so nuanced, I suspect few adherents of one side or the other could articulate it using words available to human beings.

This all was supercharged in the Reformation.

Fatal Discord: Erasmus, Luther, and the Fight for the Western Mind, by Michael Massing.

We move forward to John Calvin and the case of Michael Servetus.  By this point, Calvin had already approved or consented to the beheading of Jacques Gruet – for having put a placard on Calvin’s pulpit, calling him a “puffed-up hypocrite,” for mocking the authority of Scripture, and for appealing to France to intervene in Geneva.  After being tortured twice daily for thirty days, bringing on his confession, Gruet was beheaded.

More damaging to Calvin’s reputation at the time was the case of Servetus.  Referred to as “an eclectic theologian from Spain” by Massing, he held what are described as maverick and even unbalanced positions.  He would write against Calvin’s views in the Institutes, for example, rejecting predestination and original sin, and that infant baptism was diabolical.  He further deprecated the Trinity.

An exchange of letters between Calvin and Servetus ensued. With Servetus finally announcing that the Archangel Michael was preparing himself for Armageddon, and that he, Servetus, would be his armor-bearer.  Calvin sent these letters to the Catholic inquisitors in Lyon, and Servetus was arrested – but escaped a few days later.

Servetus would wander for three months in France.  Inexplicably, he decided to turn up in Geneva, and even more confounding, he would attend Calvin’s lectures the day after his arrival to the city.  Although disguised, he was recognized and Calvin had one of his disciples file capital charges against him.  He was then tried and sentenced to death.  His request to be beheaded rather than burned was denied; he took a half-hour in the flames to die.

Calvin approved.  “God makes clear that the false prophet is to be stoned without mercy… We are to crush beneath our heel all affections of nature when his honor is involved.  The father should not spare the child, nor the brother his brother, nor the husband his own wife or the friend who is dearer to him than life.”

Among humanists, this execution caused a storm.  And this is where the author to the prequel of Mere Christianity comes in.  Sebastian Castellio was a professor of Greek at the University of Basel, and he felt compelled to speak out.  Concerning Heretics, Whether They Should Be Persecuted is assumed written by him, and is considered the first modern defense of religious tolerance. 

From an essay regarding Castellio’s book, by Marian Hillar:

The book contained extracts promoting toleration taken from the writings of some twenty-five Christian writers, ancient and modern, including Luther and Calvin himself.

It seems toleration and pecking order are inversely related; as it was for the Church, so it now was in the Reformers.  In fact, Castellio was first attracted to Calvin’s Reformed tradition, seeing in it a way out of the intolerance of the Church.  Calvin had previously even offered Castellio the position of teacher and rector at the newly organized academy of Geneva. 

They would slowly have a falling out, as Calvin sensed too much of an independent spirit in this underling – differing views on the sacredness of the Song of Solomon and on Christ’s descent into hell.  He would be hounded by Calvin the rest of his life.  This affected his health, and he would die at the age of forty-eight.

From Hillar, paraphrasing Castellio:

Who would wish to be a Christian, when he sees that those who confessed the name of Christ were destroyed by Christians themselves with fire, water and the sword without mercy and were more cruelly treated than brigands and murderers?  Who would not think Christ a Moloch, or some such god, if he wished that men should be immolated to him and burned alive?

Monday, March 8, 2021

The Origin of the Natural Order

 

You have to go outside the sequence of engines, into the world of men, to find the real originator of the rocket. Is it not equally reasonable to look outside nature for the real originator of the natural order?

Who Was Right? by C.S. Lewis (Chapter 9 from this collection)

Lewis describes a lecture in which he heard the standard story of human progress and development:

Evolution, development, the slow struggle upwards and onwards from crude and inchoate beginnings towards ever increasing perfection and elaboration — that appears to be the very formula of the whole universe.

The oak comes from the acorn; the most powerful engines of today come from the crude rocket; contemporary art as a high achievement when compared to the crude drawings in caves.  Man from fish from particles of organic matter from particles of inorganic matter.  All of the world and all of human development demonstrates that nature is based on this progress.

The lecture stuck with Lewis, to the point where it brought on a dream.  He was hearing the same voice, but the words were not quite the same:

“The acorn comes from a full-grown oak. The first crude engine, the rocket, comes, not from a still cruder engine, but from something much more perfect than itself and much more complex, the mind of a man, and a man of genius.”

The first prehistoric drawing came not from earlier drawings but from the brain of a human – a brain not inferior to our own, as, in fact, his brain created a drawing where no such thing even existed before.  The embryo from which we came did not come from something even more embryonic, but from two fully-developed human beings.  The dream-lecturer continued:

“Descent, downward movement, is the key word. The march of all things is from higher to lower. The rude and imperfect thing always springs from some-thing perfect and developed.”

The next day, Lewis had some time to consider this dream-lecturer – even considering that large civilizations grow from small civilizations, but these small civilizations are the result of a larger, dying civilization: the Germanic from the decay of Rome; the Greek from older Minoan with a pinch of Egypt and Phoenicia thrown in.

It was then that Lewis considered that the real-lecturer – while having a theory on the absolute beginnings – offered a theory that was a bit slurry: was there an egg that proceeded from no bird, or a bird that proceeded from no egg?  No, Lewis thought: the perfect produces the imperfect which produces, again, the perfect.  The egg leads to the bird and the bird leads to an egg:

if there ever was a life which sprang of its own accord out of a purely inorganic universe, or a civilization which raised itself by its own shoulder-straps out of pure savagery, then this event was totally unlike the beginnings of every subsequent life, and every subsequent civilization. 

An egg from no bird is nothing natural.  It must have had some beginning, just as the first crude rocket had its beginning not in an earlier engine, but in the mind of a man.  Hence, Lewis ends his essay with the quote which began my post:

You have to go outside the sequence of engines, into the world of men, to find the real originator of the rocket. Is it not equally reasonable to look outside nature for the real originator of the natural order?

Conclusion

There is nothing that explains how human beings not only survived an evolutionary process, but even came out on top – so to speak.  What defenses did pre-historic predecessors of humans have against the many larger, stronger, faster, more deadly creatures and calamities that filled his earth? 

Without a fully-developed human mind, no such survival was possible.  Yet, could evolution have instantaneously produced such a mind in humans such that he would not only survive but throve in a world filled with creatures much faster and stronger than he?

It may not be the right explanation, but there is certainly one explanation available to us:

Genesis 2: 7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

It is a much more plausible explanation than random atoms smashing together randomly.