Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Grinning Gargoyles

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

Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton (ebook)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 11, 2021

The Underclass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hillary Clinton would reply:

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

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

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

Thursday, January 7, 2021

It Won’t Last Forever

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

-          George Orwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facebook has booted Trump, as has Spotify and Twitter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s what is happening.

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

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

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

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

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

And this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Luther’s “Road to Damascus” Moments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 4, 2021

Human Dignity and the Law

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

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

Natural law, radical individualism, and collectivism

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

Natural law theorists reject both strict individualism and collectivism. 

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

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

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

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

The human rights of abortion

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

To be made in the image of God

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

Can we not reason about ends?

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

Natural law as a basis for a common ethic

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

Saturday, January 2, 2021

The Church as Sub-Department

From a brief, 30-minute discussion between Tom Holland and Freddie Sayers.  The entire video is here; further links below are time-stamped.

Speaking of the role of the church during these last nine months (in this case, the Church of England, but generally applicable to many churches), Holland offers:

I think the risk for the churches, and particularly the Church of England, because it’s the established church, is that with so many of its traditional responsibilities and roles taken over by various aspects of the state, the risk for the churches is that they come to seem like a kind of eccentric and not very important sub-department of the welfare state.  And I agree, I think that the role played by archbishops and bishops in particular, the messages that they were giving, were basically public health messages.

Holland continues: if churches are to play a distinctive role, that’s inadequate.  There are far more qualified people for this: doctors, epidemiologists, and the like.  These church leaders should be talking about purpose, meaning; that there is something more than the physical. 

Many churches are like this on so many levels: public-service announcements on behalf of the state, cheerleaders for militarism, cheap imitations of rock concerts and high school parties.  Are any of these actually meaningful to those who appreciate the real thing?

Which brings Sayers to respond, bringing into focus the meaning crisis and the role that the church has played in facilitating it.  He starts by offering that what we find is that the one universally agreed-upon moral value we have a s a society is tied in the question life or death (Ed. well, except for the death of the unborn, or the “other” in some foreign country we are bombing):

And all of our public decisions have been structured around that.  And it’s a pretty good one, I think most people would sign up to that: I would rather people survived than didn’t.  It just really laid bare to me how there aren’t very many other virtues that are publicly sayable, or that people widely agree on anymore.

Well, we have equality, racism, diversity, etc.  Whatever these mean and however they can be lived out.  In other words, meaningless terms such as these cannot offer meaning.

What is the value of what kind of life we are living?  What is the value of beauty, togetherness, relationships?  If someone who is in their 80s lives for nine months, but is able to be with their family and have a beautiful spiritual life verses living for twelve months, being stuck on their own in an elderly care home without being able to see anyone?  How should we judge those two scenarios?

He continues that this is probably something that Christians should address. 

How many people reading this know someone who spent Christmas alone, scared to death by the 24/7 news coverage of the unimportant trivia of positive tests?  Who have missed out on church for the last nine months, or any other regular activity that involved personal relationship – activities that they had done religiously for seventy, eighty, or even ninety years?

Have you talked to them lately?  Do they sound happy and upbeat about living such a life when closer to the end than at the beginning?  Happy to have one more day of nothingness in exchange for losing one day of a robust life?  Is this the point of living, merely to exist?

Conclusion

Christian churches have, for the most part, let us down.  This is most profound in the more institutional churches – at least from what I have seen: The Catholic, the Orthodox.  The Protestants are good for their name: some subset, at least, are protesting.