Monday, February 27, 2023

The Thinning of Natural Law

I have been enjoying a series of videos by Dr. J. Budziszewski on the natural law.  He teaches on this subject at the University of Texas, Austin.  How he gets away with this I have no idea.  The following comments are based on his presentation at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Natural Law and the American Founding: Were the Founders Confused?  However, any of his talks on the subject shed valuable insight.

First, something which many seem to be confused about: Natural law is not the same as the laws of nature:

“That’s like Mowgli.”  The law of the jungle, or the survival of the fittest, or maybe something like gravity. 

I was listening to a podcast where it was said that Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount had nothing to do with natural law, and doesn’t sound like natural law at all.  I almost fell over.  As the speaker went on, it was clear that he was mixing up the laws of nature (as commonly understood) with natural law.

It is a terrible confusion.  That sermon might be the best exposition of the purpose of man, man’s telos – an understanding of which is foundational to developing natural law ethics.

Returning to Budziszewski (look, it’s either repeating his last name or referring to him as Dr. J – which really would be rather confusing), there is a further confusion by the more sophisticated:

At most, and if they have taken some political philosophy, they might think it has something to do with the social contract.

Which is what we are often told.  We live under a social contract.  The American founders were dealing with a thinned idea of the natural law – thinned by thinkers in the Enlightenment.  Sure, they said they believed in the idea of natural law, but they discarded or denied some of the most important ideas behind it.  Budziszewski will expand on this later in this talk. 

Understanding this thinning is important for at least a couple of reasons: fully understanding and realizing natural law requires Christ and God; second, there was a confusion in the founders between natural law and natural rights.

They would talk about natural law, but they said much more about natural rights.  This focus on “rights-talk” disconnected from natural law ultimately resulted in a world where one’s subjective will determining one’s rights.  Why is that?  Budziszewski doesn’t expand on this, but it seems clear that absent something outside and above man describing and determining man’s purpose, man is free to create his own.  When thus freed, well, you get today’s societal mess (see Carl Trueman).

Returning to Budziszewski:

What is the natural law?  The foundational principles of right and wrong that are built into how we are made that are both right for everyone and, at some level, known to everyone.

How is it know to everyone, at least at some level?  I have previously offered the possibility that it was when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil when man was made aware of the natural law. 

Genesis 3: 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

They took the fruit before they were ready, so God sent them out.    

Returning to Budziszewski:

What’s in the natural law?  Its content is well summarized by the Decalogue. 

God later gave the Ten Commandments, because man had forgotten the natural law.  This describes man’s proper relationship to God and man’s proper relationship to his fellow man.  It describes man’s expected ethical behavior.  And it is an ethic, not law as we understand that term today.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Time for Some Truth

Col. Jessup: You want answers?

Kaffee: I think I'm entitled to….

Col. Jessup: You want answers?




Jeff Childers has written a post at his Coffee & Covid blog regarding the saga of James O’Keefe and the Project Veritas board: VINCIT OMNIA VERITAS – “truth conquers all things.”  The points on which I will focus, which Childers examines in great detail:

From what I can tell, James is NOT just operating on instinct. I think he deliberately tested the theory of whether Project Veritas has been infiltrated, by asking the Project Veritas Board to resign. When every single traitorous one of them refused, James had his answer. It doesn’t MATTER whether it was Pfizer, the CIA, the FBI, Russia, Fauci, or even Putin himself. The company has been compromised.

From the time this story broke, in the back of my mind I kept thinking: How did such a board get in place?  Important questions to be asked:

·         What is the history of each board member (beyond and before their role at Project Veritas)? 

o   As Steve Bannon suggested, the board has a fiduciary duty to show us they don’t have any connection with Pfizer or anybody from Pfizer.  Or, I will add, any other conflicted connection.

·         When was each member brought on to the board? 

o   Per Charlie Kirk, some new board members were recently added.

·         What are the procedures for approving new board members?  

·         Who, or what committee, nominates and approves board members? 

o   Who is on the committee?

·         What are the terms of service for board members?

·         Are the board’s actions consistent with the governing documents?

·         Who was responsible and involved in setting up the governing documents? 

In other words, how did such a board get put in place and get such control that they could remove the founder and motive force behind the organization?

Further, there are allegations of misappropriation of funds.  What is the situation regarding the audit committee of the board and the annual audit of the financial statements – to include the necessary federal filings?

Finally, how much of the financial support comes from what percentage of the donor base?  If the concentration is high (therefore, leverage), who are the major donors and what is their background and history?

These kinds of questions should be asked and answered.  Many of these questions can be answered by gaining access to the organizing documents, minutes of board meetings, etc.  As Project Veritas is a donor-supported organization, I believe the donors have standing to ask.  Much of this might also already be publicly available.


All aspects of corporate governance and authority must be addressed and investigated in this situation.  As you all know, investigating current news stories is not my strong suit.  I usually blunder on such things.  But I know the questions to ask, and I know there are many people out there really good at figuring out how to answer such questions.

There are many angles to this story.  I have focused on one.  But I think the answers to these questions will shed light on the many other aspects.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Politics, Empire, War

The creed of Nicea, the encyclical insisted, should ‘prevail over the orthodox people’ in all churches as the only symbol of the faith.

The Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined, by V.C. Samuel

It is now 475, twenty-four years after the council.  Basiliscus was emperor.  He would issue an encyclical on 9 April 475 which promoted the first three ecumenical councils of the church: Nicaea, Constantinople, and Ephesus, and condemned the Council of Chalcedon and the Tome of Leo.  A council was called, affirming the encyclical.

Basiliscus didn’t last long on the throne – less than 20 months.  Nor did the encyclical, rescinded immediately by the new emperor. 

The issue here was not that Chalcedon conserved orthodoxy or excluded heresy, but that it had granted certain rights and privileges to Constantinople.

Non-Chalcedonian leaders were again sent into exile.  Threats of the death penalty were suggested.  But the controversies were really only beginning; the opposition to Chalcedon was growing and gaining strength.  Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem were drawing closer. 

New statements were drawn up in order to try to bridge the divide; there was much back and forth.  Each described the other as heretical.  The emperor would send his bodyguard to Alexandria in the hope of finding a solution; the bodyguard was met by 30,000 men, led by ten bishops.

With each new emperor, the tide would change to one side or the other.  The details are almost overwhelming – and I have the book!  Suffice it to say, by the year 490 positions in the two camps had become hardened. 

We come to the Blues and Greens, described by Samuel as circus parties.  These were factions in Constantinople centered around chariot races and the like, but with broader communal ties.  The Blues were pro-Chalcedonian; the Greens in sympathy with the non-Chalcedonians.  The city, let alone the empire, was still divided – and it is now the year 518.

With the support of the Blues, Justin I was raised to the throne.  He adopted cruel measures against the non-Chalcedonians.  However, he spared Egypt from these measures, as it was the granary of the capital!  Elsewhere, fifty-four bishops had to go into exile. 

Justin died in 527, and Justinian would replace him as emperor.  Justinian, wanting to unite the empire, hoped that subtle language could be used to get both sides to agree to Chalcedon.  This didn’t work.  Further, he desired the support of the pope, as the Ostrogoths were waging war in his empire in southern Italy and he desired the pope’s support.  We are now approaching 80 years after the council, and there is still no agreement.

Strangely not covered by Samuel is what we know as the Nika riots.  This occurred in 532, and again involved the aforementioned Blues and Greens.  Actions taken by Justinian against both were seen as betrayal by the Blues and oppression by the Greens.

Chariot races were called, an attempt by Justinian to bring the community together.  Instead, there was anger all around.  Justinian could watch the races from his palace, and he could hear the insults aimed at him from all corners.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Despair… and a Way Forward

“Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us."

-          Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas


The world where freedom of religion, let alone freedom of speech, is now regarded by some (many?) as a problem for a free society rather than a basic foundation of the same is indeed a strange new world.

Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution, by Carl R. Trueman

Freedoms once considered self-evident – religion and speech – now must be destroyed, apparently, to save them.  Yes, you say, regarding speech – we heard just this said on capitol hill by the former Twitter execs.  They had to destroy free speech to save it.

But no one is destroying religion to save it, you say – they don’t want to save it, only destroy it.  This, however, is incorrect, as there will always be religion.  Just not the one you have grown to cherish.  They must destroy your religion in order to save theirs.  And their religion is the religion that Trueman has described in his book.

In this new religion, your traditional rights must end where my expressive individualism begins.  Practically defining expressive individualism in the most succinct manner, Justice Anthony Kennedy would write, in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992):

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.

Individuals have the right to define for themselves their identity…and more.  In this single sentence, the road to the end of traditional freedoms was made clear.  If each has the right – the right at the heart of liberty – to create their own…everything (even the concept of the universe?), then any encroachment on their self-generated definitions is to be considered a violation of their rights.  They have property rights in whatever they feel about themselves to be true; this is expressive individualism.

Tolerance was never going to be enough; to tolerate someone is to disapprove of them but allow their continued existence.  Recognition, in the old-fashioned sense, was never going to be enough; it now must mean to affirmation.  Equality was never going to be enough; superiority and dominance is the objective. 

Turning these concepts on their head was always the objective.  This can be seen in Herbert Marcuse, and his essay Repressive Tolerance:

This essay examines the idea of tolerance in our advanced industrial society. The conclusion reached is that the realization of the objective of tolerance would call for intolerance toward prevailing policies, attitudes, opinions, and the extension of tolerance to policies, attitudes, and opinions which are outlawed or suppressed.

How to achieve this end?

…it must begin with stopping the words and images which feed this consciousness. To be sure, this is censorship, even pre-censorship, but openly directed against the more or less hidden censorship that permeates the free media.

It always had to result in a loss of freedom of speech, and, therefore, inherently, a loss of freedom of religion. 

Returning to Trueman.  If we are, as Justice Kennedy wrote, free to create our own reality about ourselves and even the universe, then anything that stands in the way – whether thought, word, or deed – is a violation of rights.  Pronouns and wedding cakes are legitimate cause for confrontation, as those who do not use my preferred pronouns or bake a cake for my alphabet soup wedding are violating my property rights in my imagined self. 

Monday, February 13, 2023

Affirming the Alphabet Soup

Now I know my “ABCs”

Next time won’t you sing with me?


The letters LGBTQ+ loom large in the cultural and political imagination of our day.

Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution, by Carl R. Trueman

Sixty years ago, homosexuality was still illegal in many Western countries.  Ten years ago, Barack Obama would not unequivocally support gay marriage.  Yet today, it is illegal to talk to someone about the possibility that they may not actually be a man trapped in a woman’s body, or counsel a minor away from adding or subtracting body parts.

Trueman’s story until now is the story of how we came to this point.  So, what of today?

The first thing to note about the LGBTQ+ is that its different constituent members are actually divided over the very thing upon which an outsider might assume they are agreed: the nature and status of sex.

Even in the early years, lesbian women and gay men weren’t well aligned – one of the two enjoying male privilege, after all; the lesbian woman still having to act the woman part in a workplace context, for example.  The AIDS event helped to change this.  Now gay men, like lesbian women, were also discriminated against, in a manner of speaking.  There came a shared sense of victimhood.

However, they each retained the notion that there was no difference between sex and gender.  And they each were opposed to the idea of a heteronormative society.  The first would eventually crumble; the second opened the door for the rest of the alphabet soup.

Sex is biologically determined; gender, however, is a role taken on by an actor.  Simone de Beauvoir would write, “One is not born, but rather becomes, woman.”  Judith Butler offered that gender is a performance, a set of behaviors demanded by society from those with certain biological characteristics.

Adding the T is rather incoherent as the L, G, and B all assume the sex binary to be grounded in biology.  They just happen to have attractions that don’t conform to the traditional.  The Q, of course, extends this further – offering a home for those whose subjective desires are ever-changing and fluid.

Trueman offers the testimony of a lesbian whose partner decided to transition.  A bit confusing, no?  not to worry.  After a time of confusion, the lesbian decided she could love the new as she did the old.

But the confusion could never go away, could it?  After all, she still feels herself a lesbian.  But at the same time, she affirms her partner’s maleness.  Does she now deny her place in the alphabet soup?  Andrew Sullivan, a gay man, is not so charitable, or confused, when he wrote in 2019:

“It is not transphobic for a gay man not to be attracted to a trans man.  It is close to definitional.”

There is the story of the campground for gay men; biological females are not welcome, whatever their alphabetical persuasion.  Boy, the campground owner got an earful for this view. 

Then there is the well-known conflict between with trans women and what we used to call just … women.  Trans-exclusionary radical feminists, or TERFs.  Feminists who have the nerve to complain that trans women are just men trying to exert their male privilege by taking advantage of the gains made in the fight for women’s rights. 

Monday, February 6, 2023

The Dust Doesn’t Settle

The council of Chalcedon was adjourned after its final session on 1 November 451.  The emperor and empress were indeed gratified that at last in their day the Church was properly unified…

The Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined, by V.C. Samuel

…and the leaders of the council were also pleased that its decisions were unanimously accepted by the participants.

Almost, but not quite.  There were complaints that force was used to secure signatures.  Further, several Egyptian bishops never signed the Tome and the Chalcedonian definition of the Faith. 

The emperor ratified the decisions of the council, investing these with legal status in the empire.  Anyone who disputed the decisions of the council would be punished in accordance with his position and rank: a government official would lose his status; a private citizen would be expelled from the city; a member of clergy would lose his rank and suffer other penalties.  Critics were deemed heretic.

The emperor wrote that the council did nothing more than ratify the creed of Nicea as expounded in the councils of 381 and 431.  He would continue:

The council ‘made absolutely no innovation about the apostolic faith, but in all respects … followed the teaching of Athanasius and Theophilus and Cyril.’

It was deemed that Eutyches and Dioscorus were teaching the ideas of Apollinarius, and any followers of these shall not have the right to execute a will or inherit in accord with the provisions of a will; whatever is left to them will be forfeit.  They shall not ordain bishops or priests.  Their churches will be confiscated and they shall have no assemblies or meetings.  If they meet in a house with the consent of the owner, the house will be confiscated.

They shall not write anything against the council; if they do, they shall be exiled perpetually, and their books shall be destroyed.

In case it is thought that it was just a few Egyptian bishops who were on the outs, even pope Leo refused to accept the council for a time.  His disagreement was specifically concerning the see of Constantinople (recalling the desire of the emperor to make Constantinople equal to Rome and the most powerful see in the east). 

Ultimately, the threat posed by the non-Chalcedonian bishops drove Leo to accept the doctrinal decrees of the council.  It isn’t completely clear from Samuel’s text, but it appears this acceptance excluded any reference to the issue of Constantinople.

With Rome and Constantinople now united, the lines were clearly drawn.  It wasn’t only bishops in Egypt that were opposed.  However, the weight in this disagreement was clearly in favor of the emperor and the pope.  Samuel describes the opposition in four stages, beginning in 451 and running through the seventh century and the time of Muslim conquests of Byzantine lands. 

The first stage, running from 451 to 475 was a period where the non-Chalcedonians, with no imperial backing, were suppressed and reduced to the status of negligible sects in some inaccessible corners of the empire.  The second stage, running through 518, gave the non-Chalcedonian movement time to strengthen itself.

The third stage ran from 518 to 536.  While emperor Justin I brought back an era of persecution against the opponents of the council, his nephew and successor Justinian saw need to try and work out the disagreements by negotiation.  His efforts failed, and further efforts also did not succeed.  And this marks the fourth stage, running until the Arab Muslims began their conquests.

The initial opposition, or the first stage.  Of this time, A. A. Vasilev would write:

Friday, February 3, 2023

Plastic People, Liquid World

Plastic people

Oh baby, now

You're such a drag

-          Plastic People, Frank Zappa. 1967


Think about how you can turn your activity into something liquid. Liquids flow, they fill all available spaces, they adapt to the shapes of the environment.

-          We're Going To Be Living In A Liquid World, Enrique Dans


For our culture is one marked by plastic people who believe they can make and remake themselves at will; and by a liquid world in which, to borrow a phrase from Karl Marx, all that is solid seems continually to melt into air.

Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution, by Carl R. Trueman

Trueman’s story thus far: the major contours of the modern self include: the emphasis of the authority of our inner feelings; the centrality of sexual desire in this; the personal is political; various cultural and technological factors have served to promote all of the above.

Some general concepts that will better provide a framework for understanding:

The first is the nature of personhood; the second is the politics of recognition; and the third is the power of imagined communities.

These will help us better understand the distinctive nature of the culture in which we now find ourselves – ranging from a culture of identity politics and the rights of the diverse alphabet gender soup to the growing impatience toward the niceties of the freedoms of religion and speech.

What is a person: the chemicals constituting my body and the genetic code that provides my nature make clear what I am.  But they are not who I am.  To be a person is to be something more, someone in a particular place and time.  It is to consider my life and the people, places, actions and events that have shaped my sense of identity. 

We all like to assume that our identity is a monologue.  After all, we feel intuitively free.  Our lives are full of decisions we have made.

Not so fast.  Yes, we are intentional creatures.  But we also act in dialogue with our surroundings.  To be born in France in the eighteenth century as opposed to England today, or China a thousand years ago.  In each case, vastly different “persons,” shaped by the story in which they live. 

Our intentional decisions are made in societies that provide the means by which our actions have meaning.  How often do our intentional decisions result in our conforming to the society around us?  Even the most radical among us all show up at Woodstock doing the same things, wearing the same clothes (or not), listening to the same music.  We wish to be free; we also wish to belong.

The teenager who wants to express her freedom does so by wearing the uniform of the group to which she wishes to belong.

Which brings us to the politics of recognition: by recognition, Trueman means the recognition given to us in the act of belonging to a community by having our identity as part of the community recognized.

Societies as a whole have frameworks for recognition.  We might call this their ethical structure: the set of cultural standards and expectations to which individuals need to conform in order to be considered full members of a particular society or community.

Refusal to conform to such norms leads to a refusal of full membership in the society.  Jonathan Pageau has commented on this notion when examining a talk given by Tim Cook of Apple.  Cook is describing the system of today – the one being examined by Trueman.  But where Trueman sees vice and harm, Cook sees virtue and glory.