This is the first of a four-part series on the natural law.
Consider the following statements:
- It is intrinsically immoral to have sexual intercourse with someone who is not one’s spouse.
- Parents have a duty to raise their children, and children have a duty to obey and revere their parents. Unless extreme circumstances make it impossible, children should be raised by their biological parents.
- It is intrinsically immoral to deliberately cause a sexual act to be infertile.
- It is immoral to drink live blood.
- Suicide is intrinsically immoral.
- It is always wrong to kill an innocent person, even if he has low quality of life and wants to die.
Setting aside for the moment the all-important question of whether or not these statements are true, what they have in common is that they all belong to the natural law system of ethics. They all take a set of biological facts–coitus, filiation, death–and purport to read moral meanings out of them. The natural law presumes that the human body is charged with meaning, so that biological acts and relations have their significance built into them. The “natural meaning” of the act exists prior to and independent of what the actor understands or intends by that act, and yet he is morally bound by the natural meaning none the less.
I saw a nice example of natural law reasoning in the movie Vanilla Sky. (It’s not very good; don’t watch it.) I don’t remember the characters’ names, but in actors’ names here is the setup: Tom Cruise has been sleeping with coworker Cameron Diaz in an informal relationship, and then he decides to leave her for Penelope Cruz. (When you’re Tom Cruise, you can do those sorts of things.) Diaz’s character becomes distraught and pleads with Cruise that he can’t just leave her like that after they have coupled. “Your body makes a promise even if you don’t.” This is a natural law way of thinking. We say that fornication is wrong because when you have sex with someone, you make her a promise–whether that’s what you and her want to communicate or not–and that promise is the same one a person makes at a wedding ceremony.
This way of seeing things is very different from the modern mentality (although, as we’ve seen, the old mentality pops up in unexpected places). Modern man is, whether he admits it or not, strongly shaped by Cartesian dualism to see the body as “brute matter”, as res extensa distinct from the res cogitans (the soul). Meaning, it is believed, is a distinctly mental phenomenon. Its origin, and indeed its whole being, is in the mind. What an act means is what the actor intended it to mean and what he knew his observers would take it to mean–no more, no less.
Modern ethics is usually consequentialist or deontological. Sin is identified either as harming someone else or instrumentalizing him (treating him as a “mere means”). Harm and instrumentalization are defined solely in terms of the person’s preferences and choices. Natural law agrees that harm and instrumentalization are wrong, but it defines them differently, in terms of man’s natural telos and natural meanings.
Modern man finds this idea of normative natural meanings foolish and arbitrary. Natural law advocates are said to be ignoring the person to focus on the body, of ignoring intention to focus on biological function. Natural law is accused of committing the “naturalistic fallacy” by hostile philosophers; Catholic heretics accuse it of “physicalism”. These accusations have the merit of getting at the essence of the disagreement. It it’s “physicalism” to believe that sex, parenthood, etc. don’t just mean what we decide for them to mean, then we natural lawyers are physicalists.
The modern critique of natural law has an undeniable plausibility. Biological facts can no doubt affect our and other people’s desires and thus indirectly become morally relevant on modernity’s terms, but it is not obvious how they can dictate duties to the res cogitans independent of these considerations. And yet, there are strong reasons why we should give the natural law account a careful hearing before we dismiss it.
First of all, one must be clear that to object to physicalism means having a quarrel not only with a few Catholic ethicists, but with the consensus of all mankind. Across ages and cultures, all peoples have believed in natural meanings. If nothing else, they have all agreed on the moral import of filiation and kinship. That one person emerged from the uterus of another is a biological fact. The social state of “motherhood” recognizes not only this fact, but also duties and rights that are supposed to flow necessarily from it. A man has no right to expect love from his neighbors or coworkers. His behavior may warrant their respect, but love can only be an unearned gift. He has no right to ask his secretary “Why don’t you love me?” nor would she probably have any answer. Love was never “on the table”. A man can expect his mother to love him; the very relationship gives him a rightful expectation. “Mother, why didn’t you love me?” is a natural question for an unloved son to ask. There probably is a reason, although no reason could justify so grave a failure of duty. I have special duties to my children and my kin. Partly, this is because they happen to be the people who are closest to me, but this isn’t the whole story. I would fail morally if my brother on the other side of the country were homeless and I didn’t fly him to me and take him under my roof; yet there are homeless strangers in my very county to whom I am not obliged to make such an offer.
The consequentialist and deontologist can only agree with these intuitions by accident. They will often grant that having children raised by their biological parents is administratively convenient. As a practical matter, it would be hard for the State to find enough caretakers to replace all these parents. But the family is only a matter of practicality, and in fact its ultimate value is open to question. After all, it puts children at the mercy of people with no childcare training and next to no official supervision, all because of a “biological accident”; our bureaucratic age wouldn’t tolerate such feudal anarchy in any other area of life. Similarly, they may agree that a particular act of adultery was wrong because it hurt the other spouse’s feelings, but they must also admit that this is because that spouse is being irrational. A regime of universal promiscuity, where sex is “just like shaking hands”, might well be a happier world, and, consent assumed, wouldn’t obviously involve reducing any other person to a “mere means”.
Here is the second reason to consider carefully before rejecting the system of natural meanings. As the two examples above indicate, a world without them would be a nightmare. Unchecked by natural law, consent, efficiency, and happiness maximization would replace the love of parents with the expertise of childcare professionals; it would erase the bonds of family, ethnicity, and nation; it would reduce sex to a meaningless pastime. Our desires would be satisfied. We would all be happier. Or would we? For me, one of the most important aspects of happiness is the knowledge that I personally matter to some particular other people. Being a man of no great importance, these people are a half-dozen family members. What I do matters because they depend on me and they care about me. In the post-natural bureaucratic utopia, there will be nothing like this. What I do won’t matter much to anyone else–this will be true by construction. If anyone really depended on me, that would limit both our freedoms. It would make my dependent unequal, because if I failed that person would suffer, through no fault of his own, relative to those depending on someone else. There must be supervision, uniform rules, backups and failsafes, so that in the end I can’t be allowed to matter to anyone else.
As Hegel pointed out, there is a leap from abstract right and morality to the ethical life. We have no way to put abstract moral rules (e.g. utilitarian or Kantian) into effect–no way to know what they mean–until we are embodied in an “ethical society” where everybody has a specific place and duties. How, though, are we to assign these particular duties? Modern abstract ethical systems can only produce abstract organizations and can never provide this element. In the past, it has always come from relationships like marriage and filiation that rely on natural law for their normative character. After they are wiped out, a utilitarian calculus of the future may register the unhappiness that results, but it could not replace what it had destroyed. Natural law seems to be the only way to lock particular people in duties to each other. There is true happiness from the sense of meaning this provides, and the utilitarian rulers of the future might be forced to reinvent natural law as a “noble lie” to fill this void. Let us then see first if we can defend the theory honestly as truth.
A defense of natural law must establish several points. To fail on any one of them is to fail overall. First, it must defend the claim that there are natural meanings. It must establish that these are not merely projections of our subjective wishes or the mistaking of the customs and assumptions of our own culture for universals of nature. This will be part 2 of this series. Next, it must argue that these natural meanings are morally binding. This step is often skipped over, but I think it’s a crucial and underdeveloped part of the theory. Suppose we allow, with Cameron Diaz, that sex has a natural meaning that includes commitment. Why could not the man and woman simply agree that this natural meaning is not the one they intend to give it? That way, no false expectations would be generated; moving on would not be a betrayal. That natural meanings are binding I will argue in part 3 of this series. Finally, we must ask how the two meanings, what something naturally means and what we intend, are meant to relate to each other. We must show that natural law does not itself fall back into a different sort of dualism. This will be the subject of part 4.
The promise from a man for sex is support and protection. Not faithfulness. I’m sure Tom Cruse would have kept her around if she was willing to be women #2 in his life.
The specific of a Man’s duty that arises from sex with a woman is support and protection, but as he is a human being it also declares faithfulness. To my mind natural law dictates this in that the nature that gives the meaning of sex is the common human nature of both sexes.
Male faithfulness has always been measured in support and protection, never in sexual faithfulness. Forced male faithfulness is a product of the protestant reformation and it’s a historical anomaly, non biblical, and doesn’t appear in any other major culture that I know of. As such, it can’t possibly be a natural law and is instead a progressive law.
“Forced male faithfulness is a product of the protestant reformation and it’s a historical anomaly, non biblical…”
Surely you jest, Red: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
And what is adultery? It’s sex with another man’s wife. It has nothing to do with sex with a loose woman. The term’s been redefined from respecting marriage to condemning male sex in general. And before you go on about fornication the actual word used in the Hebrew text is porneia which does not include sex with unmarried loose women.
Red, I utterly reject your position. God’s law and natural law clearly condemn non-marital sex. You are engaging in sophistry in an attempt to evade the truth. Yes, there is a long history of men making excuses for sin. No, they are not vindicated. You need to repent.
When I read this kind of piece I always feel a need to remind myself that the expression of Natural Law as a *list of specific, precise Laws* is merely a matter of convenience.
Lists of Laws are only partly true and will be to some extent mutually contradictory (at least at a simple level of analysis) and do not always apply (or if they d they will violate each other, apprently; all such Laws being incomplete and biased summaries and extracts – at different levels of authority – of the underlying reality of unified Natural Law.
The danger is that modern intellectuals are – if nothing else- thoroughly trained to look for Hard Cases, gray areas and mutual contradictions between Laws (as ways of subverting them).
If asked to consider a list of specific but partial Laws modern Man will have no difficulty in pointing out the problems – asking questions such as why exactly this number? Could they be expressed as fewer? Or do there need to be more? What is the hierarchy of these Laws – and what validates it? How to deal with, extreme cases, exceptions, contradictions etc.
What we need, I feel, is a mystical sense of Natural Law – and only after that is attained can we be trusted with precise lists. Otherwise we will be (one way or another) corrupted by precise lists…
I think this is an unfair way of characterizing my post, and certainly of the three that will follow it. The list at the beginning was not meant to be complete. Nor was it meant to encode the essence of natural law. It was only meant to illustrate how natural law ethics creates moral requirements and prohibitions that other ethical systems don’t. It was posing the question “what is natural law?”, not answering it. As I say in the very next paragraph, the essence of natural law is a consciousness of natural meanings and relationships. This consciousness is prior to the moral prohibitions that follow from it. I think your prejudice against scholasticism is leading you to see faults that aren’t there.
It would seem that to be able to attain a type of mystical “natural law” that could then become a precise list we should start with the first “natural law” that Man strives towards Supremacy. A contravening of this law (what the West euphemistically refers to as the drive for “equality”) is the embrace of anti-Supremacy. It is the embrace of the “descent.” Predictably, the West embracing the “descent” is in both traditional fashion and in evolutionary terms. Even as the elite in the West holds steadfast to a “progression” of “descent with modification,” the West in general is self-annihilating ie, in spiritual, intellectual and biological descent.
Of course, if we assume that the first “natural law” is that Man strives towards Supremacy then such men who embrace this “natural law” are quite simply, Supremacists. And if such men are white men then those white men who strive towards Supremacy are quite simply, white Supremacists. And if those white men who embrace Supremacy decide to voluntarily
unite then one has the makings of “white Supremacy.”
We “know” this to be a ugly and evil thing.
So the question is the truth of the first “natural law?”
Does Man strives towards Supremacy?
And are we to become genuine “white Supremacists?”
@bonald – My main point was the last one “What we need, I feel, is a mystical sense of Natural Law – and only after that is attained can we be trusted with precise lists.” – This mystical sense was certainly present in – for example – Aquinas.
But it has dwindled over the centuries and is very rare now – and this is why legalism has become such a problem: moderns know the laws but not what the laws summarize.
I am not prejudiced against scholasticism – but I do think it can be a poison for modern man – unless treated very carefully.
With the support of the Simon/Hertog Fund for Policy Analysis, the Institute on Religion and Public Life, publisher of First Things and host of firstthings.com will gather a group of nearly twenty scholars for the After Liberalism Seminar.
Today, the dominant tone of our politics is reactionary, a reaction against the decadence of liberalism.
However, reaction lacks real political and social consequence, because it defines itself in terms of what it is against. Is there an alternative to liberalism? Can we envision something after liberalism?
bgc makes an interesting practical point. For some time when I was younger, I wondered why C.S. Lewis had opted for the use of the word “tao” to describe what he plainly meant to mean the natural law. I assumed because of the milieu in which I was reared that he was trying to make a point about universality by using “inclusive” language.
Eventually I realized that the problem was that the concept communicated by the tao was somewhat different from what people think of when you refer to natural law. Rightness, fitness, ortho-ness (?)–these concepts are not really reducible to an enumerated set of regulations. It is a consequence of the modern obsession with formalization and predictability (in short, bureaucratization) that moves us to think so. “Thou shalt” and “Thou shalt not” statements are expressions of or deductions from of the natural law, but they are not the Law itself.
Bureaucracy, though, despises and seeks to eliminate exceptions, and whatever exceptions exist are to be formally stated so that they are concrete rules unto themselves. Social and political modernity consist in the replacement of informal structures of authority based on the tao with formal structures of authority based on explicitly stated rules. Their purpose is not to mediate and communicate the tao, but rather to establish a predictability which embraces all possible concrete circumstances. Obedience to the transcendent is replaced by obedience to reason, or rather, because we cannot all be makers and enforcers of the law and because reason is supposed to be universal, to certain men’s reason.
What I see happening in the Catholic Church is an infection of this sort of bureaucratization even in the Church’s own expression of its mystical foundation–the Catechism of the Catholic Church reads like nothing so much as a bureaucratic manual, and I believe its promulgation is a symptom of this maniacal modern drive to reduce the Law to mere laws. Watching a Catholic Christian involve himself in a debate which entails quoting sub-paragraphs of a statutory document which was itself the product of a massive bureaucracy leaves me feeling, not just cold, but desolated.
How to recover that mystical understanding of the natural law, I don’t know. But I’m glad bgc made the point.
This strikes me a possibly analogous to the distinction between the unwritten and written Constitutions, respectively, in British and American political history. A potentially fruitful analogy?
Thank you for your input. I hear criticisms like this a lot. We Catholics supposedly have no sense of mystery. We just want to reduce Christianity to a mechanical algorithm, because that’s all our cold, warped souls can comprehend. And, of course, we are completely and in every way inferior to the Eastern Orthodox. When I first started getting these criticisms from Bruce and others, I thought they were interesting. At the very least, they point out a real danger. The more I hear it, though, the more unfair they seem.
It is simply untrue on any fair reading of the Catechism or of my post to say that we’re trying to reduce mysteries to legal technicalities. Hostile readers start with this prejudice about Catholics and then skim the document in question for something that superficially supports that case. The Catechism has a detailed referencing system. Ha! That means it’s trying to reduce the Faith to a law code! Of course, the same criticism could be leveled against the Bible, which is also allows one to reference precise passages. My post on natural law starts with a list? Ha! That means I think morality is just a matter of rule-following! But no I don’t–although I think moral rules exist and are very, very important (and God on Mt. Sinai agrees)–and the only way to get that message out of this post is to have come in already assuming that that’s what I believe.
I should also add (because I haven’t droned on long enough, obviously) that when I refer to the replacement of informal authority with formal authority, I have in mind the replacement of the Church (especially the Catholic one, but churches in general) by various state and ostensibly private business enterprises.
Appreciate your thoughts here, both in the original post and in your replies, which seem appropriate to me. Of course there is a danger of legalism in codification, precision, definitions, as there is also the danger in mysticism of meaning everything and nothing all at once, the manifestation of which is also seen in our day quite frequently.
The opposite impulse — to reduce the principle of order to a mere formless sentiment to be expressed almost solipsistically through unguided action — is probably a good deal more dangerous than legalism.
Sage, could you also call this tendency legalism?
We Catholics supposedly have no sense of mystery. We just want to reduce Christianity to a mechanical algorithm, because that’s all our cold, warped souls can comprehend.
On the other hand, it is usually entertaining to watch your average white male from Topeka, Kansas go Eastern and feign an inability to comprehend formal Western logic.
Sorry, that was meant to be directed at bonald’s comment.
As an Eastern Orthodox man I am feel inclined to chime in, though probably not in the way expected.
I agree that many converts or even for that matter cradle American Orthodox do indeed “feign an inability to comprehend formal Western logic.” It is amusing to see it happen for this Orthodox as well. But this feigning is actually more an overcompensation and misunderstanding of Orthodoxy’s usual approach to all things. It is mistaking Orthodoxy as Eastern only and only ‘mystical’ or experiential. When in fact many Fathers and saints where highly logical even bordering on scholastic (if you use the term colloquially), just look to St. John Damascene’s “Exposition of the Orthodox Faith” or some of the pre-schism Western saints. We should simply admit that we get it, but still disagree because logic as such is not that important to us.
Approach is not dogma and that is where the real disagreements/splits arise in comparing the two communions. Those points are quite clear and more pertinent than any approach. Logic and argumentation can be used for everything. Catholics use it quite well to defend doctrine and dogma. At the heart I do not perceive the ‘logic makes [proves] the Faith’ or the perception that since something is systematized, categorized, and labeled it is now dead that I see Catholics accused of all the time as legitimate. Down to the last I still think Catholics would cling to the Revelation without any logical explanation of a dogma. Aquina’s arguments for them are not greater than what he was arguing for, and in that regard I think Orthodox should recognize it.
In Vanilla Sky, Tom Cruise = David Aames, Cameron Diaz = Julie Gianni and Penelope Cruz = Sofia Serrano.
Julie Gianni: “Don’t you know that when you sleep with someone, your body makes a promise whether you do or not.”
That’s why the movie didn’t work for me. Julie was supposed to be nuts all the way along, with attitudes that were invalid, shallow and mockable, and from the outset with a potential for jealous rage that she had absolutely no right to, because David had never verbally or legally committed himself to any of the things she expected from him. She was his f**k-buddy, and should have kept her emotional involvement at that level. That’s why it was appropriate for Sofia to introduce herself by mocking Julie’s pain. (Sofía: “I think she’s the saddest girl to ever to hold a martini.”) That’s why it was appropriate for David to be charmed by such humor and quickly decide that Sofia was his true love. And that’s why we should have been invested in David all the way through: sure he was being shallow and immature, but it was nothing serious, just youth. Really he was an innocent victim of Julie’s violently unreasonable emotions, and he needed to clear every trace of his entanglement out of his life and rehabilitate himself. But I thought Julie was bang on the mark. David had made physical promises. They would have been vacated if Julie had not answered his implied commitment with hers, or if she had been unwilling to take a feminine role and let him be the man in this relationship, but there was no lack of commitment on her side. I thought Julie was within her moral rights to not be a good sport, and I thought David had it coming.
While Julie and her natural law position represent the side of evil and the past that has to be shucked off, the David and Sofia represent an ideal couple held together (till Sofia tires of David) by frequent witticisms, potentially salable art, and a shared sense of life that goes well with an affected belief in reincarnation. (Sofía: “I’ll tell you in another life, when we are both cats.” With the callback at the end of the movie: David: (“I’ll see you in another life… when we are both cats.”) Not a real belief of course, implying religious study,
commitment and action. David and Sofie are too hip for that.
David eventually matures to the extent of realizing that it’s also important to have lots of money, at least if you can make it by working in a top position in the fashion business. What a brilliant journey of self-awakening! The triumph of artificiality is complete.
I think there is some misunderstanding here, and if I’ve written in such a way that I’ve been unclear, it wouldn’t be the first time. Let me just offer a couple of things in reply, and then you can re-read my post to see if it sounds different to you.
First, I’m a Roman Catholic, and not one of the “why can’t we be more like the evangelicals” variety. I’m more of the “Why can’t we just replace the USCCB with twenty priests chosen at random from the FSSP” variety. My post was in absolutely no way intended as a criticism of your post (which I found very illuminating), or you personally, or the Church in general. My response was intended to flesh out the contrast between what bgc called the “mystical” understanding of natural law, versus the modern misapprehension that the natural law is something like human law–in short, I was trying to expand on his point concerning currents in modernity, not really to respond to you at all.
Again, what I intend here is to illustrate tendencies in modernity and modern ways of understanding. My mention of the CCC was intended as an illustration, and it was one I felt comfortable making precisely because I am Catholic and in a forum like this one (dare I call it diverse?) I didn’t want to be accused of throwing stones from a glass house.
Now, I’m not the first person to object to the (historically quite recent) promulgation of the CCC both because a time of severe crisis and heterodoxy within the Church seems like an inopportune moment to embark on that sort of project, as well as on the basis that it strains too hard to codify the precepts of the faith in painful detail, and paradoxically winds up inserting a lot of very contemporary “consensus-driven” mush to paper over the divisions. The current low-level civil war within the Church over capital punishment, with people quoting the CCC back and forth at each other and minutely examining every turn of phrase, laboring over each successive change in the wording to see just what is “required” of us to believe this time around–with each side casting the other as dissenters from Church authority–is really the concrete example I had in mind.
But that does not mean that I accept the common criticism that the Church, qua the Church, is an attempt to “reduce Christianity to an algorithm,” nor that the the practice of Catholicism, with its feasts, fasts, and various proscriptions, reduces divine mysteries to mere canons. I well understand the purpose of your list at the beginning was not an attempt to do something like that with the natural law, and in fact just reading the rest of your post makes that abundantly clear to anyone paying attention, so I repeat: if I was at all unclear in what I wrote, I’m sorry for it.
I would ask that you do re-read my reply with that in mind. My target was modernity, not you, and surely not the Church.
Whoops, this is supposed to be in reply to bonald’s reply to me, above. Sorry for the mess-making.
Thordaddy brings up white supremacy, which is the cardinal sin, the most serious sin, the conveniently guilt-inducing sin, and perhaps the only real sin in the modern liberal lexicon.
If striving for supremacy over other people is the first natural law, a dubious proposition, but letting that pass for the moment, and if we agree this is evil, then this brings up the question of the origin and persistence of evil in creation, sometimes considered under the headings of original sin, the fall of man, and total depravity, concepts foreign to the modern liberal thought, but concepts which natural law theory should address.
You’ve mangled my words.
Whereas I propose that the first “natural law” is that Man strives TOWARDS Supremacy, you have “liberated” my proposition to mean man seeks to be superior to other men. In the big scheme of things the former CAN NEVER BE evil while the latter certainly can, but not necessarily so. It is the latter idea that is seen as inherently evil and diabolical, but that is because those that believe such things are, in fact, anti-Supremacists ie., ones who embrace the “descent.”
So is the first “natural law” that Man strives TOWARDS Supremacy or not?
The reality is that ONLY the white Supremacist can really save the white West. No one else can or will, but then again, no one wants to be a genuine white Supremacist so maybe we are doomed?
So is the first “natural law” that Man strives TOWARDS Supremacy or not?
I would say not, but perhaps you should define by what you mean by “natural law,” “Man strives TOWARDS Supremacy,” and the “white West.”
Can we take supremacy to mean ‘the state or condition of being superior to all others in authority, power, or status?” I am hard pressed to name off hand sages who endorse that as a central goal, unless you are thinking of the greatest being a servant as in Matt 20:26, Matt 23:11 and Luke 22:26 and hence of the “white man’s burden,” which looked better in theory than in practice. I would argue that it worked less well in practice because of the nature of fallen man.
There does seem to be a natural law that Man strives (or should strive) for excellence — in the sense of arete and eudaemonia.
But is that the same thing as supremacy?
Man was not made to dominate but to serve and obey.
If I must define those things for you, how are you to substantiate the truth of “my” definitions?
From the secular point view, we are CONFINED to a material world which then logically perverts one’s understanding of immaterial things. So when folks like you who have been “liberated” (read: paradoxically self-CONFINED to a strictly material world) conceptionalize “supremacy,” it can only be in zero sum terms. Meaning, you can only conceptualize “supremacy” as man attempting to be superior to man. This is a STUNTED and LIMITED conceptualization. This is a conceptualization that is a result of being self-CONFINED to a strictly material world.
So to get more specific, “white supremacy” becomes the white man attempting to be superior to the non-white man. This white man is what we know as the “racist.” And one thing we know about nearly all in the West is that almost no one wants to be a “racist.” Which is to say, “no one wants to be a white Supremacist.”
And of course, as “natural law” dictates, white man is predictably in descent.
The reality is that the Roebucks, Kristors, Austers and thordaddys are genuine white Supremacists whether they will ultimately admit it or not. And the white Supremacist is truly the only one that can lead the white anti-Supremacist out of his descent and onto the ascent.
Please tell me how you formulate “man striving towards Supremacy” into man seeking “domination?”
This is somewhat rhetorical, but perhaps you’ve come up with a unique equation?
“… white supremacy, which is the cardinal sin, the most serious sin, ”
I don’t understand what you are saying here. Are you saying that whites should not be supreme in their own lands?
So, Iast week I read Edward Feser’s “The Last Superstition”. I acknowledge that materialism fails to explain the universe. I’m going to move on to his “Aquinas” because he breezed through his arguments the Aristotelian religion, but I suspect between this series and that, I may find final causality and natural law convincing.
What then would you nice folks recommend to point me toward the truth of Christian revealed theology?
“The truth of Christian revealed theology” means the truth of Christianity. There are many works that argue for the truth of Christianity; it would help for me to know a little more about your situation: What work arguing for Christianity have you read, and what are some of the problems preventing you from believing? Even if the answers are “None, and I can’t say for sure,” it would be helpful to know before I recommend something.
Please forgive me for butting in on a question that wasn’t directed toward me, but I would add too that because reason isn’t neutral — it is formed either by love of God and neighbor or by the passions — it is vital to begin to actually live (as much as is possible) in a way that guides your reason towards what is Good, True, and Beautiful. Since you already acknowledge that atheistic materialism is false, seek also to reject ways of living that presuppose atheistic materialism. Both Pascal and Dostoevsky get at this idea, Pascal by mentioning the practical importance of going to church and ‘taking holy water’ and ‘having masses said’, and Dostoevsky by mentioning the practical importance of striving ‘to love your neighbor actively and constantly’.
I will remember you in my prayers. May God keep you.
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I don’t think I’m going to commit to going to church every Sunday until I can honestly say that I really believe the basics of Christianity. I can understand the ontological necessity of God and the moral obligations resulting from natural law theory, but why should I believe specifically in the Christ story.
To answer Alan’s question. I’m a 31 years old who has never believed in God and the orthosphere is my first real exposure to intelligent Christian thinking (I don’t mean this to sound derogatory. Our media/educational complex simply deosn’t allow intelligent Christian ideas any kind of forum just as they don’t allow intelligent right-wing ideas). I came from the reactosphere (moldbug, foseti, Sailer, Mangan, VFR, and the like) to Bruce Charlton, and eventually to Bonald and Collapse. I really only decided to take the idea of becoming a Christian seriously in the past couple of weeks. I’ve read most of Bonald’s essays, a lot of Jim Kalb, and Feser book, but that’s about it.
What is keeping me from believing in Christianity per se, is that none of what I read focuses on Jesus at all. At this point I’m assuming that you all know a lot of things that I don’t. So I suppose what I’m looking for is why I should believe specifically in Christ and not simply say “God exists, morality exists, goodness exists, etc., but I have no way of knowing if God has ever revealed his plan for mankind to the extent claimed by any of the world’s major religions.” After all, there are definitely a lot of false prophets in the world. Is there anything you can recommend that makes that kind of case.
My next book was going to be “Mere Christianity”. It sounds like a good introductory course. I would love any other suggestions. I have a two year old daughter and a nine month old daughter, so I feel I have a very serious responsibility to be right about this before figuring out the next step. Thanks.
I seem to recall Ed Feser had some recommendations re: convincing yourself of the authenticity of the story of Christ at the end of “The Last Superstition.”
From a Christian perspective, Jesus Christ is “empirical evidence” of objective and absolute Supremacy. Jesus Christ is the “perfect Man.” Jesus Christ is the Man with the most Capital. If you believe this then it can be said that you have faith in Jesus Christ. If you do not believe this then you can say that you have been “liberated” and exist in a state of anti-Supremacy. The reality is that this is the real line in the sand for ALL Westerners. There is no bridge. There is only “leaps of faith” and “staring into the abyss.”
Study the perfect Man. If you find a flaw then you’ll know what to believe.
Google: Jesus Christ
You’re right. This is a big gap in our writings, and it’s positively perverse that the belief we’ve avoided arguing directly is the most important one of all, the one that vivifies all the others.
Mere Christianity is a classic, and you would do well to read it. Lewis’ prose is a joy to read, and he argues for the truth of (mere) Christianity with clarity, brevity, and wit. It would be hard to come up with a better introductory level apologetical work.
If you’re looking for something more at an intermediate level, I suggest reading William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith. Craig is, hands down, the world’s foremost Christian apologist. He has debated basically every well-known atheist (except Dawkins, who refuses to debate him), and he is a master at his craft.
The late Christopher Hitchens on Craig before their debate at Biola University:
“I can tell you that my brothers and sisters and co-thinkers in the unbelieving community take [Craig] very seriously. He’s thought of as a very tough guy — very rigorous, very scholarly, very formidable. I say that without reserve. Normally I don’t get people saying ‘Good luck tonight’ and ‘Don’t let us down’, but with him I do.”
If you’re looking for something that is more advanced, and deals specifically with the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus (and this is *the* issue: ‘if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain’ says St Paul), I suggest reading Michael Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Be advised: it’s a beast, and it may be tough sledding at times, but the pay off is well worth it. No stone is left unturned.
I did watch Dr. Craig “debate” Sam Harris (Harris didn’t seem to want to discuss the actual topic, so the scare quotes seem necessary). He was impressive, but the topic was whether there could be absolute moral law without God, so even Dr. Craig left Jesus out of his rhetoric for the sake of his audience.
Thanks. The Licona book sounds like exactly what I need.
I also want to recommend this page, from Apologetics 315. Christian “apologetics” is the intellectual and spiritual discipline of giving rational arguments to support Christianity, and the linked page contains an excellent list of recommended readings, grouped by topic and level of difficulty. Books marked with one asterisk are recommended; those with two asterisks are essential reading.
The Resurrection of Jesus is indeed the essential issue arguing for Christianity, and Apologetics 315 has several good books on this topic to recommend.
“If I must define those things for you, how are you to substantiate the truth of “my” definitions?”
I am not interested in conversations where definitions are obscure or reflect private meanings that are not shared by or clear to the casual reader. This rabbit hole is not for me.
I didn’t realize I obligated you to a conversation?
Natural law… A law that if contravened exacts universal consequence, e.g. A man who does not strive towards Supremacy IS in a descent.
Man striving towards Supremacy… A refined and mature male compelled to ascend with a complimentary aversion to the “descent.”
White West… Those who identify as “white” and are compelled to ascend as the “white West” has traditionally attempted to do however flawed that “ascension” came to be.
Might I recommend Who Is This Jesus by Michael Green. It is short, simple, concise and gets right to the heart of the matter for the new believer or the not-quite believer.
“They all take a set of biological facts–coitus, filiation, death–and purport to read moral meanings out of them.”
The ancients surely did not distinguish the biological and moral or cultural very sharply or at all.
Consider your first example:
:It is intrinsically immoral to have sexual intercourse with someone who is not one’s spouse
Now “spouse” is not a biological concept at all. It is at least a cultural concept.
PS: I would suggest replacing the “intrinsically immoral” by “wrong”.
I would say that Natural Law does not have anything to do with biology per se.
The Natural Law is better defined as the Divine Or Cosmic Order that pertains to human and that is perceived with human reason.
Thus, it contrasts with Revelation that is not and can not be perceived by reason.
Thus Natural Law encompasses both man’s biological, social and religious nature (upto that reached by reason–that God exists is a part of Natural Law).
I’ll answer the question put to Josh.
I have an difficult time with the literal idea of a man-god, and with a lot of the Bible being taken literally, for that matter. I do not scorn it — I *want* to believe it. Often I think I can believe it literally but that state of mind doesn’t last. I can believe these things as metaphors and allegories and I can believe in practically everything else because I live it and can see it, even if I don’t fully understand it. I can accept it but not truly hold it as a belief the way I believe that love and truth are real, that Pluto is out there in the ice cold, or that little things called mitocondria are important somehow for my metabolism.
When anyone argues for God or his physical incarnation — doesn’t matter if it’s C.S. Lewis, Chesterton, Aquinas, whoever, they argue from such a cold outsider’s perspective — that it seems obvious to me that even they do not believe it.
So, boom, there it is, cold as ham right out there on the internet. And believe you me, it is Hell once you realize you are all alone. It’s a no-win.
On the other hand, I know that most churches have turned pansy and multiculti on me and are intent on destroying my heritage and my genes. There is clearly nothing in those hollowed buildings for a real man. So, maybe it’s not me that’s out of touch.
What, can I ask, is so difficult about the proposition that an omnipotent God can take the form of a man?
I don’t know Aquinas well enough to say, but C.S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton have never struck me as “cold outsiders” when they’re talking about the faith.
Quite the opposite, in fact. I’m always struck by the warmth and, dare I say it, the humanity of their prose.
I don’t mean that they sounded insincere or uncaring, not at all. I mean that they seemed to be in a neutral position. When I was a true believer, I was offended by that tone of neutrality. People who truly believe cannot do that, or at least I don’t see how they could. It’s like seeing your parents not as their child but as others see them. That’s impossible unless you stop seeing them as your parents.
Nothing. That it did happen is the blockage. An omnipotent God can do anything, of course, but that doesn’t mean it is likely. I even (pretty much) understand the reason he would. Nothing original in my argument, I’m afraid.
I’m not entirely understanding your blockage, then. Do you not think that an omnipotent God exists? Because it sounds like once you concede that, there’s no reason it ought to be impossible. You concede an omnipotent God *could* do it and you seem to understand *why* He would. So where is the problem?
Not impossible, unlikely. It doesn’t make any logical sense that it would happen. But that’s supposed to be the reason that it is likely. Here’s the leap I have trouble making anymore.
Why ‘unlikely’? God is pure being, thus pure love. What would love not suffer for its beloved?
I suspect my problem is common. Compounding it is the sense, especially in patriotic men who are unfamiliar with Christianity to begin with, that the effort to believe is not worth it. I mean, why believe in a god who wants to destroy me or make me a slave to the invaders?
“What evidence can I marshal to support my preexisting prejudices?” is not really the right attitude to bring to bear on the question of whether or not God exists and, if so, what His nature is. You should believe because it’s true, not because it’s convenient for your agenda.
Proph, I don’t understand that, though you may be right. I have heard that I should. I feel that I should because now that I do not I am in Hell, outside the heavenly gates unable to get back in. I now feel tricked or rejected or forgotten or misled or confused, I do not understand which. I now empathize with those who grow impatient and who feel “outside” the special group I once belonged to. How big emptiness could be, I never guessed.
I used to think of sin as “holy error,” error or trespasses against God and His order of the universe. But my preachers told me it is dangerous to think that way. I have never understood what grace is; the definitions seem to change to fit circumstance. My understanding of Genesis and much of the NT works more logically for me only if it is metaphorical but I that is wrong, too. It was better before I began to think about such things.
“I used to think of sin as ‘holy error,’ error or trespasses against God and His order of the universe.”
That sounds pretty spot-on to me; I don’t know why your preachers would advise you otherwise (although I am basically ignorant wrt delicate questions like these).
I admit question about the nature of sin and grace are difficult. They are also unnecessary to a healthy faith; it’s enough to know that sin is something to be avoided and grace something to be sought (can anyone of us have full knowledge of these ideas this side of the grave?). If you haven’t already, though, I recommend reading everything you can get your hands on by Ed Feser, including all of his blog posts (linked on the right sidebar) and either of his two apologetics books, “The Last Superstition” (for a polemical, anti-atheist treatment) or “Aquinas” (for a drier and more academic treatment). He tackles these kinds of questions and more very satisfactorily.
For me, at least, my intellect was the biggest barrier to my assenting to faith. I needed to convince myself. After all, I was being asked to assent not merely to something comforting but to something that was asserted to be *true.* I treated it as an intellectual exercise, and it bore fruit — first the fruits of right knowing, then of right acting, and now of right willing.
“You should believe because it’s true, not because it’s convenient for your agenda.” That’s kinda hostile sounding. What do you think my agenda is?
“Why ‘unlikely’? God is pure being, thus pure love. What would love not suffer for its beloved?”
Nothing, I guess. Perhaps I have grown too cynical.
Sorry, I didn’t mean it to sound hostile at all. I’m only saying that the question of God’s existence and nature is a question about a first principle, so the treatment of that question ought not to be conditioned by any other opinions you may hold about your own rights. After all, if God exists, then you’re obligated to subject yourself to conquerors if that’s His will. And if He doesn’t exist, well, then you ought to disbelieve, but you ought to disbelieve because it’s false, not because believing would produce bad outcomes.
I understand what you are saying. Well, enough for tonight, thank you for your time and thoughtful answers.
If I do have an agenda, it would be my and my people’s survival. The Jesus I knew promised to save body and soul. The Jesus of today is indifferent or hostile to the European people’s body.
“And if He doesn’t exist, well, then you ought to disbelieve, but you ought to disbelieve because it’s false, not because believing would produce bad outcomes.”
This is not a case like the Israelites praying for relief from just punishments, this is Europeans praying for themselves to be wiped out in the name of peace and harmony. This modern god of the Marxist multicult *is* false.
This is the central problem in the church today. Europeans will not fight because they are told that God says they should capitulate, that they are evil if they want to preserve their nation(s). They are constantly beat up with false guilt over slavery, the Jewish Holocaust, the indigenous populations of the continents they settled, etc., and are not told to hang together while they suffer their punishments, but to destroy themselves through mixing as their punishment.
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