Saturday, September 24, 2011

I hope there's more to this story, 'cause if not, Henry VIII is definitely in hell....

The room ... was turned into a chapel in about 1530 by Henry VIII when he appropriated this complex of buildings from a leper hospital and turned it into a royal palace.

- from the BBC's Sacred Music documentary

Seriously, Henry? You got away with that inside your own head? Your conscience said, "Sure, close down that nasty old Catholic hospital. It's probably just used by monks and priests to do naughty things with the poor little leper boys. They'll be much better out on the streets." Like I said, there had better be another side to this story, because how seriously do you have to be messed up to think it more important that the king have another palace than that people suffering from a debilitating, contagious disease have a place to live and die with what little dignity and comfort they have left?

Of course, there are probably horrible things about my lifestyle that I don't see at all, but about which future generations are going to write, "Seriously, Jon? You got away with that inside your own head? I sure hope there's another side to your story because if not, you're definitely in hell."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Philosophy of the New Atheists is Determined by Their Politics

The New Atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennet, Harris, et al) are working out the metaphysic of a liberal democracy that is considered “absolute”. That is, if you consider liberal, individualistic, democratic society to be the best (or only) way to live, that belief needs a certain theory to back it up. The NA’s have done a certain amount of thinking on this score and have worked their way back to the presuppositions that are implied by modern, liberal, democratic society.

For Christians, ideas like “modern political freedom” are not and cannot be absolute. (Really, for any human being they can’t be absolute, but most people in Western society haven’t picked up on this fact yet.) We recognize that our current political and social freedom is contingent on the common acceptance of certain, basic, society-wide values and norms - specifically, Christian ones. Given society-wide acceptance of those values and norms, there can be quite a lot of freedom for individuals to choose ways of worship, certain moral values, etc, without threatening the structured peace of society. It’s perfectly fine, then, from a political point of view, to have atheists in your society and allow them to not go to church, but only as long as they’re Christian atheists.

If, however, you take modern political and social freedom as an absolute, then there cannot be a Higher Being who has created us and determines what is right and wrong for us to do, personally and socially. The NA’s recognize that if there is a God who has created, then what he says goes. But what he says can’t go (or else modern liberal democracy isn’t absolute). Therefore, there is no God. If A then B. Not B, therefore not A.

Richard Dawkins especially is fascinating because his main argument is almost entirely a moral one. The “science” is just a smoke screen. (Not that I think for a second he isn’t convinced that Science disproves God.) But Dawkins basically says, “Religion disables a community from considering modern democratic political and social freedom from being an absolute. But they are absolute. Therefore, religion is bad.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I Am So D*** Sick of Democracy

Why is it that every time people discuss Thomas Aquinas's, or Aristotle's, or Augustine's, or Plato's ideas of government, it's to gabble on about whether he would or would not have agreed with "democracy." If we like a philosopher, we try to argue that he was a proto-democrat, who would have been up there, signing the Declaration of Independence with his ol' pals, Ben Franklin and Tom Jefferson if he'd only been lucky enough to be born 500 years later. And if we don't like him, we discuss darkly his inability to understand the light we have been granted from on high.

Seriously, can we just agree to look at what principles of government might lie behind any particular form of government, and not keep fetishizing "democracy" as some sort of Platonic Ideal of Government? 'S driving me crazy.

A Fascinating Phenomenon

A fascinating phenomenon that needs to be acknowledged and dealt with in the conservative intellectual community is the tendency of support that starts out as charity to become a matter of justice.

When someone grows to rely on the help that is given them, and plans their life around the expectation that it will be there, and there's no good reason to think that it won't be there, then such help is no longer a charitable contribution. Such a contribution is now just, and its denial an injustice.

A Basic Premise of Moral Philosophy

I'm kind of shocked that I've been arguing with people lately who deny this. This is moral philosophy 101:

If a fellow human being is in significant trouble, you have to help him out, even if his predicament is his own fault. If I'm walking on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in wintertime and I see a guy about to go out on thin ice, and I warn him, and he goes out anyway, and falls through the ice, I can't just sit back and say, "I warned you. This is your own fault," while I let him drown. I have to do everything reasonable I can to rescue him. If I don't, I'm not just a smartass, I'm a bad human being.

That's why it is right that we as a society pay taxes to have search and rescue teams risk their own lives to search for, and rescue, even the idiots who ignored foul weather warnings.

So if some idiot 23 year-old kid with an overweening sense of his own invincibility decides to "risk it" and not get insurance, then yes, we, as a society, have to help him out if he gets cancer or crashes his motorcycle. We can't just say, "Sorry, kid. It was your stupid choice, and now you're screwed."

My Beef With Libertarians (and Libertarian-Leaning Conservatives)

I wrote this in response to an interlocutor on Mark Shea's blog post about the conservatives at the Tea Party debate who cheered when Ron Paul implied that someone who was in a coma without medical insurance - insurance that he had neglected of his own fault to get - should "suffer the consequences of his actions", since that was what "freedom" meant, and among whom were a couple who shouted "Yeah!" when it was asked whether that meant "let him die".

Anyway, the guy I was arguing with - a polite and generous man - asked what my beef was with libertarians. This is the first of a series of posts in which I want to try and flesh out my political philosophy a little (and also to save some of my thought that's been captured in some of the replies I've made in blog discussions).

My Beef with American Conservative-Libertarianism

I come from the conservative/libertarian end of the political spectrum - I'm still a Republican - and I am extremely frustrated with conservatives in the United States, mostly because they took what is a secondary consideration, "Whether it is a wise thing to make one, large, bureaucratic institution with the power of the sword the sole nexus of justice in a society" (answer: no), and made it into the primary thing, as if it were a primary principle of natural law.

I never thought I would have to argue with Catholics that society has a duty to help people in need. I never thought anyone would take the position that if someone's in trouble, and it's their own fault, then it's okay (under Natural Law) to let 'em starve (or slave forever under a burden of medical debt they will never be able to pay back, or ... whatever). And yet there are people in that video and [in the comment section of Shea's blog] who think just that way. That doesn't rise to the level of natural virtue, much less supernatural, Christian virtue. Even a virtuous pagan knows he should care for his neighbor.

These people have made "freedom" an idol. Freedom doesn't mean - it cannot mean - that I no longer have a responsibility to my neighbor if he's a big enough idiot. Yet under the banner of "freedom" and "liberty", people feel free to argue that they have no such responsibility, and that it's ultimately up to individuals and their own personal "charity" to decide whether to help their neighbor or not, and natural justice under natural law could never blame them if they didn't help. This is sick and wrong.

People keep saying things like, "Well, taking care of people in need: that's charity, not justice."

That is false. Charity is the love of Christ flowing out of me to give more than is my duty to give. But taking care of one's neighbor is not a supernatural virtue. It is a requirement of natural justice. I have a duty to care for my neighbor. If I don't, it's not a lack of charity, it's an injustice. I'm not an unprofitable servant. I'm a wicked servant.

Americans have had the luxury of living in a pretty decent society, where we could count on the fact that the churches were, by-and-large, well attended, well funded, and looked upon as true representative institutions of the whole community. Furthermore, we lived in towns or small neighborhoods within cities where people knew their neighbors, shared their ideals and their way of life, knew what they deserved in justice, and, since they belonged to the same organizations (churches, fraternal organizations, etc), had the means and the wherewithall to help them, and deliver the justice that society owed them.

But this state of things has been destroyed. And it has been destroyed as much by people who desired economic freedom from their neighbors and the mobility of labor that allows large corporations to operate more efficiently and deliver consumer goods in greater abundance, as by the "liberals" who wanted to expand government. In short, we destroyed it, just as much as FDR. And we Red Staters refuse to acknowledge this. Instead, we go on carping about "freedom" as though with just a little more "free market capitalism" we could save America. It was "free market capitalism" that helped destroy the America that could operate without intrusive national governmental oversight. FDR and his ilk were trying to save America for capitalism, for economic individualism and "freedom", not from it.

But my people will not see. They are captive to a philosophy that sees the Modern Conservative Understanding of the Founding Fathers as some sort of Oracle of the Divine, when Thomas Aquinas could have reduced all their arguments to rubble.