Sunday, September 13, 2015

What's Wrong with our Concept of Natural Law, in Three Parts

Natural Law:  Part 1

“The forces of nature pay no respect to what we call good and evil.”
                  J. A. Froude, “Times of Erasmus and Luther”

" We speak of the Volume of Nature:  and truly a Volume it is, -- whose author and writer is God.  To read it!  Dost thou, does man, so much as well know the Alphabet thereof? . . . It is a Volume written in celestial hieroglyphs, in the true Sacred writing; of which even the prophets are happy that they can read here a line and there a line.  As for your Institutes and Academies of Science, they strive bravely; and from the thick-crowded, inextricably intertwisted hieroglyphic writing, pick out by dextrous combination in the vulgar Character, and therefrom put together this and the other . . . recipe."

Ewald Flugel, Thomas Carlyle's Moral and religious Development (p. 31)

         In his excellent little volume The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis makes much of what he calls the “Tao” and its virtually universal acceptance as evidence of objective morality and of our knowledge of natural law.
I disagree.
By disagreeing, I do not deny objective morality or its origin in God.  I endorse it heartily.  But I do deny that Lewis’s so-called Tao indicates authentic moral insight on our part.  What he identifies as authentic moral insight on a global scale I see as the burdensome vicissitudes and existential necessities of life in a cursed world imposing themselves upon us, and of our yielding to those gruesome and arduous conditions, however willingly or reluctantly.  I see it as our pragmatic adjustment to reality, not as moral insight.
The so-called Tao is not the result of the human soul rightly grasping righteousness on the basis of nature.  Rather, the Tao is a now cursed world order having its way with us.  The Tao is what arises when we are forced to fit in with the realities of a now cursed and fallen order, groaning as it is, in great travail.  What some call natural law is simply what we deem works most efficiently within that accursed system (at least what works best at this point in its long history of change), rather than us differentiating real moral right from real moral wrong without the aid of Scripture.  Utilitarian efficiency and pragmatic preference are not morality.  They are not moral oughtness.  You cannot move from cursed-world pragmatics to authentic righteousness.  On our part, the Tao is pragmatic preference and utility in the face of hard, cursed, reality.   Moving from what is pragmatically preferable to what is morally obligatory is an unjustifiable move, indeed an enormous leap.  Pragmatic preference and our preferences for social utility are not the same as Divine righteousness or Divine command, especially in a Divinely cursed world as ascertained by fallen persons.  We prefer the principles and actions we do because they yield results that, within this cursed order, seem to work best to some of us.  Morality is a different issue altogether.
To identify either as “law” or as “moral” what might be little more and little else than our pragmatic adjustment to a cursed world order is to say too much because those preferences often look very different from the life of Christ and from His Sermon on the Mount, where authentic righteousness is more accurately articulated and more clearly manifest than it is in cursed nature.  If, as the natural lawyers tell us, natural law and Divine law both come from God, then we might expect them to teach the same thing.  But it looks like they do not, not if Christ and His sermon are the moral measure, and not if His Beatitudes are the Divinely authorized description of righteousness and the path to blessing.  At many points, Christ and nature appear to teach quite different things.  Therefore, to label as “natural law” the pragmatic preferences we derive from our experiences in a cursed world system is too exalted and too self-congratulatory a rubric.  We do not know to what extent the conclusions we draw as we struggle to find convenience, practicality, safety, pleasure, utility, self-justification, and financial profit within this cursed order actually reflect the unsullied and righteous character of God.  Judging from the Sermon on the Mount, the resemblance seems radically imprecise.  What Christ teaches there and what we practice and preach on the basis of nature are sometimes wildly different, both in action and in motive.
Further, even to label this a “law” is to employ loaded language: “Law” seems to me a term too high, too lofty, and too ideologically freighted for what it actually embodies or represents.   It’s not a law; it’s our pragmatically assessment of how to cope with currently prevailing conditions under the world curse.  It’s how we deal most pragmatically with reality as it is at the moment.  To call it a law seems to me tendentious and unwarranted, especially given the wildly contestable content of this supposed law.  To call the pragmatic adjustments we make to life in a cursed world “the moral law,” or “the natural law,” is to overstate and to misstate the case.  By calling it a “law,” we imply a lawgiver.  Natural lawyers assert that the lawgiver in this case is God even though it might be nothing more than our own adjustments to a cursed universe, adjustments generated by us, not by Him.  We, not He, might be the lawgivers in question.  I say we are.
Again, I am not saying there is no moral law.  I am saying that the alleged law in view here might just as truly come from earth as from heaven, from us as from Him.  If it comes from us, then to call it a binding moral law is unjustifiable.  To me, it looks more like a pragmatic adjustment to cursed terrestrial life than it does the righteousness of God as manifested historically in Christ both in the things He said and the things He did, of which nature is a distant and pathetic imitation, occasionally even a contradiction.
To call this human pursuit of terrestrial utility “natural law,” therefore, begs the question.  Simply because we prefer it, or simply because we think it works, does not mean we actually have understood nature or arrived by nature’s tutelage at a proper understanding of righteousness.  Furthermore, insofar as our actions display our real beliefs and our real nature, and insofar as our actions are the opposite of what we profess (and certainly of what Christ embodies and professes), then our assertions cannot be trusted.  Our actions make our moral assertions blush.  On that count, newspaper headlines, not the alleged Tao, tell us the real laws of nature, of which human nature is so significant a part.  Despite the tendentious and honorific name we sometimes give it, we might be dealing with unnatural and contra-natural law, namely the law of fallen humanity and its wicked desires trying to live more efficiently and with less trouble.
In short, the laws of revelation, not the alleged laws of a now-cursed universe, are the laws of God and of morality.  They are found best by reading the Bible and by looking to Christ, not by compiling moral approximations and commonalities from among the nations, as Lewis did.  It seems to me that Lewis has overplayed those commonalities and underplayed the differences -- (1) the differences between the various versions of alleged natural law found around the world, and (2) the difference between how nature itself (including human nature) actually works and what we say it teaches.
What is called “natural law” often seems to be nothing more than subjectivism and preference let loose upon the world, a fact evidenced by the enormous variety of things called by the name “natural law.”  What we have before us looks more like a natural law ideology than a natural law.  What we have is often simply a subjective projection imposed onto the natural world, a projection by which we become a law unto ourselves.  That the natural law theorist must keep trying to convince his or her fellows about the truth and specific content of this or that version of natural law might indicate the opposite point:  Maybe what they call natural law is not what they think it is.  At times, what’s called “natural law” seems both counter-natural and tendentiously selective.  It seems to reflect, at best, only a small part of nature, only a part of what this cursed world is really like and actually teaches (if it teaches anything).  Natural law theorists seem to ignore that nature is “red in tooth and claw.”   They do not advise us to be likewise red, and yet they claim nature is the source of their teaching.  They ignore that the real way of the natural world is to feed on others, devouring them for our own ends, a practice natural law theorists strongly abhor among human beings while at the same time telling those human beings to follow the natural law.
(1) Because nature is cursed and is not now what it once was, (2) because cursed nature does not function in the way it was designed to function, and (3) because fallen humans themselves are part of nature, and subject to the curse, any supposed moral law drawn from nature and from human beings ought to be advanced with the greatest possible humility and reluctance, if at all, especially because those who advance it suffer under the same burdens of curse and of sin as do all things, only in the case of human beings that sin and curse are delusion inducing.  As Kant astutely observed, out of timber so crooked as that from which we are made, nothing straight can be carved.
Understanding righteousness is a branch of theology.  That means it is a matter of supernatural revelation, not something deduced unaided from a cursed world by unabashedly sinful rebels.  Righteousness, therefore, must be understood and pursued on a distinctly Biblical basis, not on some other.  Just as revelation is an event, a sovereign Divine disclosure of God to us, so also is righteousness a matter of Divine Self-disclosure.   It rests not upon the musings and deductions of fallen human nature or on the workings of a cursed world, but upon Divine revelation and Divine act, most specifically and fully in Christ.   Righteousness is a Christological, not philosophical, category.  Righteousness is an unnatural category.  By Christ, not by our own contemplation of humanity in the abstract, or humanity in nature, or nature without humanity, do we know what righteousness is, what righteousness does, and what righteousness looks like.  We learn it from Christ, not from cursed nature as decoded by sinful and rebellious minds.  When we do learn righteousness from Christ, we learn that righteousness means apparently counter-natural things like loving your enemies, which means dying for them, just as you would do for your friends.  Righteousness looks like Christ on the cross, the just dying for the unjust, the innocent pleading for the forgiveness and benefit of the guilty.  It does not look like the survival of the fittest.  It looks like the self-chosen and self-sacrificial death of the highest and the best on behalf of the most unworthy at the moment of their greatest unworthiness.  This revelation of righteousness comes to us not in nature but in Christ and is suffused with grace and redemption.  Righteousness is not a humanly-deduced system drawn by sinners from a selective and tendentious reading of cursed nature.
In other words, just as righteousness is a part of Biblical theology, natural law is a part of natural theology.  The same problems that obtain in natural theology obtain in natural law, namely, fallen human creatures themselves.  What the natural theologian is to natural theology the natural lawyer is to natural law -- its deformer.  Cursed nature does not now teach the righteousness taught by the kenotic Christ and, even if it did, the natural lawyers would foul it up.  Nature does not teach what Christ teaches, and what it does teach they get wrong.  They follow their self-induced delusions into greater and denser obscurity, not light.  To do natural law well, they’d have to free themselves from themselves.  But unless God frees them, that freedom remains impossible.  It is impossible because, like us all, natural lawyers wallow in superbia, the region of spiritual pride and, therefore, of delusion.  It might be, after all, that nature does not teach morality at all.  Do not confuse what nature does or does no teach with what the natural lawyers teach.  They want to speak for nature, but they seem to do a bad job of it. 
Closely related to natural law is conscience, a thing now as fallen and immersed in sin as everything else about us.  Conscience requires grace and redemption, without which it can never be fully trusted because it is not now what it once was and will be again.  Given its currently defective condition, given its radical fallenness, it cannot be trusted.  More often than we know, it lies.  I am willing to admit that the presence of conscience is universal if others are willing to admit that its universality is characterized by moral ignorance and shameless rebellion.
To purge the mind of its debilitating sin is not as easy as the natural law theorists seem to imagine.  They underplay the fact that humanists, modernists, postmodernists, and others sometimes also believe in natural law but read it and apply it quite differently.  If the are Catholics, then they do not realize that the interpretive pluralism they descry in Protestantism they welcome and endorse in natural law.  The competing and alternately prevailing views of nature and of human nature are sometimes profoundly varied, whether we mean those of Nietzsche, Freud, Rousseau, Marx, Sartre, Jaspers, Sade, or Aristotle.  In their uniquely bent ways, all are doing natural theology and natural law, the resultant content and moral requirements of which seem impenetrably murky, even chaotic.
         That chaos raises one final and related point, this one from a long-standing hermeneutical debate within jurisprudence:  In order to adjudicate cases well, judges need a hermeneutic by which to interpret and to apply positive law.  Jurisprudential thinkers debate over what hermeneutic that ought to be.  Natural lawyers and natural judges face the same challenge.  They too require a hermeneutic by which to discern the content and moral demands of the alleged natural law.  They need to tell us precisely what that hermeneutic is and how (and from where) it is gotten.  Without that, there seems little safeguard, if any, against the self-seeking, morally-demented, natural lawyers and natural judges who impose themselves upon the “text” of natural law, being themselves in this field of thought exactly what they abhor elsewhere, namely judicial activists who make the law a vehicle for their own agenda.  Without a clearly articulated hermeneutic for reading and applying natural law, ambiguity reigns.  This elusive and shape-shifting natural law cannot be the basis for state action, something for which natural law advocates frequently advance it.  Following nature more closely will not cure the state of its evils.  Justice is Christological at the root, not anthropological or political.  Justice is rooted in Christ, not in us or in our cursed world.  Anthropocentric law and government are no better than anthropocentric theology.  Both are upside down.  Until we are told explicitly how the self-appointed natural law judges move from (1) an observation of nature to (2) a determination of what nature teaches, and then to (3) a determination of how it ought to be most prudently applied in the political arena, I remain implacably skeptical.  Nothing I’ve seen to date convinces me to be anything else.

Natural Law:  Part 2
         Before natural lawyers start pontificating about natural law and its alleged lessons, they’d better consider all the ways that nature is now unnatural.  They’d better know the difference between nature as created and nature as cursed.  They must understand the difference between what nature is now and what nature ought to be, once was, and will be again.
         All any natural law advocate has ever seen is unnatural, or sub-natural, nature.  Further, the natural lawyers need to understand that they themselves are unnatural, that they universally are fallen, wicked, sinful, and rebellious.  They are unnatural and wicked creatures reasoning on the basis of unnatural nature in order to tell us about real natural law, as if, despite all their incapacities and habitual immoralities, natural lawyers were objective, disinterested, and reliable on the point.
         I’m not convinced.
         The natural law crowd does not know and therefore cannot articulate the difference between natural nature and unnatural nature, whether in themselves or in the world at large.  Those differences are perhaps unimaginable.  Those differences are something akin to the difference between ancient Eden and the Arabian desert.  Such differences are depicted in the eschatological image of the lion lying down with the lamb.   Shockingly, and to us quite unnaturally, the lamb will not be inside the lion when it happens.  That eschatological nature of peace and ours seem to operate on a quite different basis.   The details of that difference we do not know.  Natural lawyers have never seen nature not under a curse, nature unburdened, nature natural.  They have never seen themselves not under that debilitating and burdensome curse or without the noetic effects of sin.  Apart from God telling them, they cannot know and do not know what real lessons real nature might teach, if any, and how those lessons differ from those supposedly taught now by a cursed nature and interpreted by the unnatural lawyers who fancy themselves able to speak for it.
         When unnatural lawyers explain the “laws” of unnatural nature, they do so in a tendentious and highly selective manner.  They do not tell you for your instruction and imitation that nature is vicious, that it is “red in tooth and claw,” that its law is normally to kill in order to live.  They do not tell you that nature is doomed, that it is winding down to a cold, motionless, amorphous mass at a low temperature, that in the end all natural stories reduce to precisely nothing.  That is, they do not tell you that natural law is murderous and nihilistic.  Rather, they want to use nature to teach the things that they want it to teach, not what it actually does teach, if it teaches anything all.
         In nature as it is, the law is either to kill or be killed, even though the natural lawyers will not teach you to live in that brutal fashion, and would be appalled if you seriously undertook to do so.  But the nature they trumpet functions that way.
         Indeed, even if living things in nature escape being killed, they still die.  In other words, selfish predation and both individual and cosmic nihilism are the order of the day in nature, even if the unnatural lawyers don’t recommend that you live accordingly while they crow about natural law.  Unnatural lawyers publically trumpet natural law while ignoring much of it, maybe most of it.  They often alter it to fit their own agenda.  With regard to the real laws of contemporary nature they are what they despise others being with regard to positive law:  They are legal and judicial activists.  They push their own truncated agenda onto the law and subjugate the agenda of nature’s current constitution.  The so-called natural law advocates are unnatural, indeed anti-natural.
         If you want to know real right and real wrong -- and you should -- then you need to go to God’s Word, not to the current workings of a cursed and therefore unnatural natural order or to the self-aggrandizing and twisted mental gymnastics of unnatural lawyers.

Natural Law:  Part 3
         I adduce here two stanzas from Charles Kingsley.  The first depicts natural law; the second supernatural law. 

This is the natural law:
“The heath eats up the green grass and delicate herbs;
The pines eat up the heath. The grub the pine;
The finch the grub; the hawk the silly finch;
And man, the mightiest of all beasts of prey,
Eats what he lists. The strong eat up the weak”

This is the supernatural law:
“Looks patient down the great magnanimous God,
Who, Master of all worlds, did sacrifice
All to Himself?  Nay, but Himself to all;
Who taught mankind, on that first Christmas Day,
What ‘tis to be a man – to give, not take;
To serve, not rule; to nourish, not devour;
To lift, not crush; if need, to die, not live.”

Sunday, March 8, 2015

A Theology of Corporations

            Perhaps J. R. R. Tolkein's most salient contribution to theology is the doctrine he called the principle of "sub-creation."  By it, he meant that we make according to the principle by which we are made.  That is, like all things else, we were spoken into existence by a multi-personal God acting in unity.  We are the result of the powerful and creative words of a plurality-in-unity.  That implies three important things:  (1) language, (2) community, and (3) mutual love are at the core of all reality.  From them, all created things arise.
         In Genesis 1: 1, we read that "in the beginning elohim," a plural word, "created" (a singular verb) "the heavens and the earth."(KJV).  That is, a plurality acting as a unity made the world, and He made it with words.  He spoke it into existence.  The same principle re-emerges later in the same chapter when God says "Let us" (plural) make (singular) man in our (plural) image   So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them" (v. 27).
         Note that the image of God is something said about no other creatures but the human creatures, and that this image is distributed across both sexes.  While each human creature possesses it, no person has it in its fullness.  Without others, male and female, it is incomplete in us.  In order to make it more full, in order to manifest it more effectively, we are to be communal, to work in concert with one another, just like our Creator, and we are to work the way he works, by making things with words, by speaking things into existence, things personal and impersonal, and things that singular and plural simultaneously.  Corporations fit that description quite fully. 
         As God made the universe with words, corporations are made with words, in this case, the precise legal language of incorporation, the result of which is that many persons become one, that one being both personal and impersonal, much like the universe in which it exists, a universe filled with persons and non-persons.  A corporation is, as we all know, a person at law, a personal entity replete with rights and obligations, composed of multiple persons, acting in concert, a marvelous thing sprung from words.  To revert to Tolkein, we make according to the principle by which we are made.
         When God made us, He placed upon our shoulders what theologians call the "creation mandate:"  We are to have "dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth" (v. 26).  "Dominion" here does not mean reckless exploitation.  It means the prudent stewardship by which we are to "be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it" (v. 28).  It means transforming the entire earth from an uncultivated jungle into productive and well-sustained garden.  Corporations can be, and ought to be, part of that mandate, part of that stewardship of productive sustainability.  Corporations, being in our image, have the same obligations we have, being in God's image.  We are to make the best of things, to cultivate the world in ever richer and more productive ways, always with an eye toward our Divinely imposed obligations and our Divinely bestowed opportunities.  We are to "fill the earth," leaving none of it less habitable or less productive than is possible, not even the deserts in all their native hostility, which nations like Israel have turned into a garden, a city, a workplace, a school, and a resort.  Much of that subduing was the work of corporations, doing what they, and we, were created to do.
         One of the central doctrines of Christianity is the Lordship of Christ.  As Lord, He is not the Lord of merely some things, but of all.  If He is Lord of all things, then nothing is properly secular.  Therefore, anything pursued in a secular fashion is at least partly, if not wholly, mispursued.  Our task, then, is to bring his Lordship wisely and prudently to bear upon all that we do, including filling the earth, subduing it, and making it what it was meant to be.   It means running a corporation as if Jesus were its CEO, as if the One who turned water into wine were still at work, turning deserts into oases.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Names of God and What They Mean

As Calvin argued in his Institutes (Bk. I, Ch. XIII), unless we contemplate God according to His self-revelation, only bare, empty, schematic notions of God will flit about in our brains, to the exclusion of the true God.
Unless we contemplate God according to His self-revelation, we go astray; we go afield.  To avoid that detour, we need to take recourse to those names by which He calls Himself, and to the actions and personality associated with those Divine names -- of which there are many:  Elohim, Yahweh, and Jesus, among them.  With God, there is graphic and startling historical and personal particularity.  He is this, not that; He is Himself, not some other.  He says and does these things, not those, and not nothing.  Aristotle’s god, you recall, is nameless, voiceless, and uninvolved.  It is not the God of the Bible, not Yahweh, not Elohim, and not Jesus.  They can talk, act, and relate; it cannot.
The loss of God’s many names is the loss of God and of reliable windows into His fullness, which those names help provide.  As Biblical theologians, we must beware of the appalling loss of depth and meaning that the word “God” has suffered because in place of His names we employ philosophical taxonomy and methods, which assimilate and reduce God to nature and to the philosophical deductions we draw from it.  These assimilations, reductions, and deductions can be corrected only by the invasion of God’s authentic, articulate, and gracious Godness in all its historical and human particularity in Israel and in Christ.  Only the objective revelation of the Lord God Himself can successfully turn back our penchant to subdue and reduce His divine reality into some form of our humanly-controlled and humanly-generated subjectivity.  By our methodologically illicit subjectivity, He is shrunken to the boundaries of our own alleged intellectual autonomy and its attendant misunderstandings both of God and self.  The sovereign, transcendent, and uncompromised objectivity of God does not permit unregenerate sinners to understand Him apart from His revelation of Himself in his words, works, and names, without which no natural theology can validate itself.  We cannot steal, we cannot fabricate, knowledge of God behind His back.  He gives it or it is never gotten.  God’s character, and therefore His glory, cannot be accurately and reliably abstracted by us from His creatures and His creation.  To do so is to presuppose a functional dualism between God and Himself:  Recall that in Christ and in Scripture God reveals Himself, and not mere information about Himself.  He does so only to the redeemed.  To think that self-deluded sinners can know God on some other basis than God’s self-revealing, that other basis being their own wicked making and doing, is to separate God from the Word, which is Himself, and in its place to conflate God with nature, which is not Him, but merely comes from Him.  The Incarnation means that God Himself enters history in Jesus of Nazareth.  In Him, with Him, and as Him, the Word remains forever.
A partial list of the Divine names in Scripture follows.  It indicates both separately and collectively the multi-layered richness of His character and of His relationships with His people.
         Yahweh [Lord, Jehovah] This is the most commonly used name of God in the Hebrew Scriptures and seems to emphasize His omnipotence as the Supreme Ruler of all things and, as such, was too holy even to utter, a reluctance carried on by some even until today.  Yahweh” is translated very loosely as "The Existing One,” which suggests that He is to become known and will reveal Himself accordingly.  As the existing One, He is set apart from all the false gods who do not exist outside the minds of those who invented them.
Elohim [God, Judge, Creator] Though the etymological derivation of this plural word is highly controverted, its usage is less so.  It implies the functional sovereignty of God over all things, period.  He made them and they are His.  He can rule over them as He wishes.
Adonai [Lord, Master] Just as “Elohim” is plural, so also is “Adonai” (the singular being “adon,” which normally is used of human leaders or sovereigns, though not exclusively so).  In reference to God, the plural “Adonai” is frequently used, and is sometimes translated as “my lords.”  Sometimes “Adonai” was used as a substitute for “Yahweh.”
El Elyon  [The Most High God] This name expresses the sovereign majesty of God and His unapproachable superiority.
Jehovah Nissi  [The Lord My Banner, The Lord My Miracle] The word “Nissi,” which derives from “Nes,” meaning "banner," recognizes that God is the banner under which the ancient Israelites conquered their enemies.
Jehovah-Rohi: [God is My Shepherd]  As famously articulated in Psalm 23, God is the Shepherd Who feeds, protects, and pastures His flock and each of its members.  As shepherd, God also is our friend, companion, and ally.
El Shaddai [Lord God Almighty, All-Sufficient One] According to some scholars, this name derives from an ancient word for breast and implies that in His mighty power God is also, so to speak, the Great Provider of motherly nurture and nourishment.
Jehovah Rapha:  [God the Healer] As our Great Physician, God restores and heals His people, both inwardly and outwardly.
Jehovah Shammah [The Lord Who is There] This name for God name indicates that He has not and will not abandoned His people.  He is "The God who is There," to quote Francis Schaeffer.  Even if God's people now are in grievous trouble, they will be restored because He is there and has not forsaken them.
Jehovah Tsidkenu [The Lord is Our Righteousness] In the Old Testament, this name indicates that God has spoken to us and has become known as the straight and righteous One, in Whom is no bentness or twistedness.  His character is therefore the measure of righteousness.  For that reason, He also is known as Jehovah Mekoddishkem, the Lord Who makes us Holy, Who sanctifies us and sets us apart for His use, to which He has dedicated us.
Qanna [jealous] God is depicted here as Israel's husband.  He is a jealous God, desiring our praise, allegiance, and affection for Himself.  They are rightly His.
Jehovah Jireh [The Lord Who Provides] Even in our hour of deepest need and most extreme circumstances, and no matter what our plight, God will provide.  Because He is the great and sovereign God, He will supply all our needs, perhaps in ways we do not know and cannot anticipate.  As Lord of the whole world, He is never without sufficient resources.  

Thursday, July 3, 2014

"il primo Amore"

         The connection between ideas and actions is intimate and enduring.  Because ideas have consequences, and because bad ideas have bad ones, it matters what you think.   The differences between natural theology and authentically Christian theology lead, therefore, to differences in spirituality, and they are our focus.
         I begin with an important and fundamental difference:  the difference between the first mover and the first lover, or what Dante called “il primo Amore.”
         If, in some degree, worlds reflect their makers, then consider this:  A world in motion is far different from a world in love.  Aristotle’s first mover is not, and cannot be, the first and greatest Lover, though Dante’s God can be the first mover, if we think of Love as spiritual motion, the way Dante does.  For him, indeed, “love makes the world go round.”  For Dante, God can be, and is, precisely that, the prime Lover, because Dante knows Christ, and knows the God revealed in Christ.  Multi-personal, interpersonal, everlasting Love lies at the core of Dante’s world, but not Aristotle’s, even though Dante inherited much from Aristotle, he did not inherit a prime Lover.  That had to come from elsewhere.  Being an aloof, distant, abstract and sub-personal force, Aristotle’s god could not give rise to Dante’s.  The chasm between the two gods and the two worlds they create is beyond mere difference.  It is incompatibility.  Mere motion, on the one hand, and righteous, self-sacrificial affection, on the other hand, must not to be confused or conflated.  Neither must the Gods from which they spring. 
         Consider, too, the difference in spirituality that the character and commandments pertaining to the two Gods in view (if we can say that Aristotle’s god even has a character or imposes moral requirements):  The difference is between (1) moving, and causing, on the one hand, and (2) loving, communing, incarnating, and self-sacrificing, on the other.  As even a moment’s reflection makes plain, personality-less, morality-less, love-less, and word-less unmoved movers like Aristotle’s cannot give rise to the Divine Comedy or to the spirituality it entails.  Much, very much, needs to be added to it before the piety of the Divine Comedy or the revamped heroism of Paradise Lost emerge.  That “very much” is the Word become flesh, the incarnation of Christ.             

Thursday, June 26, 2014

What's in a Name?

         When American sports teams choose a name, they look for an icon of strength, an image widely known and recognized as impressive and awesome.  No major sports franchise calls itself the Custers (or the French).  If you want an impressive name, if you want to conjure up and awesome image, pick the Braves, the Chiefs, the Indians, the Vikings, the Bears, the Diamondbacks, or the Redskins.
Similarly, if folks want to name a city or a state, they usually pick a name of something that is known to be honorable, pleasant, or respectable, like Indiana, Indianapolis, Illinois, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Maryland, St. Augustine, or Sioux City.  Perhaps I’ve missed it, but I don’t recall any American city named after John Wayne Gacy, Al Capone, Adolph Hitler, John Dillinger, Bernie Madoff, Charles Manson, or Mark David Chapman.  I don’t know any streets named after James Earl Ray, but I know plenty named after Martin Luther King.  Almost every major city has one, and rightly so.
The really offensive part of the name “Washington Redskins” is not "Redskins."  Who or what has ever done more unrelenting harm to Native Americans than Washington?  And if you wanted a name that doubled the infamy, just take the name of the old baseball franchise:  “Washington Senators.”
The name “Redskins” now in use comes from an era when the team had a Native American head coach (which is one way of knowing what the team thought of Native Americans).  Out of respect and affection for their head coach, they named their team after him and his background.  He appreciated the affection and good will behind the gesture.   He knew it was not a slur at all.  Nor did the team change it into one in the intervening years.  The team still holds the ethnicity of that coach in high esteem, as well as it does those who share it with him.
The case is the same with the Cleveland Indians.  Cleveland used to call its baseball team the Naps, after Hall of Famer Napoleon Lajoie, clearly not an insult to him.  Then it changed its name to honor L.F. Sockalexis, a full-blooded Penobscot Indian and the grandson of a Tribal chieftain, a team name clearly not an insult either to Sockalexis or to his grandfather, modern hyper-sensitivities notwithstanding.  When you name your entire team after the ethnicity of your head coach or after a great player, you have not denigrated either one.  You have honored them by identifying your entire enterprise with them.  Similarly, Irish folks are not denigrated by Notre Dame, industrial workers by Purdue, or a different tribe of Native Americans by Illinois.
I don’t know who is advising the government on such matters, but, clearly, to strip the Washington Redskins of their brand name is simply to allow anyone who wishes to make money from it to do so, which guarantees to spread its usage quite widely.  Evacuating that trademark is not suppressing its usage.  That’s widening it, which is typical DC lunacy.  Now anyone who wishes can profit from that brand name and its icon, hardly an outcome likely to limit its usage or to assuage the alleged insult using it allegedly entails to folks with reddish skin.  And yes, I know that redskin folks aren’t really red, blacks aren’t really black, and whites aren’t white.  I also know that the politically correct try relentlessly to foist their overweening hypersensitivities off onto the rest of us whenever they can.   
But I wont accept it.  I'll just push back even harder.  I've got an NFL (Redskins) credit card.  Now that the government has taken away their trademark patent, I'm not going to use any other card, not if my money goes to the Redskins team.  I'm also going to the Redskins’ website to buy lots of their gear.  Soon I might have to go to the University of Illinois website and buy lots of their Fighting Illini gear, a designation soon to draw critical attention to itself.  Then maybe I’ll invest in Notre Dame's Fighting Irish gear.  All of which raises this question:  Do you suppose the government will make Indiana change its name?  Or Indianapolis?  Or the Braves and Chiefs?   What about people of size and the offensive San Francisco Giants?  And are Catholic clergy really going to be happy about the Padres or the Saints?
         For the record, I am 1/8 Apache, which makes me more Indian than Elizabeth Warren.  The Redskin name has no negative impact upon me whatever.  I’m also half Swiss.  But that doesn’t mean I am insulted because the Vatican hires Swiss soldiers to be the Pope’s guards or that those guards feature prominently in Vatican photography.   They do so because for many centuries the Swiss were considered Europe’s best and most reliable warriors.  I’m proud to have that prowess recognized.  Some of those warriors were my ancestors.  Some of that warrior blood still flows through my veins.  I might be a Protestant, but I’d gladly protect the Pope.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"Jersey Boys:" A Review

        In most cases, if it has to do with Clint Eastwood, I’m for it.  From Rowdy Yates to the Republican Convention, I’m behind him.  I even bought a Thomas Kinkade painting because it shows Eastwood walking down the street of the little California town of which he once was mayor.  And “Gran Torino,” wow.
         I walked into “Jersey Boys” with high expectations:  I like Eastwood’s work on so many counts.  I like the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.  And I lived for nearly 10 years in the towns and neighborhoods where much of the action takes place.  But “Jersey Boys” didn’t make my day.
         I try to be realistic.  I don’t expect many movies to teach lessons I endorse or to share my worldview.  As long as they tell an interesting story in an interesting way, I’m happy.    
I was partly pleased by “Jersey Boys.”  In an era when shock and offense too often replace intelligence, it’s one of the few R-rated movies where the sex and violence take place primarily off screen.  That’s fine.  I’m not complaining about that.  I’m complaining about what happens on screen, which is, in a word, stereotypical.  These aren’t fleshed out characters with interesting or individual things to say.  They’re stereotypes.  They could stand in for each other.  I’m not certain they didn’t.
From Clint Eastwood, who is famously the master of subtle, I expected, and I wanted, more.  The idiosyncratic nuance of Walt Kowalski -- hard headed, soft hearted, bigoted, and oddly principled -- is missing from “Jersey Boys.”  No character in it has subtlety.   Nothing in the entire movie has Walt’s layered, nuanced, multi-dimensional, texture or anything approaching it.  “Trouble with the Curve” did. 
         I suspect that Eastwood the director could have been Mad Max before Mad Max, as Eastwood movies before “The Unforgiven” attest.  After forays into spaghetti westerns, orangutan movies, and cop flicks, and after genre classics like “Dirty Harry” and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” Eastwood unleashed his real genius.   We learned that he has more finesse, more subtlety, and more nuance than almost any movie man of the era, whether before or behind the camera.  I’m glad Eastwood finally resisted those temptations and embraced art.  After “The Unforgiven,” the violence recedes; the nuance grows.  From him, we don’t get the spurting blood fountains of “The Passion of the Christ,” which could have been titled “Mad Max Goes to Golgotha,” or “Lethal Weapon in Jerusalem.”  Eastwood chose his own different path, and he was right.
         But in “Jersey Boys,” Eastwood’s gift failed him.  Subtle gone bad turns flat and boring.  Yes, and in a movie about The Four Seasons and their ostensibly inimitable front man, Frankie Valli, you can’t ask someone to imitate him and expect to succeed.  Were the replacement actually to succeed, the movie’s own premise would collapse.  Were he not to succeed, the movie itself would collapse.  In “Jersey Boys,” Eastwood got himself into a tight spot, maybe an impossible one.  While the whole move is based on the premise that there is no other Frankie Valli, for 2 ¼ hours we watch someone try to do what the movie says, and unintentionally proves, cannot be done:  replace the irreplaceable.
         And to turn the final scene of a pseudo-biopic into an outtake from a Broadway musical is, if not unforgiven, certainly unforgiveable.  That this scene stands out so starkly and incongruously from what precedes it shows that trying to give this movie the feel of a stage play all along just didn’t work.  Before the final scene was over, I swear I expected to see Gene Kelly dancing in the rain, which is not how a Four Seasons flick ought to end.
         I don’t want to see this movie again.
         I haven’t said that about a Clint Eastwood movie for many years. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Rules

These are the rules.  Learn them.  Follow them.  There will be a test.  It's called life.

You don’t create wealth by taxation.  Taxation just takes wealth away from some and gives it to others.  Redistribution is not creation.

You get more of what you subsidize and less of what you tax.   If you tax those who create wealth, you get less wealth creation.  If you subsidize illegitimacy and poverty (which go sadly and frequently together) you get more poverty and illegitimacy.  In other words, if you punish success, you get less success.  If you reward those who do not contribute their hard work, you get fewer folks willing to contribute hard work. 

Wealth creation happens more easily and more often in a stable economic environment.  Before folks lay their time, effort, and money on the line starting a new business and creating new jobs, they need to know that the rules of the game will be fairly and predictably applied and that the government won’t be tilting the playing field against them or doing magic tricks with currency, like flooding the marketplace with fiat dollars, thus making every dollar of every person worth less and less.

The condition of an apartment tends to follow its price.  If, by some legislative connivance, you put a price-ceiling on an apartment in order to keep down its rent, its condition will go down to that price point.  Virtually every rent-controlled housing project proves it.  Rent control is the parent of squalor and danger, not thrift or great neighborhoods.

The fundamental building block of a society is the family, not the allegedly autonomous individual.  Whatever undermines traditional families and traditional family roles tends to undermine the society as well.  Poverty tends to circle around broken homes.

The key to financial success is now what it always has been:  work harder than those above you; save your money; invest your money; and keep your family intact.

Whether you are a family or a government, don’t spend what you don’t have; make a budget; stick to it.  Good governments and good families are characterized by prudence and self-discipline.  Learn the important difference between a desire and a need.

To act wisely, you first must know wisely.  You must think with your head, not your heart.  Good intentions don’t mend the matter of foolishness at all.