Unmoored Freedom is No Freedom – A Reflection on the 4th of July | Community in Mission

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To most modern minds, freedom is a very detached concept; it is an abstraction of sorts, a free-floating power unmoored from any limits or defining standards.

“Freedom today is often viewed as personal and self-referential, with little consideration as to how one’s ‘freedom’ might affect that of someone else. A healthy sense of the common good suffers mightily in a world of deeply conflicting personal freedoms.”

Source: Unmoored Freedom is No Freedom – A Reflection on the 4th of July | Community in Mission

Cogent thoughts on freedom, limitation, and the folly of trying to create (or maintain) culture without cultus.

“Obviously, the word cultus is at the heart of the word culture. In Latin, a cultus is something for which we care or about which we are concerned; it is something of worth, something considered valuable. It describes the most central, fundamental values of a group. In later Latin, cultus came to describe the worth or value we attribute to God, who is our truest goal.

“Remove the cultus from culture and you get the breakdown we are seeing today. While pluralism and diversity have value, they must exist within a framework that is shared and agreed upon. Otherwise pluralism and diversity are unmoored and become like ships crashing about in a stormy bay.

“In order for a culture to exist, there must be a shared cultus, a shared focus on what is good, true, beautiful, and sacred. Our modern experiment shows the failure of trying to have a culture without this.”

There are just a few excerpts; the entire article is well worth reading. Here is a bit more, a quote from (Roman Catholic) Bishop Robert Barron:

“The setting aside of God can take place both explicitly (as in the musings of the atheists) or implicitly (as in so much of the secular world where “practical” atheism holds sway). In either case the result is a shutting down of the natural human drive toward the transcendent and, even more dangerously, the elevation of self-determining freedom to a position of unchallenged primacy…

“On the typically modern reading, truth is construed as an enemy to freedom—which explains precisely why we find such a hostility to truth in the contemporary culture. Indeed, anyone who claims to have the truth—especially in regard to moral matters—is automatically accused of arrogance and intolerance.

“Society will be restored to balance and sanity, (Pope) Benedict (XVI) argued, only when the natural link between freedom and truth — especially the Truth which is God — is reestablished. … Behind all our arguments about particular moral and political issues is a fundamental argument about the centrality of God” [Vibrant Paradoxes, pp. 217-218].

Indeed. At root, much of the trouble we are facing today, as a society, can be traced to the Enlightenment project of topping God as the center and pinnacle of our musings, striving, and contemplation, and the Good, the True, and the Beautiful – the pursuit of which lead us to God, as their Source and culmination – as the desirable goals of a human life well-lived – and replacing both Him and them with the deification of unaided human reason (*), and later, emotion and self-gratification.

Lacking that solid anchor and reference point, is it any wonder that we have become “like ships crashing about in a stormy bay”?

 


 

* Human reason is indeed one of the most precious gifts of our benevolent Creator, an extremely valuable human faculty. But because we are finite, limited, mortal human beings, our human reason is also finite, limited, and mortal. It is not intended, nor is it possible, to function alone, unaided by what the Anglican tradition names as Scripture and Tradition.

That is to say, the revelation of God as revealed in Scripture, Nature, and Antiquity: the latter referring to the theological and philosophical insights of those who have come before, especially those which are clearly part of the Great Tradition of Christianity, into which certain of the great Classical philosophers – such as Plato and Aristotle – have been incorporated, because they have foreshadowed it, because their thought illuminates, explicates, or complements parts of it, or all of the above).

To function and flourish properly, human reason also requires the water and fertilizer of not only Divine revelation (as shown through the Scriptures), but prayer – both personal and extemporaneous, and liturgical, through what the Anglican tradition calls “Common Prayer” – and the sacraments. As this essay points out,

“Freedom can only exist in a healthy and productive way when it is in reference to the truth — and truth is rooted in God and what He has revealed in creation, Sacred Scripture, and Tradition. This is the cultus necessary for every culture. True and healthy freedom is the capacity to obey God. Anything that departs from this necessary framework is a deformed freedom, on its way to chaos and slavery.”

To be effective, therefore, and to be whole persons, in a right relationship to God and to one another – to be truly free, in other words, both personally and in the context of our social organization – we need not just reason, but sanctified reason. Even at that, we sometimes (often) fall short! Without it, we are indeed “ships crashing about in a stormy bay,” with little or no hope of reaching a safe harbor.

 


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Education, the arts, metaphysics, and robber-barons – inspired by “I’ll Take My Stand”

https://i1.wp.com/solidarityhall.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/takemystand1.jpg?resize=202%2C300Here’s another excerpt from Donald Davidson’s essay, “A Mirror for Artists,” in I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition (1930), with my thoughts inspired thereby, following:

“Education can do comparatively little to aid the cause of the arts as long as it must turn out graduates into an industrialized society which demands specialists in vocational, technical, and scientific subjects. The humanities, which could reasonably be expected to foster the arts, have fought a losing battle since the issue between vocational and liberal education was raised in the nineteenth century…’

“The more they indoctrinate the student with their values, the more unhappy they will make him. For he will be spoiled for the industrial tasks [and the same could be said of technology, or the “service economy”] by being rendered inefficient. He will not fit in. The more refined and intelligent he becomes, the more surely he will see in the material world the lack of the image of nobility and beauty that the humanities inculcate in him.”

Maybe this is the true reason that so many colleges and universities seem to be trying to re-envision themselves as glorified vocational schools! The proximate cause may be the (arguably laudable, on the face of it) desire by institutions of higher learning to make themselves more “relevant” and help their students get jobs with their diplomas.

But it may be that the ultimate cause is the desire of the puppeteers that pull the strings in so many aspects of society – the globalist, corporatist plutocrats, the vulture capitalists and profiteers, the robber-barons of the 21st century – to suppress aspirations toward the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, in favor of their (un)holy trinity of Production, Consumption, and Profit.

It certainly would suit those whose goal in life is to make money by selling “stuff” (whether goods or services) to promote the creation of a society of mindless drones who are numbed by the technological equivalent of “bread and circuses” into a passive existence where getting said “stuff” and being entertained (mostly electronically, which doesn’t even require a person to leave the house) becomes the goal of an otherwise largely futile and nihilistic existence.

They certainly wouldn’t want people to be seriously wrestling with questions like “what is the Good?” or “how do we reach it?” or “what is the proper end of a human being?” Or struggling with attempting to discern the meaning of Truth, or which volitional (self-willed) acts of a human being are ethically virtuous, and which are ethically vicious. Or even grappling with the characteristics of genuine Beauty, and the relationship between and among Beauty, Truth, and Goodness, the classical Three Transcendentals.

Best not to even admit that there might be such a thing as transcendence. Certainly under no circumstances should they be led down trails which might lead them to the consideration that there may be some sort of actual, objective Divine Reality, outside the constraints of our physical-sensory universe (although in significant ways immanent within it) – and especially not one which is personal, concerned with humanity, and which has both plans for, and expectations of, us humans!

Human beings concerned about such matters would be lousy consumers of “stuff,” since they might begin to suspect that there may after all be higher aspirations which are, in the long run, more important…

“Tolerance is not a Christian virtue.”

Tolerance is not a Christian virtue

“We need to remember that tolerance is not a Christian virtue. Charity, justice, mercy, prudence, honesty — these are Christian virtues. And obviously, in a diverse community, tolerance is an important working principle. But it’s never an end itself. In fact, tolerating grave evil within a society is itself a form of serious evil. Likewise, democratic pluralism does not mean that Catholics should be quiet in public about serious moral issues because of some misguided sense of good manners. A healthy democracy requires vigorous moral debate to survive. Real pluralism demands that people of strong beliefs will advance their convictions in the public square — peacefully, legally and respectfully, but energetically and without embarrassment. Anything less is bad citizenship and a form of theft from the public conversation.”

– Archbishop Charles Chaput

What the Archbishop says about (Roman) Catholics applies to all other Christians, as well.

A Theist and an Atheist Walk into a Bar . . . | ORBITER

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“What I’ve always wanted to do as a philosopher,” [theistic philosopher Alvin] Plantinga said, “is defend a Christian way of thinking about things and argue that to be a Christian is not to be irrational or senseless or silly. It’s certainly not a unanimous view among philosophers that you can reasonably be a Christian; but that’s now one perfectly sensible view in the neighborhood.”

Source: A Theist and an Atheist Walk into a Bar . . . | ORBITER

For those of us who are Christians, there is nothing remotely irrational, senseless, or silly about belief in God; indeed, it is disbelief in God that is senseless and silly. But unfortunately, philosophy and religion have been on largely divergent paths for the last several centuries. As a result, many philosophers have been reluctant or flatly unwilling to seriously consider the perspectives of theologians, while as Plantinga points out, “Certain kinds of evangelical Christians thought philosophy was a bad idea.”

That is unfortunate, impoverishing both realms.

So, I am very glad to learn of this gentleman who seems to have been able to, at least to some degree, bridge the chasm between contemporary philosophy and theology. But at the same time, I also have to chuckle slightly at the idea that his thoughts – at least as expressed in this short article, I have not delved into his works – are novel discoveries, particularly when it comes to the problem of evil.

If contemporary philosophers have truly believed that the existence of evil nullifies the possibility for the existence of a good God, then I am disheartened to see how far philosophy has fallen.

Plantinga’s solution – which may be compressed (at least as expressed in the linked article) as the realization that true freedom must of necessity include the ability to choose evil; if God had created us such that we would always choose good, automatically, then we would not have free will at all – is something that I got out of reading Boethius’ De Consolatione Philosophiae (“The Consolation of Philosophy,” c. 524 AD) while I was in college.

Nonetheless, I’m glad he has apparently been able to make this ancient and key concept comprehensible and at least somewhat acceptable to today’s philosophical “establishment.”

Regarding his assertion (with which, of course, I agree) that belief in God is not irrational, he points out that

“a very common attitude among those who don’t believe in God is mistaken. That attitude goes like this: ‘I don’t know whether or not there really is such a person as God… but I do know the belief in God is irrational.’”

To which my response would be, if you don’t know whether or not God exists – if the existence of God cannot be conclusively proven, as it cannot, then neither can it be conclusively dis-proven – then how can you say belief in God is irrational? If there’s even the slightest chance that He may exist, and it turns out that He does, then disbelief in Him would be the irrational course of action! Saying that belief in the existence of God is irrational, without being able to conclusively disprove the existence of God, is itself irrational.

Which I think is what Plantinga is trying to say. He goes on to add,

“My argument, very simply, is that if theism is true, then in all likelihood God would make his presence known to us human beings. And if this is so, then it would make sense to think of God as creating us in such a way that there is an innate tendency to believe in him, or at least to have some sort of inkling of his existence.”

Which is another way of saying something that I have said on many occasions, and in a number of fora: that the human religious impulse comes from God, and leads to God. That is why – although I am a Christian and a Christian cleric, and believe that the Christian revelation is the most true and complete revelation of God humans have been vouchsafed by their creator – I also believe that elements of truth may be found in many (indeed most, if not all) religions.

If we are, as the Scriptures inform us, created in the image of God, then we simply cannot (assuming our intellectual faculties are intact) avoiding knowing at least something about God, and / or at least have a yearning to connect with our ultimate Source. We can (having free will, since God wishes us to search for and choose Him freely, not through compulsion) ignore or suppress both the knowledge and the yearning, but that does not mean it’s not there.

As I have also said before – including in this blog – I have respect for an honest agnosticism, as there is so much we do not and cannot know about God. But I find flat-out atheism – which is asserting as an incontestable truth-claim the idea that God does not exist – to be rather absurd and even silly, since there is no way to conclusively disprove the existence of a God powerful enough to create the totality of the Cosmos.

In contrast, as Plantinga points out,

“many philosophers have argued that belief in God is indeed, irrational; and of course if it is irrational, we ought not to accept it. They think as follows: it would clearly be irrational to believe in God if there were not good evidence for the existence of God . . .

“Now what I’ve argued, in a nutshell, is this. First of all, that there are some pretty good arguments for theism, for the existence of God. More important, though, what I’ve argued is that if belief in God is true—if there really is such a person as God—then belief in God is not irrational.”

Indeed! Needless to say, I agree. At any rate, Plantinga seems like a very interesting fellow, and I look forward to hopefully having a chance to read some of his writings in the relatively near future.

Primo de Rivera: “Freedom does not exist except within an order”

Freedom does not exist except within an order

I was very pleased to have one of my young driver’s education students, in response to a comment on the importance of following “the rules of the road,” respond, “Without order, there’s chaos.” Maybe there is hope for the rising generation, after all!

Indeed, freedom is only possible within order: in chaos, or raw anarchy, the only persons to have “freedom” are those in the highest positions of power. An orderly society both protects the rights and also enunciates the responsibilities of all members.

The Constitutional, representative Republic bequeathed us by our Founders is one way of accomplishing this end, and, so long as their prescription was faithfully followed, an effective one. But it is not the only approach; King Charles I of England, executed by the “Roundhead” Parliament during the English Civil War, articulated another:

“No man in England is a better friend to liberty than myself, But I must tell you plainly that the liberty of subjects consists not in having a hand in the government, but in having that government, and those laws, whereby their lives and their goods may be most their own.”

James Kiefer goes on to elaborate,

“one may reasonably ask of a government that it establish justice in the land; so that judges do not take bribes, so that innocent men are not convicted of crimes, while the guilty are convicted and punished, so that honest men need fear neither robbers nor the sheriff. One may further ask that taxes be not excessive, and that punishments be not disproportionate to the crime. Charles would have said, ‘Do not ask whether the laws were made by men whom you elected. Ask whether they are reasonable and good laws, upholding justice and the public weal.'”

These principles are equally manifest and necessary whether the source of orderly government and society is viewed as “top-down” (from God, through a Monarch, to the people) or “bottom-up” (ultimately from God – if you read the Declaration of Independence – but flowing through the sovereignty of the people to those elected to perform the functions of government).

Like a human person whose physical being is defined by skin and skeleton, a cell defined by its walls, a poem defined by form and meter, a country defined by its borders, or art or music defined by the conventions thereof, one’s freedom can be expressed most fully within an orderly society. The alternative is indeed chaos, and the “freedom” thus engendered is temporary and illusory.

The Just Third Way: I. A Question of Human Dignity

Modern society, if there are any doubts, is in serious trouble. Over the last two centuries, the institutions of civil, religious, and domestic society — State, Church, and Family — have been revised, reformed, and reinvented to the point that these chief props of human dignity have become, to all intents and purposes, meaningless.

Source: The Just Third Way: I. A Question of Human Dignity

“Nevertheless, the real issue is not encroaching State power, but human dignity: the sovereignty of the human person under God. Human beings, as Aristotle put it, are ‘political animals.’ Institutions, up to and including the State itself, were made by people, for people. This is so that people can meet their own wants and needs (primarily acquiring and developing virtue, ‘humanness’) by their own efforts within a justly organized society, ‘the pólis’ — hence ‘political.'”

We forget this proper order – that the State (whether a representative Constitutional Republic or a Monarchy) exists to serve the best interests of the People as a whole, not the other way ’round, and that the proper goal of people is to become more fully human, not merely to acquire wealth, at whatever cost to our humanness – at our peril.

And then there is this:

The common good is not, however, the aggregate of individual goods. It is the vast network of institutions within which individual human beings as political animals realize their individual goods, primarily the acquisition and development of virtue — ‘human-ness’ — a seemingly subtle but important difference.

Unfortunately, misunderstanding of human nature and essential human dignity has resulted in social justice and socialism being confused in both Church and State. This has changed Church and State from the chief props of human dignity outside of the Family, to the principal obstacles to virtuous human development.

Religion — ‘Church’ — has been reoriented and updated to focus almost exclusively on people’s material wants and needs. At the same time, politics — “the State” — has changed from overseeing institutions that make it possible for people to meet their own needs through their own efforts, to meeting them directly, after those in power decide what wants and needs are legitimate [emphasis added].

Follow the link for a much fuller and more detailed discussion of these issues.

Evola: “Capitalism just as subversive as Marxism…”

Capitalism just as subversive as marxism

I have not read much Evola – just a few quotes here and there – but I agree with this. Economics, while important for survival (the word means, literally, “household management” – Greek oikos + nomos), is a means to an end: one which is too-often treated as if it were an end in itself.

The high and ultimate things – religion, e.g., the proper relationship between God and Man, and philosophy, including ethics and morality, e.g., the quest for a right relationship between and among humans, as well as something like Aldo Leopold’s “land ethic” – must come first, and serve as the basis for the practical, instrumental considerations which follow, including economics.

By placing economics at the forefront and letting our values flow from there, I believe, we as a society are currently putting the cart before the horse!

You will note that these “high and ultimate things” are closely interrelated, not separate and distinct: I have spoken and written elsewhere about the importance of re-weaving the connections between and among God, Nature, and Humankind – that is to say, adopting a truly holistic view of the world (cosmos) and our place within it.

Economics has a role in this process, and it is an essential one. But it is or should be a supporting role, not a lead role. An analogy might be architecture, in which support structures such as pillars, arches, etc., are absolutely essential to the construction and support of a building – and which ones are chosen is far from irrelevant! – but they are not the purpose of the building.

This is where we have gone wrong in our treatment of economics, in my opinion, whether capitalist or Marxist in orientation. And this is, I think, the point of the Evola quote, above.