Marriage Tactics

John Michael Wright

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I suppose it must be theoretically possible to create an ethic without God or a god, but historically in the west it’s been a problem.

When Machiavelli developed the first utilitarian handbook on politics, that is to say, a book on politics that approached them without religion (except considered as a tool), he laid the foundations for Thomas Hobbes to develop his Social Contract.

Hobbes argued, following Machiavelli, that we are driven, not by reason, but by our appetites. That being the case, and to both it seems self-evident, though in Hobbes perhaps more explicitly so, society is not arranged around or by a moral law, but by people’s desires and passions.

The only way to organize such a society is through a continuous negotiation among its members. The fruit of this negotiation was the social contract. To maintain order, Hobbes argued, we need Leviathan.

Thus political tyranny and the whole western stream of politics-without-God walk hand in hand.

In the social contract we discern the basis of modern political theory, one that permeates economics as well, as it was applied by Adam Smith.

Without this notion of the social contract, we would have no Locke, no Rousseau, no American or French Revolution, no Marxism, and no special-interest industry negotiating their share of the social market with the representatives of the various parties appointed to oversee this great negotiation in Congress.

The reason the idea had such staying power in Machiavelli and Hobbes was twofold: one, much of the intellectual leadership of Europe was trying to escape the dominance of the Roman Catholic church and its appeal to a law of nature, and two, in a dynamic day to day sort of way, it is true that we are continuously negotiating the terms of our contract.

Under Machiavelli, Hobbes, and most other modern philosophers, the basis of that negotiation is personal advantage. We laugh at honor. We snicker at the idealist who would abandon his advantage for right and wrong.

Do not believe for a moment that I am referring primarily to financial transactions. On the contrary, I am talking about friendship, marriage, parent-child relationships, teachers and students, and so on.

Our underlying premise in every relationship is that we are engaged in a negotiation.

Think, for example, of the transition from the marriage covenant to the marriage contract. Think of the way people time their weddings to optimize tax benefits. Think of how parents are afraid to exercise their natural authority over their children for fear the children will reject the terms and hurt the parents.

I’m not sure, in such a context, good and evil are relevant terms. We have got “beyond good and evil,” to quote Nietzsche and Skinner.

Tom Wolfe expresses well the post-humanity of our condition in his 1998 novel A Man in Full:

Should he pour his heart?… Something told him that would be a tactical mistake. A tactical mistake. What a sad thing it was to have to think tactically about your own wife.

Sad indeed, and yet that is precisely how we are conditioned (and I use that word carefully) to approach these most foundational of human relationships.

Family, marriage, is a form. Form creates by limiting. We despise limits. Form is truth. Living in the form of the truth is virtue. Virtue is freedom.

We are no longer free to be married or to raise our children. Unless, of course, we seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.

Then all is restored, no matter what is lost.

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On Proving the Existence of God

The great argument of the “new atheism,” as of most atheisms of the old stripe, seems to be that “you can’t prove the existence of God.”

In other words, using the tools of science, you can’t prove the existence of something that transcends science.

To think more clearly on the matter, it might be helpful to look at the word religion. It comes from the Latin – legio: to tie, and re: a broad prepositional prefix with too many possible meanings to be able to properly translate.

The idea is generally taken to be that of tying together.

A religion is not a conclusion to an argument. It is a teaching that ties everything else together, that harmonizes everything.

The most powerful religions are those that are able to tie the most together.

I am a Christian because, while I have great respect for other religions, they all seem to leave us with one or two irresolvable dichotomies that are reconciled in Christ.

The mother of all dichotomies might be that between the material and the spiritual realms. Naturalism, the religion of today, resolves it by denying the spiritual or giving naturalistic explanations for all things spiritual.

Gnosticism, the perpetual enemy of Christianity and, according to Richard Weaver at least, the painfully ironic foundational dogma of progressive education (Dewey, James, etc.) treats the spiritual as legitimate and important and the material as valueless.

Christianity tells of one who is big enough to weave all things together into a harmony that damages nothing and blesses everything: Christ, the incarnate logos: Spirit made flesh, God made man, the weaving together in one of all things.

Now, if a religion is true, it cannot simply dismiss what it doesn’t like. That is a sign of theological weakness. A true religion ties everything together.

But when a philosophy is based on a necessarily inadequate premise, as is naturalism, then it is hard for this Christian to see why he ought to abandon his foundations because the other guys have developed a sophisticated argument.

A premise is necessarily inadequate when it excludes what it doesn’t like at the beginning of the discussion.

God is not the conclusion of an argument based on naturalistic premises. He is the beginning of thought and the harmony of all truth. He is necessary to every other premise, but I don’t see how that can “prove” his existence. He is simply Necessary: to thought, to ethics, to beauty, to society, to physics, to marriage, to education.

On the Soul – or Whatever

Image of the human head with the brain. The ar...

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Do you think a school should teach psychology? I believe it should not just as I believe that it should not base its teaching techniques on psychology.

That might sound as mad as everything else I write, so I’d better explain. It’s simple, though. Psychology, as approached today, is false, wrong, in error, harmful, etc.

The foundational idea of modern psychology is positivism, happily combined with materialism. Psychologists spend all of their time determining what can be known about humans “scientifically.”

In order for anything to be know scientifically about human beings, humans would have to be subject to the laws of science. To an extent and in some areas they are. For example, their bodies need energy to move, are subject to gravity, etc.

However, humans have a will and reason. Neither of these are subject to the laws of science and the attempt to study humans as though these are subject to the laws of science is to alter the object studied.

If humans are nothing but appetites, then they can be studied scientifically. Our actions can be controlled through behavioral mechanisms.

But if humans have a will and reason, then to study them scientifically is akin to studying the sun with a sponge and a thermometer, or to study Saturn by climbing on a step-ladder.

Just as the Russian cosmonaut is said to have said something along the lines of “We went out into space and looked around and your god wasn’t there,” so the modern psychologist goes into the human mind with the wrong tools and says, “See, there’s no will there.”

No, if you close your eyes, you won’t be able to see. There’s no getting around that.

So why are private schools, so-called Christian schools, so anxious to ensure they follow the latest discoveries in a field run by Oedipus?

This isn’t a complex issue. The Bible, experience, our conscience, philosophy, ethics, language, literature, music, and the fine arts all tell us about, all show us, a creature made by God that is amazingly different from every other created being and that is morally responsible for all its actions. To teach modern psychology and to implement its so-called discoveries is to cease, while you do so, to believe in your statement of faith.

Let me quote the New Internation Dictionary of New Testament Theology, V3 Page 691:

The Old Testament speaks of man: not clinically, with his human attributes all neatly classified, but concretely, i.e. the writers take a man as they find him and assess what he does, his behavior towards his fellow-men and the attitude he displays toward the law of God.

Or perhaps this from a magazine I stumbled across in a bookstore and failed to record the date. The magazine was The Public Interest:

We produce no assessable outcomes. The shaping of a soul is a simply immeasurable event; moreover, it is sometimes not evident until much time has passed.

On Hunger

In Matthew 6 our Lord expresses his much recited and much neglected promise. Laying out, as it were, the foundational principles of the life to which He calls those who would follow Him, He says:

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

…Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or What shall we wear?” For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

Some people, for whatever reason, treat this passage more like a command than a promise. When they do so, the tone changes, the meaning of the passage, though not the content. A barrier is created between the disciple and Christ, because the disciple’s attention is directed to himself instead of to the words of his Lord. Something inside us always wants to take on the burden, but the whole point of this passage is to put it down.

It is instructive that Matthew 6 is part of the sermon on the mount and that the sermon on the mount follows Matthew 4, in which we read of Christ’s temptation.

“Command these stones to become bread.”

“All these things I will give you…”

Christ knows what it is to be tempted. In fact, the temptations He endured make a joke of the ones we confront. He knows how to deal with temptation.

In each case, He appeals to the word of God. But notice something else. In each case, we can see that He is looking in a different direction. He isn’t seeking bread. He isn’t seeking “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.” He isn’t even seeking to prove Himself or His God.

He is seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness, so He is not worried about these other things. He knows that His Father knows His needs, so He is content to say that “Man shall live… by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

Jesus was tempted at the beginning of His task because He is the second Adam. Look back to Genesis 3 for a moment and compare what happens there in the light of Matthew 4 and Matthew 6.

God the maker has created an all-good creation and placed the man in a garden, which he is to tend. The only restriction He gives him is that he must practice the tiniest of fasts: don’t eat from this one tree.

Mind you, this was one spectacular tree. When Eve looked at it, she saw that it was good for food, but it was also pleasant to the eyes and could make one wise.

But they were to fast from this one fruit. They were to believe that man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. They were to seek first God’s righteousness and to trust that the other things would be given.

Perhaps that is why our Lord fasted for 40 days and 40 nights before He was tempted.

They listened to the tempter.

Now here is something that seems worth noting: our Lord told us in Matthew 6 not to worry about what to wear. It seems to me that most of us, when we read that, take these words rather literally, which we should. In other words, we take Him to be talking about being anxious about having clothes to protect us from the cold.

But take a look at Genesis 3. Do you notice the role of clothes in that context? Why do Adam and Eve cover themselves?

Because they feel shame.

No wonder. This goodly frame the earth had come to seem a sterile promontory, this brave o-erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, had come to appear no other thing than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors.

And worse, The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals, noble in reason and infinite in faculty, has become the quintessence of dust.

Adam could say, Man, that is, I, delight not me. No, nor woman neither.

We who are born with shame and practice hiding it in some dark corner of our soul from the day our mothers greet us with their tears, we cannot imagine what it must have felt like to feel shame for the first time.

Oh what a noble mind is here o-erthrown.

The primary purpose of clothing has never been to keep us warm, but to keep us invisible, undiscovered – covered.

Clothes are the means by which we hide our shame.

It seems to me, therefore, that our Lord’s words in Matthew 6 go deeper than we might have thought. The greatest fear we have in following Christ is that we’ll end up ashamed. People won’t respect us. But worse, it might not pay off. We might fail. He might fail.

We would never say it that way; we only make decisions as though it might happen.

This fear of shame drives the conventional school and compels us to grunt and sweat under a weary life, to bear the whips and scorns of time, and all for what?

For words. For nothing.

For air that spills from others’ mouths and evaporates into the air, forgotten.

If we want to see the coming of the kingdom of heaven, then we must abandon the kingdoms of this world and all they offer. We must turn from bread and clothes as the way to validate ourselves, and we must seek Him.

Or maybe it would be more fitting to say, we can seek Him. He calls us to it. He promises to attend to the things we worry about most: hunger and shame.

Naturalism vs. Freedom

In confirmation of the view that there is no such thing as personal moral responsibility for one’s actions, one has only to shift from a commonsense context to the perspective of contemporary science. Generally speaking, in modern psychology and sociology, to say nothing of physiology and biology, notions like “free will” and “personal responsibility” are not employed at all; they make no sense in the context of a scientific explanation. Nor is this surprising. For while the older schemes of a rigorous, mechanistic determinism may not b compatible with many of he recent developments in quantum physics, we are still not justified in reintroducing concepts like “freedom” and “moreal responsibility” into the scientific domain.

Henry Veatch, Rational Man: A Modern Interpretation of Aristotelian Ethics

The natural sciences hold forth and are even held forth by politicians as the final authority on matters of knowledge. Only what they tell us can be known. What poets and mystics have to say can be enjoyed in private, but don’t try to impose their morals and insights in the public domain.

In this post, I want to suggest (perhaps to demonstrate finally, clearly, and once and for all in a later post) that this path is the way of folly and that it cannot possibly work.

My argument is not complicated. It is this.

The natural sciences as practiced today base their conclusions on what can be determined on the basis of materialistic assumptions. Materialistic assumptions cannot even raise the question of, much less discuss the application of, matters like truth, freedom, or morality, each of which must come from non-material concerns.

As a result, the materialistic assumptions that drive virtually every agency of the post-human world we inhabit have established a world that is post-truth, post-freedom, and post-morality.

Most particularly, I want to suggest that we cannot be free on the basis of the ideas that control our political discourse and that the hypocrisy that permeates it is an unavoidable consequence of a domain that cannot possibly be anything other than pretense and empty rhetoric because of the assumptions we have built it on.

In other words, we have seen the foundations of our liberties undermined by the natural sciences and the walls are about to collapse.

Another Sign of Renewal

I love education and I distinguish it from training, but here is an idea that fits our circumstances and that I hope will set an example for other colleges to emulate.

COLLEGE LAUNCHES CATHOLIC MEDIEVAL GUILDS

It’s the mindset behind this idea that needs to spread.


Halting Notes on Rest

I have found myself engaged in discussions about rest quite a few times over the past few days. A couple things have become clearer to me in these discussions.

First, one has to distinguish between two sorts of anxiety: the anxiety that arises appropriately from work that needs to be done and the anxiety that arises from vanity, fear, or lack of love.

In the first case, the cure is to do the work that needs doing and to do it attentively; without thinking about the other things that need to be done.

In the second case, the cure is to repent and act from love instead of vanity, fear, or selfishness – remembering always that true love is the practical attempt to seek the flourishing of the object of that love.

The second thing I’ve been learning is that the rest we are to be diligent to enter requires that we, as it were, carve out a space of rest within ourselves through simple prayers. When we are working, we ought still to be praying and there are at least two ways to do that, with words and without them.

We can create a space of rest within ourselves with words when we repeat a prayer such as the prayer of the tax-collecter: “have mercy on me the sinner.” A slightly expanded version of this prayer says “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner.”

This prayer calls upon the name of the Lord and invites Him into any situation. It clears a space for Him and thus draws one into His rest.

We pray without words when we offer Him the work of our hands. If a job demands close attention, especially verbal attention (like writing), then the work itself can become a prayer by making it an offering to our Lord.

Even so, one ought occasionally to withdraw from attending to the work exclusively and enter into one’s own soul and there meet with her Beloved with a simple prayer, such as those outlined above.

It is through such prayers that we can continually rest in our Lord even when there is a tornado blowing around us. It is through such prayers that our souls can be washed by the grace of God.

“But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou has shut the door, pray to the Father which is in secret.”… The soul enters its closet when the mind does not wander hither and thither over worldly things, but remains within our heart…. and in this way our mind… by its secret and inward prayer is united with God our Father.

Gregory Palamas commenting on our Lords words on prayer in Matthew 6