Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Quod non oportet disputare

ADVOCACY OF THE NATURAL MORAL LAW in the field of cultural war must be done with wise strategy and tactics. Budziszewski identifies four common errors that the advocate of natural law frequently steps into in the area of public discourse. He denominates them as follows:
  1. Exclusivism;
  2. Pearl casting;
  3. Conversionism; and
  4. Accomodationism.
Exclusivism is the error of supposing that one's audience is friendly when it is actually hostile, not open, or entirely ignorant of the fundamentals of natural moral law. Exclusivism violates what is frequently held to be the first rule of rhetoric which is to know your audience. It alienates its audience with its resounding nos, and thou shalt nots, and don'ts. Though such approach may work when preaching to the choir, charging up the troops, or building enthusiasm, it is not the sort of tactic that works well for rebuilding. It will not serve to change the culture. More, it has the negative effect of raising the suspicion, the ire, and the motivation of the immoralists. While it rallies the troops, it rallies the opposition, and the battle ends up in stalemate.

Pearl casting is similar to exclusivism, except that there is no intent on the part of those who throw their pearls among swine to reach friendly audiences. It is the use of exclusive language knowing that one's audience is hostile, unfriendly, and unreceptive. The nos, thou shalt nots, and don'ts (as well as the yeses, thou shalts, and dos) are thrown as so many pearls among the swine of the immoralists, and it does them as much good. Usually, the arguments are based upon the authority: say of Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, Pope John Paul II, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the Bible, the Talmud, the Qur'an, or whatever. It is, in fact, a fallacious argument--an argumentum ad verecundiam--where the audience is disdainful of that authority. Though there is nothing wrong with the authority, until the audience accepts that authority it is in vain to resort to it. The error includes within its auspices even resort to the "natural law tradition," as that tradition is generally neither known nor accepted by our audience. Accordingly, resort must be had to the most basic, to those things which Budziszewski identifies as that which we can't not know. We might here invoke the image of St. Paul who, when he spoke to a group of Greeks at the Areopagus, referenced their poets and the pagan altar with the inscription: ἀγνώστῳ θεῷ, To an Unknown God.* Acts 17:22-31. St. Paul started with something the Greeks knew.

St. Paul at the Areopagus by Kennedy A. Paizs

Conversionism recognizes that the audience is hostile, but tries to convert, to proselytize. There is certainly a place for evangelization, for the preaching of the Gospel, and it ought to be done in the manner St. Paul advocated to Timothy: "Preach the word," and do it "in season and out of season." 1 Tim. 4:2. That is one grand strategy. But we must not forget the other grand strategy, for the cultural war requires a pincer strategy, a strategy of double envelopment. One handle is supernatural: the Gospel; but the other handle is natural: Reason. The Gospel itself builds upon nature, and nature must be made more amenable to receipt, and to preservation of the Gospel. The Gospel is seed, and it falls on ground, but the ground must be prepared beforehand. The error of conversionism is that it forgets to prepare the ground. And if the ground is not adequately prepared--if it is rocky, or if the soil is shallow--well . . . the Gospel itself records what its chances to take root and flourish will be. See Mark 4:1-20; Matt. 13:1-23; Luke 8:1-15.

Accomodationism is, in a way, the opposite error. It seeks to address behaviors, without change of the mind. Instead of tailoring the message to the audience, it is a capitulation to the audience in the area of erroneous assumptions, desires, opinions, or theories. By accomodationism we end up in the situation of the visitor to Ireland who asked the Irishman seated on the fence for directions to Dublin, and received the response, "I wouldn't start from here." There are some assumptions, desires, opinions, or theories that cannot be conceded, for if, as a tactic, they are conceded, then we will never get to Dublin.

Insofar as not everything which other people seek or think is bad, there is a grain of merit in this approach, but it fails to distinguish between what can be affirmed and what cannot be affirmed. Just as there are some groups with which it can never be right to ally, there are some interests to which it can never be right to appeal, like malice, revenge, or racism.

Budziszewski (2003), 204.

*Paul was referring to the Cretan philosopher Epimenides ("For in him we live and move and have our being") and the Cilician Stoic philospher Aratus ("We are his offspring") Acts 17:28.

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