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.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Repentance and Science: C. S. Lewis and the Natural Law

ULTIMATELY FOR LEWIS THE CHOICE BEFORE MAN is one of two paths. Either he goes left and rejects the Tao and becomes inhuman, a thing, subject to the whims and arbitrary impulses of appetite, or he goes right, the way of the Tao and keeps his human dignity by bowing to its absolute, objective authority. Tertium non datur. There is no third way where we can have both: we cannot be both human and inhuman, a human being and a thing.

We have been trying, like Lear,* to have it both ways: to lay down our human prerogative and yet at the same time to retain it. It is impossible. Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own 'natural' impulses.

Abolition, 73. The Tao is not only the vehicle that assures our human dignity, it is the an omnibus law that covers both ruler and ruled, and so orders the entirety of intra-human relations:
Only the Tao provides a common human law of action which can over-arch rulers and ruled alike. A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.
Abolition, 73. The Tao is that law of liberty, the law of perfect liberty, the νόμον τέλειον τὸν τῆς ἐλευθερίας (James 1:25).

The rejection of the Tao is not limited to Communists, to Fascists. The rejection of the Tao is found not only among "enemies," but among false friends. It is every bit as prevalent in world's democracies, where the rejection of the Tao is equally as real, though "[t]he methods may (at first) differ in brutality." Abolition, 73. The basic sin is the "belief that we can invent 'ideologies' at pleasure, and the consequent treatment of mankind as mere ὕλη," mere stuff. Abolition, 74. The thought insinuates itself in euphemisms, in newspeak, in political correctness, in calling a fetus the "product of conception," or support for the intentional killing of human beings "pro-choice," or speaking of the incongruous right of two men or two women to "marriage."

We have, it would seem, entered into a Faustian bargain, a "magician's bargain," where the cloth we have exchanged becomes all unraveled, where we are forced to surrender "object after object," and finally even ourselves in our quest for power over Nature. Science is the new Magic, the new Gnosis. Francis Bacon and Marlowe's Faustus are blood brothers. Science and Magic were, in fact, brothers born of the same womb. Science is the senior branch, and Magic the cadet branch.
The serious magical endeavour and the serious scientific endeavour are twins: one was sickly and died, the other strong and throve. But they were twins. They were born of the same impulse. . . . There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the 'wisdom' of the earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution of technique; and both, in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious--such as digging up and mutilating the dead.
Abolition, 77. It may be time, before it is too late, for us to reconsider the nonserviamatic attitude that spawned science. We must be honest with science's pedigree. Though science may not be "tainted from birth," it was at least "born in an unhealthy neighborhood," and "at an inauspicious moment." Science is heady with success. It sees not its destructive wake. It is sees only the good it has ushered in, but is completely blind to the evil it has spawned, to the good that it has squelched. Science is like the little child who insists that his room is clean and in order, when it most obviously is not. "[R]econsideration, and something like repentance, may be required." Abolition, 78. Lewis calls for a "regenerate science," one that sees the sacred in the cosmos, one that "would not do even to minerals and vegetables what modern science threatens to do to man himself," one that would not only focus on the "It," but would also focus on the "I-Thou," that would recognize the "inly known reality of conscience" and not reduce "conscience to the category of Instinct." Abolition, 79. I would, not, however, hold my breath for it. Hubris, pride, like sexual lust, is a particularly hard sin to cure. "Perhaps," Lewis concludes, "I am asking impossiblities." Yet science must self-discipline. It must incur some self-flagellation. But it seems unable, as it believes itself subject to some law of exceptionalism, that it cannot be corrupt, that it will always have a handle on its fruits.

Such a reply springs from the fatal serialism of the modern imagination--the image of infinite unilinear progression which so haunts our minds. Because we have to use numbers so much we tend to thing of every process as if it must be like the numerical series, where every step, to all eternity, is the same kind of step as the one before. . . . There are progressions in which the last step is sui generis--incommensurable with the others--and in which to go the whole way is to undo all the labour of your previous journey.

Abolition, 80.

It may be that science is more like a drug addict or an alcoholic who insists his life is altogether right and in control, when it is obvious that he is not in control, but is controlled, and that he is on a collision course with destruction. That last fix may be fatal. It may be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

It is time to go back to first principles.
It is not use trying to 'see through' first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To 'see through' all things is the same as not to see.
Abolition, 81.

It is to become an H. G. Wellsian Invisible Man. We will become Griffin. We do not see man as he is, and we slowly lapse into insanity. Only when we are beaten and put to death as Griffin in H. G. Wells's Invisible Man shall we appear again as we really are: naked and without shame. But the lack of shame that comes with death is altogether different from the lack of shame that came with life, and that Adam, in his paradisaical bliss, enjoyed.

*The reference is to King Lear, who, in Shakespeare's play seeks both to relieve himself of the burden of kingship yet retain the authority of the office. You cannot yield kingship without yielding the benefits or its office and you cannot maintain kingship without carrying the burdens of office. The choice is either/or, not both/and.

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