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.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Utrum Deus sit Necessarium?

CHRISTIANS CALL GOD THE ONE THING necessary, the Unum Necessarium. He is Being itself. He is Good itself. All being and good outside of God participate in him and rely upon him for any of their being and its goodness. God--the God who has progressively revealed himself in Scriptures and, in the fullness time and in the fullness of means, in the Man-God Christ--is the first reality in any Christian's life.

Outside of the Christian or Jewish revelation, however, is this God necessary? In other words, is God--the acknowledgment of his existence, his role as Creator, his authority over us, and his right to our worship--part and parcel of the natural moral law? From the time of the Enlightenment to the modern age, there has been a persistent effort to banish God as if he were a dispensable adjunct to the natural moral law. We can proceed tamquam non esse Deum, as if God did not exist, als ob es Gott nicht gäbe, we are told. But can we have a moral philosophy in the Vaihingerian sense, a Philosophie der Naturgesetz Als Ob, a philosophy of the natural law as if God did not exist?

Can we dispense with the First Table of the Decalogue, the first three commandments that deal with man's relationship with God? Traditionally, the necessary relationship between God and morality has been recognized, and so we have the classic formulation of it in Dostoevsky, who wrote that if God does not exist, then all things are permissible: Если Бога нет, то всё дозволено. Moreover, traditionally disbelief in God was seen as both an intellectual and a moral fault. Such a thing as an atheist or agnostic ethic would not have been countenanced a logically or morally sound. Practical and historical experience ought to forewarn us that dispensing with the First Table of the Decalogue means dispensing with all or part of the Second Table. The horrors of Facism, Nazism, Communism, or Islam would be inconceivable had duties to God not been squelched by these ideologies.

"Atheoi"--Those without God--Ephesians 2:12

The question of God's role in the moral life of man can be viewed from two vantage points depending upon whether one looks at him from the light of Reason alone, or with the advantage of Faith. To a certain extent, such divisions are artificial, particularly for anyone who already believes, because Reason and Faith are complementary, mutually supportive, intercommunicating, and not separate, independent, and self-sufficient compartmentalized means to God. That is why, for example, in St. Thomas or St. Bonaventure or Duns Scotus, or in any orthodox Catholic theologian or philosopher, we find Faith and Reason hand in glove working toward an understanding of reality. Fides quaerens intellectum et intellectus quaerens fidem. As D'Entreves points out in his book on the Natural Law, "Surely the progress of the mind is twofold, and the intellectus quaerens fidem has its counterpart in the fides quaerens intellectum."*

It would seem that God is necessary in any theory of natural moral law if for no other reason to preserve human nature. The question is who has authority, claim, or jurisdiction over human nature. If the answer is God, then man is not free to change human nature. On the other hand, if human nature is a terra nullius, a land with no Governor, then man may lay stake to it. Accordingly, if the answer is not God, then man, it would seem, is free to change human nature, which means that man is free to change morality, and indeed is free even to abolish himself. The opposite then suggests itself essential: that God must be part of the natural moral law or there is no natural moral law. "A godless natural law would revere the laws of human nature only insofar as we continued to be human. Denying that our humanity is a creation, it would have no reason to preserve this humanity, and no objection to its abolition." Budziszewski (2003), 56-57. In light of our modern knowledge of the genome and our technological prowess over the genetic and procreative process, we have the means to enter worlds with designed human or pseudo-human castes, where there may be men, as well as supermen and untermenschen, Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons, or perhaps a place where there will be no men at all. Why, after all, should a caste of supermen tolerate a caste of men? Under what kind of morality would the superman live by if the choice had already been made that man had no need to abide by any limit?

The reason that removing God from the natural law leads to man occupying the territory of nature is that such a law without God has no oughtness associated with it. At best it has what Budziszewski calls an "oughtless prudence," one that has a "rather thin" obligatory claim, and one that invariably would lead to a sort of consequentialism or utilitarianism, where any norm suggested by our nature would be transgressable if the benefits outweighed the costs. Gone would be all exceptionless norms. Budziszewski (2003), 58.

The reason for the lack of oughtness if there is no nature's God behind nature, is that, if God's creative or providential care has no relationship to our nature, then our nature would have no design, plan, or purpose behind it. It becomes meaningless, something which "just is," which is ultimately to say that our nature is something arbitrary, something that "just happened." Something arbitrary, something that "just happened," however, would have no reasonable claim over us. Why pay any respect to something which, had things "just been different" would have been different? One throw of the dice is as good as the other, whether it is snake eyes or box cars or anything in between. Human nature would be the result of a meaningless game of craps. Indeed, it would have less meaning than a game of craps, for there must be rules (and a rulegiver, for without a rulegiver, the rules themselves have no meaning) to the game of craps for snake eyes to have any meaning.

Finally, if God exists, then to take him out of the moral equation leads ineluctably to moral blindness. The Apostle John says that if we say we love God, but do not love our brother, we are liars. (1 John 4:20). The converse would propose itself as true: that if we say we love our brother, but do not love God we are also liars, and perhaps even fools if the Psalmist is to be believed. (Ps. 14:1). If God does exist, and his role denied in the moral life, the argument is that invariably one will be morally stultified. Budziszewski calls this a "moral metastasis." A lie in one area easily begins to infect other areas.

In the main, man desires to know. This is an Aristotelian basic: "All men by nature desire to know," πάντες ἄνθρωποι τοῦ εἰδέναι ὀρέγονται φύσει. Metaphysics 980a21. "Men in general desire the good," ζητοῦσι δ᾽ ὅλως . . . τἀγαθὸν πάντες. Politics 1269a4. But there is also an opposite tendency to which unfortunately man is heir: the capacity to self-deceive, to want to remain ignorant, to seek peace--the life of ease, to maintain the status quo, to retain advantage--than truth. It is difficult to face the truth. Imagine, for example, the possibility for King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to be honest with the falsity of Islam and the truth of Christianity. If the least scintilla of doubt arose in his head, would he not try to squelch it? What sort of advantage to him would Christianity's truth and Islam's falsity gain him? No, most unfortunately suffer from the scruples of Henry Bourbon, who, to become Henry IV, facilely accepted Catholicism and dropped his Huguenot faith for reasons--not of truth, or at least not of truth alone--but of expediency: Paris vaut bien une messe, "Paris is well worth a mass." Even about little things, we tend to lie to ourselves. Hence it is that psychologists have identified all kinds of "defense mechanisms"--dissociation, intellectualization, rationalization, regression, repression, etc.--which are nothing other than means repressive of truth. The same resistance to truth that one would expect in King Abdullah and the same facility of compromise we see in Henry IV one might expect in all men, even though their kingdoms lost or kingdoms gained are substantially more humble. This includes the Atheist's or the Agnostic's "kingdoms" whatever realms they may encompass.

But the moment that men lie about one thing, it touches another. Truth is thus intertwined. In Budziszewski's words:
[T]he universe is so tightly constructed that in order to cover up one lie, we must usually tell another. This applies with just as much force to the lies we tell ourselves as to the lies we tell to other people. . . . This tendency is strongest precisely in the case of the greatest self-deception, pretending not to know that God is real, because there are so many things one must not think of in order to not think of the reality of God. . . . But it is extraordinarily difficult--I think impossible--for such self-deception not to slop over at some point into what he admits about the moral law.
Budziszewski (2003), 65.

*Alessander Passerin D'Entreves, Natural Law: An Introduction to Legal Philosophy (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2009), 166.

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