Political slang used to be a lot more fun. In the days of the big-city political machines, Progressives who fancied themselves advocates of “good government” were called Goo Goos.
One of the main targets of the Goo Goos was the patron-client system that kept the political establishment working. They considered it corrupt, because people went along with the party not because they agreed with its policies, but because they received material rewards for doing so.
The irony is that although the Goo Goos partially dismantled the old patron-client system, they set up another in its place, on a national scale, with politically-connected interest groups instead of ward bosses in control.
Like the old patronage system, the new one rewards fat cats who cooperate with the system, for example ideologically correct businesses (think Solyndra) and labor organizations (think government employee unions).
What about the not-so-fat cats? The old system disbursed Thanksgiving turkeys and patronage jobs to cooperators but who weren’t well off. The new one promises them welfare.
If there has to be a patronage system – it’s an ancient model of government – I prefer the old one.
Tomorrow: Pining for Mordor
“... and the Lord went before them to show the way by day in a pillar of a cloud.” Faith, similar to clouds, is opaque with its mysteries, dissolves when it gives way to vision, and moistens by arousing devotion.
– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians
I have only recently discovered that the Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine has put all of St. Thomas’s New Testament commentaries online. After selecting the commentary you want to read, you can study the text and translation in parallel columns. The mouth of the mind waters at the very thought of it.
Ultimately, the Institute aims to put all of the Angelic Doctor’s works into print, and the printed volumes are even better. As I type this post, I’m examining the Institute’s edition of the Commentary on the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans, translated by F.R. Larcher. St. Paul’s words are given in Latin, Greek, and English; St. Thomas’s line-by-line exposition, in Latin and English. Beautiful.
Tomorrow: Goo Goos
Nothing Is Neutral
If I say that euthanasia should be illegal because murder violates the law of God, then obviously I suppose that there is a God, that He has a law, that this law ought to be obeyed, that it forbids murder, that euthanasia is murder, and that He requires human authority to back him up on such a point.
If instead I say that euthanasia should not be illegal, then obviously I suppose either that there is no God, that even if there is a God He has no law, that even if He has a law it need not be obeyed, that even if it must be obeyed it does not forbid murder, that even if it does forbid murder euthanasia is not murder, or that even if euthanasia is murder He does not require human authority to back him up on such a point.
If I seek relief from judgment in the doctrine that the state has neither the right nor the competence to decide such questions, then I deceive myself, for indecision is decision; to say that the state should not pass judgment is merely to pass judgment that euthanasia should be legal.
It is not enough to have no suppositions -- at some point there must be a contrary supposition. That contrary supposition may be "secular," but it is still "religion" in that it is still about the meaning of the universe. The relevant distinction is not between a secular public life and a religious public life, but between a public life informed by a secular religiosity and a public life informed by the older religiosity which the secular one opposes.
A particular kind of morality and religion can be pushed out of the public realm, but morality and religion as such cannot be pushed out of the public realm.
Tomorrow: Marvelous Resource
Would God Make Me Give Up My Calling?
If any Underground Thomists are in Tucson on the evening of Thursday, February 26, you may be interested in an autobiographical talk I’ve been asked to give at a Veritas Forum at the University of Arizona. The title is “Why I Am Not an Atheist.”
But Mondays are always reserved for letters from students, and here we go.
I am a writer. I've enjoyed writing stories since third grade, and have embraced the word "writer" as my label. Lately I've been feeling out of touch with God. I know that we shouldn't rely totally on feelings, but I do believe they are there for a reason. I wonder if I have this feeling because I've been focusing too much on writing instead of Him. I really want to follow His will, but there are two problems: I don't know what His will is, and I'm afraid that it might require me to give up writing. I don't know if I'd be able to do that. I love writing too much. I'm trying to convince myself that God's will for my life is to write many short stories to my heart's content, and that He'd use them for His will even though they aren't Christian in nature (not to say that they're bad, or offensive, they're just secular, pure and simple).
I guess what I'm really trying to ask is this: Would God require us to give up talents, skills, and likes that He created us with, for His overall plan for humanity? I worry that by telling myself "No," I'm just giving myself the answer that I want to hear -- but is it true?
It's hard to imagine God telling you not to write, since you are so sure that His calling for you is "Write!" To endow a person with talents, skills, and likings that direct him strongly toward an honorable kind of work is a way of calling him. Why else would He give you these things? Unless there is something you're not telling me, why agonize?
So often people expect God's "call" to be an audible voice, perhaps from a convenient burning bush. Could that be your problem? Not that He has never used such methods! But He seems to reserve them for extraordinary callings that require extraordinary methods of announcement. There is no particular reason to think that He would create and adorn you with temperament and talents that pushed you so strongly toward writing, then tell you "Now be an accountant." Besides, there isn't any rule that says that an audible voice is more likely to be God's than the "voice" of the skills He has given you. You'll always need discernment. Even if an audible voice did tell you to be an accountant, you'd have to ask whether it was God or just your iPod.
Or could your worry be that your stories are "secular," as you call them? Let's think about that, because the term can mean a lot of different things. Sometimes when people call something secular, they mean that it reflects an alienated view of the world according to which there is no God, no meaning, and no hope. I don't think that's what you have in mind -- at least I hope not. I think you mean only that your stories don't have explicitly religious themes -- that they aren't about things like worship, conversion, or Being Left Behind. My response is: Don't worry about it. Suppose you were a painter. Would God tell you to stop painting because your canvasses showed starry skies instead of scenes from the Bible? Or suppose you were an architect. Would He tell you to give up your profession because you happened to build homes instead of churches? Don't the heavens proclaim His glory? Didn't He live for 30 years in an ordinary home?
I think it's the same with the writing of stories. Everything that is good and well done ultimately points to Him; by faithfully reflecting the realities of the human heart, you honor the Creator of the heart. Many a story that doesn't mention Christ is implicitly more Christian than many a story that does. Laughter pleases Him too; we don't always have to be serious, like beasts of burden. I cannot believe that hilarity wasn't one of His creations, and I revel in the comedies of P.G. Wodehouse. My advice is that if your stories are dull, shoddy, careless, corrupting, or ordained for dishonorable purposes, then you should doubt your calling. Not otherwise.
There are two complications. Here is the first. In the strictest sense of the term, a calling is something permanent. The calling to marriage is like that; God never calls a husband to abandon his wife. So is the calling to the priesthood, or to the consecrated religious life. Writing isn't that kind of calling. It might please your Creator for you to take up another kind of work some day, just as He called upon Moses to stop herding his father-in-law's sheep. I can't tell you that won't happen. I can’t tell you that it won’t require the last ounce of your strength. What I can tell you is that if it does happen, it won't happen in the way that you fear. You won’t be thrown away. God won't give you contradictory guidance, He won't put the temperament and talents He has given you to waste, and He is not displeased for you to follow the guidance He is giving you now. You can't do tomorrow's duty today; you can only do today's.
The second complication -- as I mentioned – is that there may be something you're not telling me. Perhaps you don't really like writing, but just like the idea of writing. Perhaps you aren't really talented at it, but just like the idea of being talented. Perhaps your stories aren't as innocent as you say they are. I'm not particularly worried, mind you. Good writers are often filled with unnecessary self-doubts; nothing in your letter suggests that you aren't being honest with yourself. Just be sure that you are!
The first step in doing that is to get to the bottom of the other problem you mention. You say you feel "out of touch" with God, and you wonder whether your writing is to blame. It shouldn't be, and yet it could be. The reason is this: It isn't the obviously bad things in life that we're tempted to turn into idols, but the good and godly ones. I mentioned before that you should write "as unto the Lord." The question is: Is that the way that you do it? So much depends on the rest of your life. Worship often; pray constantly; practice the action of charity; and avoid what you know to be sin. Yes, love and enjoy your craft! But if you love the beauty of words, that is all the more reason to adore the Word in whom all Story has its source.
Tomorrow: Nothing Is Neutral
What We Are For
"Man is obviously made for thinking. Therein lies all his dignity and his merit; and his whole duty is to think as he ought. Now the order of thought is to begin with ourselves, and with our author and our end.”
-- Blaise Pascal, Pensées
Why Must You Bring Up That Subject?
Political theory is a branch of the theory of how to live. If God is our greatest good, then of course the truth about Him will make a difference to how to live.
When people say theology has nothing to do with political theory, what they usually mean is that either there is no God, or He is irrelevant to how we should live. But that is a theology; it is a doctrine about God. So such people think theology has something to do with political theory after all. The problem is that they insist we all live by their theology. And since they pretend that it isn’t a theology, they don’t think they have to explain what makes their theology true.
The claim is sometimes made that anyone who thinks God matters to how we live must want to bully people into obeying the true religion. But of course that depends on how God matters. If you believe as Muhammad did that God requires enforcement of Shari’a, then obedience to God requires coercing them to obey. But if you believe as St. Hilary of Poitiers did that “God does not want an unwilling obedience,” then obedience to God requires not coercing them, doesn’t it?
Tomorrow: What We Are For
What Self-Deception Is and Isn’t
The expression “self-deception” is not to be taken literally; what happens is that I try not to think about certain things, and I try not to think about the fact that I am trying not to think about them.
But if they are the sort of thing one tends to think of, then trying not to think about them takes effort. How much effort? It depends. Some things are known in themselves; some are known with just a little reflection; and some things are known only after much reflection.
To deny things in the third class is easy.
To deny things in the second class -- the existence of God, for example -- is possible, but difficult, because in order to deny one of them, one must develop the habit of not thinking about all the things that point to its truth.
To deny things in the first class – say, the basics of right and wrong – is harder still. Somehow we manage.
Honesty is hard too, because our hearts are divided -- hard in a different way. In the other cases, the difficulty is finding a way to hide from the inbuilt desire to dwell in truth. But in order to dwell in it, we must overcome the terror of admitting that so far we haven’t been doing so.
Tomorrow: Why Must You Bring Up That Subject