Bonus link: Second half of interview in World magazine
Transexual: A person who identifies as a member of the other sex.
Transracial: A person who identifies as a member of another race.
Transpresleyan: A person who identifies as Elvis Presley.
Transsartorial: A person of a large clothing size who identifies as a member of a smaller one.
Transknowledgeable: An inexperienced person who identifies as a knowing what he is doing.
Transwealthy: A passer of bad checks who identifies as having the money to cover them.
Transfelonious: A person convicted of serious crimes who identifies as having a clean record.
Transgenerational: A person old enough to know better who identifies as a person in his teens.
Bonus link: Video of my talk at BYU
Other talk videos here
If Deniers of the Moral Basics Really Do Know What They Deny – So What?
Why is moral denial such a grave matter? At the beginning of the series I mentioned one reason: It vitiates moral conversation and degrades the practice of philosophy. But there is another reason too.
Consider the driver of an automobile. Ordinarily, the threat of civil punishments like traffic fines and the deprivation of license discourage people from driving recklessly. But they only have this effect up to a certain point of corruption in the will. For consider someone who drives recklessly anyway. After a certain number of punishments, his license is taken away. After a certain number of punishments for driving without a license, his vehicle is in danger of impoundment. The risk of losing his vehicle may excite a person like this to drive even faster and more recklessly than before, just to keep the policeman from catching him. Paradoxically, the threatened penalty crosses the line from inhibiting violation to encouraging it.
I suggest that something like this happens with the penalties of conscience too. You would think that the terror of having to live with oneself afterward would deter everyone from involvement in abortion. But one who will not face conscience as a teacher must face it as an accuser, and in this way it urges him to yet further wrong. Consider the woman who told her counselor "I couldn't be a good parent," amended her remark to "I don't deserve to have any children," and still later revealingly added "If it hadn't been for my last abortion, I don't think I'd be pregnant now." This hieroglyph is not hard to decipher. When she says she could not be a good mother, what she means is that good mothers do not kill their children. She keeps getting pregnant to replace the children she has killed; but she keeps having abortions to punish herself for having killed them. With each abortion the cams of guilt make another revolution, setting her up to have another. She can never stop until she admits what is going on.
What this shows is that if we do not authentically repent and carry out the movements of confession, reconciliation, atonement, and justification in good faith, we may actually be driven to plunge deeper into wrongdoing instead of backing off from it. The example I have just given arise from trying to atone the wrong way, but the same dreadful dynamism operates when we confess, seek reconciliation, or try to justify ourselves the wrong way. Confessing the wrong way becomes a strategy for recruiting to the Movement. Reconciling the wrong way means that instead of giving up the wrongdoing that separates me from man and God, I demand that man and God approve of it. Justifying myself the wrong way drives me toward new evils that it was no part of my original intention to excuse -- if in order to make abortion seem right I must commit myself to premises which also justify infanticide, then so be it! In such ways, not only does moral conversation become dishonest, but the whole society may be thrust out of moral equilibrium.
19. Following the pattern of multiple anecdotes passed on to me by crisis pregnancy counselors.
Mondays are for answering letters. This isn’t exactly a letter, but I think it's close enough; it’s a question I have been asked frequently, most recently when I was speaking about natural law at Acton Institute’s annual conference on the foundations of a free and virtuous society.
Is it possible to be a libertarian and still believe in natural law?
It all depends on what you mean by libertarianism. There are two kinds of libertarianism, corresponding to two different understandings of what liberty is and why we need it.
One kind of libertarianism holds that we need a rich palette of definite liberties so that we can perform our duties and obtain what is good for human beings. For example, it maintains that because parents have a duty to educate their children, they also have a right to do so, and because human well-being depends on finding the truth about God, every person has a natural right to seek it. This kind of libertarianism is perfectly compatible with natural law. In fact, it’s based on it.
The other kind holds that we need indefinite liberties so that we can escape our duties and obtain what we merely happen to want. For example, it maintains that we have a right to behave however we please in sexual matters, even to the detriment of families and children, and that if unwanted children are conceived, we have a right to kill them. This kind of libertarianism is radically incompatible with natural law.
The name “fusionism” is sometimes used for an alliance between social conservatives and libertarians of the former kind, based on shared belief in natural law, shared respect for the proper functions of government, and shared mistrust of government which exceeds these functions. I take it that this is where you stand. So do I.
The challenge to fusionism is that today, the great majority of people who call themselves libertarians are libertarians of the latter kind, who may speak against all-powerful government, but who paradoxically end up embracing it.
Everyone admits that pain is educational: Since I feel agony when I put my hand into the fire, I don’t do it again. Curiously, we are much more reluctant to admit that there is such a thing as natural disgust, and disgust is educational too. St. John Chrysostom makes this point exactly in his Homily on First Timothy:
“Food is called nourishment, to show that its design is not to injure the body, but to nourish it. For this reason perhaps food passes into excrement, that we may not be lovers of luxury. For if it were not so, if it were not useless and injurious to the body, we should not cease from devouring one another. If the belly received as much as it pleased, digested it, and conveyed it to the body, we should see wars and battles innumerable. Even now when part of our food passes into ordure, part into blood, part into spurious and useless phlegm, we are nevertheless so addicted to luxury, that we spend perhaps whole estates on a meal. What should we not do, if this were not the end of luxury? …
“Some have strangely complained, wondering why God has ordained that we should bear a load of ordure with us. But they themselves increase the load. God designed thus to detach us from luxury, and to persuade us not to attach ourselves to worldly things.”
The passage was called to my attention by my friend Daniel Mattson, who blogs at Letters to Christopher. I won’t say more about the passage here because I don’t want to encroach on Dan’s own insights about it, which he will be discussing in a book he is writing for Ignatius Press.
The Other Side Almost Agrees with Me
Worth noting is the fact that many pro-abortion writers come very close to agreeing with me. One pro-abortion journalist quotes a pro-abortion counselor as commenting, "I am not confident even now, with abortion so widely used, that women feel it's OK to want an abortion without feeling guilty. They say, 'Am I some sort of monster that I feel all right about this?'" The counselor’s statement is very revealing. Plainly, if a woman has guilty feelings for not having guilty feelings about deliberately taking innocent human life, sheer moral ignorance is not a good explanation.
In fact, the phenomenon of moral denial is taken for granted even by many people who commerce in abortion. However – chillingly -- they regard denial as good. One of the physicians involved in the clinical trials of the abortion pill remarked, "I think there are people who want to be in denial about whether it's really an abortion or not. I think that's fine .... For some people that's a very useful denial and more power to them if they have to use that not to have an unwanted child." The authors of the article, who are strongly pro-abortion, seem to agree: "Indeed, denial may be considered a form of agency,” they write, “in that it enables women who are troubled about abortion to get through the experience more easily."
Needless to say, even if everyone really does know that deliberately taking innocent human life is wrong, it does not follow that everyone knows the rest of the general moral principles as well. So I do not claim to have proven St. Thomas’s claim that the general moral principles are all “the same for all as to knowledge.” But I think I have made it plausible.
18. Simonds, ibid., pp. 1318-1319.
Mondays are always for replying to letters from readers. I’ve paraphrased this letter for brevity.
After we gave her some books about Greek and Roman mythology, one of our young relatives reasoned that believing in the God of Christianity is like believing in the gods of the Greeks or Romans. According to her, since we no longer believe in those gods, we shouldn’t believe in our God either. How would you reply?
Comparing the mythological gods of the Greeks and Romans with the God of Christianity is like comparing beats with beets, or bells with belles -- they aren’t even “gods” in the same sense of the term. Your young relative might reasonably have asked her question about how Mormons think of God (I say this with respect; Mormons work hard at being good people). But it has no application to how Christians think of God.
The mythological gods were contingent beings like you and me. They didn’t have to exist; something caused them to exist. But the true God as Christians understand Him exists necessarily. He can’t not be.
The mythological gods existed in the same way that you exist. They just had more of everything. But God is the Being above all beings. He is the answer to the question of why there is something and not rather nothing – why anything at all exists apart from Him.
The mythological gods were products of human imagination. But the reality of God was worked out even by the pagan philosophers, in explicit opposition to what they called the “lies of the poets.”
The answer to your question was brilliantly put by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in his book Introduction to Christianity:
“The early Christian proclamation of the Gospel and the early Christian faith found themselves once again [like the Jews] in an environment teeming with gods …. Wherever the question arose to which god the Christian God corresponded, Zeus perhaps or Hermes or Dionysus or some other god, the answer ran: to none of them. To none of the gods to whom you pray but solely and alone to him to whom you do not pray, to that highest being of whom your philosophers speak. The early Church resolutely put aside the whole cosmos of the ancient religions, regarding the whole of it as deceit and illusion, and explained its faith by saying: When we say God, we do not mean or worship any of this; we mean only Being itself, what the philosophers have exposed as the ground of all being, as the God above all powers -- that alone is our God. … The choice thus made meant opting for the logos as against any kind of myth; it meant the definitive demythologization of the world and of religion.
“… Of course, the other side of the picture must not be overlooked. By deciding in favor of the God of the philosophers and logically declaring this God to be the God who speaks to man and to whom one can pray, the Christian faith gave a completely new significance to this God of the philosophers, removing him from the purely academic realm and thus profoundly transforming him. This God who had previously existed as something neutral, as the highest, culminating concept; this God who had been understood as pure Being or pure thought, circling round for ever closed in upon itself without reaching over to man and his little world; this God of the philosophers, whose pure eternity and unchangeability had excluded any relation with the changeable and transitory, now appeared to the eye of faith as the God of men, who is not only thought of all thoughts, the eternal mathematics of the universe, but also agape, the power of creative love.”
One sometimes hears otherwise faithful persons say that although they never speak to their friends about their faith, they try to live in such a way that their lives will be a witness to the Gospel.
A bogus quote from St. Francis of Assissi is often used in support of this idea. No, he did not say “Always preach the Gospel, and when necessary, use words.”
The problem with the idea of being so good that words become unnecessary is that none of us are that good.
Even if we were that good, our friends would need words to know what accounted for the fact.
Besides, our witness rests not on our virtue, but on the mercy of the God who suffered as Man what we deserved.
Christ used words. Wouldn’t it be strange if our lives were better witnesses than His?