A Thought on Eternal Evil

Eternity is not just more time, in a sense similar to how  God is not just a bigger cause. As God is the Cause of causes – the Unmoved Mover, in classic Greek philosophy, wherein, in Christian theology, all created things live and move and have their being – eternity is that within which time takes place. Eternity is more than the sum of all time.

This has implications for redemption and repentance. We, bounded by time, find it strictly unimaginable (strictly, since our acts of imaginations are realized over time) that a creature could act eternally. Angels are such creatures. We, having been given eternal life, are also such creatures, though we haven’t (in both senses of that word) realized it yet.

Image result for the fall of luciferWhen we talk of the fall of Satan and a battle in Heaven, we are speaking about events that take place (if that’s a meaningful way to say it) in eternity – they are not something that happened in the past. Satan is falling now, has fallen in the past, will continue to fall in the future – that’s how events in eternity necessarily look to us living in time, like seeing a 2-dimensional slice of a three dimensional figure, and trying to imagine the figure – only it’s worse, since eternity is not just the sum of a bunch of snapshots of time.

People sometimes wonder if Satan or any human in Hell can repent and be saved. If eternity were just more time, then that would be an interesting question. But if eternal acts are eternal, there is no ‘later’ in which to reconsider or be redeemed. This will be our fate once we realize, in the sense of make real to our own eyes, our eternal nature. This is why saints, as they start to see God, are mortified by their slightest fault – becoming more Christ-like is also becoming more aware of their own eternal nature, and how their sins tend to become eternal as a result.

So here’s the mind-bender: Satan and his angels knew all this. Their ‘act’ in falling away from God included all the temptations, manipulations, possessions and horrors by which we see evil unveiled over time – and their defeat at the hands of Christ. All these acts took place at once, as it were, as it was, is now and ever shall be. The fall of the angels IS the evil they work in the world and our lives. There was no ‘before’ Satan fell, and no ‘after’. He is falling now; he is rejecting God now; he is hating us with a white-hot passion now. And he will be doing all this for ever – for all eternity.

The fallen angels knew all this, saw how it worked out to their own destruction and pain, and rejected God anyway.

Christianity proposes we all get to make eternal decisions, that there comes a point where we pass from time within which one can change one’s mind, to eternity, where knowledge and decisions are complete.

At War Against the Flat Moral Universe

When somebody’s grand explanation of everything is that everyone who opposes them is evil, stupid, or ignorant, or that they are members of an oppressing group whose every action is evil by nature (and these are not mutually exclusive: ignorant, bigoted white men, for example is a double dose of both), their moral universe is very flat. All issues boil down to Them versus Us. There is no ‘We’. Since the opponent is evil simply by dint of being the opponent, we can trust nothing they do or say and there is nothing out of bounds for what we may legitimately do to them.

Steal elections? Of course – because they would do it, or worse! Riot? Sure, if it works. Wanton destruction of the property of people who just happen to be there? They deserve it, and worse. Physical assault? Totally OK.

And the lying. Total, non-stop lying, in word and deed.

First point: the reasons Hillary lost include:

  • Poor turnout of Democrats versus previous elections
  • Failure to carry the people Obama carried to the same degree
  • She’s an embarrassingly terrible candidate

Bigotry? Racism? Um, didn’t this same electorate just elect Obama – twice! – in the last 12 years? (1) Sooo – now they’re racists? Sexist? A smaller number of women voted Hillary than voted Obama. (1) Maybe women aren’t totally defined by sex organs, but might have thinking organs as well? Wherein they pondered what it means to them personally to be totally defined by somebody else’s idea of how a real woman should vote?

Clinton did not do as well as Obama did with women and minorities. From a marketing perspective, that’s nobody’s problem but Clinton’s team’s.

A flat moral universe does not admit of such fine distinctions, however. Only class-level distinctions carry any moral weight. Therefore, we are to ignore the facts on the ground and look instead to some oppressor/oppressed dynamic to explain everything. It can’t be that a huge percentage of the voters in this country resents being labeled racist or sexist simply because they voted against or even merely considered not voting for the ‘correct’ candidate? That any reasons they might offer for their concerns were labeled bigotry or hate? That everyone they personally knew who might support the wrong candidate was a racist/sexist/homophobic bigot no matter what their personal actions might indicate?

So, today, judging by what’s on the news, we have a battle going on: between those who are trying to apply their flat moral universe to the world – I include here any who do not condemn the mostly manufactured riots – by fomenting race and class warfare, and those who, in the words of Martin Luther King, judge people “…not … by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Be clear: this is the flat moral universe in which it is OK to slaughter 6 million Jews, 20 million Kulaks, 60 million Chinese peasants, 25% of the population of Cambodia – not because of anything particular those unarmed and defenseless people did,  but because of the groups they were presumed to belong to.  In this universe, Marxist hitmen get to round up and assassinate Spanish nuns and monks and Mexican boys who won’t play along; and French Carmelites who never hurt a fly get guillotined in the name of equality, liberty and brotherhood. These incidents are, if somehow allowed past the mental barriers set up over 16 or more years of education, summarily dismissed, or at least trivialized. A huge percentage of people will look the other way, just as today they look the other way when a shopkeeper’s shop is burned down or a cop is shot – it is conclusively presumed they either had it coming or it’s not important in the big picture.

So, we can’t let accusations of racism, sexism and bigotry against entire classes of people stand. That’s the battle today, for most of us. Pray God it may go no further.

  1. Usual caveats: exit polls are, if anything, even less likely to reflect reality than pre-election polls; the gray area – people who didn’t answer – is big enough in most cases to easily swallow the reported changes; and people are often not at all motivated to tell the truth, either about who they are or how they voted. That said: The NYT exit poll chart shows that Hillary picked up a percentage point worth of female voters, but since she got only 92% of the vote Obama did, the actual number of women who voted for her was about a million fewer than voted for Obama in 2012. 2016-exit-1
  2. The same chart says 8% of blacks voted for Trump, up from 1% who voted for Romney. Huge swing.  Now, given various videos making the rounds today, how good an idea do you think it would be for a black man or woman to own up publicly to voting for Trump? So this may be understated in the same way the pre-election polls were. I personally know one black pastor from Oakland who has spent the last decade or so trying to get his flock and blacks in general to see how they are being used by the Democratic Party, and specifically how abortion is used to keep blacks in line. He has suffered enormously – economically & personally – for his stance. But I know guys like him are out there – this election is the first time I think it has shown.

Perfect Solutions

One thing working with one’s hands gives us is a perspective on perfection: there ain’t any in this life. You can work longer or with greater skill at something – laying a brick, painting a picture, sewing a skirt – but you will never get it perfect. What you can do is keep improving, learning more skills and (as important) more patience.

For an adult or even a sane child, that is enough. What is frustrating is working hard and not seeing any improvement. To expect improvement shows a hopeful yet rational grip on reality; to expect  perfection is to live in constant frustration in an unreal, irrational world.

I’ve written about the difference between a flat and a rich moral universe. The ultimate morally flat universe is nihilism in its various manifestations: it supports only a homogeneous 2-dimensional world of actions in which one might move around on the plane, but where no act is morally any higher or lower than any other act.

Slightly more interesting and much more common is the moral landscape of power dynamics: either you are oppressed, in which case everything you do that can be construed to have resisted oppression is good, and anything you might do as a victim of oppression is presumptively excused. Or you are an oppressor, wherein suicide of one sort or another (you may keep your body for the time being, but your intellect and integrity must die!) is the only possible morally good act you can perform. Everything else you do, no matter how apparently innocent, is an act of oppression and thus eeeevil.

In such a world, there are nothing but failures and perfect solutions, meaning there are nothing but failures. People who are oppressed can’t make small improvements in their lot over time – as long as they remain oppressed, they are objectively miserable no matter how happy their little improvements may seem to make them. The only success allowed is movement toward the day they shall be free from oppression, which mostly means getting more miserable – because happy people don’t usually have revolutions.

So, in yet another Orwellian moment, Misery is Happiness; Failure is Success. No really: as some wit once said, Marx’s call to revolution sounds a lot less convincing when all you have to lose is your suburban home, a couple of cars, a snowmobile, 4 weeks vacation, health care and all the rest of your stuff. Better you be destitute and miserable, as that is closer to Paradise. (1)

The lack of perfect solutions is used as a criticism: since there is STILL injustice in the world, every effort made by every man, woman and child,  has FAILED. Everything that has created a better life for several billion people is not good enough. The world *should* be perfect!  We may think the small and shrinking percentage of people worldwide in true poverty is a good thing, that the growing number of people who are not insecure for their persons, who have food, clothing and shelter, is a good thing – but they are not good enough! In fact, insofar as they delay the true freedom only to be had via revolution, they are eeeevil.

On the other hand, if all one hopes for is improvement, one can realistically hope to achieve something. This happy state requires a rich moral universe, where our choices and actions are judged within a moral framework with room for nuance – with room for improvement, one might say. In such a world, it is possible for such subtle shades as it being  wrong that I murdered somebody richer than me, or right that I paid him for that snowmobile. My faithfulness or unfaithfulness to my spouse is not washed out to meaninglessness by my presumed membership in one or the other of the oppressed/oppressor pair, but has – at it most certainly appears to have – real, concrete, *moral* consequences.

The richest, most detailed and thus most lovely and terrifying moral universe ever described can be seen in Dante, or in the Catechism. That is a Universe without perfection in this life, but of improvement within it. Within it can be lived a life of meaningfulness, a life standing against the blandly evil and tasteless flat moral universes being pushed upon us more every day.

  1. The devil parodies in Marxism the voluntary surrender of goods in this life for greater goods in the next.

Quick Reading Update

A. Just got back from a industry conference and a pilgrimage – more on that later – which provided a bit of sitting-on-a-plane and stuck-in-a-hotel-room reading time. When reading Brian Niemeier’s books – Nethereal and Souldancer – it is *essential* that one be wide awake and paying attention. Reading either in bed as sleep stalks and takes you – not going to work. Far too much going on. BUT: reading them on the plane home, after getting 9 hours of sleep (unheard of for me) and a brief nap on the plane – well, MUCH better, much more engaging and followable. In a way, this is unfortunate, since I tend to use my small, uncertain and therefore valuable wide-awake reading time for stuff like Fichte and Hegel and education history, while fiction, mythology and short stuff like Chesterton essays get the 30-60 minutes it typically takes me to fall asleep.

B. I’ve mentioned Louis Menand’s Metaphysical Club a few times on this blog, generally very favorably.He writes elegant and pithy prose that is a joy to read. His knack for telling details and ability to draw fascinating connections that others might miss are wonderful, and led me to rethink some stuff with which I was already familiar and explore other issues of which I was not yet aware: for example, the role of Puritan Calvinists in the founding of Harvard and thereby in the fabric of American higher education; the (mis)use of statistics at the very foundations of American science; the ubiquity of Pragmatism in American thinking; and, less felicitous and perhaps not entirely intended by Menand, the prevalence and ultimate dogmatic orthodoxy of bone-headed irrationality masquerading as intellectual enlightenment. Examples of this abound. Most strikingly, those following Charles Sanders Pierce, as Menand’s examples amply illustrate, took his Pragmatic Maxims as meaning ‘the ends justify the means’ pure and simple, despite their protestations otherwise. Dewey’s defence of Trotsky (not discussed in the book, although Dewey himself gets plenty of ink) states emphatically that any appeal to conscience or ideals in determining what is ethical is delusional, that all that matters is the outcome of the actions – bring the Worker’s Paradise closer, and your actions are ethical in any meaningful sense.  Continue reading “Quick Reading Update”

Heidegger, Nihilism, the Sunset of the West (in 3 paragraphs)

From First Things, 1993, via a random tweet, wherein

Several members of the Philosophy, History, and Political Science faculties at the University of Tulsa recently completed a Martin Heidegger reading group, which read and discussed the principal writings of this important German philosopher. Among the many topics discussed was whether Heidegger’s philosophy is related to his membership in and support of Germany’s National Socialist Party during his tenure as Chairman of the Philosophy Department and Rector at the University of Freiburg in the 1930s.

As a basis for discussion, the group assigned William Hughes, a “civilian” member of the reading group and a former Assistant U.S. Attorney in Boston, to present the case against Heidegger. What follows, in the form of a prosecutor’s closing argument, is his summation. The argument is based on Heidegger’s philosophical works (principally Being and Time and What Is a Thing ) and on lectures and interviews given by Heidegger before and after the war.

This:

First, the defense will argue that the individualism of the defendant’s ethic of self is fundamentally inconsistent with the corporatism of National Socialism. But we know from our modern experience that an ethic of self, if anything, increases the state’s intrusions into the private life of individual man: an ethic of self first weakens and then destroys the institutions and group norms of society, creating a vacuum soon filled by the power of the few through a state they control, unimpeded by any coherent voice in opposition or by any principle of obligation owed by one man to another.

Yep.

I have read very little Heidegger because he’s very dense, very long-winded and life is short – I’d rather read more Aristotle. But I do think that some influential writers need to be read and understood because they are terrible. So, if my personal life is long enough and my eyesight hangs in there, maybe someday….

A Whirlwind Tour of Christian Rationality by John C. Wright

In his inimitable style, Mr. Wright sums up the arguments against the proposition that, while Atheism is utterly rational, belief in Christianity is irrational in all respects. In the course of doing so, he produces a syllabus of philosophical errors tracing back to Descartes.

Mr. Wright begins with something he (and I and, frankly, anyone who tries to make a purely rational point in this woeful age) always run up against: the near total inability of a modern person to follow an argument. Education only increases density, until the typical PhD is diamond-hard in his resistance to reason, while you might have some luck with a first grader. It is both insightful and entertaining. He then compares the rationality – not the truth, but merely how rational they are – of the positions of atheists and Christians.

Keeping with my strategy of being as lightly read in as many places as possible, I paste here my long comment from there:

One other thing, to pile on a bit: another thing people don’t get (likely because it is studiously avoided in everything they’ll ever hear or read) is how the Perennial Philosophy came to be discredited. Luther and Calvin both waged war against human reason (Luther’s criticisms are legendary (and legendarily scattological) “Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore” and so on, Calvin is more subtle, as in making reason a competitor with the Spirit, as it were, in the proper understanding of Scripture). They were competing against the Scholastics, who famously trusted reason as a gift from God that tended by its nature to move the reasoner toward Him, staffed and founded Universities all over Europe, and educated all the key players in both the Medieval industrial revolution and the birth of Science.

In 1630, Descartes comes along with his radical skepticism, and all Hell breaks loose with Hume, Kant, etc. Descartes proved a good stick with which to beat the Scholastics. One of the peculiarities from that time on: nobody even talks about the Thomists, except to dismissively wave them off. It’s like how the Enlightenment slandered the great cathedrals as ‘gothic’ – i.e., barbaric – when they themselves could produce nothing nearly as original and beautiful.

On marches science, using the logic of Aristotle by way of the medieval Questions method + gadgets and math. Meanwhile, Kant finally runs radical skepticism to ground, or perhaps into the ground – dead end. Hegel then reanimate Calvin’s corpse, declaring that reason (as understood by everyone prior to him with the possible exception of Fichte) is for the little people, that real philosophers just get stuff unfolded to them by the Spirit in History. Finally, a philosophy that makes sense out of Calvin and Luther – they’re not reasonable, but they’re not supposed to be! They are instead on the right side of History, where the Spirit unfolds, where you just have to be right.

Somewhere in here, science decides it’s all about making practical discoveries (see Boyle’s listhttp://tiny.cc/8n5yey h/t to TOF) and basically lobotomizes itself to get rid of all that pesky philosophy that doesn’t help further that goal (more or less). Science and philosophy march more or less side by side, but more and more aren’t on speaking terms. A century and a half later, Von Humboldt invents the research university in Prussia: practical research (and the birth of publish or perish) over here, other stuff over there.

Meanwhile, the Puritans come to America to escape religious freedom – they are very sure they have a handle on the best way to live, and want anybody under their jurisdiction to live that way – and establish Harvard and staff it with people from Cambridge even the English Protestants at the time thought a bit much. The model of the American University is established: the place where we train the people who will make other people conform to our ideals. While those ideals sure changed – from Calvinist Puritanism (see the connection? Way ahead of me…) to Unitarianism to secular humanism all within a few generations – the belief that the University’s mission is to teach the one best way everything should be and enforce it on everybody else did not change.

So Harvard, and, through its role as intellectual disease vector, all other American universities, knows that what it wants is right, not by reason – that would play into the hands of the Thomists, even though their very existence is whistled past – but, as Calvin might say, vouchsafed by the Spirit – the Spirit of History, of the age, the Spirit of Progress.

Thus you, and anyone educated in the Universities, if he is so unfortunate as to take philosophy, will hear plenty about Descartes, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Marx and on through the current schools (last count: 1,476) of Analytic Philosophy but will hear nothing of A-T (Aristotelian-Thomistic) Philosophy except to have it dismissed. The truly enlightened are not subject to reason, which is, after all, a construct of the white male patriarchy meant only to oppress this week’s designated oppressed group – reason is for the little people. You know, the people who use reason to build the power plants that supply the lighting in the room where Woman’s Studies majors fire up their laptops to send emails about how oppressed they are.

But I digress.

Politics as the Least Important Thing

Not really, not the very least, but not nearly the Most Important Thing. (pulling this off the back burner, where it has long simmered…)

How is it, I was once asked in so many words, that the Founders of this country could write laws that deprived women (and men without property) of the right to vote? Implicit in this question is the assumption that ‘does not have the right to vote’ = ‘subhuman’. (1) In other words, a right exercised only occasionally and in public defines human worth and freedom in the highest sense, above the rights exercised daily in our private lives. We would denigrate and then sacrifice the social structures – most especially, the family – within which our freedom is routinely expressed, in order to make more universal a right which is by its nature very specifically limited – vote on what? – and in any event exercised only rarely. We run the risk, in our headlong quest for equality, of ending up having the right to vote – and no other rights at all.

This is not to say that women’s suffrage is a bad idea, only that it is a subordinate idea. The Founders knew that life was lived in the home, the pub, the park, the chapel, and only for the sake of those things was a right to the voting booth important at all. Why risk disturbing the higher good of domestic tranquility by introducing the possibility of friction and division over something as relatively trivial as who gets to pull the lever?

Politics, in the broad sense of the process through which we end up with the government we live under, is, as Chesterton would say, a paradox: government is a very good thing, we are assured by Peter and Paul, as well as by the Catechism, yet it amount to nothing without a private life, especially a family life, within which to quietly enjoy its fruits.

Even apart from voting, freedom is devalued when its public expression is considered its highest expression. It is too easy to think that we are free when all we’re really free to do is follow the whims of the crowd.

In the words of the master:

If a wealthy young lady wants to do what all the other wealthy young ladies are doing, she will find it great fun, simply because youth is fun and society is fun. She will enjoy being modern exactly as her Victorian grandmother enjoyed being Victorian. And quite right too; but it is the enjoyment of convention, not the enjoyment of liberty. It is perfectly healthy for all young people of all historic periods to herd together, to a reasonable extent, and enthusiastically copy each other. But in that there is nothing particularly fresh and certainly nothing particularly free. The girl who likes shaving her head and powdering her nose and wearing short skirts will find the world organised for her and will march happily with the procession. But a girl who happened to like having her hair down to her heels or loading herself with barbaric gauds and trailing garments or (most awful of all) leaving her nose in its natural state– she will still be well advised to do these things on her own premises. If the Duchess does want to play leap frog, she must not start suddenly leaping in the manner of a frog across the ballroom of the Babylon Hotel, when it is crowded with the fifty best couples professionally practising the very latest dance, for the instruction of society. The Duchess will find it easier to practise leap frog to the admiration of her intimate friends in the old oak-panelled hall of Fitzdragon Castle. If the Dean must stand on his head, he will do it with more ease and grace in the calm atmosphere of the Deanery than by attempting to interrupt the programme of some social entertainment already organised for philanthropic purposes.

My complaint of the anti-domestic drift is that it is unintelligent. People do not know what they are doing; because they do not know what they are undoing. There are a multitude of modern manifestations, from the largest to the smallest, ranging from a divorce to a picnic party. But each is a separate escape or evasion; and especially an evasion of the point at issue. People ought to decide in a philosophical fashion whether they desire the traditional social order or not; or if there is any particular alternative to be desired. As it is they treat the public question merely as a mess or medley of private questions. Even in being anti-domestic they are much too domestic in their test of domesticity. Each family considers only its own case and the result is merely narrow and negative. Each case is an exception to a rule that does not exist. The family, especially in the modern state, stands in need of considerable correction and reconstruction; most things do in the modern state. But the family mansion should be preserved or destroyed or rebuilt; it should not be allowed to fall to pieces brick by brick because nobody has any historic sense of the object of bricklaying. For instance, the architects of the restoration should rebuild the house with wide and easily opened doors, for the practice of the ancient virtue of hospitality. In other words, private property should be distributed with sufficiently decent equality to allow of a margin for festive intercourse. But the hospitality of a house will always be different from the hospitality of a hotel. And it will be different in being more individual, more independent, more interesting than the hospitality of a hotel. It is perfectly right that the young Browns and the young Robinsons should meet and mix and dance and make asses of themselves, according to the design of their Creator. But there will always be some difference between the Browns entertaining the Robinsons and the Robinsons entertaining the Browns. And it will be a difference to the advantage of variety, of personality, of the potentialities of the mind of man; or, in other words, of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Chesterton,  THE DRIFT FROM DOMESTICITY, The Thing

In a properly ordered society, the greatest care and effort would be focused on supporting and defending the families that raise the citizens that make government tolerable or even possible. When the rights of individuals discovered and enforced by government supercede the rights that support the duties of families, we’re in trouble.

The idea that a government would see it as its duty or within its power to redefine what a family is is a sign of a fatal misapprehension.  A culture is not defined by its laws; rather, the laws are defined by the living culture. It’s not like murder and theft become bad because governments enact laws against them. Neither do families become different because judges decide that laws will be misconstrued and votes overturned to redefine what a family is. All that does is assure that the police powers of the state will now be used against anyone who does not go along with the insanity.

This idea that there is, effectively, nothing outside the competence of the state is totalitarianism, regardless of how much freedom the state decides, at any moment, to grant as a boon to citizens.

The fever dreams of Rousseau, where people as individuals voluntarily opt in to a state and grant it specific powers, flies in the face of all experience and reality. In such a fantasy, each person’s fundamental expression of their individuality and rights is this fictional moment where they consciously choose to be citizens. A vote, in other words. Insofar as reality falls short of such a moment, we fall short of our perfect expression as rights-bearing individuals – we *ought* to have had such a moment, only history or chance has deprived us of it.

The Founders accepted this idea to a large degree. ‘Legitimate power from the consent of the governed’ and all that. Some of the seeds of our current state of affairs were planted at our founding, a new political Sola – the lone individual (2) is the basis of all legitimate government.  All rights springs from and flow towards him. Not, as history shows again and again, from the legitimate concerns of families.

 

  1. I’m leaving out slaves for now, as the ultimate inclusion of slavery in the Constitution was a bitter and tragic compromise, while granting the franchise to women hardly came up at all. That the horror of slavery was enshrined in national law all but compels some people to see women, as non-voters, as in the same boat as slaves. This is clearly unfair to the slaves, who had nothing like the freedom of a white woman.
  2. In late classical/early medieval times, the Lone Man was always suspect – a man traveling about alone would needs be heavily armed, times being what there were, and would be likely to keep his distance from groups that might overpower him. He was a spooky unknown. Why was he not travelling with his family, broadly understood? Then, he would be known and his business might be assumed to be legitimate. This attitude is echoed in how we view Zorro and Aragorn – dangerous folk! While the Cisco Kid, accompanied by Pancho, and the Lone Ranger, who, despite the name, hangs out with Tonto, are generally seen as more benign persons.