Maybe the Belloc piece was less accessible than I thought, but then I read a lot of old things, and I've read a lot of him and his contemporaries. I remember that GK Chesterton took me some getting used to until someone explained to me how he operated, and then he became one of my favorite authors.
Anyway, I thought the main thrust of the article was that in dealing with people who are good at rational thinking but don't yet have faith, it is helpful to be aware that some of the truths of the Catholic Faith are accessible to human reason without the help of revelation, while others - the mysteries of faith, while just as true, are not.
This is what I thought the main things to take away from the piece were:
1.) You can't go around getting all offended that people who aren't Catholic don't believe the articles of faith. This is not only silly and illogical, but scandalous and harmful to evangelization: if you go around acting like any reasonable person should be able to arrive at the mysteries of faith, all you do is convince rational people that the Catholic Church is silly and illogical, just another lazy man's substitute for clear thinking.
2.) There are a lot of people who are competent rational thinkers, but not having the benefit you have of revelation from God, are basically trying to figure out the nature of the world and human life from scratch. Maybe, since they don't know if you're on the right track and don't know the Church and so can't be expected to accept her authority right off, it would be good with them to start with the truths of religion that can be reached by reason alone (of which there are many). Then when they see how reasonable and truthful the Church is, they can be invited to consider that the Church is right about things that can't be known except by divine revelation, like the Trinity, and the Incarnation, and so forth.
This latter, in essence, was recently proposed to us by Pope Benedict, who suggested that we might start with the content of Natural Law as a basis for dialogue with unbelievers. Except that nobody in the media understands what is meant by the term "Natural Law," since it's an infrequently used term in common speech these days, and since it's the contrary of Relativism (the only mode in which many people in our culture are used to thinking), so this didn't get a lot of reportage.
"Freud in Freefall: Robert Royal, president of the Faith and Reason Institute, writes in National Catholic Reporter that the scholarly opinion of Sigmund Freud is falling faster than sales of Britney Spears Perfume." Full story from DallasNews Religion.
Perhaps you have heard of Chesterton's theory of distributivism. I don't really have developed enough ideas about it to talk about the economic version of it, but I'm all for the knowledge/skill/art analog of it. Furthermore, I think it's more workable and realistic than the money version, because if everyone can sing or dance or paint or whatever, that makes everyone's life all the richer rather than everyone equally poor, whereas money is largely about determining who gets what of scarce resources, so that inflation would kick in if everyone was enriched.
But in any case, Chesterton is always dismayed when the means of production or enjoyment of something good and human that belong to everyone become concentrated in the hands of a small elite, as when nobody will bother to sing, but will only listen to those with big recording label deals. Not that he or I are against the idea of really talented individuals or professional artists, but that we are both saddened more than a little when ordinary people like us give up on something we all should enjoy doing and cede the privilege to a few simply because we won't bother if we can't be the guy at the top (or whatever reason). This concentration, though, is neither natural nor inevitable.
The thing that started this train of thought just now was reading Chesterton on Latin while I was thinking about Latin; he was lamenting the changeover from a more democratic thing to a more aristocratic thing that occurred around Milton's time when it came to be that Latin was monopolized by a small elite circle that spoke it very artfully, instead of everyone talking at least a little Latin badly, the way it had been for ages.
What's the fun if a chunk of the Church's riches are left to a few classics nerds to appreciate? Especially when the threshold for conscious and active participation at Mass with Latin is so low, comparatively speaking with any other really meaningful thing in any language - you don't need to be Cicero to get in on it. As I'll demonstrate tomorrow.
Seriously, though, even if you don't want to sink to any of these, it's a good read because it gives you a good idea of what arguing is likely to be like in real life rather than in the idealized circumstances you hope for.
It is perhaps not useful within the context of any given debate but certainly an interesting exercise when reading articles or disputes on the internet to recognize instances of the tactics Schopenhauer lists and mentally categorize them. For instance, here's an example of a combination of Stratagem #1, exaggerate your opponent's argument beyond its natural limits, and #13, make your opponent choose between a proposition and counter-proposition both of your choosing.
Natural law has to do with the idea that there is an objective order against which human laws can be judged good or bad, and that this order can be perceived or deduced even by people who do not have the fullness of the Faith - or even any faith at all. It is the contrary of relativism - the idea that all truth claims are equally valid or that the truth for you is decided by you or totally by the society in which you participate.
Peter's observation on the "obedience = bad" crowd and the musings of another friend on the anarchists (or practical anarchists) in his law class started me thinking about this.
Back in the day, serious thought on law was more likely to be framed in terms of natural law, even if they didn't use those terms. To go back to St. Thomas Aquinas, the reason for the existence of law is to make men good. An unjust or outright wicked law is no law at all, properly speaking; it is a mockery or perversion of the idea of law. This was clearly understood when after WWII the Nazis clearly needed to be punished although they acted entirely within the laws that Germany had enacted for herself. Martin Luther King appealed to natural law in order to denounce segregationist laws. People acknowledged that there was a higher law according to which the legislation they enacted could and should be judged.
But of late it has become more fashionable to deny this truth and pretend instead that whatever the government enacts ("posits," hence "Positivism") should be the law; that any law is equally moral and right so long as the appropriate legislative body chooses it. This is variously dressed up as "choice" or "freedom" or "liberty" but is nothing other than the "freedom" to call injustice justice, or dictatorship under the guise of legitimate government. It is convenient for the sort of people who do not want to acknowledge that transcendent truth exists, or that other peoples' choices - or their own - might be wrong.
However, merely declaring that any law is equally valid law so long as it is chosen by the king/legislature/popular vote does not erase from peoples' hearts the sure conviction that some laws that governments enact are unjust (see the above examples - e.g. who will argue that the Holocaust was an example of good and just law?). Now if law exists for the common good and no law that is unjust is valid law, then to hate unjust laws is to love law, and to espouse anarchy is tantamount to a declaration of hatred of the common good and love of injustice. But - if all laws are equally good and some laws are clearly bad, then all law must be bad. Thus it is only natural for the philosophical climate of legal positivism to foster anarchist sentiment.
Only 114 little pages from start to finish, including regular interludes of verse, and every page worth reading. So many really difficult topics handled so well and so concisely; so much truth reached by merely natural philosophy, so much that is applicable to the Christian life - no wonder the Scholastic philosophers were so big on Boethius. I might go back and take a look at it in Latin.
The Enlightenment had taken the idea of progress as
its leitmotiv, preaching a secular humanism that would usher in an age
of reason, where religion would be replaced by science.
Nineteenth-century ideologies built on many of the aspects of the Enlightenment...Add to the mix Hegel's philosophy of dialectical progress, and we had the perfect setup for the tragic totalitarian experiments of
the 20th century, which sought to bring about an earthly paradise
without God. By excluding God, they also wound up trampling on the
human person as well.
Rights language is such a blunt instrument. Isn't there a better way of
phrasing the just regulation of such a natural fact of human life?
Well, rights is what we are stuck with right now, for better or for worse. Many people take the structure of "rights" so much for granted that they can't imagine things being framed any other way. Some are even appalled upon considering that "rights" as such were not a part of philosophy of law until relatively recently. They are either offended at the assumed backwardness earlier ages or they use it to argue out of context, as by saying "well, the right to X didn't exist in the medieval period so how can the Church insist on it now?"
I wonder if the "rights-only" scheme didn't come as a reaction toward obligation-type justice (as in, instead of everyone having a "right to life," everyone had the obligation not to kill).
But I digress. What about the old Roman concept of officium? The way this was explained to me by my Latin prof, the Romans never thought of "rights" in isolation. Any privilege or dignity always came with corresponding duties or responsibilities. Not that they always lived up to this, but this was the way it was supposed to work. I think you can see this dynamic at work in the way a lot of things work in the Church. Because it reflects something about reality, it was very natural for the Church to pick up the Roman formulation of it. Think of the Divine Office, or the priesthood, or any other vocation in the Church - marriage included. Or think of Uncle Ben in Spiderman.