Monday, September 16, 2002

"The spoils of the Egyptians are of no use and could, in fact, become a deadly burden if they are not received into a converted heart. For it is not the greatest knowledge or the deepest wisdom that is right but the greatest obedience, the deepest humility; not the sublimity of thought, but the effective simplicity of love."
-Hans Urs von Balthasar

Sunday, September 08, 2002

A little Learning is a dang'rous Thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring:
There shallow Draughts intoxicate the Brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
-Pope, Essay on Criticism

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Freedom of indifference

Definition: The power to choose between contraries. (The choice between good and evil is essential to freedom.) Freedom resides in the will alone.

1. Excludes natural inclinations from the free act; they are subject to choice. In regard to these inclinations, freedom is indifferent.

2. It is entire from the first moment. No stages of formation and progress are required. There is no middle ground between being free and not being free.

3. It is entire in each free choice, in theory: each act is independent, isolated from other acts, and is performed at the instant of decision

4. It has no need of virtue, which becomes a freely used habitude, or of finality, which becomes one circumstance of actions.

5. Law appears as an external restraint and a limitation of freedom; it creates an irreducible tension with it.

6. Freedom is locked within self-assertion, causing the will to be separated from the other faculties and the individual to be separated from other freedoms.

7. It creates a moral theory focused on obligation and law; its relationship to Scripture is limited to texts imposing strict obligations.

Freedom for Excellence

Definition: The power to act freely with excellence and perfection. (The choice of evil is a lack of freedom.) Freedom resides in reason and will together.

1. It is rooted in the natural inclinations to the good and true, to what has quality and perfection. It springs from an attraction to what appears true and good, and from an interest in it.

2. It is bestowed in embryo at the beginning of moral life; it must be developed through education and exercised, with discipline, through successive stages. Growth is essential to freedom.

3. It integrates actions in view of an end, which unites them interiorly and insures continuity.

4. Virtue is a dynamic quality essential freedom, a habitus necessary for its development. Finality is a principal element of free action.

5. Law is a necessary external aid to the development of freedom, together with the attraction to the true and good, which is a note of inner freedom. Law is especially necessary in the first stage of education. It is progressively interiorized through the virtues of justice and charity.

6. Freedom is open to allowing all human powers to make their contribution to its action, and to collaboration with others for the common good and the growth of society.

7. Its foundation is the attraction to the true and the good, and the desire for happiness, focusing on the virtues and oriented to quality and perfection, lending itself to a relationship with all of Scripture.

-Servais Pinckaers, The Sources of Christian Ethics
Phillip Jenkins' _The Next Christendom_ documents the rise of Christianity in the Third World, using demographic projections assuring, or reassuring, that the world is not following the West on the path to secularization. Yet I wonder if it is not vulnerable to this criticism, made by Fr. Edward Oakes in a related context:

Still, when it comes to the tendentious use of statistics, liberals are hardly alone. Christians on the more conservative end of the spectrum can also be seen dragging around the security blanket of Trends and Surveys. One of the most telling examples of this is Dean Kelley's Why conservative Churches Are Growing (1972), a tour de force of sociological argumentation, a book that roughly did for evangelicalism by means of sociology what C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity did for it through apologetics. Are you curious to know why Liberal Christianity is a disaster and why only Gospel-based churches are thriving? Well, Kelly has the answer: the conservative churches know what they believe, they make no bones about it, and they are morally demanding and unaccommodating to the Zeitgeist.

What could be simpler? What more soothing to the anxious soul assaulted by the relentlessly secular vulgarites of popular culture? Thus, soon after Kelly, other Evangelicals picked up the gauntlet, and a veritable cottage industry was born. Scholars like George Marsden and Nathan O. Hatch provided the details, reassuring the conservative faithful that their rejection of Liberal Protestantism was the right way to go.

The latest product of this industry comes from Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, the very title of whose recent book The Churching of America, 1776-1990: Winners and Losers in our Religious Economy (reviewed in First Things, June/July 1993) pretty much tips its hand. Here statistics are marshalled around such essentially economic metaphors as "market share," "subscribers," "outreach programs," etc. The authors' relentlessly free-market analysis might strike some Christians, even conservative ones, as a bit too much, rather as if David Stockman had signed on as unpaid advisor to St. Paul. But the cause, after all, is a good one: to reassure the faithful. "Not secularization but Christianization," avers the First Things reviewer in summarizing the book, "is the primary religious fact of American life."

The subject of Oakes' article, David Wells, also makes a remarkable comment about the alleged Evangelical Revival:

The vast growth in evangelically minded people in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s should by now have revolutionized American culture. With a third of American adults now claiming to have experienced spiritual rebirth, a powerful countercurrent of morality growing out of a powerful and alternative worldview should have been unleashed in factories, offices, and board rooms, in the media, universities, and professions, from one end of the country to the other. . . . But as it turns out, all of this swelling of the evangelical ranks has passed unnoticed in the culture. It has simply been absorbed and tamed. Aside from Jerry Falwell's aborted attempt from the political right in the 1980s to roll back the earlier victories scored by the left, especially during the 1960s, the presence of evangelicals in American culture has barely caused a ripple.

What an indictment of contemporary Christian evangelization: it maintains the debilitating dichotomy between public action and private religious belief, leaving the wider culture in ignorance of Christ. "He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him."

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

An interesting article on the history of young-earth creationism, claiming it is purely a phenomenon of early twentieth century fundamentalism. However, there is no mention of Bishop Ussher's famous estimation of the age of the earth, so I wonder how accurate it is.
The theory of freedom of indifference, which was at the heart of nominalism, together with nominalism itself, influenced all Western thought. It was found almost everywhere, even among those who scarcely knew its name. It did not remain at the level of ideas and doctrines; it penetrated life and its deepest experiences.
One of the surest signs of the active presence of freedom of indifference was the tension it engendered, tension that posed problems of a disjunctive sort, expressed by the "either...or" formula. A few samplings of this characteristic disconnectedness follow.

-Either freedom or law. This opposition dominated casuistry and found expression in the comparison of freedom and law to two landowners disputing the field of human actions. Ethicists would say, this action pertains to law, that to freedom.

-Either freedom or reason. Reason opposed law just as the determinism it engendered opposed voluntary choice, or again, as the law it proclaimed opposed freedom of action and limited it.

-Either freedom or nature. Freedom was defined as opposed to nature. It was non-nature. It sought to dominate and exploit nature, understood as subrational or irrational, blind, and enslaved to its impulses.

-Either freedom or grace. In theology, freedom and grace were opposed in the manner of the two landowners disputing over human actions. What was ascribed to grace seemed by that very fact taken away from freedom; what was attributed to freedom as merit seemed to diminish grace.

-Either man was free, or God. This opposition led to and culminated in the relationship between God and humanity. From now on, a choice had to be made: one could not exalt man wihtout slighting God, nor exalt God without diminishing man. As E. Borne writes, "Contemporary atheism seeks a total affirmation of man by negating God... Whence the presupposition that belief in God dehumanizes man."

-Either subject or object. These basic terms came to signify on the one hand the person, changeable in will and feelings to the point of caprice, and on the other hand the external world, an apersonal reality with its firm, hard, opaque quality. The worst failure in regard to the person was to treat him as a thing; the greatest danger in science was subjectivity. Subjectivism ended in solipsism; objectivism became materialism.

-Either freedom or sensibility. Freedom became indifferent in order to fulfill itself, and it stiffened against sensibility; or else it identified with the passions and claimed total freedom for them.

-Either my freedom or the freedom of others. The freedom of others appeared as a limitation and a threat, since my idea of freedom was self-affirmation in the face of all others. From this issued a struggle with everyone; this was at the root of the dialectic between master and slave.

-Either the individual or society. Freedom of indifference created individualism. It severed the bonds between individuals in the same way in which it had isolated human acts from each other. Society was no longer anything more than an artificial creation and a constraint. Henceforth the individual and society would be opposed and would engage in a struggle for power, in a dialectic of domination. The two poles were individual freedom to the point of anarchy and state control to the point of despotism.

It is clear that the influence of freedom of indifference was very far-reaching. It affected all areas of human action and all the problematics to be encountered in moral theory. It even reshaped the questions; they became disjunctive, where in the case of freedom for excellence they would be synthesized, as we shall see. Wherever it appeared, freedom of indifference seemed to be a force for division and separation, for an opposition engendering an interminable dialectical struggle.

-Servais Pinckaers, The Sources of Christian Ethics, p. 350-351

Monday, August 19, 2002

The Russell-Copleston Debate on the existence of God.