An argument for universalism

In response to a critique by Brandon, Eric Reitan offered the following defense of universalism:

To be grieved by some aspect of reality is to be in a state that falls short of perfect joy. Put another way, you are not perfectly happy if there are aspects of reality that you can only regard as a profound tragedy to be grieved, and which you actively do grieve—a profound tragedy which never comes to an end, and which you therefore never stop grieving.

Hence, the particular blessedness that is intrinsic to heaven itself—possession of God as universal and consummate good by love and understanding—will result in something substantially less than perfect bliss if reality includes elements that warrant grief as the fitting response (that is, the response exhibited by anyone who is morally sanctified).

Simplified down to a middle term, we get:

Any experience for which the only possible response is grief is incompatible with blessedness

To know about the damned is just such an experience, etc.

And so the fact that anyone is blessed means that no one can be damned.

Now Brandon is right that the particular argument of the post neither addresses the hard problem that universalism requires universal contrition nor is formulated in a way that responds to the idea of blessedness advanced by the Fathers and Scholastics, but it’s an interesting argument all the same.

St. Thomas famously wrote three articles worth of material on the topic of how the blessed relate to the damned, though they were compiled and edited by his students after death. The question is (in)famous for supposedly claiming that the blessed rejoice over the sufferings of the damned, though the facts are a bit more subtle, even if not without interpretive problems. The first of the relevant texts is this:

A thing may be a matter of rejoicing in two ways. First directly, when one rejoices in a thing as such: and thus the saints will not rejoice in the punishment of the wicked. Secondly, indirectly, by reason namely of something annexed to it: and in this way the saints will rejoice in the punishment of the wicked, by considering therein the order of Divine justice and their own deliverance, which will fill them with joy.

In other words, STA denies that the blessed look upon the damned with any sense of joy. There is indeed no indication that they look at the damned at all. They look at divine justice, and at their own deliverance, but they take no direct joy over the fact. But this text has to be read in context with an earlier one:

[W]hen contraries are placed beside one another they become more conspicuous. Wherefore in order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned.

And so the claim is that the sufferings are perfectly seen, and perfectly seen so as to increase delight, and nevertheless there is no delight taken directly from the sufferings of the damned.

St. Thomas’s argument might me more a propos as directly applied to Reitan’s middle term. In explaining the relevant emotion of pity or grief, STA says that, in the blessed, it will not extend any further than reason, but it is irrational to want the impossible, and it is impossible for the damned to be relived of their sufferings. Thus, the damned will have no pity or grief in the face of the damned. The argument, however, does nothing here, since Reitan might take the premises as requiring that it be impossible that there be anyone damned (though, to be fair, it is not St. Thomas’s point here to prove that anyone is damned, only that such a state does not necessarily require that the blessed grieve over it).

Certitudo prolis, a critique of it, and a response

St. Thomas argued for limiting sex to marriage by appeal to the certitudo prolis. A general mode of the argument is (1) Given that women will tend to raise their own children, men should be involved also; and (2) Men will not be involved in raising a child apart from a permanent and exclusive relationship to the woman.  The premises seem to get us to the point where, if children are a possibility, fathers should be bound to mothers by permanent and exclusive relationships.

Both premises are based on sex characteristics or “typical gender roles” and so tend to trigger allergic reactions and the search for some other basis. But let’s charge ahead anyway. The sex characteristics of (1) are pretty minimal and don’t seem bound up with any inherent sexism: women are certain that their children are theirs (labor isn’t the thing one tends to miss), tend to feel more natural affection for them, and have a natural power to feed them after birth.  That it would be better for the father to be involved is a simple solution and a boon for all involved: the mother gets a supporter and an extra pair of hands to help her out; the child gets all this plus a guardian, model for behavior, educator (in the broad sense of one who can teach speech, basic skills. etc.) and the father gets something to do beyond running around in packs of males impregnating random women and otherwise lying about.

The characteristics of (2) are more subtle and more interesting. The basic problem is that, absent some permanent and exclusive relationship, the father will either see the kids as someone else’s or, more problematically, the woman will be sexually involved with some other man. Either way, one of the more common natural male reactions is “well, let him raise the kids then.” It’s difficult to tell a man that he has to give up some of his free time, liberty, and property for the sake of a woman who’s sleeping with someone else or to raise the children of another man who has to sacrifice nothing for them (note that none of this makes step-fatherhood or adoption inherently impossible, since both of them can occur in the context of a marriage).

Premise (2) also allows for scientific justifications. The neo-Darwinian justification is ready-at-hand: reproduction is a fight to preserve one’s own genes, and so no man will fight to preserve the genes of another. Michael Shermer argues in exactly this way for an impulse of sexual jealously which, according to him, grounds an inveterate desire and behavior, if not a moral code. This genetic reduction struggles to explain adoption and step-fathering, to say nothing of the fundamental problem that no individual gene has ever been preserved by reproduction (a gene can live no longer than its natural lifespan, regardless of whether one reproduces or not) but we can let genes stand as place-holders for a desire to exist that is grounded in the very being of the organism.

Now in some sense even the contemporary sexual ethic seems respect the reality of certitudo prolis. Sex, which can begin at any point in adolescence, has to be kept “safe” (infertile and without permanent consequences, unless marriage is seen as a possible consequence) and making children (or, more cynically, allowing them to live) is typically the work of those who are not only married, but have been married for a few years. It’s as if we view marriage as graduate work and the child as the degree. This seems to be certitido prolis taken to an extreme. True, there are exceptions to the rule: children, especially of the underclass, aren’t caught by the safesex dragnet or its surgical safety net. But the technology of safesex is accessible and foolproof enough for us to see any children as arising from culpable irresponsibility. We don’t need to pity them or even take them into account. The rules were clear enough.

And so the technology involves a real challenge to the older arguments that certitudo prolis serves as an argument against pre-marital sex. It only needs to count as an argument against pre-marital conception or acceptance of pregnancy. In fact, the arguments of certitudo prolis boomerang into arguments for the new sexual ethic. And so the technological challenge force us to reconsider: do our arguments against pre-marital sex fall through, or were our arguments based on certitudo prolis just a proxy for something more subtle and profound?

I’m convinced of the second option, and it seems to be the path along which any legitimate sexual ethic has to progress if it is convinced of the conclusions of a more traditional sexual ethic, now that technology has undercut its practical reasons. The conclusions of the sexual ethic have to be based on the nature of sex not as reproductive, but as erotic. Specifically, we need to rediscover the force of Plato’s account of eros in Symposium. 

Love, Plato argues, is a desire to possess that becomes a desire to keep possessing, and so is essentially without a terminus. Loving a person is absolutely divided from leasing them or renting them for some term of use. Whatever one might call such an arrangement, it’s not love. The permanent and exclusive character of erotic love, therefore, is not attached to it extrinsically to construct a safe environment for possible children: it’s demanded by sexual love itself. Seen from this angle, the idea of a “marriage lease” (which has been batted around, though it has not caught on) is more contrary to traditional sexual morality than the contemporary idea of homosexual marriage. The analogy might raise as many problems as it solves, but it does strengthen and support an important, very hard fact: we need to cast out, root and branch, the idea that we can play around with erotic love on a trial basis. So far as we aim to preserve the nature of erotic love, we are better off with brothels than with trial marriages or the idea that we can just play the field with our sexual desire. True, prostitution involves its unique set of degradations and injustices (especially when it is kept to a black market) but it does less damage to the nature of eros than the idea that we can love someone just to see if loving them will work out.


Dialogue on fornication

(Part II, which investigates the traditional argument against pre-marital sex, is here.)

(I just finished watching “The Nature of Existence: Companion Series ep. 6” as a freeplay on Netflix. The episode is a series of interviews with public figures about sexual morality, and I was fascinated by the number of persons who argued for sexual freedom from the claim that people are going to do it anyway. What follows is an investigation of that claim.)

A: So, morally speaking, what do you think about pre-marital sex?

B: What is there to say about it? People are going to do it anyway.

A: But that’s hardly a relevant moral point. We might say the same thing about murder, voter fraud, or anything else.

B: That’s not so. Murderers are a vanishingly small percentage of the population who can be cut off and isolated without much difficulty. If we had murder rates like they had 800 years ago, we might need to accept murder and work from there. As it stands, we have a giant percentage of the population exercizing their sexuality without marriage. Accept it as a given and work from there.

A: So you’re saying there’s no point in calling something wrong or right if we can’t do anything about it? Again, this just strikes me as odd, or a fundamental inability to tell the difference between the moral and the practical.

B: Look, morality is the code you want a person to live by. Codes of life need to be practical or achievable.

A: But this amounts to saying they must be ideals – so why do you refuse to set up an ideal with respect to fornication?

B: Ideals need to be achievable too. What’s the point in having impossible ones? Look, maybe there’s some portion of the population that is really capable of holding out for sex until marriage, and maybe it would be ideal for them to wait. I doubt it, and I strongly suspect anyone who is that frigid probably has something wrong with them. Still, maybe celibacy would work for them. But moral ideals have to be applicable to people for the most part, and pre-marital celibacy ain’t.

A: Celibacy is the wrong term, but let that pass. One thing that amazes me here is that you seem to be arguing (with some truth) that a moral code has to countenance what is possible. I suppose you would say that anything could, in this sense, be moral if the social situations are such that we just need to take it as a given.

B: Exactly.

A: So if genocide was, say, just what one did after winning a war, then this would be moral too.

B: Right, I guess.

A: But for all that, we’d still praise a group of people who were the first to defy the trend.

B: Right. But I don’t see how we could condemn them for not defying it. Morality is always contextualized by practical possibility.

A: But is happiness too?

B: What do you mean?

A: Just this: assume we were the sort of society that had to take the command of a genocide as a given. Maybe this would count as moral, but would this shield us from the consequence of seeing life as essentially tribal, arbitrary, and with no intrinsic defense against blind power?

B: No – we’d have to see life that way.

A: But this is hardly a view of life that it compatible with seeing it as intrinsically valuable.

B: Right.

A: And it’s hard to see how deep anyone’s happiness could be if they saw life in this way.

B: Which is exactly what you find in reading about the lives of those in societies like that. The closest you can get to happiness is course pleasure, sexist braggadocio, and crude, drunken violence.

A: So on this account of morality, there is no promise that we will get a happiness, or at least a happiness worth having?

B: Look, you get the best one you can get.

A: The best one you can get without a heroic or semi-heroic effort.

B: Right, the best one practically possible.

A: So on your account of morality, a happiness worth having will always be defined as requiring a heroic effort?

B: Exactly.

A: And by a heroic effort you mean an effort by which a person can separate himself from the world he lives in, defy whatever societal or congenital habits that might drag him down, and live as one exiled from his people?

B: I guess. But then I don’t see how anyone could be happy living like that.

Disputed question, the objections, response pt 1 and 2

Whether “a being beyond being” signifies anything coherent?

It would seem not, because:

1.) The concept is equivalent to “a being beyond all being”. But by speaking of all being we mean to indicate a totality leaving absolutely nothing out, and so to posit a being beyond this is contrary to our intention. Thus, the concept involves contradictory intentions, and so is incoherent.

2.) If there is something beyond being, it is beyond it in virtue of some difference. But being admits of no differences, since every difference enters into a logical composite with that of which it is the difference, and whatever and only non-being differs from being. Thus, the idea of a “being beyond being” is the same as the concept of a “being non-being”. But this involves contrary intentions, and so is incoherent.

3.) If there is some being beyond being, it is beyond it either in position, or in time, or in causality. If it is the first two, then something is beyond being only in the sense of being forgotten or overlooked, and so speaking of “being beyond being” would simply be a mistake. If it is beyond in causality, then we can only understand it as a cause by relating it to its effect. But all relations are conceived with their correlatives and so form a totality with them.

I respond:

To ask whether concept is coherent can be taken in two ways:

a.) Whether it is a principle of judgment or can be brought under a principle of judgment

b.) Whether the intention relating to it escapes contradiction.

In both ways we can form a coherent account of a being beyond being.

a.) All principles of judgment are said to reduce to two, contradiction and identity. These principles, however, reduce to the principle of contradiction properly understood. What we call identity is that it is possible to predicate what belongs to a thing of it; what we call contradiction is that it is impossible to predicate what does not belong to it.

When these principles are applied to being as such, identity means that A being is itself, namely that it is that locus of all true predicates that can be said of it, or A = A; contradiction, on the other hand, means that A exists as opposed to not existing, or A is.

Both of these principles preserve the totality of being, and so considered from the viewpoint of either we attain to the totality of being.

Now Plato was the first to realize that these principles introduce a complexity in the account of the “A” that is being, for otherwise it would be the same thing to say that A is A, and that A exists, but this is clearly not always so. And so it is possible to fall under the principle of identity (by being a locus of true predicates) without falling under the principle of contradiction (by existing  in its proper mode), even though the principle of identity articulates a totality of all being. And yet it is clearly possible to fall under both principles, and thus to be a being beyond being.

Though there is no controversy over whether a being can fall under both principles contingently, there is a controversy over whether a being can fall under both necessarily. This is Kant’s objection, namely that to exist in act could never be an intrinsic predicate of some being. But there is no incoherence in a predicate belonging necessarily to something when it can belong to it contingently.

Note on this account that any existent being is contingently beyond being in the sense that an identity relation is total.

b.) Intentions either consist in relations to objects or in relations to other intentions; they are either intentions in the primary sense (like the thought of a horse, or white, or Caesar) or are the relations that belong to the thing as known (like subject and predicate, middle term, certitude, etc.).

First intentions stand to being so far as it relates to existence in its proper mode. This first means existence in reality, then to exist as a real possibility, then, at the lowest level, to exist merely as an act of thought.

Second intentions stand to being in two different ways: first of all, so far as a predicate can be said of a subject, but more generally so far as any object can actualize the intellect and so is intelligible or true.

Thus, the same compound structure of being repeats in the accounts we give of it through first and second intentions. Being according to the first intention follows existence; being according to second intention follows real predication and the intelligibility of things. Here again, there is a totality of being in either case, though it has important differences of structure.

In the order of first intentions, there is a clear declension of existence: actual existence is more what we mean by the term than real possibilities, and these more than fictions.

In the order of second intentions there is also an order of predicates which can involve clear ontological importance: what is said per se and first is more a predicate than what is said only per se, and this more than what is said per accidens. But there is also a clear and pronounced homogeneity or univocity of being on the level of the second intention so far as the substratum of the intention is the individual mind. Nevertheless, there is also a clear hierarchy of intelligibles so far as one thing is more knowable than another, and this order in knowing is precisely what gives rise to an analogy of being, which occurs on the level of the second intention.

All of this reveals three different ways in which we can make sense of the idea of a being beyond being. (1) we can speak of the way in which first intentions are other than second intentions, or vice versa. (2) in the order of second intentions, we can distinguish what exists merely per se from what exists per se and first. But since anything that is per se is simply, per se being is also a totality of being, even if it is divided from what is per se and first. (3) when we apply this doctrine not only to being but to the transcendentals, we get St. Thomas’s famous Fourth Way, and we see the whole mystery of the “analogy of being” as applied to theology.


The sobriety of science vs. the intoxication of the world – a hypothesis

Assume that Aristotle hit  bedrock when he called science the search for conclusions resting on certain causes. But then we redefined causality, or at least became convinced that causes were just indices of our expectation of a conjunction of future events, usually based on our experience of a constant conjunction of the events in the past. As a result, science became an attempt to articulate or sift through our expectations of the future, and so essentially a game of prediction and probability.

This would all be fine in the world didn’t throw off such an intoxicating allure of objectivity. It would take a heart of stone to make a prediction of any significance, have it pan out, and not think you’d discovered something about the world. If your experimental results are anywhere near what you predict – or even if the experiment works at all – no one can resist thinking that he’s seen into some secret of nature. Trying to stomp out this desire is as pointless as trying to make everyone eunuchs.

But where does that leave us? We have a system that we put together in a mood that was sober, pessimistic, realist and skeptical, and yet whenever it works it sets off feelings of intoxication, optimism, idealism and certitude. We adopt a method that was never intended to find real causes and yet inevitably convinces all but the sturdiest of doctrinaire Humian Humean-Kantians that they’ve found them.

Responding to some objections to simplicity

Edward Feser wrote a response to some objections to divine simplicity. I wanted to formulate some objections to Ed, but then Vincent Torley did a better job than my initial attempts. So now I can just jump straight to responding to Torley, as opposed to giving his objections myself only to have someone else offer a refutation in my combox. Of the eight objections, I only here respond to 2,3,4 and 6, but my response to #2 speaks to 1, and the other objections weren’t totally opposed to Feser’s idea of simplicity.

 …the Scholastic doctrine of parts does violence to ordinary language. In ordinary language, parts are things that can be combined with one another to make a whole. Thus Y is a part of Z if there is some X, such that X combined with Y makes Z. This makes perfect sense if we think of the constituents of water, say. But it makes no sense to speak of water (a substance) being combined with its liquidity (an essential accident), or its temperature (a non-essential accident)

The example is not true and proves the opposite.  Water is seen in combination with liquidity when it’s opposed to ice and steam. True, we don’t tend to use the abstract noun to indicate this (“liquidity”) but prefer to use an adjective (liquid water) or a prepositional phrase (water in a liquid state), but this is a fact about grammar, not ontology. We also have a cache of words to indicate water along with some accident, like “brackish”, “tea”, “humidity” etc.. And so either the Scholastic idea is not against ordinary language, or it is only against it so far as we consider the peculiar and contingent grammar of everyday language, as opposed to the way in which grammar can be used as a sign of something ontological.

[O]n the Thomist conception of God, God is utterly simple. I’m not so sure. Take God’s free and contingent decision to create the world. This decision is an action (it’s a choice), but it’s a contingent action. Therefore it cannot be identical with the necessary being of God. So there is a distinction between God’s Being and His free, contingent choices. (I believe St. Thomas tries to evade the problem by denying that there’s a real relation between God and creatures, but I don’t see how he can deny the reality of God’s action of creating the world.)

First, let me defend the reply that Torley states parenthetically. When St. Thomas denies that there is a real relation from God to the world, he means  that (1) God does not depend on the world to exist, and (2) all real relations depend on their correlatives to exist. Both premises, it seems to me, are evident from the terms, though Aristotle gives reasons for (2) in his account of relation in the Categories. Note, that Creation does have a real relation to God, indeed it might even be that relation (though STA denies this), but God cannot have a real relation to creatures. If relation is an accident, there is nothing odd about the relation A—>B being different than B—>A. This is not even peculiar to the God—>Creation relation: science has a real relation to the world though the world need not have any relation to science (it existed for billions of years without it) and “left/right” are real relations in animals, though not in inanimate objects.

The creation of the world does not actualize or bring to perfection some latent possibility or contingency in God, or (if we take the tack of process theology and say that it does) then there is no such thing as the being that STA calls God and pure act is impossible. If necessary existence is better or more perfect than contingent, then there is nothing odd in contingency arising from the purely necessary, and this is, I think, the heart of the matter. True, there is a sense in which contingency is relatively more perfect than necessity, namely the free action of finite creatures in comparison to physical necessity. But this does not establish that contingency is an absolute good that we have to impute to the divinity, but only that the necessity that characterizes the divinity has to transcend both physical necessity and the contingency of finite intellects and their consequent need to choose.

 St. Thomas insists in S.T. I q. 15, art. 2 that God has many ideas in His Mind. He insists that this doesn’t compromise God’s simplicity: God, in knowing Himself, knows the multifarious ways in which it can be participated in by creatures according to some degree of likeness. But that doesn’t help matters. Here’s why. Suppose God knows Himself as Pure Being.Suppose [God] knows what a cat is by grasping it as Pure Being, minus certain perfections (call them A). Suppose He knows what a dog is by grasping it as Pure Being, minus certain other perfections (call them B). Even if God doesn’t need to clutter up His Mind with the concepts of “cat” and “dog”, His Mind would still need to contain the concepts of A and B – otherwise He couldn’t distinguish between a cat and a dog. Thus God has simply replaced one form of multiplicity in His Mind with another.

St. Thomas took this question very seriously earlier in his career (see the Contra Gentiles), but by the time of ST, he seems to just think it involves a confusion between the thing known and the means of knowing. When one mode of knowing transcends another, it knows more things distinctly by a single concept. We can’t learn this by experience (we only have experience with our own intellects) but makes sense in relation to the sort of transcendent things we can understand. The hand, for example, is an instrument of all instruments, the friendship of virtue contains all the goods of the lower sorts of friendship, etc.  If the divine mode of knowing transcends all other modes of knowing, it makes sense that it can understand in a single concept what we can only understand using diverse, divided concepts.  Just as our imagination can have a unified sensation of something both white and sweet while the lower sense powers can only attain this by diverse powers, so too the divine intellect can understand both being and non-being by a single concept that our intellect must divide in the principle of contradiction.

God is in no way potential. If that’s right, then God must know our choices by determining them, as Garrigou-Lagrange argues, and as you have argued (likening God to the author of a book, in which the characters act freely, even though they are controlled by their author). The problem with this view is that it makes God the Author of all manner of things that cannot be worthily ascribed to a Deity – e.g. every bad or corny joke, every dirty joke, the details of every evil plot, as well as every argument (good or bad) for atheism. Surely that cannot be right.

Pure act can be invoked only to explain the actualities of things. Privations, failures to exist, or deviations from norms have to be explained in relation to something else.

Note that, even if privations have real effects, we don’t tend to view them as aspects of the things they affect: a broken engine is not a sort of engine, viz. we can’t say “rotary engine”, “two-stroke engine” and “broken engine” as a homogeneous list, and the last one is not properly a product of an engineer (except ironically). There’s no aspect of the divine art that lays out the reality of a murder for the same reason that there is no engineering manual that describes how to build a broken engine.

The imprecision of condemning slavery

The text of the 13th Amendment:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Notice that the condemnation of slavery is not absolute, but conditional. Hence the “except as” clause. Failure to recognize this leads to misinterpretations and distortions of our past, our laws, and the meaning of Scripture.

Malebranche and Cajetan, pt. ii

We can meet a few of the lesser Malebrancian objections to the agent intellect by claiming that the agent intellect is a natural power, and therefore, like all natural powers, it is subconscious or (to use the modern term) “blind”. This would explain why this agency is not conscious of the paradigm by which it works and why we have no knowledge of an agent intellect by introspection. This does not meet the most basic problem in the very operation that the agent intellect is posited to perform: spiritualizing the material. The basic objection is that the process is incoherent, and is more or less the equivalent of making an angel from a stone.

Malebranche and Cajetan on the agent intellect


Just as a painter, no matter how accomplished, cannot represent an animal he has neither seen or has no idea of… A man could not form an idea of an object unless he knew it in advance… but if he already has an idea of it, it is pointless for him to form another idea of it.

De la recherche de la vérité 3.2.3.

The conclusion is that man cannot form an idea, and so lacks what the A-T tradition calls an agent intellect.

In response to an unrelated argument, Cajetan articulates a premise that challenges this: an active power does not presuppose an object but makes it. (De ente et essentia, q. 8)

The dispute is fascinating because profound and difficult consequences are immediately at stake no matter what side one takes. Malebranche’s option leaves us with some form of Platonism, or direct participation in the divine mind; but the Aristotelian option, though preserving the power of man to make his own ideas, nevertheless only does this by invoking a very peculiar sort of agency, namely, one that does not act for an end. Acting for an end presupposes the intentional existence of the end to be made, but this is exactly what we must deny when it is a matter of the intentional thing itself being made.

I’m attracted to the Aristotelian response, though informed by Malebranche’s argument. It’s just the sort of paradoxical reality that might help to shed new light on old paradoxes. Some ideas:

1.) A response to the Euthyphro dilemma. At the heart of the Euthyphro dilemma is whether the divine is, along with us, subordinate to some goal or end or whether it is independent of it. If the first, God is seen as subordinate, if the second, then as apart from any reason or law. But the action of the agent intellect seems like a third option, since it is at once totally rational and yet not subordinate to a governing abstract paradigm.

2.) A new articulation between nature and spirit. Nature is subordinate to paradigm ideas, and depends on them to act (nature is a sort of existence that is never wholly simultaneous, though there is still some causality from a wholly simultaneous idea). Spirit, on the other hand, is rational without being essentially subordinate to governing ideas. In the measure of perfection that the spirit has, so too it is independent of the paradigm.

3.) New account of the immortality of the intellect. All change requires being subordinate to a new paradigm, but the action of the intellect is not so subordinate, and so neither is this a possibility for intellect.

Do you even want to win the culture war?

Christians occasionally daydream about winning the culture over for Christ. But this would mean that belief in Christ would be policed and encouraged in the same way that our current cultural beliefs are: by manipulation of the levers of power to control spoils, intimidate dissent, and coin new taboo words and thoughtcrimes that can immediately condemn without argument and persuade without reason. Any teacher is impressed by the degree to which cultural doctrines are thoroughly and universally believed and flawlessly applied in all particular situations; and they are not merely mouthed by children who, though really skeptical of what they are saying, mouth the words anyway. They really believe all that stuff – they even see it as self-evident.  Is that how I want someone to believe in Christ? Would I feel better if I could just silence dissent with a taboo word or the confidence that the thoughtcriminal would lose his job?

Objection: Someone has to control the levers of power, and so if we see something as true, don’t we want it to rule the culture? Response: The closest idea of “culture” in Christ is “the world”, which persuades not by reason and freedom but taboo, intimidation, usurping parental education, control over the principles of discourse, etc. Seen from this angle, the bright side of the persecution that a Christian can expect in this life is that his doctrine, though it will always continue to exist, nevertheless will never be enforced by the levers of worldly power. This might even be the greatest testimony to its divine origin – how can Christ always be present in the world without being parasitic on it? (and note that even revolutionary doctrines are parasitic on the states they rebel against)

Perhaps the church had its run of control over the world, but it’s better off now that its lines of evangelization are characterized by freedom, reason, and legitimate parental authority. As the last of those cultural supports fall, it’s not impossible to see it as providential.

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