Heroism and Hellfire

Contemporary popular theology works from several slogans about Hell: “Hell is locked from the inside” “people damn themselves”, “God gives the damned what they want” etc. Slogans are underdetermined, but these ones are taken to mean that God and the blessed either don’t think of the damned or regard them with resignation. So taken, the existence of Hell makes the human arc of salvation ultimately tragic, being a tale of how we did our best but ultimately failed in the face of the unconquerable human will to evil. But it is nonsense that the story of salvation be ultimately tragic, which leaves us logically either with universalism or with the saints rejoicing over the final destruction of the wicked.

The saints are heroic, so therefore is the story of the world. We’ve spent our lives cheering for the death of antagonists in cartoons, action movies, westerns etc since it is as absurd as disgusting that, in the end, antagonists triumph and heroes fail. Universalism, however, demands that the heroic arc is ultimately incomplete, and that what looks like a climactic resolution is only the close of the first act. So what follows? The universalist wants the same heroic arc to cycle again and bring the damned into the courts of the blessed, but it obviously can’t do so. Universalism is trapped in a performative contradiction, wanting the heroic tale to be ultimately incomplete since the damned are not yet saved, while still wanting the story to finish heroically for all. If the world divides into A’s conquering B’s, you can’t then cast B’s in the A role. Either the whole story isn’t heroic or those who are conquered stay conquered. And the saints are heroic, therefore, etc.

Science and Humanities

The division of sciences and humanities looks at first blush like an attempt to divide new learning from old learning, with most of the science curriculum comprised of things discovered in the last 150 years and most of the humanities curriculum well outside of this and far more diffused throughout history. This distinction has something to it but proves messy enough to require revision, since the sciences as such don’t have to be particularly new: Newtonian mechanics and Cartesian Algebra, to say nothing of ancient mathematical astronomy or math itself are all scientific, and many of the great novels in the humanities are centuries younger than the proofs or facts in math or physics textbooks.

That sciences and humanities approximate the newer and older learning arises from the more fundamental fact that the humanities can be incorporated into sapiential traditions while the sciences are not yet and perhaps can’t be. In a spirit of ecumenism we sometimes call sapiential traditions “the great questions”, but, of course, the problem with the matters dealt with in this domain is that we unavoidably posit significant answers. God may exist or not, and we might be able to know it or not, but every possible answer is of deep significance, and the same is true of life after death, moral objectivity, the relative value of trade-offs, the possibility of secular government, the opposition between voluntarism and intellectualism, the value of sacred languages, the equality of persons, the principle of social life, the common good, the nature of worship, the value of egalitarianism/patriarchy/totalitarianism/free association, the relevant criteria for moral or political success…

The worst element of our desire to “follow the science” or rejoice in the idea that we now live in a scientific age is that it rests on the illusion that we can avoid answers to these questions and let facts speak for themselves. Because we mentally abstract the sciences from sapiential considerations (and this only up to a point anyway) we wrongly assume that one could live his life within such an abstraction, which generates the deeply erroneous Leibnizian dream that we could put aside all controversy and just calculate. Leibniz saw things more clearly in the New Essays when he noted that “if geometry were as much opposed to our passions and present interests as is ethics, we should contest it and violate but little less, notwithstanding all the demonstrations of Euclid and Archimedes.” The facticity of science as opposed to the supposed “eternal questions” of humanities is not because of the super-duper method of the former and the slipshod and drunken approach of the latter, but only the difference between how their respective matters stand to our passions.

Notes on Liberation

1. ) If sexual desire is inherently possessive and jealous, it is poorly adapted to a theory of sexual desire that requires sex to be casual and no-strings-attached. But sexual desire is possessive and jealous and sexual liberation requires a large domain of sexual activity be casual and no-strings-attached.

2.) Sexual liberation demands that consent or its absence be relatively clear, unambiguous and easy to confirm even on a case-by-case basis. But consent is not relatively clear or easy to confirm on a case-by-case basis. This is not just a fact about consent in sexual affairs but to any event where one person is more interested in getting something than another is in giving it.

3.) Consent is frequently compatible with exploitation and injustice. The problem with buying timeshares, bad cell phone plans, etc is rarely that salesmen can’t point to some document ensuring consent to the sale. The problem can’t be resolved by paperwork or more forms. Ensuring sexual consent does not ensure justice.

4.) A system that makes it more difficult to transition from sexual desire to love is worse than one that doesn’t. But love is an attachment and sexual liberation makes the connection between sexual love and attachment more difficult by insisting there is no inherent reason for sexual love to lead to attachment, to say nothing of its denial that sex take place among those legally bound to one another.

5.) The advance in contraceptive technique has not sufficiently changed the fact that sex makes babies. Had it hit that point, sexual liberation wouldn’t object to banning abortion since it is irrational to object to banning something superfluous.

Made of both sexes

One under-explored dimension of anthropology is that we are made of parts from both sexes, as a sort of identical twin of the union of our parents, with parts breaking off the mating pair and starting a life of its own.

The morality of “identifying as”

Catholic theology – from the popular to the academic – requires a new category for contemporary sexual morality. The standard division is between culpable actions and non-culpable desires for those acts, but this leaves out the act of interpreting one’s sexual desires as conferring an identity oneself. The sexual habitus is frequently seen as making one a “part of a community”, and at times it seems like it’s just this community, with its common goods of mutual support, conferral of dignity, sympathetic company, familial belonging, etc that are the real value to the sexual habitus. In the United States there is the added benefit that identity allows one to leverage Civil Rights law, and similar levers seem to be in place in other North Atlantic countries.

So what’s the morality of identification as X? For starters, it seems embedded in a theory of identity that places it midway between habitual desires and actions, with desires assumed to be things one only suffers and actions being things under one’s control. This division is already suspect, since it treats desire as immutable and so denies the possibility of educating or corrupting it, which rules out the possibility of acquiring virtues. Sexual desire becomes like AA views desire for alcohol, where the desire to drink to excess – alcoholism – is immutably fixed and incapable of being educated to the love of moderation. So it looks like we have two theories that together make the habitual enjoyment of the eternal law in our concupiscible desires unattainable. But if temperance is a pipe dream, what cardinal virtue is next?


1.) What arises from nothing presupposed is created by God.

2.) No infinite turtles. Wherever the stability of the earth comes from, it isn’t from its resting on a turtle with its feet firmly anchored in a stable earth.

3.) Generated things exist. Logically, they are either (a) from something presupposed or (b) nothing presupposed. If (a) then either (c) from a creating God or (d) something that presupposes another. So our options are ultimately (b) (c) and (d).

4.) If (b) then God creates, if (c) then God creates. If (d), then (since d is just a all over again) then either God or infinite turtles.

JOST on the De Auxiliis

At a key moment in his explanation of the De Auxiliis controversy, or how God’s omnipotence does not destroy free will, JOST gives this jaw-dropping argument which reads like Meister Eckhart.

In response to the argument we say that the divine assistance is not in our power to produce, or with respect to its origin (effective et originative) i.e. as caused by us and derived from us, but it is in our power with respect to its terminus and its use, because both that motion and the divine efficacy terminate in the same thing, and this thing is taken for a terminus and end, so that our will has the power and modality of an actual free being. Although not arising from our power [liberty] nevertheless arises from God, who is the root and cause of the power, and who acts causatively and not destructively in us. So from both God and ourselves there is, in one and the same way, the causation of a free effect and not its destruction, because God is our will eminently or radically,* because he is the principle or root causing it from within the will itself (intime causans)… For just as if the substance of the soul were to have some influx into the power of the will it would not destroy its liberty but constitute it, since it is the root of the power and has for its very effect the act of the will as free, so also God, who is the root of the soul and the life of its life in the manner of a principal agent, does not destroy liberty through his influx but builds it up (astruit)… And so his influx is in my power in the manner of a term but not as to its origin (terminative non originative); or it is in my power eminently and radically, because it is in the power of God, who is eminently and radically my will, and that what is in the causative and concurrent power of God with respect to my free will is likewise in my power

Cursus Theologicus in Primam Partem Disputatio V art. 6 para. 39 (page 212, column 2) Italics my own.


*Deus est ipsa nostra voluntas eminenter vel radicaliter.

Creation from the Second Way

The Second Way proves the existence of an agent cause with no agent cause, but we might wonder why such a thing is divine. The agency involved in my typing this seems to bottom out in me – last I checked there are no puppet strings on my fingers – but I’m not divine.

But this overlooks the necessary agency on me from my interaction with given material. My typing demands not just my pressing the keys but tke keys pressing back, since absent this the key wouldn’t even reset for me to type the same letter twice. More fundamentally, absent this causality my action wouldn’t be physical. Within Physics, Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

So an agent needing no other agent does not interact with any given matter, and so causes a physical action without presupposing the physical entity that acts. If you left such an agent in the middle of the Sahara he could still make ice cubes, if you deprived him of a universe he could still provide you with one. The absence of material to interact with is not an impediment to him bringing about some material effect, which is exactly what Christianity means by creation ex nihilo.

Briefly, the first agent creates without matter, not so far as matter is formally considered as a material cause but so far as interactive matter is, per Newton’s Third Law, some sort of agent cause on the primary agent.

The fixity of the will after death

(Inspired by Advertendum no. 3 in Ferrara’s commentary on IV Contra Gentiles c. 95)

All that changes is in potential, so an intellect that changes with respect to its ultimate object is potential.

The intellect is potential only when it takes knowledge from things not intelligible in themselves.

The cause of intellect taking knowledge from things not intelligible in themselves is its informing a body.

An intellect not informing a body therefore is not potential with respect to its ultimate object, so whatever habit fixes it with respect to this is ultimate end is unchangeably fixed.


The ultimate end of an intellect and a will of itself fixes an intellect immovably, since the ultimate end is the first principle of action. In our present state, however, we are not only intellects and so the ultimate end can shift in its negotiations with the sensitive appetite, perhaps especially in light of the fact that the goods sought by the sensitive appetite can change so drastically based on things like whether we are looking forward to them or back on them, how we are framing our discourse about them with respect to spiritual goods, and on the promptings of tempters and angels.

Scientific Socialism

Our opinions about science depend heavily on whether communism* counts as scientific or once deserved to be so counted. If science’s balance sheet gets to leave off the Soviets, Khmer Rouge, North Korea, Cuba, and Cold-War-Era Eastern Europe then we can have a much more confident and optimistic view of it than if it has to include them.

The case for including it starts with the communism being a naturalist, law-based, large scale empirical theory about the natural phenomena of the human species and its behavior in groups. Marx wasn’t just an economist but a founder – arguably the founder along with Smith – of the scientific economics. The communist desire for uniformity, regularity, organization, planning, industry, large-scale experimentation, impersonal institutions, technological achievement, vast data collection and dislike of idiosyncrasies and behaviors and persons that won’t fit in the system is universal, evident, and makes it apiece with how science acts whenever it sets social policy, even in non-communist states. So science it is.

But the denial of scientific status to communism is as old as the question of what counts as scientific, since Popper originally drew up his falsification criteria with an eye to leaving Marxism off the list of scientific achievements. Read SEP’s concision on the matter:

The Marxist account of history too, Popper held, is not scientific, although it differs in certain crucial respects from psychoanalysis. For Marxism, Popper believed, had been initially scientific, in that Marx had postulated a theory which was genuinely predictive. However, when these predictions were not in fact borne out, the theory was saved from falsification by the addition of ad hoc hypotheses which made it compatible with the facts. By this means, Popper asserted, a theory which was initially genuinely scientific degenerated into pseudo-scientific dogma.

These factors combined to make Popper take falsifiability as his criterion for demarcating science from non-science: if a theory is incompatible with possible empirical observations it is scientific; conversely, a theory which is compatible with all such observations, either because, as in the case of Marxism, it has been modified solely to accommodate such observations, or because, as in the case of psychoanalytic theories, it is consistent with all possible observations, is unscientific.

Sadly, falsificationism is now only mentioned by specialists in the contexts of showing its inadequacies, some of which are apparent even in the SEP’s telling. Falsification requires “no ad hoc additions!” as a backstop, but one man’s ad hoc addition is another man’s proof of the theory’s ability to adapt to new data. To put it in a Latin snob, bumper-stickery way: The Ad Hoc is Post Hoc. After we see the simplicity of Kepler we call epicycles ad hoc, after we have the Big Bang theory we call Einstein’s cosmological constant something he added to the theory ad hoc. Theories need some ability to assimilate findings outside their predictions, since no theory gets as large as communism without explaining a lot of things, and one would be an idiot for throwing out an explanation for a lot of things the minute it was contradicted by just anything, even if it were an empirical fact. Ad hoc is an informal fallacy that is particularly hard to verify, and it is too weak a criteria in itself to refute a theory’s claim to being scientific.

So communism is scientific. This is clearest in its foundational principle: We all seem to agree that science is at least methodologically naturalist, so a scientific account of human society, behavior, and just organisation must be naturalist and deny any value to supernatural causality. Scientific politics thus rests on a critique of eternal law, providence, and the history of salvation, which Marx insisted on more clearly than anyone.

While scientific, communism is also – to put the matter in very non-communist categories – a system designed by the Prince of Lies to maximize human misery in this life and the next, which deserves to be taken into account when we are forming our beliefs about science.

*What I say about communism would for the most part apply to the right wing ideologies of the Twentieth Century too, whose scientific credentials were just as good as the left wing ideology’s.

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