Friday, March 08, 2019

The Blunt Force Of Unbelief

I used this phrase with a friend the other day, and I think its aptness is its directness. If God does not exist, then all manner of things become possible as choices that decent people don't consider, at least most of the time. This is not to say that one must be devoted to religion in order to be good; not at all. It's that the intelligibility of goodness makes sense in a world created by the God who spoke to Abraham. It's a subtle difference, but it's real.

A lot of people may not sign on the dotted line, as it were, for what the Church teaches. They like their adulteries, their abundance of strong drinks, or the glamour of believing in Reason. Press them a bit, though, and they are not ready to actually live in a senseless world. This inconsistency is an implicit acknowledgement of God.

I thank God for this inconsistency. I thank God, in a way, for this hypocrisy. If we are open, we can be led in virtue to the threshold of faith itself. Faith is ever and always an unmerited gift, but the path is not completely dark for those willing to follow the truth of goodness wherever it leads.

Unbelief, true unbelief, is blunt; it is violent. It admits of no degrees; it has no pity or sentiment. An inconsistent theist may be amusing, or even galling; a consistent anti-theist is a monster. When we struggle, we are invited by our worst inclinations to cast aside our furtive movements toward goodness, to live consistently in our rejection of God. Most don't take this path, thankfully.

The trouble is that none of us will be held guiltless for our inconsistency. The trouble is that we will become what we have exerted ourselves to become. Such is the reality and finality of judgment.

Suffering And The Inner Logic Of God

Suffering is an evil. Even the saints don't desire suffering for its own sake. But I keep saying: physical pain, sorrow, whatever else, those are distinct modes of existence. I can feel the pain of that, even rightly hate it, while accepting whatever has brought me to this place. One of its great gifts is the opportunity to explore the meaning of me. This experience of pain or loss is not intrinsic to me, nor to the world, but it's a part of my existence, and therefore, it's part of the world and part of others I have touched.

There's a fundamental difference between asking Why? in hope, and asking Why? in despair. Hope starts with the acknowledgement of the fundamental problem: It's not supposed to be this way. Yet it is this way. Why? Experiencing suffering isn't so much a matter of logical argument, but here it is:

Suffering is an evil;
God is good, indeed all Good;
The all-Good God has permitted me to suffer; (Why?)
There must be a more profound goodness to be found.

There's no how-to book in getting from the first premise to the end. There's no timetable. But I believe this is the Christian answer to suffering. The despairing argument is this:

Suffering is an evil;
Suffering should be avoided;
Some claim there is an all-good God;
But there is not;
Therefore, suffering is meaningless.

You could even add extra premises to the despairing argument, such as, "When you run out of meanings you make yourself, you can and should end your life." Functionally, it makes absolute sense why existentialism has ended in suicide. This is the blunt force of unbelief.

On the other hand, Jesus Christ who loves me is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. He had a reason to endure. "He shall see his offspring; they shall prolong his days." (see also Psalm 22) The crucifixion was the most senseless miscarriage of justice ever, because Jesus was not only innocent of the crimes for which he was accused, but innocent and perfect in everything. The human injustice of it sits right alongside its theological meaning. To affirm one is not to deny the other.

I once did not know it was possible to cough continuously, almost uninterrupted, for 10 or 12 straight hours. I do now. (Part of the recovery from the car accident.) I don't know what meaning or merit it had. I would have done almost anything to stop it. But if I found out its meaning, especially for someone else, in the Grand Tapestry of Providence, would I be able to refuse it? I should hope not!

What a lot of people don't seem to understand is that the righteous hatred of suffering fuels the search for its inner logic. If it were not seemingly in conflict with God's perfect goodness, there would be no reason to ask. There is joy in the asking, joy in the waiting, and joy in the aftermath. Not joy in the suffering, as such.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

"The Right To Choose" As A Function Of Market Ideology

Basically the argument goes like this:

1. This political and economic system prizes individual consumer choice above all else;

2. That is, this econo-political system is utilitarian;

3. Utilitarianism values people only in relation to their value to someone or something else, especially considered in economic terms;

4. Therefore, "the right to choose" endures as the maximum expression of individual choice, and economic empowerment.

A thought for your consideration, if you haven't: There are a great many things simply taken for granted by us as Americans which also communicate that human value ought to be understood in utilitarian economic terms. 

Of Course I'm Disaffected; Why Aren't You?

I took one of those implicit bias tests, actually for partisan affiliation. It said I was a raging Republican. Honestly, I have doubts about its scientific accuracy or applicability. On the other hand, it's true that I fell in with Republicans shortly after starting college. A huge thing was becoming convinced about the murderous nature of abortion. I had, and still retain, a deep sense of compassion and thirst for justice, so I never was unchangeable on other things, but I said, "These are my people, because they see this issue clearly."

And I don't know how your family is, but my family on my mother's side reads Ayn Rand. Now, please spare me your vituperative judgments here. That's just how it goes. Never made it through Atlas Shrugged, or The Fountainhead, but I've read Anthem at least 15 times. Smart people find her dull and plodding, and her philosophy wanting (fair enough), but I am still mesmerized by that story. I'm an American, after all. I know that Communism and various socialisms are bad; it's in the water here.

Then I was 23, and I read Radical Son, by David Horowitz. I cried like a baby. "This is what actual Communism does: it destroys a family, and destroys this man that I think I like." Now, he says and does a lot of things I don't like, but I felt I understood him. I still think I understand him, because I read this memoir. And quite frankly, when I surveyed my landscape, politics as I saw it then, it seemed like the fault-lines were still the same as the late '60s. I joined the conservative side fully at that moment. It was still a Boomer family argument, but I was in. The picture he shows you is leftist radicals without principle, abandoning all pretense of principle, abandoning morality, and justice, in service to an ideology in the negative sense, or for power. On my scene, that's also what I saw: Mizzou (the University of Missouri-Columbia) is not a radical hotbed, and it wasn't then, but the leftists I met, I didn't like. Same with most of the College Democrats, quite honestly. They were smug, loud, and it seemed to me, impervious to reason. I wasn't nearly as reasonable or thoughtful as I thought I was, but we can't see ourselves as clearly as we think we can see others.

I loved George W. Bush, and I wasn't alone. Loved him. People don't really understand what that's like now. The Iraq war went so bad in some ways, and was ethically dubious in others, that folks forget how happily his voters supported him. I don't care how close that first election was. Gore had no chance, and we all knew it. Smug know-it-all, who felt entitled to the presidency, it seemed. And showed it, often. Then 9/11 happened. I still carry a great fondness for the president and his words then. When he is on his deathbed, as his father was a short time ago, he will absolutely deserve the nostalgia and the victory laps he will receive. Even the "Hold on a minute" pieces that follow will have to speak favorably of the basic decency which characterized the time of George W. Bush.

Kerry had no chance, either. He's also an arrogant know-it-all, but he was different: he was so afraid to tell people what he really believed that he sounded downright unprepared to be the president. Bush probably won that election when he responded to Kerry's "global test" comment with something like, "What's this stuff about a global test? I don't need to take a test, but I will defend the American people." Lame, but effective, especially against Kerry, who seemed annoyed at having to explain his views to the peons, and suffered the loss consequently.

By the time I was 28, I wrote, "The GOP idea machine has run dry, lulled into complacency by too many easy elections against unworthy and unlikable opponents." I had also grown tired of voting pro-life, it seemed, to little effect. In support of Obama, I had written that. The Democrats were always so dour; we could ignore them, and still win. Obama had aspirations, and he wanted you to have them, too. He knew, as a practical matter, that he could be against the Iraq war without it costing him or the region too much, and for all intents and purposes, he cruised to victory. I'll skip ahead by saying I grew to love Mitt Romney, and was thrilled to support him. The HHS mandate alone was reason enough to vote against Obama, and so I did.

Donald Trump? Seriously? I don't get the decency of Bush or Romney, or the intellect of Obama. This isn't a great treatise on policy substance, I grant you. But this person is dumb. This might be a worse crime in my mind than anything else. We don't even have the pretense of high-minded principle, or aspiration. We went from Bush 41, who counted Maureen Dowd of the New York Times as a friend--in spite of all the mean things she said--to this. The bipartisan things about both Bushes were the best things. Did we abandon aspiration and even basic decency, because we couldn't beat the black guy? How did basic norms of behavior become liberal things?

I can honestly say I never had a racist thought about Barack or Michelle Obama. I got tired of him; I stopped watching the State of the Union somewhere back there. Take it back, I watched his last one. I loved Nikki Haley's direct shot at Trump in her response that night. Immigrants are my people, and they always will be. That was one of Bush's "liberal" and bipartisan things, and he was right. Maybe I should have known something was up when Romney chose immigration as the issue to prove he was "conservative." Nativism, pure and simple. "Enforcement" needs to keep the basic humanity of border-jumpers always in view. If in fact you are actually concerned because there are too many Mexicans at the factory in town, you are not my people. Nobody's in favor of murderers and drug dealers, OK? Why is this even an argument? I think we should do what Nancy Pelosi proposed. No, seriously: Spend a whole bunch of money on sensors, drones, and agents. If you're illegal, pay a fine, taxes, and we'll move on. Obama actually said this exact thing 5 years ago. Now, you've got ICE agents tossing families apart when people do what we've asked them to do! Make them citizens, or leave them alone. Aside from being contrarian for the sake of argument, this is what I've always believed. And immigration is Trump's reason for running. This is it. You, sir, are definitely not my people. I want the stodgy Republicans back. I want the Bushes back. I might be a pro-life liberal, but that was the Republican Party I knew and understood. And I'm done with it, for the foreseeable future.