Blaise Pascal and the God of Abraham

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was a French mathematician, physicist, writer, inventor, and philosopher. On the evening of November 23, 1654, he had a mystical religious experience that permanently altered his life.  The following was found written on a piece of paper sewn into his coat:

 

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‘God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob,’ not of philosophers and scholars.
Certainty, certainty, heartfelt, joy, peace.
God of Jesus Christ.
God of Jesus Christ.
My God and your God.
‘Thy God shall be my God.’
The world forgotten, and everything except God.
He can only be found by the ways taught in the Gospels.
Greatness of the human soul.
‘O righteous Father, the world had not known thee, but I have known thee.’
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.
I have cut myself off from him.
They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters.
‘My God wilt thou forsake me?’
Let me not be cut off from him for ever!
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.’
Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ.
I have cut myself off from him, shunned him, denied him, crucified him.
Let me never be cut off from him!
He can only be kept by the ways taught in the Gospel.
Sweet and total renunciation.
Total submission to Jesus Christ and my director.
Everlasting joy in return for one day’s effort on earth.
I will not forget thy word. Amen.

 

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Fatal Flaws of Libertarianism

One can reasonably make a good argument these days that libertarianism is ascendant.  Yes, we are living amidst large progressive gains in politics and society, as evident in the re-election of Barack Obama and recent Pyrrhic defeats in the culture wars.  However, I would submit that what we’ve seen lately isn’t as much a victory for progressivism as much as it’s been a victory for libertarianism.  Oftentimes, the two are easily confused.  It’s easy to see why!  Progressives and libertarians often share the same goals.

 

Huge swaths of the general public now favor two issues that for decades were either a distinct minority or didn’t even come up as an issue: legalization of pot and marriage re-definition, just to bring up two easy examples.  Libertarians have always decried the illegality of drugs.  They have incisively pointed to the huge cost of enforcement as well as the double standards imposed by the government (pot is wrong but cigarettes are ok?  Really?).  On some of these issues, they actually make a whole lot of sense.  That is, until you start thinking about what the road to hell is paved with.

 

One area in which libertarians are particularly vulnerable to legitimate criticism is their apparent total reductionist ideology to what amounts to a one-note symphony: liberty.  Simply give people liberty and, if you believe the rhetoric, the problems of society would largely correct themselves.  This beguilingly simple solution to the problems that have vexed humanity for thousands of years ought to give the thoughtful reader a moment’s pause.

 

Please allow me to dump a large bucket of cold water reality on the libertarian pipe-dream.  I will do so respectfully, but with full vigor.

 

Let us begin.

 

Libertarians maintain that people should be allowed to do what they want provided that they do no harm to others.  Yet a fatal flaw of this thesis is in the precise definition of the term “harm”.  How do libertarians measure harm?  Can we measure societal harm?  Civic harm?  Neighborhood harm?  Do we have a mechanism for the apprehension of moral harm?  What about generational harm?  Do we have duties and obligations that can reasonably be expected of us to ensure that future generations prosper?

 

It is my thesis that libertarianism is not capable of adequately addressing the issues of moral harm and generational harm, nor is it capable of providing the substance of what conservative thinker Russell Kirk described as the “glue” of a thriving civilization.  The Old Conservatives maintain that humanity requires the use of “old” institutions, steeped in wisdom, in order to maintain a successful structure for civilization’s growth and thrift.  Some of these institutions include the family, religion, private and civic virtues, and so on.  Libertarianism has literally nothing to say about strengthening these institutions.

 

As Kirk wrote: “Conservatives distrust what Burke called ‘abstractions’—that is, absolute political dogmas divorced from practical experience and particular circumstances”.  Context is king.  Libertarians eschew the notion that we hold a moral debt to our ancestors that we must maintain and bequeath to our descendants. 

 

Kirk again wrote: “The past is a great storehouse of wisdom; as Burke said, “the individual is foolish, but the species is wise.” The conservative believes that we need to guide ourselves by the moral traditions, the social experience, and the whole complex body of knowledge bequeathed to us by our ancestors. The conservative appeals beyond the rash opinion of the hour to what Chesterton called “the democracy of the dead”—that is, the considered opinions of the wise men and women who died before our time, the experience of the race. The conservative, in short, knows he was not born yesterday.”

 

The libertarian and progressive ethos are to be contrasted with another Kirkian gem:

“Change and reform, conservatives are convinced, are not identical: moral and political innovation can be destructive as well as beneficial; and if innovation is undertaken in a spirit of presumption and enthusiasm, probably it will be disastrous. All human institutions alter to some extent from age to age, for slow change is the means of conserving society, just as it is the means for renewing the human body. But American conservatives endeavor to reconcile the growth and alteration essential to our life with the strength of our social and moral traditions. With Lord Falkland, they say, “When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.” They understand that men and women are best content when they can feel that they live in a stable world of enduring values.”

 

Libertarians have not been able to show how a libertarian world would foster a stable society in which enduring values could be fostered.  They have not been able to show how a libertarian world would guarantee the flourishing of the human spirit – for the human spirit requires not just liberty, but law.  The human soul requires discipline in addition to freedom.  What the libertarian ethos comes down to is “live and let live”, rather than “let us live well”.  They have no answer for the well part because they reject the tyranny of morality – except their own.

For, spirit must be tempered in wisdom.  Enthusiasm must be channeled to ends that benefit civilization and the continued flourishing and enrichment of the human imagination.  These are great ends in and of themselves and require no real defense; they are self-evident.  I have discovered in my study of libertarianism that their doctrines are a mile wide but an inch deep.

Kirk again shall have the last word:

“[The] great ends are more than economic and more than political. They involve human dignity, human personality, human happiness. They involve even the relationship between God and man. For the radical collectivism of our age is fiercely hostile to any other authority: modern radicalism detests religious faith, private virtue, traditional personality, and the life of simple satisfactions. Everything worth conserving is menaced in our generation.”

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Gosnell

Much has been said in very recent weeks regarding the dastardly atrocities of Gosnell.  [For those who are blissfully not addicted to news, Gosnell is the name of a partial birth abortionist who is on trial for murder.  He botched some partial birth abortions, then instead of being a human being he simply snipped the necks of the viable, living, newly-born infants.  In other words, he’s a monster.]

Some people have made a lot of insightful commentary on the case.  One thing I want to highlight is the fact of the moral incoherence of the abortionists.  It seems to be, just looking at it on face value, extraordinary that one second you’re a human being with the right to life and liberty but one second prior, it’s okay to kill you.  What is the nature of this alchemical second that turns a lump of biology into a full blown human being?  And why does it depend on geography?  What special magic takes place when the baby crosses the liminal threshold of the vaginal tract or the stomach?

The abortionists cannot answer this question, because really, NOBODY can.  Whether the partial birth abortion fails or not, there is clearly a little human being in there.  And that is the truth that is disturbing many, many people in America right now.

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Great Summary from the Maverick Philosopher

The Maverick Philosopher has a great summary of thought regarding the essence of religion.  Some of what he says ties in beautifully with the notion of an unseen moral order.  He quotes William James, who was a world famous philosopher of the late 19th century.

Here are his points regarding the essence of religion:

“1. The belief that there is what William James calls an “unseen order.” (Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 53)  This is a realm of absolute reality that lies beyond the perception of the five outer senses and their instrumental extensions.  It is also inaccessible to inner sense or introspection.  It is also not a realm of mere abstracta or thought-contents.  So it lies beyond the discursive intellect.  It is accessible from our side via mystical and religious experience.  An initiative from its side is not to be ruled out in the form of revelation.

2. The  belief that there is a supreme good for humans and that “our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves” to the “unseen order.” (Varieties, p. 53)

3. The conviction that we are morally deficient, and that this deficiency impedes our adjustment to the unseen order.  Man is in some some sense fallen from the moral height at which he would have ready access to the unseen order.  His moral corruption, however it came about, has noetic consequences. 

4. The conviction  that our moral deficiency cannot be made sufficiently good by our own efforts to afford us ready access to the unseen order.

5.  The conviction that adjustment to the unseen order requires moral purification/transformation.

6. The conviction that help from the side of the unseen order is available to bring about this purification and adjustment.

7. The conviction that the sensible order is not plenary in point of reality or value, that it is ontologically and axiologically derivative.  It is a manifestation or emanation or creation of the unseen order.”

The Maverick Philosopher is well worth your time.

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An Objective Moral Order? Or Merely a Universe of “Facts” and not “Values”? Part Two.

In part one, I basically posited that we humans were free moral agents and that this truth therefore implicitly taught of an underlying moral order to the universe.  This moral order is tied intimately with both truth and God and human nature.  (One does not necessarily need to be a religionist in order to subscribe to the notion of an underlying moral order, but I have yet to meet anyone who fits that bill.)

Also, I feel compelled to note that society has stopped taking morality and God seriously a long time ago, so much of what I am about to write will appear as the ravings of a stark mad fool.  Most of my friends in real life would consider everything I’m about to say as pure poppycock, although they wouldn’t use the word “poppycock”.  Nevertheless, I press on.

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In this essay we will examine how to find, appreciate, value, and honor this moral order.  This is important for a number of reasons, but one compelling reason is that by doing so we are true to own natures as free moral agents, endowed with the faculty of reason.  This is really a gift from God.

1.  How do we find (or apprehend) this universal moral order?

As humans and as children of God, it is my contention that we are morally obligated to seek Truth.  I also believe that due to our heavenly birthright, we gravitate toward the truth.  There are exceptions of course: sin, crime, and self-deception often blind us to the nature of our intrinsic worth as well as cast dust into our eyes and keep us from seeing “things as they really are”.  However, if one is open to spiritual truth, then one will find oneself on the highroad to spiritual adventure.  This is a quest of the highest order!

Easier said than done, though.  We are often flummoxed in our search for truth.  We often end up going down blind alleyways, dead ends, or end up traversing average scenery, which while interesting in and of itself, doesn’t lead us to our destination.

What we need are maps or guides to facilitate our travel.  I personally believe that the wise God of creation has furnished us the necessary guides to assist us in our journey.  We have the light of conscience, we have holy scriptures, and we have the wisdom of wise men to be a lamp unto our feet.  All three of these factors can be found in all the major religions of humanity.  One does not, of course, have to be a Christian in order to quest and find the objective moral order.

The search will require patience, humility, and a desire to know the truth so that we can be set free.  Pride, arrogance, lust, and the cravings for societal applause will deter us and eventually shipwreck us on the shoals of deception.

The moral order can be found via reason and faith.  One without the other won’t do; we have got to have both in order to fully comprehend not only the truth, but the truth of our relation to the truth itself.  Using both the faculty of reason and our faith in both the journey of life and truth, we can discover the pure waters that God has promised us.

2. Once we find the truth, are we obligated to embrace it?

Once we have drunk deep of the pure waters of truth, what then?  Are we not faced with a difficult choice?  Yes, we most certainly are.  However challenging and hard the journey has been thus far, we are now confronted with an even bigger hardship: the necessity of living up to the truths we have received.  Once we have tasted of the fruit of the tree of life, we are absolutely obligated to embrace this new reality and to stay true to it for the remainder of our mortal lives.

Anything less than this is treason — treason to the royal within us, treason to the truth, and treason to God.

3.  Once embraced, are we not enlisted to defend it?

Since we live in a fallen world, many are those who are marshaled in the ranks of sin.  Some are there out of ignorance, which is perfectly understandable.  They don’t know the truth and have been deceived.  However, some are there in the capacities of sergeants and lieutenants.  There are those who stand mustered with the Enemy not out of ignorance, but out of willful rebellion against the truth.

We who have found and lived the truth of the universe must stand ready to fight — not in the sense of doing violence against others but in the sense of standing up for truth and right regardless of the consequences.

It is my contention that the society in which we live has become so evil in the past few decades that there is an urgent need for men and women of faith and conscience to stand up and not only be counted, but stand ready to fight for moral truth.  If we don’t, I fear that much human misery and pain await us as the reckoning arrives.  The fundamental moral order of the universe demands it.

Postscript: Where can we learn about this moral order?

Many philosophers and sages have taught about the moral order.  (If you object to the fact that they are all dead white men, then I can’t much help you and you may require an intellectual deep cleanse from the sacred secular shibboleths of our benighted era.)  You can begin tentatively by exploring the following:

Plato

Aristotle

Holy Bible

Shakespeare

Dante

Milton

They all taught and spoke of moral truths.  One thing I have found is that moral relativists seem to want to bend reality in order for it to meet their vision of what should be, whereas moral objectivists acknowledge reality for what it is and bend their vision to meet it.  It requires humility.  If you don’t want to learn, then you can’t be taught.

In reality, the teachers, guideposts, and signs are all about us.  There is an objective moral order to the universe; God wants His children to embrace it and thereby raise humanity to a new height of spiritual blessedness.

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Flabbergasted

I continue to be totally flabbergasted at what I see as a huge sea change in American culture.  No doubt it has been building for quite some time, but it recently appears to have hit the “tipping point”.  I am referring to the astounding embrace of gay marriage as the sine qua non of contemporary secularism.  It appears to carry the weight of a secular sacrament among folks that congratulate themselves on their intellect, sophistication, and enlightenment.

What bothers me the most is the ground swell of support among the Mormon people.  Granted, much of what I see is gleaned from online interactions, and those samples can be skewed heavily and quite distorted.  But what I cannot deny is that ten years ago, I didn’t see Mormon intellectuals arguing for gay marriage with all the fervor of a seedy televangelist.

I won’t go into the litany of reasons why gay marriage is a mistake.  At least, not in this post, and not right now.  However I do want to make some casual, tentative points.

It is the height of arrogance for people to believe that only in the last decade have we humans somehow gained some special wisdom that enables us to throw away the weight of tradition in such a callous manner.  It is the very definition of hubris.  It’s pride, one of the seven deadly sins.  We are so proud and arrogant.

I am not making the argument that if it’s traditional then we must keep something.  Some things that were traditional have been consigned to the dustbin of history.  But why marriage, of all things?

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Among the Paradoxes of Life

When I was 18 years of age, I thought I knew all the answers to the questions of life.  Now that I am 18 times 2, I have found that I hardly know the right questions to ask, let alone the answers.  How is it that I am now certain that I know very little, when back then I was convinced I knew most everything?

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