Sunday, 3/5/23

God the creator

As Peter Geach puts it, for Aquinas the claim that God made the world “is more like ‘the minstrel made music’ than ‘the blacksmith made a shoe’”; that is to say, creation is an ongoing activity rather than a once-and-for-all event. While the shoe might continue to exist even if the blacksmith dies, the music necessarily stops when the minstrel stops playing, and the world would necessarily go out of existence if God stopped creating it.

Edward Feser, Aquinas. I view Aquinas as a notable landmark on the path of Western Christian decline, but if this comment by Mr. Geach is accurate, and especially if the minstrel versus blacksmith image is Aquinas’ (not Geach’s), then I for once applaud him.

Another misrepresentation is the not-uncommon assertion that any kind of evolutionary theory is completely alien to the patristic understanding. An evolutionary scenario was, admittedly, unavailable to the Fathers on scientific grounds, which is perhaps why few of them suggested it. We should not forget, however, that some of them did hint at the possibility of a gradual unfolding of the potential of what God had created “in the beginning.”

Christopher C. Knight, Science and the Christian Faith

Aquinas again

This difference between Aquinas and the voluntarists is related to the reasons for which Aquinas’s position is, as we saw in chapter 3, immune to the famous “Euthyphro objection” to religiously based systems of ethics. The objection, it will be recalled, is in the form of a dilemma: either God wills something because it is good or it is good because he wills it; but if the former is true, then, contrary to theism, there will be something that exists independently of God (namely the standard of goodness he abides by in willing us to do something), and if the latter is true, then if God had willed us to torture babies for fun (say) then that would have been good, which seems obviously absurd. Ockham essentially takes the second horn of the dilemma, but for Aquinas the dilemma is a false one. What is good for us is good because of our nature and not because of some arbitrary divine command, and God only ever wills for us to do what is consistent with our nature.

Edward Feser, Aquinas.

Instrumentalizing Christianity

People who take an instrumental and political view of Christianity, however well-meaning (Dennis Prager is an example of this kind), sometimes argue that only “Judeo-Christian religion”—and there is no Judeo-Christian religion, nor are there “Judeo-Christian values” in any meaningful sense—provides a possible basis for a sound moral life, including the moral basis of national political life. This is, of course, what T. S. Eliot called the “dangerous inversion,” i.e., the argument that we should accept the supernatural claims of Christianity because they are useful for fortifying a moral sensibility when we should, instead, derive our moral sensibility from the truth of Christianity, if we believe it to be true, or from something else that we believe to be true rather than merely convenient. In a sense, the non-believer who sympathizes with Christianity is more of an enemy than is the frank atheist who hates Christianity—because the “cultural Christian” trivializes Christianity. The cultural Christian believes that Christianity is false and that this does not matter, while an evangelical atheist such as the late Christopher Hitchens believes that Christianity is false and that this does matter—that it matters a great deal.

Some of you will be stuck on the fact that I wrote that there are no Judeo-Christian values in any meaningful sense. I know that this flies in the face of the conservative catechism, but I think it is true. Christianity and Judaism are very different religions, but they have a great deal in common when it comes to moral prescription—but they have this in common not only with one another but with many other religions and with the moralities of many other cultures. With apologies to my learned Christian friends who sometimes insist that it is otherwise, Christianity is not especially radical as a purely moral position. Those Christians who take a view of life based on “natural law”—which really means only that we can use reason to discover how it is we should live—should not be surprised to find that Christianity is not a moral outlier, inasmuch as the ancient Greek philosophers and Hindu sages and Confucian scholars had fully functioning powers of reason, too. It is not that there is nothing at all distinctive about Christianity, but even its most radical moral demand—that we should love our enemies—would not be alien to a pagan Stoic.

Kevin D. Williamson, Who Are These ‘Cultural Christians’?

So what?

[I]f you did convince an unchurched young American to go to services, what would they encounter? Wonder? Enchantment? Or dull bourgeois ceremonial, mixed with greeting-card uplift or political exhortation, either left or right?

Rod Dreher

This invites me to reveal my “heresy”: I’m surprisingly ambivalent about the “revival” at Asbury University. I don’t think anyone’s fibbing about it, but the form of revived Christianity is terribly problematic from the perspective of historic Christianity.

The longing of all the nations

It is a strange yet incontrovertible fact that, when God did take flesh, He in many ways (though certainly not all) revealed himself to be closer in spirit to the Tao of Lao Tzu then to God as conceived by the Hebrews at that time, even though the Hebrews had the revelation of Moses. This might be difficult to accept by those who are accustomed to thinking of Christ as the fulfillment of the expectation specifically of the Hebrews. Ancient Christian tradition, however, holds that Christ satisfied the longing of all the nations.

Hieromonk Damascene, Christ the Eternal Tao

New American Religion

[W]e ended our Disney World visit in the Animal Kingdom, going through the Avatar-themed rides (drenched in pantheism, like their source material) and then heading out as dusk fell over the vast (artificial) Tree of Life at the center of that park, its trunk carved with a bestiary and its leaves suffused by colors for the park’s magic-hour light show.

There was a big crowd gathered near its rearing shape, watching both the lights and the images of the natural world projected on the trunk — a show called “Tree of Life Awakenings,” though I didn’t know that at the time. And there was a different vibe there than at the fireworks show; less celebratory and boisterous, more meditative and awe-struck, with people in a lotus position or taking other pious-seeming postures toward the tree, the show, the lights, the visions of the natural world.

It felt a little different from the rest of Disney World — more reverent than the other quasi-religious elements, less nakedly commercial, more distant from Disney’s 20th-century origins, an intimation of a 21st-century paganism or pantheism slowly taking over the Mouse Cult from within.

Ross Douthat

Poetic Wordplay

I am the singular
in free fall.
I and my doubles
carry it all:

life’s slim volume
spirally bound …

R.S. Thomas

I was vicar of large things
in a small parish.

R.S. Thomas

Tradition is a bulwark against the power of commerce and the dissolving acid of money, and by removing these, all revolutions in the modern period have ended up accelerating the commercial and technological shift towards the Machine.

Paul Kingsnorth

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

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