The service-provider state

My latest article on MercatorNet takes the providential view a step further by speculating on what good might come out of the dismantling of traditional moral structures and principles in society and the state.

Like an internet service-provider, we will increasingly expect the state to keep us connected and free from unwanted interference, the perfect venue for the exercise of autonomy.

And despite its association with various ethical issues, autonomy is not a bad thing. It’s a part of our humanity and deserves exercise and respect.

The rise of individual autonomy is not intrinsically evil, nor was the paternalism of the past.

But with providence in mind, the overall trend suggests a development or evolution of our social and political structure, and it’s no accident of history that the rise of individual autonomy came on the heels of the most horrific expressions of collectivism and statism.

God writes straight with crooked lines

My latest article at MercatorNet brings a providential view to bear, for those disheartened or dismayed by the same-sex marriage postal vote result:

…it would have surprised me if this society, in which we’ve seen moral norm after moral norm explode in the face of individual autonomy, suddenly bucked the trend by voting “No” to same-sex marriage.

This is an individual perspective. I wouldn’t try to convince people not to campaign, if they feel that is what they should do. For me, campaigning would have felt insincere.

Because what inspires me is not the thought of victory in battle, winning the culture war, or defeating the enemy through cunning, effort, or good strategy.

What inspires me is finding the right path to tread, a path that will always lead in the right direction no matter what is going on in the world around me.

How much should we hate our enemies?

The obvious answer is that we shouldn’t hate our enemies. In a Christian context we’re told to love them. Some religions even exhort us to have no enemies, perhaps converging on the same point.

But enemies and hate can sneak into our worldview without our realising it.

Do you hate Trump? Is Trump your enemy?

You might not think about it that way, but if Trump (or any other group or individual) seems to embody everything wrong with the world, then yes they are your enemy, and you probably hate them too.

In my latest article at MercatorNet I examine this issue in the context of same-sex marriage – a debate that’s heating up in Australia at the moment.

Check it out:

So Dominican…

From the introduction to G.K. Chesterton’s Heretics:

Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something, let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages, is approached upon the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, “Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of Light. If Light be in itself good–” At this point he is somewhat excusably knocked down. All the people make a rush for the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating each other on their unmediaeval practicality. But as things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light; some because they wanted old iron; some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post, some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery; some because they wanted to smash something. And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes. So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, to-morrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light. Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark.

Now go read the principle in its contemporary application at the ABC Religion and Ethics site, with Same-Sex ‘Marriage’: Evolution or Deconstruction of Marriage and the Family? by Archbishop Anthony Fisher, O.P.

Cognitive dissonance and same-sex marriage

My latest piece on MercatorNet actually precedes my earlier posting on the Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding same-sex marriage:

same-sex marriage is popularly presented as nothing more than an extension of the marriage franchise.  This idea borrows its strength not from a philosophical inquiry into the nature of marriage and human sexuality, but from an uncritical familiarity with the status quo and an equally uncritical imagination of a new one. In other words, many people imagine, and are encouraged to imagine, that same-sex marriage is simply bringing homosexual partnerships “on board” with existing heterosexual marriages. Imagination can thereby combine reassuring elements of the familiar past with strikingly different novelties and reforms of the future, a combination that careful analysis cannot endorse.

Contemptus Mundi

Mountain under heaven: the image of RETREAT.
Thus the superior man keeps the inferior man at a distance,
Not angrily but with reserve.

The mountain rises up under heaven, but owing to its nature it finally comes to a stop. Heaven on the other hand retreats upward before it into the distance and remains out of reach. This symbolizes the behavior of the superior man toward a climbing inferior; he retreats into his own thoughts as the inferior man comes forward. He does not hate him, for hatred is a form of subjective involvement by which we are bound to the hated object. The superior man shows strength (heaven) in that he brings the inferior man to a standstill (mountain) by his dignified reserve.

Above is a passage from the Zhou Yi, the ancient Chinese book of changes which served as an oracle and a philosophical paradigm for generations of Chinese scholars.  I think this manner of retreat has been appropriate for religious people for some time, and will become increasingly clear in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision on marriage.

Most religious traditions contain moral and spiritual injunctions against homosexual acts as a subset of sexual discipline generally, and these injunctions predate and logically preempt both the concept of a homosexual orientation and the idea of same-sex marriage.

In other words, from the perspective of most religious traditions, the mere fact that same-sex marriage is an issue signifies that the secular culture is at least two steps removed from religious principles. Now that same-sex marriage has been effectively authorised by the Supreme Court, make that three steps.

It’s hard to argue against same-sex marriage when the underlying divisions cut so much deeper. Good arguments must start from common ground, but the common ground between religious and secular appears scant on issues such as these.

While some Conservatives appear to still be full of fight, I’m more drawn to aspects of my eclectic religious culture that reiterate the ultimate futility and vanity of vying with the zeitgeist, grasping at the levers of political or popular power, when the orientation of our religious program ought to render us almost totally dismissive of such powers.

If you find yourself in a position of political power, then your religious obligations ought to be clear; but that is not the same as having a religious obligation to pursue political power when those powers are hell-bent on an irreligious course.

I might be wrong, but my understanding is that the irreligious nature of “the world” is a given. Also given is that the answer to any religious fear or distress at a decadent social order lies in throwing ourselves deeper into religious practice.

While care for those led astray by the prevailing culture is a valid motive for making our objections known, I think a lot of the opposition to same-sex marriage is entwined with a less noble reaction to the loss of cultural and political power, and (I suspect) a kind of Conservative allegiance to American exceptionalism that is far too temporal for true religiosity.

This is not to say that religious people should disappear or isolate themselves as an end in itself; rather, I think that dismay at the Supreme Court decision and the desire to somehow regain control of the political and cultural order are at odds with a fundamentally religious sensibility. For too long, religious people have been indistinguishable from their non-religious peers, too comfortable and reliant on “the world”, and too narrow in their critique of mainstream society on particular issues as if phenomena like widespread abortion, or same-sex marriage were the causes rather than the symptoms of something terribly awry.

The “something terribly awry” is perennial in a religious outlook on life. It is, in a sense, the whole point of religion. The good news then is that the worse things become in the secular world, the more evident will be the finality of the religious response. Our goal and occupation should always be that supreme good, both transcendent and immanent, that wholly unique being which creates and sustains us, and has ever been the answer regardless of worldly distractions, errors, and cares.

Push far enough towards the Void,
Hold fast enough to Quietness,
And of the ten thousand things none but can be worked on by you.
I have beheld them, whither they go back.
See, all things howsoever they flourish
Return to the root from which they grew.
This return to the root is called Quietness;
Quietness is called submission to Fate;
What has submitted to Fate has become part of the always so.
To know the always-so is to be Illumined;
Not to know it, means to go blindly to disaster.
He who knows the always-so has room in him for everything;
He who has room in him for everything is without prejudice.
To be without prejudice is to be kingly;
To be kingly is to be of heaven;
To be of heaven is to be in Tao.
Tao is forever and he that possess it,
Though his body ceases, is not destroyed.

The lost vision of our ethical heritage

I never had much time for ‘ethics’ until I came upon the natural law tradition.  I’ve since learned that ‘virtue’ is of course inseparable from the path of spiritual development, and so it is frustrating to find time and time again that many people relegate ethics to questions of political control and permission.  Ethics is much more than that; however much we fall short of the ideal, it is surely better than rejecting the ideal entirely?

My latest piece on MercatorNet attempts to clarify some of the context and purpose of natural law theory, for those who are interested:

While it may be feasible to reach a conclusion on the basis of non-heredity and rarity, the fact is that natural law does not approach attraction or desire from quite the same perspective as something like the loss of a limb. Rather, the whole point of natural law theory as an ethical system is to guide and inform those who are not content to accept their own desires at face-value, but who wish to shape their desires according to a more complete understanding of what it is to be human, with the goal of what Aristotle enigmatically terms eudaimonia – a term not entirely captured in the translation “happiness”, but which is often rendered “flourishing”, and in a literal sense implies the protection of a benevolent spirit.