8/7/06

Crisis of Cultures

I have been meaning to read one of the books of Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, for a while. I once started one on liturgy but it was very dense and not well translated so I gave up pretty quickly. Finally I read the short but very dense Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures in one sitting at the book store. I was delighted to find the Pope saying some of the same things I have been trying to say (only better and more completely) about the nature of politics in the Western world. He argues that political decision making must be made on the foundation of collective moral and philosophical beliefs on the part of the whole society.

There has been a concious effort in Western Civilization to relocate the Western moral and philosophical foundations of society away from our Jude0-Christian heritage toward a post-Enlightenment worldview. This is why, he says that the EU's constitution can have no mention of God or of the Christian roots of European culture: not because this would offend Muslims and others, but because the secular philosophical foundations want no competition from God as a foundation. The problem is that post-Enlightenment modernity is simply incomplete and incapable of providing a foundation for a free society because of its rejection of metaphysical claims. It is also seeking to cut itself off from its own roots by marginalizing Christian thought.

The Pope goes on to point out that the over-riding value of secular Western culture, "freedom," when guided by no other principles, soon destroys itself since my freedom may conflict with yours (eg. my freedom to get an abortion may conflict with your freedom to live; my right to security with your right to privacy, etc.). So there must be some outside standards by which we can govern freedom or arbitrate the conflicts that arise. Otherwise we will simply descend into the will of the strong (of the majority) over-riding the will of the weak. This is "the law of the jungle." Political Darwinism.

At the end of the day we, as humans who naturally organize ourselves into society with others, must make decisions corporately. Those decisions will either be made in a manner that acknowledges a God who has a universal and natural law, or they will not. The attempt to compromise will increasingly become unacceptable to either world-view (discussions of legitimate sexual activity bring this problem to the fore like few other issues).

The Catholic (not just Roman) Christian intellectual traditon is vigorous (regardless of the anti-intellectual impulses of many fundamentalist groups, as well as some evangelical and Pentecostal groups in America) and has a potentially well-organized mode of dissemination (that being the various Churches themselves). I think we as the churches must consistently and loudly make this assertion to Western governments: "without God, you have no legitimate foundation upon which to legislate!" That is, without some kind of universal natural law that our laws seek to conform to for the good of all people, there can be no such thing as justice in our societies, which seems to me to be the fundamental reason for having law-making and law-enforcing governments in the first place. Some might want to argue that the purpose is simply to have "order" since there is no such God, no such natural law, and therefore no such thing as justice. This position might be logically coherent, but those who hold it would have to conceed that there is also no such thing as human rights and that we were wrong to invade Nazi Germany since there system was so efficient and orderly. The very fact that nobody is willing to make these concessions reveals that the natural law theory is the correct one. We know it "in our bones," as it were that there IS a such thing as justice and therefore there ARE natural laws that human laws may conform to (if they are good laws) or diverge from (if they are bad laws). If there were no such thing as natural law, there could be no such thing as a bad law, but we all know that there are.

I am most certainly NOT saying that the government must be Christian or must be theocratic (this is where I would want to challenge the direction that a great deal of the un-reflective political rhetoric sometimes used by conservative Christians of all stripes in my country seems to be heading). I am saying that there must be a higher authority than simply "the will of the majority" if our society really is good and legitimate, otherwise it is simply a sophisticated version of "might makes right" and a hypocritical one at that, since it would deny such an accusation. The founding fathers of the US certainly believed (according to the Declaration of Independence) that the people should have a say in government NOT because the majority can enforce its will, but because humans are created equal and endowed with rights by the God of nature. It is God who ensures the equality that serves as the foundational principle of democracy (that all people should have a say in government because all are equal).

And if there is such a higher authority, our government (if it is legitimate) must CONSCIOUSLY acknowledge that fact. This is what is so powerful about the monarch of Great Britain being crowned in a great Church and explicitly declaring in the coronation liturgy that God, not the king, is the highest authority in the realm.

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6 Comments:

Blogger Stephen said...

So should we crown Bush and say that God has ordained him to be the President? (Some already have, not to bad to have a Methodist King I guess even if he is only marginally Methodist :))

So what is wrong with a humanist based system?

8:48 PM, August 08, 2006  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Here is the problem Stephen: "Who is human?"
Are Black people human? If God decides that the answer is "yes" then it is yes no matter what the majority decides. But if we use a humanist system the majority could decide to revolk human rights from a minority group. Since there is no "higher court of appeal" (such as natural law) in a humanist system, then the majority is MORALLY right no matter what they decide, since morals themselves would be derived from human reckoning and not some higher authority.
Take it one step further. Suppose a minority in this humanistic democracy decide that they want out. The majority disagrees and raises a larger army (it's the majority after all) and forces them at gun point to remain inside the governmental system, though they fundamentally disagree with what it stands for. It is a tyranny of the majority: Might makes right.
There was a time when the vast majority of Americans were basically agreed on some basic principles with regards to the philosophical grounding of our government (the Deists and the Calvinists both agreed upon Natural Law in a way that atheists and "the Christian Right" never can). But with the glorification of "diversity" and individual freedom above all things, there is no guarantee that such an agreement will continue to be the case (in fact I would argue that the unprecedented division shown in recent national elections - the 2 closest elections in our history were the last 2 - demonstrates that to some extent this unity is already not the case).
I actually would not be opposed to some sort of constitutional monarchy system because the dynasty of the king would represent a continuity in the THEORY upon which the society is built. In fact the king can be challenged on JUST this point, if he fails to govern as one "under God" in accordance with the covanenting that was made in Westminster Abbey or whereever during the coronation liturgy. But what might be more appropriate for our national identity (insofar as we can still speak of such a thing) would be a ceremonial reading of the Declaration of Independence at every Presidential inauguration before the oath of office so that the oath is a direct transition: Now that you have been reminded that your job as President is to defend the natural rights that all humans are given by their Creator, and reminded that to violate these rights is unnatural and a violation of the laws of nature's God (thus making you unfit to be our president) will you faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States, etc., so help you God?
So that there would be a public symbol, a public ritual in which the president (and the same could be done for Congress and for the Justices) would acknowledge that public opinion is not the source of justice according to the theory that our system is. Justice is built into the vabric of reality by the creator.
Does that make sense?

And I just cannot resist: By what standard can you say that Bush is a "marginal Methodist"?

9:33 PM, August 08, 2006  
Blogger Stephen said...

Just trying to be phunny. Don't you go to and serve at his "home" church. When is the last time that he (as our covenant reads) faithfully participated in its ministries by his prayers, presence, gifts, and service? But this again is an aside, I have a very strong interpretation of our membership and baptismal covenant. Probably the orthodox in me.

On the original topic...don't we already have an oath of office for everyone who is elected or appointed? Don't they swear pretty much the same thing you are saying? Aren't the vast majority if not close to 90% of all of our branches Christian with the remainder being Jewish? So what is the problem poly sci guy? :)

12:35 PM, August 09, 2006  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Praise the Lord! We need some people to be serious about those membership vows! I have been doing something a little "subversive" lately: reading the Book of Discipline! Did you know that Methodist pastors are expected to actually hold people accountable to their vows?? I mean technically, one could even be expelled from membership for failing to keep them. This is news to me! I know we all cringe at the thought of that - but isnt the point in taking a vow so that you will keep it?
About the poli sci stuff: You are right Stephen that in PRACTICE there is no problem (at this point). My only concern is that if one develops, we may have already lost sight of the philosophical foundations that would direct us to a way of recourse. If for example, a group really were denied their status as "human." But then that would never really happen...right? I mean maybe some backward place like Germany or Rhwanda, but not here in the good ole' US of A. If there was a public symbol that reminded us not only of the duties of the president (as the current oath of office) but also the principles upon which those duties are predicated; I think that would be a very good thing.

4:02 PM, August 09, 2006  
Blogger Stephen said...

I believe then your crisis is over as it is stated in our founding document:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Although I could take a jab at your earlier argument about "Who is human?" because it seems according to the DofI that women are not. Your take?

12:29 PM, August 10, 2006  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

The problem is, that in an increasingly pluralistic age, the ideas of "self-evident truth" or "Creator" are no longer universally accepted. Which endangers the whole enterprise at some point.
"Men" could be read as "inclusive," - the fact that not everyone realizes this anymore is my whole reason for being against the enforced use of "inclusive" language (eg always saying "his or her") because for the last 500 years or so, until about 1992, everyone understood that a masculine word in English did not necessarily refer to a MALE. Then came the revolutions of the latter half of the 20th century wherein zeal was combined with ignorance and has imposed a new language on us (I should not fail to mention that the very folks who have been pushing this have been doing so b/c they argue that language is a method of controlling people's view of the world). And I personally think English has become an uglier and more cumbersome language now that we have "policepersons" and such in our politically correct grammar age.
Of course, I don't think that the founding fathers intended women to be seen as equal since the majority were apparently against women's sufferage. But the wording itself did not technically exclude women. SO i dont think your jab (that you "didn't mention") really has that much force

9:26 AM, August 11, 2006  

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