Drawing Swords Against the Deluge

A reader calls me to task for my Christian pessimism about the world, or, to call it by a poetic name, the Vale of Tears. Let me reprint his whole note, and answer, hat in hand, as best I may.

Hm…

You are definitely an interesting one, Mr. Wright. I sometimes find my worldview seriously reconsidered after reading your work, and sometimes I decide you are a complete moron. Frequently you inspire both in the same article.

May I say you actually convinced me to choose chastity until marriage from one of your series of articles, convinced me into informed atheism from one of your books, and have so far gotten about halfway into getting me into some kind of religion from the rest of your blog.

I say this because I am seriously troubled by one point you make here:

“The Christian world view (or, to use the technical term, the Truth) is that this world is doomed in the same way that the antediluvian world was doomed. The Christian man is not in the position of Hercules, able to slay the Hydra-headed and Nemean-lion-hided and brass-winged birds of postmodern post-rational neo-barbarism and able to clean out the Augean stables of modern culture.

The Christian man is in the position of Noah. Our mission is to warn you, dear reader, to leave off making mud pies in the filth of the Augean stables of Modern Life and to get on the boat before the waters rise. Noah’s heroism was not in worldly Herculean strength, but was instead in otherworldly fidelity to an incredible and unbelievable message he heard from heaven: Noah had the strength of character to believe something his reason told him he ought to believe, even if his neighbors mocked, and the skies showed not a single cloud of evidence to support him.

So, no Christians do not need to be in the shoes of Caesar or Pontius Pilot to save the world. That salvation was done by one whose feet were pierced by nails: as far as the world could see, a crackpot agitator who died a traitor’s grisly death. This is because the world sees things backward. The cross the world sees as an instrument of torture, humiliation, and death we Christians see as exalted, and we take it as our labarum of comfort, glory, and victory.

So again I say no, Christians do not need our hands on the levers of worldly power to accomplish our otherworldly goals. Prayers are more powerful than votes.”

This strikes me as a rather deep weakness.

No, more than that. It seems contrary to one of your strongest arguments in this article and ones like it.

To me this seems if anything ungrateful, cowardly, and in a state of absolute despair that Christian hope should have destroyed based on nearly everything else you have ever written.

Maybe this is because this is from one of my least favorite parts of the Bible, but the metaphor of Noah starts out troubling. Noah comes off as strange and cruel in the Bible that I have read and heard examined. Compared to similar Deluge stories (ignoring that he actually existed for a moment) he comes off badly. Similar figures did things such as gather together a real civilization, collecting artists and other great men and women to be saved. Noah simply took his family and the minimum required for survival.

Not saying he should have valued art or culture (assuming you are right and our culture is literally crafted by Satan it should all be destroyed) but even if there is a Flood coming, simply building an ark strikes me as deeply unsatisfying. If your race of men is truly in the right, a band knowing the Truth of the world in the face of lies and the Prince of Darkness, than you should be striving to save as much of it as possible. Let open the doors and call in as many as you can who are not infested with darkness. You mentioned yourself that you would be honored to have Flamingphonebook in your foxhole against the House of Dagon. Even with the worst assessment of our current world, saving as much as possible is a duty. It is simply so large that this is clear.

The second part I find troubling is the idea that you cannot save the world. That is the part I find ungrateful.

You live in an age where mortals wield powers greater than any prior age. The world is all connected now. You are part of a faction with numbers, courage, and strength. The Enemy of modern culture is a divided shrill mob, meaningless and disorganized. Your God let you be born in an age of power and glory. Do you truly believe your side to be so weak that they cannot do battle with this horde of cowards who offer pittances to the House of Submission and beg not to be harmed?

To me this seems like an insult to your God. You have might and power and courage and will. Your enemies are weak, cowards, and don’t even believe they have will. Surely you can fight back these hordes?

Or is it the Prince of Darkness you fear? Will the Devil rise up and oppose some great cultural crusade to save the world from this abyss?

*************************

Let me answer these points one at a time: One, the assessment of me as a moron is the correct and accurate one. Keep that in mind as we read what follows.

Two, what I said was “pray, for our battle is not with flesh and blood, but with powers and principalities.” This is unambiguous Christian doctrine that all denominations confirm. At no point do I say, “pray and do nothing else to save the world” which is how you are reading me.

I admit that in the English language, whenever one says, “It is raining in the North” it SOUNDS like one is saying “It is not raining in the South” — but that is just an illusion caused by the language. If I say to my fellow Christians “pray, brothers!” that is not the same as me saying “Stop doing everything else besides praying.”

A Templar is as much as Christian as a Franciscan hermit. A Templar prays and fights; a hermit prays and retires to his cell.

If the Deluge of Noah seems too cruel a metaphor, let me use another: we are  prisoners on death row. Anything of value which is here in the prison we will no doubt be allowed to keep if we get pardoned by the Governor. But the things that form our chains and bars and instruments of torture we will not need or want. Again, we are all patients dying in the terminal ward of the hospital. If the miracle cure revives us, and we are well and healthy again, then, no, we will not carry our sickbed and needles of morphine out into the sunny glades where healthy children dance and play — we will not need the morphine to kill the pain any more, because we will not be in pain.

Three, keep in mind what the words above are about: Someone (a friendly nonbeliever) was asking me whether the Church needs worldly power and the friendship of Caesar to prevail. (Or, to be accurate, he was making the unsupported claim that the Church needs worldly power to prevail, and that only when Constantinople makes Christianity the established state religion can she prevail.)

I answered that we Christians need no vain worldly powers from a vain world.

My answer is in nowise hopeless; it merely says to put no hope in worldly things, which are destined to be carried away in the days foretold by St. John of Patmos like the antediluvian world was carried away in the flood.

Do we need Caesar’s friendship? Come now! The Orthodox Church, the Nestorians, the Copts, the Syrians, and all the Indians instructed by St. Thomas have been ground under the bootheels of pagan kings and paynim sultans for over a thousand years: they have more martyrs to their glory and more saints than earned the palm in the West. When the Church was burdened with worldly power, one thing she ended up doing was corrupting herself, and shattering via Reformation and Counter-Reformation, wars, tumults, and persecutions, into fragments large and small. It was not until the Enlightenment that the keys to the liquor cabinet where the wine of worldly power is stored were locked away from our poor, drink-besotted Mother Church.

For better or worse—and I think it is for the worse—when the priesthood in a nation is beholden to the Throne, and not to Rome, the national church ends up free from Rome but enslaved to the Throne, as happened to the Russian Orthodox beneath the Czar, and happened to the German Lutherans under their princes and chancellors and eventually under their dictator.

One the one hand, an international Church with some temporal power has the beneficial side effect of acting a check on the ambitions and tyrannies of local kings and princes. At least some of the time, the Church defends the poor against the aristocracy (that is, those times when the Churchmen are not all brothers and cousins of the aristocrats, and conspiring with them to consume the poor.)

On the other hand, had the Church not abused her worldly power, she would still deserve it.

On the third hand, if the husband of a drunk wife is also a drunk, not to mention a wife-beater, then he cannot be trusted with the keys to the liquor cabinet of power either. The anointed kings and parliaments of Christendom savaged the Church after the shipwreck of the Reformation, and I mean that to include all denominations, including the established Churches.

The American Constitution is designed to check such abuses of princely power without a Church: Caesar’s power is divided into branches, and each is supposed jealously to guard the against trespass by the other two. You don’t need an independent and international Church to check the local government power: the government will do that to itself by itself. So goes the theory.

One of the grim and ironic reversals or perversions of the modern age is that the freedom to worship, as respected both by America and European Democracies, is being used as an excuse to tear down crosses from war memorials, pull the commandments off courthouse walls, silence prayers in schools, and dechristianize Christmas, and in all other ways being turning into a legal obligation not to worship. (And do not bother to tell me that private worship in the basement of one’s own house or in the catacombs is still allowed: Catholic charity hospitals are being closed by the Federal Government because we will not provide abortions, and preachers on the pulpit on private land have been prosecuted abroad or jailed for “hate speech” crimes for no more than preaching, as they are duty bound to do, God’s law concerning homosexuality.)

The worldly legal institution of disestablishment and separation of Church and State, which were designed to protect the Church from Caesar, is now the prime excuse used by Caesar to harass the Church. Place no faith in Caesar.

The only “hopelessness” you see in my answer is the fact that I place no hope in worldly things.

Four, one’s disgust with the Noah story depends almost entirely on what one thought the people thus condemned were like.

If we imagine them to be as civilized as, say, the Romans with their gladiatorial games, or the Aztecs with their ghoulish mass-human sacrifices, or the Phoenicians burning children alive in brass idols while playing tambourines to drown the high-pitched death-shrieks, or Babylonians forcing their daughters into ritual temple prostitution, or the Spartans with their institutionalized sodomy-rape or Afghanis with their institutionalized pederasty-rape, or as civilized as Nazis with the genocide of the Jews, or the Turks with their genocide of the Armenians, or the Soviets with their genocide of the Kulaks, or the Chinese with their genocide of the Chinese, or as civilized with the Catholics with their Spanish Inquisition, or Elizabethans with their English Inquisition, or as civilized as plantation owners in the New World, Christian gentlemen of learning and refinement, who drove the cringing Negro into the field with whips.

On the other hand, the antediluvians may have been as uncivilized as the man-eating headhunters of Borneo, or as malign as the marauding Mongol hordes who piled pyramids of skulls before the cities they burned and buried, or maniacal Viking who hang their screaming and eyeless human sacrifices from the sacred oak and ash tree, or may been as uncivilized as the savage, slave-taking, girl-raping Sioux whose delight was to torture captive prisoners very slowly to death ….

But suppose the Antediluvian had all these qualities and more, and that each and every one, had either done or helped to do some murder or act of equal malice. Suppose the Creator of the earth looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted His way upon the earth, and the earth was filled with violence through them.

Need I go on? While human justice would never condemn a whole peoples, much less a whole world, to death for the iniquities and evils practiced, the idea that divine justice, which has no choice but to be just, might condemn an evil world to the fate it so richly deserves, while hard for a gentle heart like mine to imagine, is not hard for a cool head like mine to hypothesize.

We don’t know what the antediluvian civilization was like. Perhaps the noblest works of sculpture, architecture and poetry were wiped out: wonders of the world nobler than the Colossus of Rhodes or the Lighthouse of Alexandria or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Perhaps these things, by now, would have been wiped out by the history in any case.

Or perhaps they had nothing worth preserving, merely ugly and ill-make wigwams, tents, or rude sheds that served them for stockades, slave-pits, mass-graves, rape-huts, torture-chambers, infanticide pits, bordellos, barracks and opium dens. Maybe the only “palaces” of the Antediluvian days were the larger tents of brutal pirate chiefs, where the beating hearts or pickled heads of captives buried in the shallow soil beneath the tentpole.

Or maybe, no matter who bad they were, even if they were super-Aztec super-Nazi biker-gang pirate-gang lying-ass weasel-mouthed Politically Correct slave-raping baby-killing cannibals who kicked their dogs and ate their cats for stew, maybe no human being deserves death no matter what he does.

This is a noble sentiment! Would that all men could chose life, and live, and would flee from sin and death!

One would think a just God would offer men the bread of life from heaven somehow, even if He had to come down from heaven to do it, even if He had to bleed, and be mocked, and be scourged, and to die bringing life to us. Good thing no one hearing about that good news would reject it with scorn and heap hatred and mockery and martyrdom on those who carry that news!Oh, wait, minute…

But in the meanwhile, the fact of life is that all sons of Adam die, soon or late, and I do not see why it is particularly monstrous to have them all die on one day, cleanly and quickly, rather than each man on a different day, by war, by disease, by lingering famine.

I am not saying it is not bad that there be death in the world: I cannot think of anything worse, unless it is that there be sin in the world.

I merely point out that from the point of view of a drowning man, it is not remarkably worse for him, and it may make no difference at all, if many men are drowing at the same time, or only a few, or all.

We also do not know how many chances the Antediluvians got, how many warning shots across the bow, or how many were also instructed to build Arks but who ignored the instruction, or how many Noah invited aboard his, and the invitation was scornfully refused. My opinion of the Justice of God will differ is all was done quickly and in secret, with Noah giggling to himself at his doomed neighbors, pretending with innocent eyes that he was merely planning a pleasure cruise or stocking a petting zoo, or if a prophet the dignity of Jonah, surrounded by signs and wonders, gave sufficient forewarning to leave them all without excuse.

Were they without excuse? If we take the story of the Flood as a myth, we must accept all parts of the myth as if they were fact to judge whether the myth reflects divine justice; if we do not take the story of the Flood as myth, then likewise we must accept all things reported as fact as fact. In the first case, we are talking about whether a character acted fairly and justly in a story, but we must agree what the story says: in the second case we are talking about whether  a real God acted with real fairness and justice in real life, but we must acknowledge the reality, not just those facts that support one side of the case.

According to the Book of Genesis, Methuselah died (age 964) just at or just before the flood, and Adam (age 687) was still alive when Methuselah was born. If we accept the Genesis timeline, it means that the Fall of Man and the Banishment of Cain were within one generation of living memory.

This means anyone could go to his grandfather or his tribal elder and hear an eyewitness account of exactly what the Creator God was and did and what He expected of His creation. Someone alive in those days could not honestly and with open eyes deny that he stood under the judgment of an angry God, any more than someone alive in our days can honestly and with open eyes deny the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews actually took place.

This means, whether the story is myth or fact, the story is about people who very clearly and very obviously knew that what they were doing was contrary to God’s law, and obviously knew God was real, alive, awake, and active, and if they were taken by surprise in those days, the only surprise was the timing and the form of the punishment, not the fact of it. They have no excuse.

No human has the right to pass judgment on a civilization. But nature does. The Author of Nature a fortiori does.

Five, the core of life is a paradox: there is an old saying that those who try to save themselves in battle die and those unafraid of dying will live. Likewise, we are much more likely to reverse the current corruption and evil oppressing this modern age if we have neither hope of victory or fear of defeat. Our battle is a small part of a much larger war.

Pessimistic as my tone may sound, I did not say it was inevitable or desirable that the world will be destroyed in my lifetime, or in a hundred lifetimes to come. But Christians, Norsemen, and Astronomers agree that one day this visible world will perish. And if the ‘Big Rip’ Theory of the Eschaton is correct, then the end will come as suddenly as a thief in the night, and the heavens, just as prophesied, will roll up like a scroll.

When will the end come? For all I know, it could be tomorrow, or it could be 15 billion years hence. For all I know, these are the days of the early Church. We have not even spread the Gospel throughout the Milky Way Galaxy, to say nothing of the Virgo Cluster.

To answer your questions:

Do you believe your side is weak?

Yes, as weak as our Forefathers who defeated the all-powerful British Empire. Yes, as weak as the hands that tore down the Berlin Wall. As weak as Jerusalem when the city was encompassed by Sennacherib. As weak as Saint Telemachus, when he jumped from the stands during the Games, and stepped between two Gladiators, and died, and by his death wiped out that ancient, sinister, sadistic entertainment.

I am not sure what you mean by “weak.” We Christians could, in one election cycle, vote out any and every politician supporting abortion, and wipe out the practice of mass infanticide as rapidly as the martyrdom of St. Telemachus wiped out the practice of Gladiatorial games. Do you think the Gladiatorial industry, all those huge Colosseums, trainers, slavers, beast-handlers, promoters and so on, did not have more money bound up in the murder of fighting-slaves than the Negro-killing group called Planned Parenthood has bound up in the massive effort to abort ghetto babies? (Oh, they kill White and Yellow and Red babies too, but notice where the main effort and main emphasis rests.)

Its seems to me that Christians are defeated, as we have been in the Culture Wars, only when we surrender to an otherwise impotent enemy.

“You have might and power and courage and will. Your enemies are weak, cowards, and don’t even believe they have will. Surely you can fight back these hordes?”

Surely, but only if we actually take the labarum of our Christ completely seriously and march under its banner. In that sign, we will conquer. The question for my fellow Christians is whether or not they are serious? I hear some sleepy murmuring, but the giant has not waked: to be frank, I have yet to see that sign raised.

“Or is it the Prince of Darkness you fear? Will the Devil rise up and oppose some great cultural crusade to save the world from this abyss?”

I don’t understand this question: you talk as if this did not already happen, long ago, in Eden.

This world belongs to the Prince of the World.

When the Devil showed Christ the kingdoms of the world, they were indeed in the hand of the Devil to bestow. We are already behind enemy lines.

My long and longwinded essay on What’s Wrong with the World is an essay on how unwise it is to trust worldly powers, things such as a cultural support for rational philosophy, to cure what is a spiritual evil. I thought the conclusion of the essay, which describes Faith as the Mother of Reason, made it clear enough what I thought the source of salvation and redemption to be.

To my knowledge, I am not saying anything other than what Christians from the beginning have always said:

I am saying this world is base and corrupt and doomed. Place no faith in the world or in the idols of the world. Be not conformed to the world.

Instead, vow the vow a soldier vows, who swears never to let his sword sleep in its sheathe, never to retreat, never to surrender, never to let a fallen comrade alone, and to continue to resist even if captured: and I speak of the captivity of addictive sin.

I am saying the fight is hopeless. The enemy is a fallen archangel and a prince of fallen archangels mightier than any mortal imagines; at his command the hordes of the pagan world come, not knowing who they serve.

Those the world count as wise, the mightiest of governments, of princes, and of parliaments, all do his dark bidding and combine against us, the weak and powerless and foolish in the world. There is no slander the enemy will not spread against us, no torment and no persecution the enemy will forswear.

—and lest this talk of torment be dismissed as mere paranoia, I remind you that Catholics as well as Gypsies and Jews were arrested, tortured, and killed by the Nazis within living memory in Europe, and that Christians and Jews are being hounded and hunted and savagely persecuted in many nations in other hemispheres throughout this century, including to this very day: the butchery of the Armenians by the Turk comes to mind, not to mention the persecutions of the Church in China and Russia and Indochina.

I say not only that the battle is hopeless, but that we should fight on, yes, and sing and rejoice as we fight, because final victory in the war is absolutely certain.

The battle is hopeless and the war is already won. Washington did not win a single engagement with the British; but he won the war. We are in his position. With food, without ammo, with uniforms in tatters, and with unshod feet of footsoldiers leaving bloody footprints in the snow, we are assured to win.

The war is certain, and victory will not come by our hands, but from hands that are still scarred where we pierced them with iron nails; and as the beginning of the victory celebration, a new heaven and a new earth, unstained and pure, shall rise from the ashes of the old, and the lordly dead will arise again in glorified flesh, and all tears wiped away.

There are those who call this a fairy tale. I assume such scoffers are not old and wise enough to believe in fairies.

To them, I give the answer of that most excellent marshwiggle and insightful theologian, Puddleglum. Suppose my account is a fairy tale. Your account is not even that.

One modern account of the world consists of little more than saying “Life is a bitch, and then you die, and in the end nobody lives happily ever after. Entropy triumphs over all, a nightfall of endless darkness and infinite cold.”

Well, says I, if you actually believed your account, the wise thing to do is to swallow cold poison and jump into the sea: so the fact that you are still here hints that at some level you know your account is unsatisfactory: a poorly constructed story, pointless, plotless, and with a weak ending. It is not a tale at all, but a complaint.

Another account, this one with considerably more pedigree, says, “We are all just naked apes or meat machines: our souls are made of atoms blown together by the twelve winds with no more purpose and meaning than the shape of the sand dune: we are helpless and without free will, victims of blind evolutionary forces and blind historical forces. Atop the Holy Mountain no gods dance, and no burning bushes speak. Death is dreamless sleep and soft oblivion. Therefore let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. Entropy triumphs over all, a nightfall of endless darkness and infinite cold.”

This is a poor story: a tale of despair, a myth to justify hedonism.

A nobler version of this same account says, “Man is a rational animal, capable of moral reasoning, creativity, productiveness, love. Man is heroic. Therefore let us live rationally working with mind and heart and soul to produce such works of art and science as befits so dignified a creature: let each man to live for himself alone, a paragon of self-reliance  each man in the solitary but invulnerable tower of his self-made soul, never demanding nor making any selfess sacrifice. Nor hopes nor fears of after-lives or nether-worlds need detain us: Therefore let us think, and work, and triumph, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. Entropy triumphs over all, a nightfall of endless darkness and infinite cold.”

This is a poor story: vanity, vainglory, and blindness to the pain and misery of life. The pretense that bad things never happen for no reason to good people is a very thin pretense: since the days of Job, we have all known better. This is a tale of vainglory.

A very ancient version of this account, perhaps the most ancient, has a different ending, for it says, “All this has happened before, and all shall happen again. When the world dies in fire, it shall be reborn from ashes, and all the pain and toil and travail, all the blood shed and tears wept, will all be shed anew, accomplishing nothing. The universe is a wheel of pain, and even the gods are nailed to its spokes like Ixion. To be born is to die, to die is to be born. Fate is all.”

This is too a poor story: all I will say of this account, whether one calls it Greek Ecpyrosis or Hindu Kali Yuga, or Cyclical Universe Theory, is that it is different in name, not in substance, from the Tale of Despair given above.  The defeat is as absolute as if the nightfall of endless darkness and infinite cold is already come, and a cyclical changelessness worse than death already has us in its claws.

This is a tale of supine despair more despairing than the tale of despair given above, which at least promised finite rather than infinite misery.

A more noble version of this same ancient account: “All this has happened before, and all shall happen again. The universe is a wheel of pain. The pain is caused by attachment to desire, and desire is caused by thought, and thought is caused by self.  By means of strict discipline and stern patience, patience longer than many lifetimes, I will learn to detach myself from all thought and therefore from all pain, and enter into a state of perfect nonthinking nonbeing, where I will neither sin nor suffer Karmic punishment for sin. By self-extinction I escape the wheel of pain.”

This is a poor story: I will say of this account that is has all the drawbacks of the despair of the belief in the Eternal Return given above, but it also has the vanity and vainglory of pretending men can improve themselves into perfection and prelapsarian sinlessness by discipline and meditation. The attempt to achieve bliss by means of pure selflessness is as untrustworthy a daydream as the attempt to achieve bliss via worldly satisfaction with the world by means of pure selfishness.

In sum, the accounts of life outside my so-called fairy tale are heedless hedonism, despairing resignation, vainglorious selfishness, supine despair, or vainglorious selflessness.

None are anything a decent man would say to the mother weeping over her child’s untimely grave.

None are fit for human beings to live by.

None describe life.

None are philosophically edifying, morally encouraging, scientifically true, or dramatically satisfying accounts of man’s place in the universe; whereas my so-called fairy tale is all of these and more.

I repeat Puddleglum’s answer:

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things–trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.

About John C Wright

John C. Wright is a practicing philosopher, a retired attorney, newspaperman, and newspaper editor, and a published author of science fiction. Once a Houyhnhnm, he was expelled from the august ranks of purely rational beings when he fell in love; but retains an honorary title.
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61 Responses to Drawing Swords Against the Deluge

  1. Mary says:

    For better or worse—and I think it is for the worse—when the priesthood in a nation is beholden to the Throne, and not to Rome, the national church ends up free from Rome but enslaved to the Throne, as happened to the Russian Orthodox beneath the Czar, and happened to the German Lutherans under their princes and chancellors and eventually under their dictator.\

    Or as is happening now to the Catholics in China, who are to be force from allegiance to Rome. To free them.

  2. >> “I am not saying it is not bad that there be death in the world: I cannot think of anything worse, unless it is that there be sin in the world.”

    Maybe I get spun on double negatives. You cannot think of anything worse than death? Metaphysically? The fact itself? I can think of quite a few things worse than death, and these are offered to us as possibilities through our own choices. To say nothing of original sin, it is a simple fact of our existence that evil be possible. Man’s nature lays this out for us without the need of the Christian version of sin.

    Of the things worse than death I can name a few just off the top of my head: the betrayal of a major value: wife, parents, children, of integrity, of reality. These things probably sound like trivialities (to the modern sophisticate), but they are the grains of sorrows of our modern headlines – whit large.

    >> “A nobler version of this same account says, “Man is a rational animal, capable of moral reasoning, creativity, productiveness, love. Man is heroic. Therefore let us live rationally working with mind and heart and soul to produce such works of art and science as befits so dignified a creature: let each man to live for himself alone, a paragon of self-reliance each man in the solitary but invulnerable tower of his self-made soul, never demanding nor making any selfess sacrifice. Nor hopes nor fears of after-lives or nether-worlds need detain us: Therefore let us think, and work, and triumph, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. Entropy triumphs over all, a nightfall of endless darkness and infinite cold.”

    I can only guess what specific philosophy you have in mind here (meaning, I don’t think I have to). I have to mention first what is meant by you here by selfless sacrifice. Because the way you word it, there are many things that one, by this philosophy, would “sacrifice” themselves for, the difference being that they would hold it as the antithesis of self-sacrifice. To die for the sake of your wife – it is not, between us, a linguistic difference, nor is it a difference in kind, but surely the honor of such an action cannot be tossed so easily in the barrel of “for self” and “not for self”. I expect a higher level of thought from you when you bring up such things. I would die for my wife, not even a consideration – but what is it that causes us to call it by antithetical names? It cannot be the same action, with linguistic nuances, that would be absurd. It cannot be opposite actions, different names, opposite meanings, else what does anything mean?

    Secondly, there is no mention in this philosophy that you conjure of an ending. This philosophy makes no stand of an ending. It merely says that there is no evidence upon which to base an action. This you can disagree with, to be sure. But, “entropy triumphs over all”? “Endless dark, and infinite cold”? You imagine a you that is not there to imagine such a thing. “For tomorrow we die” has no part in that philosophy – it is irrelevant. There is no principle of that philosophy that is based on what you say.

    Unless you can prove otherwise, I’d like to hear how integrity is not a virtue for living on earth, and honesty, and productiveness, and independence, and justice. I would like to hear how a certain conception of pride is not invaluable to life on earth. None of these has a basis in “tomorrow we die” and neither do any virtues.

    I would even love to hear someone refute any one of these virtues or values as stated. As stated.

    I do not ask this as an unprovoked affront, and offer this live journal entry of mine from a couple months ago as proof http://robertjwizard.livejournal.com/47790.html. I just don’t think there is the same candidness. Maybe I am just too generous.

    • Blah, I feel like bickering old arguments when I am all tired and cranky. Then I wake up and would rather do anything else. Please pass me by. We’ve had this discussion before anyway. I think.

      • Cranky or not, your question is perfectly legit. I do not doubt that integrity is necessary to life on Earth, and the heroic conception of life integrity is more than necessary. I did not say otherwise.

        “Nor hopes nor fears of after-lives or nether-worlds need detain us” Is the way I said it. ““For tomorrow we die” has no part in that philosophy – it is irrelevant. There is no principle of that philosophy that is based on what you say” is the way you said it.

        Your philosophy takes no notice of the fact that your self-interest rightly understood, your integrity, has no bearing on any questions that outlive the span of your life, and, perhaps, the lifespan of those persons or institutions for whom you feel affection or to whom you owe a moral obligation.

        Having read and reread every word of every book Ayn Rand has ever published, it is my conclusion that she never once addressed, or even noticed, the question of what moral obligations I, a man currently alive on earth, owe to remote descendants who can never reciprocate any good I do them. Her philosophy is Epicurean (which is not the same as hedonism, which she rejects) because it holds that the good toward which all actions are directed is self-satisfaction. She holds that nobler pleasures, such as the satisfaction of being honest and productive, out-weigh contemptible pleasures, such as drunken intoxication, but the idea of serving some good without reward — which by definition includes all good served after one’s own death — is one she rejects with scorn.

        That is one and the same as saying, “Let us live a rational and heroic men, for tomorrow we die.” Unless, perhaps, I am giving Rand too much credit, by assuming her philosophy dealt with the concepts of personal death and racial extinction at all?

        If you are chiding me by saying she did not deal with the question at all, much in the same way she dismisses with scorn the question of morality in the lifeboat and refuses to deal with it, I will accept your chide without demur.

        If Ayn Rand’s philosophy is exactly the same whether we lived as mortals in a mortal world, or were somehow immortal in an immortal world, then her philosophy has a blind spot larger than worlds.

        • Mary says:

          Rand also expected people to altrustically keep Communism out of Hollywood, by refusing to denigrate the profit motive and either not hiring Communists or keeping a close watch over them — whatever that did to their profits.

        • I don’t remember her explicitly addressing this issue. But I do not believe she would have viewed these two as in conflict, or as a dichotomy. That her maxim “those who fight for the future, live in today” is also true the other way.

          That rational, long-term (a redundancy) thought and action has effects far into the future. Take child rearing for example. If one values the life and happiness of their children, it is rational to bring them up to be self-respecting, rational, productive, thinking individuals. While going off to teach the children of Uganda how to basket weave, while letting your own become LSD taking hippies is not to value the life and happiness of your children. Then they, being what they are, have children who are even more messed up, and so on far into the future.

          Inherent in that is also taking care, since we often live long enough to see our grandchildren and even great-grandchildren, that we act in the most rational way that affects the society that we live in, both of mores and morality, and of politics. Those are values that are directly connected to our existence and values while here on Earth.

          Take that as a model and just apply it in principle.

          It may have helped further clarify the totality of her thought if she had pursued this explicitly. I think it is implicit. Rational self-interest leads to actions that have long reaching, beneficial, consequences, consequences far beyond our ability to experience them. And so does the irrational.

  3. wrf3 says:

    So say we all. (Ok, so I like the “Battlestar Galactica” rendition of “Amen”).

    Maranatha.

  4. Alright, I’m crabby again.

    >> “This is a poor story: vanity, vainglory, and blindness to the pain and misery of life. The pretense that bad things never happen for no reason to good people is a very thin pretense: since the days of Job, we have all known better. This is a tale of vainglory.”

    Who has this pretense? Is there someone that supposes that there is no such thing as childhood leukemia? Or, if they do, that they deserve it because they had a moocher epistemology at three years old? To not equate life with misery and pain is not the same as to deny that there is pain and misery in life. To think that you are not responsible to another’s misfortune is not a denial of that misfortune. This thin pretense you speak of is of your own creation.

    >> “None are anything a decent man would say to the mother weeping over her child’s untimely grave.”

    Surely not, although I think any expounding of philosophy is bad manners in such a context. If I were a father in that example, the surest way for your head to become departed from your body in an instant would be for you to tell me my child has gone to a better place. Although you could probably lose your head on any of the other “stories” just as well.

    There is nothing to say in that context (unless such a person already shares your views anyway, then you’re just speaking their mind in the absence of their ability to do so) that is the raw pain of it. No words assuage the pure horror of such loss. No words put that child back in that mother’s arms again – ever, next world whatever – else, why the pain at all?

    And emotional comfort in crisis is not a standard for anything, let alone philosophical truth.

    >> “None are philosophically edifying, morally encouraging, scientifically true, or dramatically satisfying accounts of man’s place in the universe; whereas my so-called fairy tale is all of these and more.”

    Christianity has been scientifically validated as true where? Dramatically satisfying is a standard for what? Philosophically edifying and morally encouraging, by what standard? My philosophy provides these two in abundance, although not in the cheap caricature you showed it in. I don’t even understand how the charge is made.

    I must say none of these things I find particularly offensive. But, you know the one thing that has always irked me about Christianity? When I first read Dante’s Comedy I was shocked to find Aristotle at the beginning of his journey (although he was paid the high honor of master). I questioned a lot of people about this, and indeed Aristotle would not be in heaven.

    If I were ever tempted on the road to Damascus, I would demand his elevation before any hearing. Give that man his wings, or accost me no more.

    • deiseach says:

      For some proponents of a materialist philosophy, childhood leukemia is indeed outrageous – if God is involved.

      God permits innocent children to die? God created leukemia? The only possible reaction to such a universe is outrage!

      But take God out of the picture. Children dying of leukemia still are present. What is the appropriate reaction to such a universe?

      None at all, as far as I can see. That’s just the way things happened. Maybe contribute money to cancer research, but getting outraged at the universe for creating leukemia? That’s just silly.

      Certainly, if one has an enemy that one can identify and blame, then yes, I see the point of being angry at God, and indeed that may be the most appropriate reaction one can have in the specific instance. But for me, the flaw in that argument is that as soon as its purpose has been achieved (this proves there can be no God), then the outrage is lost (why be angry at the impersonal blind universe that is not aware, conscious, or intentional? These things are the kind of things that happen with material bodies). But if the undeserved suffering of the innocent is outrageous, then surely it does not matter (or rather, it matters very much indeed) whether this suffering occurs in a universe where life randomly arose through interactions of measurable and understandable physical forces, or a universe where life was intentionally created by a personal deity. Either way, it is equally outrageous and demands satisfaction, and the better chance for some redress (so it seems to me) is the universe where you can (in the words of Mrs. Job) “curse God and die”.

      • Well, I merely raised childhood leukemia as a model example of a bad thing happening for no reason to a good person. But I’ll play anyway. I don’t happen to be a materialist though…

        If there were a God, I would get outraged if God gave little children leukemia and then sent them to Hell because they peed the bed or some other ridiculous notion. But there is no such set-up that I am aware of. Indeed within the tragic sense of life of religion in general the children are lucky to avoid a prolonged life of pain, of evil, helplessness, suffering, the whole vale of tears.

        Indeed, by the whole set-up, the children have hit the metaphysical jackpot and get to go home early to the bliss. He has gone to a better place. And woe unto me that must slowly wither and die in this lecherous body trapped in this world that, to use our generous host’s own words is “…base and corrupt and doomed.”

        Who wouldn’t want to get out? But since suicide banishes you to the ultimate punishment, I cannot see how one with such an outlook cannot but look upon the poor child with jealousy.

        You could say that the child suffers pain before his reward, but so does the old man who also had to endure this, so-called, hell.

        So, no, I am not one of those false atheists that is merely mad at their God. It is actually the story of God that makes me have the reaction to tragedy that you ascribe to the materialist/atheist. Meaning, that I do not understand how childhood leukemia is any big deal under the Christian scheme – I should give the kid a high five, not shake my fist to the sky and donate money to research.

        Now, metaphysically, outrage is simply misapplied emotion in this context from my aspect. There is no applicable appraisal of the metaphysically given as such. It just so happens that it is metaphysically possible for young children to be struck down horribly by such a disease. It is gut-wrenching and tragic to be sure. But it falls under the same category, metaphysically, of my slipping on an oil slick and breaking my neck. It would be ridiculous for my wife to be upset that life takes place in such a gravity with hard surfaces and vertebra that are not strong as steel.

        If outrage is misapplied in regards to the metaphysically given, it has all the application for expression in regards to the man-made. Meaning, while it is contextually wrong to get outraged at reality as such; the person who murders your daughter deserves all the wrath of a thousand screaming demons, to be disemboweled, and gang-raped pre- and postmortem, revived, drawn and quartered, sewn back together, revived, gang-raped again, set on fire by a slow accelerant while having Gertrude Stein recited to him, revived again, taken aboard an airplane to fifty thousand feet and thrown out to land in the center of a crowd of people holding signs that say “you are sh**”.

        A materialist would disagree with this last. Since, to them, man is just like the operations of blind physics. Might as well put a bird in jail for littering if it poops on you.

        But of the universe that cannot be judged, what is the reaction to such tragedies as the child with leukemia? Empathy, sorrow, a want to help in some way. Maybe even anger at people who waste their life – for that fact alone, or for the fact that if such people didn’t waste their life, their work may have been the step necessary to save the child. Conversely, there is always the adage that someone has to clean the crappers.

        At reality as such I must have equanimity, man can, and must be, judged.

        In a Godless, but non-materialist world such things matter because life matters.

    • Mary says:

      Well, there were theorists in the time of Christ who supposed that children could sin prenatally. That would explain why sometimes they were born handicapped.

      • Sin in the womb, the mind boggles.

      • I admit I never heard of these theorists. What I heard is this:

        John 9
        1 And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.

        2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?

        3 Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.

        To me this sounds as if Christ is rebuking the notion of prenatal sin or inherited sin. It may even be a rebuke of the Oriental notion of Karmic retaliation or suffering in this life due to the sins of a previous incarnation.

        My hunch is that the disciples, who were common men, were repeated a commonly held Old Wive’s Tale or superstition, and Christ Himself corrects them. Ergo this is not a Christian idea.

    • Robert says:

      Strictly speaking, according to Catholic doctrine, we don’t know that Aristotle is not in heaven. But we have no reason to believe he is there, either.

      The fact is, if communion with Jesus Christ is the requirement (indeed, the very essence) of heaven, then Aristotle’s presence in heaven depends on nothing except his acceptance of Jesus Christ. My own personal hope, based loosely on the longstanding tradition of the “harrowing of hell”, is that God offers that opportunity to all who die. But we know for certain that Aristotle had no communion with Jesus Christ during his lifetime, having lived several hundred years too early. So we are left merely to speculate and hope about his celestial status.

      If God should happen to grace you with a personal visit such as St. Paul received, I beg you not to turn him away because of a petty demand that, for all you know, may have been met ages before you were born.

      • I should think that if I were paid such a visit, some seriously rethinking would be in order. But the problem of Aristotle is merely a personification of my values of a larger problem I see in the justice of license into heaven. Think about the thousands of tribes that lived millennia in isolation from the truth, or the communion. I would see more justice in punishing the missionaries for not being better navigators and explorers, not the poor savages who couldn’t possibly come into contact with such knowledge.

        I think I possess the audacity to ask my visitor such questions. And to question his anger for my inquiry. After all, I merely possess the faculty he designed. He should be more appreciative of a belief arrived at through the exercise of relentless reason than the acceptance of same through blind faith or upbringing.

        • Even without missionaries, those born out of range of the rumor of the Gospel still know right from wrong. There are other and mysterious baptisms aside from the baptism of water we Christian men are commanded to preach; surely some provision is made for virtuous pagans, but what they are, I do not know.

    • ““None are anything a decent man would say to the mother weeping over her child’s untimely grave.”
      Surely not, although I think any expounding of philosophy is bad manners in such a context. If I were a father in that example, the surest way for your head to become departed from your body in an instant would be for you to tell me my child has gone to a better place. Although you could probably lose your head on any of the other “stories” just as well.”

      Friend, you unwittingly make my case for me. Not only do you confess that you have nothing to say to comfort the grieving, you deny that anyone has anything to say. Indeed, you betray that anger is the response your unsatisfactory philosophy provokes when confronted by the greatest misery and the greatest joy the human condition can suffer.

      We Christians stand around the graves of the beloved departed and sing songs to mock death and to vaunt over our victory over him — “Oh, Death, where is they sting?” — and, as you correctly point out, this would be insufferable folly and vainglory if it were false.

      But the atheists stand around the graves of the beloved and say very little. In your philosophy there is nothing to say, because your words, merely the human words of a natural man, have no power to assuage grief.

      I know people who have been comforted in their time of grief by their faith in a fashion I interpret to be supernatural. Your philosophy can neither explain this, nor admit such a thing exists — at best, you can chalk it up to a psychological defect, undue gullibility for a fairy story.

      Ah, but whose philosophy and psychology is truly defective?

      Ayn Rand’s uncompromising philosophy led her first into adultery and next to live a life without forgiving her adulterous lover for his alleged faithlessness to her. Both fidelity to her husband and forgiveness to her lover were rejected by her naive philosophy as irrational. If that is the way persons without psychological defects act, I submit to your candid judgment that what your code calls a psychological defect is more suited to life on earth than a philosophy allegedly designed for life on earth could ever be.

      Death is part of life. My world view has a way to deal with it. Yours does not. The response you mention above (unassuaged grief and anger toward any who attempt, by speaking of the joys of heaven, to assuage that grief) is the response I judge, with all due respect, to be vain and maladaptive. True or not, it is not a good story. A philosophy that does not address the issue of death at all is not even a satisfying or useful as the philosophy of Stoicism, which at least offers the cold comfort that one must not weep over what one cannot cure, and the optimistic (if false) comfort that the dead are beyond all pain.

      (Optimistic. We Christians hold that those who die in their sins are not beyond all pain — the frustration you atheists feel to contemplate how deftly the mad bombers of 9-11 put themselves beyond all human justice by their suicide is not a frustration we share.)

      • Humanism does have a way of dealing with death, namely by facing it squarely and taking joy in the present. There is grief when someone can no longer take joy, certainly; “and the sting of death is grieving”. But what of that? Grief is not so heavy a burden that we cannot bear it; grief fades, in time. It is proper to mourn, and proper to set aside mourning, without false comfort.

        I have recently seen the humanist philosophy on death set out better than I could ever do myself, in (of all things!) a Harry Potter fanfiction. I link you to the climactic chapter of that particular arc; but I urge you to read the whole thing, so as to get the full impact. It contains much wisdom, and storytelling, and humour. Of course fanfiction is not the place one usually looks for such things; but Sturgeon’s Law does imply that the remaining 10% are not drek, and this piece is a true diamond.

        • “Humanism does have a way of dealing with death, namely by facing it squarely and taking joy in the present.”

          In other words, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!” in the base version, which is hedonism and “think, learn and be heroic, for tomorrow we die!” in the noble version, which is Epicureanism.

          One cannot face squarely a fact about which one has a grossly false idea. If there is life after death, but Lucretius chooses, despite all the accounts that contradict it, to believe death is the final end and perfect dissolution, then he is the one not facing things squarely.

          Should that happen to be the case, all the strained interpretations and explanations of supernatural events to make them sound like merely natural events or natural coincidences, including such large events as the emergence of the universe out of nothing, and the view that the vast majority of mankind through all ages just so happens to be merely cowardly or deluded or self-deluded fools, would be an example, not of facing the truth squarely, but of fleeing from it.

          • We are clearly not going to agree on this point, so I will just state my position once for the record: If, on the other hand, Lucretius has carefully considered all the evidence for an afterlife presented to him, and come to the conclusion that it is wishful thinking and mis-interpreted coincidences; if he has used all his faculties with no bias towards one outcome or the other – then he is indeed facing things squarely, and can do no more.

            • wrf3 says:

              if he has used all his faculties with no bias towards one outcome or the other…

              First, what makes you think that he can actually analyze the data without bias?
              Second, if your brain is the product of purposeless events, why do you have any confidence that your notion of good and evil is in any way congruent to God’s?

              • Very well, then let him have a bias towards wanting a god to exist; if he nonetheless comes to the conclusion that none does, one cannot accuse him of doing so from wishful thinking. I note that many ex-theists struggled terribly while deconverting, because they wanted to believe but the presented evidence just did not convince.

                As for your second question, it assumes its conclusion; if there is no god, then my ideas of good and evil neither agree nor disagree, because there is nothing to agree with. I cannot dispute morality with something that does not exist! And what is more, if a god’s ideas of good and evil disagree with mine, then at some point I must conclude that it is an evil god, and rebel against its rule; or if it has power to compel me, then I should at least acknowledge that I am bowing before superior strength, not superior wisdom. To take the most trivial example possible, if I somehow were able to prove that Aztec mythology were correct, I trust you would join me in plotting to storm heaven and impose a juster rule, according to our own judgement. And if the universe fell as a result, let it fall.

                As a point to note, I do not claim that a god has to agree with me in every jot and tittle; take for example the prohibition on eating pork in Judaism. Nobody claims, to the best of my knowledge, that this is due to some inherent immorality in eating pork; as I understand it, rabbis will simply say that they do not know why their god imposed this rule, but they follow it anyway because the covenant as a whole seems good to them, and they’re willing to have the reasoning for pork explained later. That’s fair enough. Similarly, there can be points on which reasonable men and gods might disagree, without it leading to a breach. But at some point you must judge the entire moral system, and find it good or bad; and if bad, rebel if you find the courage, or submit if you are afraid. There is no way around human judgement.

                • wrf3 says:

                  Very well, then let him have a bias towards wanting a god to exist; if he nonetheless comes to the conclusion that none does, one cannot accuse him of doing so from wishful thinking.
                  Of course one can — and rightly so. Even if one biases one’s search for God, it’s still no fun to find Him. That is a bias towards the existence of God says nothing about the (very strong) bias to not wanting to find Him.
                  I note that many ex-theists struggled terribly while deconverting, because they wanted to believe but the presented evidence just did not convince.
                  That’s true of any worldview change so it really doesn’t advance the argument.

                  As for your second question, it assumes its conclusion; if there is no god, then my ideas of good and evil neither agree nor disagree, because there is nothing to agree with.
                  Except that, if you haven’t assumed the conclusion as to the existence of God, you have to evaluate evidence. And evaluation of evidence requires knowledge of good and evil. If you go into the evaluation phase with the notion that you are the product of purposeless processes, on what rational grounds can you claim that you’ve fairly evaluated the evidence?

                  … And what is more, if a god’s ideas of good and evil disagree with mine, then at some point I must conclude that it is an evil god,
                  And why is that? Why not, instead, conclude that you are the one who is evil? When it comes to you vs. God, why must God submit to you?

                  To take the most trivial example possible, if I somehow were able to prove that Aztec mythology were correct, I trust you would join me in plotting to storm heaven and impose a juster rule, according to our own judgement.
                  No, I wouldn’t. The Creator sets the rules.

                  There is no way around human judgement.
                  Hence the built-in basis to not wanting to find God, even if He exists. One has to cede one’s moral sovereignty to the Sovereign — and look how unwilling you are to do that. You’d rather damn the universe than submit your ego to your Creator.

                  • If my creator were an Aztec god, I should certainly think so!

                    Your argument is based on mere power; the one who creates has power over the one who is created, and its judgement must therefore be accepted. I don’t agree. Power is not wisdom, justice, or goodness.

                    • wrf3 says:

                      If my creator were an Aztec god, I should certainly think so!
                      Actually, it’s fairly easy to show that it doesn’t matter who the creator is — you’re going to elevate your moral judgement above his/her/it’s. Related to this, you ducked the question: “And why is that? Why not, instead, conclude that you are the one who is evil? When it comes to you vs. God, why must God submit to you?”

                      Your argument is based on mere power; the one who creates has power over the one who is created, and its judgement must therefore be accepted.
                      Sorry, but it’s obvious that you haven’t argued this much before. My argument isn’t based on power at all. This exact same discussion took place here. And, since there’s nothing new under the sun, Calvin and Hobbes also dealt with the issue. You’re taking the same position Calvin took in the first strip; Hobbes argues differently in the second.

                      I don’t agree. Power is not wisdom, justice, or goodness.
                      That’s correct. Power, wisdom, and justice/goodness are all different things. The problem is the last category. On what basis do you judge God? What makes your view of good and evil better than His?

      • I have run out of time. I would like to return to this Wednesday night (Thursday morning) after I’m done getting the atheists and Christians drunk for the next 30 hours. If that is alright by you. Coming back to this, not getting the atheists and Christians drunk, that is.

      • I have never been prompted into such a discussion with you. I think it was the moroseness of your post that did it!

        >> “Friend, you unwittingly make my case for me.”

        Or, I have been unclear.

        To say that expounding philosophical theories to the grieving is bad manners is not the same as a confession of having nothing to say. I also made allotment for the context being acceptable if the grieving is already of like philosophical mind. I think I may have the more charitable attitude here. I am not there to make myself feel better (if we are talking about consoling the grieving) nor to convert, nor to flap my jaws about my own pet theories. A consoling touch, a kind word about the deceased, and, above all, a receiving ear, even distraction, help; all are expressions of consoling a grieving person.

        I don’t think it a good idea to tell an atheist, most particularly an Objectivist, that their loved one has gone to a better place. That is not consoling the grieving that is compounding their pain. My anger at that springs from my value of this world – I needn’t explain to you what that means. Although my pen is much mightier than the man. In person, I would probably just thank you, understanding your intent and leave it at that. I may cleave you at a later date, again, with my pen.

        I don’t think it a good idea to tell a Christian, that their loved one is simply gone. That is not consoling the grieving, that is compounding their pain. I wouldn’t lie to such a person (faking and saying things that I do not believe) but there is more to life than expounding one’s beliefs, or to say it better, to argue when it is time to shut up on such matters in the abstract.

        >> “Ah, but whose philosophy and psychology is truly defective?”

        If you wish to talk about the deficiencies of Ayn Rand’s ideas, that is fine. But the ideas stand as their own subject, not the actions of the person. I am not going to speculate about the motives of someone I never met. Nor of “he said” “she said” gossip of an incident of which we do not full knowledge. Not that I do not find such discussion interesting, but I find it inappropriate in this context. [I'll add only that by following the exact same code, I have done the exact opposite as she, so my opinion is that her action was not in accordance with her philosophy. I think it expresses a blind spot in her psychology (of a psychological need of some kind) particularly that she could not perceive two people lying to her for so long a time. But like I said, pure speculation.]

        Despite its protestations against it, Christianity has quite the set up for committing adultery. The victim has to forgive, you are a lowly sinner, a good way to avoid the sin of pride is to make yourself filthy, to sin.

        >> “My world view has a way to deal with it. Yours does not. The response you mention above (unassuaged grief and anger toward any who attempt, by speaking of the joys of heaven, to assuage that grief) is the response I judge, with all due respect, to be vain and maladaptive. True or not, it is not a good story. A philosophy that does not address the issue of death at all is not even a satisfying or useful as the philosophy of Stoicism,”

        Mr. Wright, as a Catholic, how do you speak to a person about the joys of heaven? You do not even know if the deceased is there! It could just as well be the person is in the hell you believe in. Do you divulge that as well?

        In a sense you are right that my world view doesn’t have a way to deal with it. Mine is not designed with a next life in mind, in mine this life is not a prelude to something bigger or better. It is designed for life, not death. Yes, it makes the event of death that much more painful and hard, but it makes this life all that more important and beautiful as well. You can have your superiority in death, we’ve got you licked in life.

        • “I’ll add only that by following the exact same code, I have done the exact opposite as she, so my opinion is that her action was not in accordance with her philosophy”

          Glad to hear you say it, and I agree. I admire Ayn Rand’s philosophy, but feel quite the opposite about her personally.

          “In a sense you are right that my world view doesn’t have a way to deal with it. Mine is not designed with a next life in mind, in mine this life is not a prelude to something bigger or better. It is designed for life, not death.”

          This was the point I was getting at.

          “Yes, it makes the event of death that much more painful and hard, but it makes this life all that more important and beautiful as well. You can have your superiority in death, we’ve got you licked in life.”

          I beg to differ: Christians built Western civilization, everything from railroads to skyscrapers.

          The Grim Reaper stands at your shoulder, and the hungry grave gapes at your feet. If your philosophy does not acknowledge that fact and have a way to deal with it, then it is a one-sided, sunny-day philosophy, a false-to-facts model of the universe.

          • >> “The Grim Reaper stands at your shoulder, and the hungry grave gapes at your feet. If your philosophy does not acknowledge that fact and have a way to deal with it, then it is a one-sided, sunny-day philosophy, a false-to-facts model of the universe.”

            Well of course it acknowledges it.

            >> “There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or non-existence—and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms. The existence of inanimate matter is unconditional, the existence of life is not: it depends on a specific course of action. Matter is indestructible, it changes its forms, but it cannot cease to exist. It is only a living organism that faces a constant alternative: the issue of life or death. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action. If an organism fails in that action, it dies; its chemical elements remain, but its life goes out of existence. It is only the concept of “Life” that makes the concept of “Value” possible. It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil.”

            The living organism that faces the constant alternative of life or death is me; that is the Grim Reaper and the gaping grave; perhaps not of colorful imagery but the same fact nonetheless, at every moment, the possibility of every choice, of any action. How to deal with it is the subject of the rest of ethics.

    • lotdw says:

      Dante does place a small number of pagans outside of hell, however – Trajan, Ripheus and the suicide (!) Cato (who may just be a representation of a principle). Clearly Dante did not believe all pagans were predestined for hell (or believe in predestination period). I would argue that the very gentleness of Limbo – it is much nicer than the anteroom/vestibule which precedes it – suggests that Dante himself had the same desire you do, though he did not find the noble pagans’ salvation ensured.

      Nor does Catholicism mandate that all non-Christians are damned – though some Christians sects do, and a few even include Catholics in the bunch.

      • Well, what did Dante know about it? He was an author of science fiction crossed with political polemic; and however worthy such people may be, their works should not be held up as authorities on the moral structure of the universe! As far as I’m aware, Dante’s work, although deeply engrained in the popular mind, is not anyone’s dogma or doctrine; it’s just his work, no more an authority on the nature of Hell than, say, the “Lucifer” series of Neil Gaiman. Or am I mistaken?

  5. None at all, as far as I can see. That’s just the way things happened. Maybe contribute money to cancer research, but getting outraged at the universe for creating leukemia? That’s just silly.

    In the abstract I agree with this, but there’s a practical reason to get angry: Anger activates the primate circuitry of your brain. We evolved to understand such concepts as “Ug took my banana – I am hungry – death to Ug and the children of Ug!” (Note that a brain which feels this way is rather more likely to survive than one which philosophically goes “Ug took my banana – I am hungry – truly the Universe is without justice, but there is no purpose in getting angry”.) It is not well to trust this circuitry for setting goals, but once you have a goal, anger is a signal to those parts of the brain that you do not consciously control: Our survival is bound up with this; think of a way to kill our enemy! It is from such motivations that intuition and flashes of insight come boiling, seemingly from nowhere.

    This is all part of living in a body that isn’t well designed, and worse, that was designed for goals which are not your own. We all live in untrusted hardware; but sometimes we can exploit it for advantage nonetheless. If possible, you should always use the native hardware rather than emulating in software; thus, if you want to end leukemia, you want to be angry even at an unliving Universe, in spite of that not making much sense.

    • I respectfully but absolutely disagree. To get angry at a mere fact that cannot be changed has no practical benefit: anger does not clarify thought or motivate any long-term effort. Thinking is more useful, as well as more mature, than a mere display of futile rage at an uncaring universe.

      • Firstly, it seems to me that the existence of leukemia is a fact that can be changed, as the existence of smallpox once was.

        Secondly, I did not say anything about a “display of rage”; I said that anger would be a spur to thought. Merely shouting and cursing, or slamming the wall with your fist, is unproductive; agreed. But I speak of the crystalline clarity of rage which focuses your every mental resource on destroying your enemy; the deeper layers of your brain care nothing whether your enemy is a human or a fact about the universe, they will think of a way to destroy it nonetheless. Not always an effective way, of course; that is why we have the discipline of science, to filter out the bad ideas. But the ideas must come from somewhere; and the determination, when your first idea fails, and your twentieth.

        In short, I suppose I disagree with this: “[A]nger does not clarify thought or motivate any long-term effort.” Possibly we are referring to slightly different emotions in spite of using the same word. Let me just note that I’m not talking about the sort of paroxysm that leads a gorilla to beat its chest and roar at a challenger.

        • We have a different view of the utility and role of rage in the human psyche. I have never seen the effects you describe, and I am not prone to romanticize or justify such an ignoble emotion as anger.

          • As you say. I remind you, however, of the Typical Mind Fallacy; perhaps our ideas of anger are different merely because our experiences with it are different. In that case, of course, my ruminations on whether or not to get angry at leukemia do not apply to all of humanity; each must judge for himself whether anger is likely to be useful to him.

            • “perhaps our ideas of anger are different merely because our experiences with it are different.”

              That is certainly possible. Far be it from me to say what might motivate or fail to motivate a stranger of whom I know nothing.

  6. Will le Fey says:

    There’s nothing wrong with death. Without death, we’d probably just squander our lives.

  7. “I am not saying it is not bad that there be death in the world: I cannot think of anything worse, unless it is that there be sin in the world.” Maybe I get spun on double negatives. You cannot think of anything worse than death? ”

    Sorry about the double negatives. I am not saying that there are not times when a man must choose danger and death over safety and dishonor. That is not even the topic I am discussing. What I said was that a world full of sin but without death, hell, is worse than a world where death exists. A world where neither death nor sin exists, heaven, is best of all.

    Most of the complaint about the fact that we live in a world where death exists is, in my opinion, a hidden form of the complainer wishing he could live in a world where sin but not death exists, earth.

    The other complaint is usually that the wages of sin, death, strikes those undeserving of it, children or innocent bystanders. This complaint would have some merit if death did not come eventually to one and all. Since it does, it is, at best, a complaint about cutting in line on death row.

    Those who do not believe in God have no grounds for complaint–in an atheist world, death is merely a fact, like entropy, and there is no ground to complain about facts. We who do believe in God are promised a means to escape from death, which, in our grim philosophy, we deserve in any case.

    • >> “Sorry about the double negatives. I am not saying that there are not times when a man must choose danger and death over safety and dishonor. That is not even the topic I am discussing.”

      Ha! You mock me with another double negative. That’s funny.

      But seriously, you cover some 6 thousand years, 6 or 7 different world outlooks, God and the Devil, heaven and hell, end of days and future of days, death and life, Caesar and Gladiators, the kitchen sink… what isn’t a topic? Proper telemarketing techniques to be sure, but, come on, one puts their foot in the mighty river of your posts sometimes where they can. And I did work into the topic eventually on my second round when I felt sufficiently crabby again. Also I am limited on what I can discuss here – what am I to say about the Prince of Darkness?

      • “But seriously, you cover some 6 thousand years, 6 or 7 different world outlooks, God and the Devil, heaven and hell, end of days and future of days, death and life, Caesar and Gladiators, the kitchen sink… what isn’t a topic?”

        I was talking about why there is death in the world, that I might justify the ways of God to Man. I said “There are worse worlds than a world that has death in it.” You asked whether there were times when a man must chose death before dishonor. You said, “There are many fates worse than death.” Those two topics are not the same. You misread my (perhaps confusing) sentence and mistook (perhaps understandably) what the subject matter of the sentence was about.

        Since you and I are agreed that there are fates worse than death, you will be relieved to know that I never said anything to the contrary.

  8. “(assuming you are right and our culture is literally crafted by Satan it should all be destroyed)”

    Oh, and, by the way, I did not actually ever say that our culture is literally crafted by Satan and should all be destroyed. I have written many a long-winded stemwinder about the glory of our culture, particularly such things as the Anglo-American Common Law, which I regard as one of the surpassing triumphs of reason and wisdom over the cruelty and self-interest endemic to mankind, or about the abolition of the slave-trade, which I regard as the single unambiguous moral achievement of the modern world above the darkness of backward age. I have written with admiration akin to idolatry about the accomplishments of men of science, of arts and letters, from Einstein to Newton to Milton to Beethoven to Homer to Marcus Aurelius to Gene Wolfe to Jack ‘King’ Kirby. I doubt anyone who knows me can possibly misunderstand that I revere the Constitution of the United States with a love that I love more than the life in my body.

    Now, if you would ask me whether Planned Parenthood was smithed on the coals of the floor of hell and merits destruction, there I would answer with an enthusiastic affirmation.

  9. Laura says:

    Allow me to be frank (and no, you can’t use the “Frank? But I thought your name was Laura” joke) Mr. Wright: I am not a Christian and I am not an American.

    However, if more Americans were as polite and erudite as you, then I would probably give serious consideration for citizens. If more Christians were as heartfelt, honest, and well-read as you, then I probably would have not waited five years before abandoning the rhetoric and blind fury that characterizes some of my more extreme fellow non-believers.

    You are a credit to your faith, to your culture, and against the irrational Zerg swarm of our present age, I would be honored to stand with you.

    Never change, Mr. Wright. Never change.

    PS: You have made my inner fan-girl squeal when you mentioned Jack Kirby in the same sentence as Homer and Milton. Hail to the King.

  10. Bill Tingley says:

    “The battle is hopeless and the war is already won.”

    This is the most important thing you wrote, John. The sixth word from the cross: “It is finished.” The First Adam mortally wounded the world. The Second Adam has redeemed it by bearing that wound instead. The temple veil is torn. The Sacred Heart is pierced and emptied so that we may enter it and return to the Father. Paradise promised to us has been regained for us. The war is already won.

    All we have to do is choose to accept what the Father has given us through the Son. Hence, the battle. The Enemy remains fierce in retreat. If he cannot have Nothing, for total evil is the complete deprivation of good, he will still destroy all that he can. He will give rise to our pride, our vanities, our fears, and finally our cowardice to keep us from entering the pierced Sacred Heart.

    He can do so, because entering requires the virtue of fortitude. We must be something more than a clever beast, a creature of appetite, a savage. We must choose to be human to enter. We must conform ourselves to the image of our Maker. We must face our responsibility for that piercing wound. We must pass through the heart of darkness, that strange murder we perpetrated when we hung Christ on a tree, to be received in the light. Until then we see only what the Enemy tempts us to see: A mortal wound, a heart bled dry, death, life without purpose, nothingness.

    If we will what tempts us, we will not see the pierced heart as it truly is: The necessary scar that only the Son, out of His most perfect and unbounded love for us, could bear; the torn veil that let the sacred pour over the profane to redeem the world. We will forego our humanity, and so paradise, and desperately cling as clever beasts to earthly things. If the Enemy cannot have Nothing, because the Lord has triumphed, he will battle on to collect those of us who refuse the fruits of Victory as shards of nothingness. Naked, solitary, and craven — that battle is hopeless.

    Regards,
    Bill T

  11. Your argument is based on mere power; the one who creates has power over the one who is created, and its judgement must therefore be accepted.
    Sorry, but it’s obvious that you haven’t argued this much before. My argument isn’t based on power at all. This exact same discussion took place here. And, since there’s nothing new under the sun, Calvin and Hobbes also dealt with the issue. You’re taking the same position Calvin took in the first strip; Hobbes argues differently in the second.

    Indeed: Hobbes argues that Santa, who owns the toys, therefore has the right to make judgements about who gets them. But this does not demonstrate that his judgements are just; only that they are enforceable. Santa is free to say, for example, “I will give toys to all who kill my enemies”; and this is both enforceable, and a relation into which free-willed creatures may enter. But I do not call it just for Calvin to kill anyone in the hope of getting toys; neither, I hope, do you.

    You say that a creator is not subject to human judgement; that is itself a judgement of what is just. You cannot escape this first judgement of all, the judgement of what procedure you intend to judge by.

    • wrf3 says:

      Indeed: Hobbes argues that Santa, who owns the toys, therefore has the right to make judgements about who gets them. But this does not demonstrate that his judgements are just;
      But that’s exactly what Hobbes is claiming. “His game, his rules.” What you haven’t answered is “to what standard of justice must Santa (or God) conform?”

      Santa is free to say, for example, “I will give toys to all who kill my enemies”; and this is both enforceable, and a relation into which free-willed creatures may enter. But I do not call it just for Calvin to kill anyone in the hope of getting toys; neither, I hope, do you.
      In fact, I do. God defines what is just, whether I happen to agree with it or not, under the principle of “His game, his rules.”
      You seem to think that there is a standard of justice which is external to God to which God must conform. Where in the world did you get such a nonsensical idea?

      You say that a creator is not subject to human judgement; that is itself a judgement of what is just. You cannot escape this first judgement of all, the judgement of what procedure you intend to judge by.
      I know that better than you do. On what basis do you rightly judge God? Does the pot have the right to judge the potter?

      • If the pot were free-willed, then yes. The question is better phrased: Does the child have the right to judge the parent? But note that, even if you deny that it does, that is a moral judgement. If your moral system is, “Whatever my god says, goes”, then that is all very well and internally consistent; but your agreeing to abide by that system does not come from your god, but from your judgement. Your god may say “I am the judge of right and wrong”; but he cannot make you agree, if you have free will. This first judgement, that you will abide by that rule, you cannot escape; and so you are judging your god just as much as I am.

        • If a child loves his father and obeys him because he trusts the father, relying on nothing more logical than the long history of previous times the father has proven himself trustworthy and loving, do we call this the child “judging” the father?

          What about when the father takes the child to the dentist, a remarkably unpleasant experience, and the only thing the child has to go on is the father’s word for it that this serves the child’s interest in the long run — a judgment the child simply and absolutely has no ability to assess — and the child decides to trust the father, despite the immediate sensations and the surface appearance. Do we call this the child “judging” the father?

          If we use this word in this way, what word shall we use to describe the opposite case, as when a police officer confronts a juvenile delinquent, and, without knowing or caring about the delinquent’s motives, sees him committing an infraction of the law, and condemns not only the action, but the character of the delinquent as unworthy?

          If we also call this “judging” then we are using one word to cover two unalike cases, and ergo we must distinguish between them.

        • wrf3 says:

          If the pot were free-willed, then yes.
          Free will has nothing do to with it. Regardless of the impetus, a God is being judged. The question is, “by what standard does the creature rightly judge the Creator? Is that a reasonable standard? Why, or why not?”

          The question is better phrased: Does the child have the right to judge the parent? But note that, even if you deny that it does, that is a moral judgement. If your moral system is, “Whatever my god says, goes”, then that is all very well and internally consistent; but your agreeing to abide by that system does not come from your god, but from your judgement.
          And where does “my judgement” come from? There’s a reason why Christianity says, “you must be born again/from above.”

          In any case, if you think you are an independent being with free will, is it not a flaw in your wetware that you deem a creator to be morally wrong? Suppose you end up creating a human level AI. Will it be right to judge you? Why, or why not?

          Your god may say “I am the judge of right and wrong”; but he cannot make you agree, if you have free will.
          Some of us are Calvinists. ;-)

          This first judgement, that you will abide by that rule, you cannot escape; and so you are judging your god just as much as I am.
          The issue is that we come to different conclusions. I’m still trying to get you to elaborate the logic by which a creature gets to judge the Creator as being morally wrong.

  12. Will le Fey says:

    You know, I used to think religion was a noble calling, and maybe it is; but you can’t walk into it blindly, or they’ll take control of your brain.
    -Dane, from Fallout.

    But why does God make people who break so easily?
    -Dane

    • wrf3 says:

      But why does God make people who break so easily?
      So that He can fix them through the death, burial, and resurrection of His son.

      • Will le Fey says:

        But why have the need to fix them if they aren’t so easily broken in the first place?

        • Laura says:

          As much as I’d like to, I can’t really blame anyone but humanity for that one: make us as unbreakable as you’d like, humans would still find ways to hurt each other. The only way to prevent that would be to create a humanity that was incapable of doing harm (violating free will) or would be so outside the natural order that they would end up destroying eco-systems and endangering the lives of other animals (like robots).

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