"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Monday, August 22, 2005

Getting Back to the Basics

The late, great Dave Allen, speaking of the Irish, described us all when he said we have a lot of trouble deciding who God is, but once we do, we're willing to fight for Him.

Some of us decide there isn't any God, and are willing to fight for that, too.

You know, I never liked St. Paul much; he's not Jesus and he's very crabby. But as I take him as a severely flawed human being who does the best he can, well, I like him better with each passing year. Besides, I'm flawed, crabby, and I'm not Jesus, either.

The story of how Paul lifted Greco-Roman paganism and ushered in the modern world by turning it toward the true and living God is related in an fascinating work by Sir William Ramsay, who later was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry. (Not that that matters, but it does mean the source isn't some crank like me.) It was written in 1897, and is available in full here.

The surprise is that notorious cementhead Paul didn't replace Zeus & Co. with the mystical Christ who died for everybody's sins, but began by steering the already extant hunger for and love of Good toward its true source, the God of All Things.

This God was not terribly different from Aristotle's theoretical and philosophical God, except Aristotle's was devoid of mercy and love, which are essential components of All Things. Neither would an Aristotle suffer as Paul did for a god bereft of these things: that God is kinda mellow and laissez-faire, not worth dying for or even preaching about. So the majority of the Hellenic world still sacrificed to Zeus and his crew.

"(W)e turn to the speech at Athens. So far was Paul from inveighing against the objects of Athenian veneration that he expressly commended the religious feelings of the people, and identified the God whom he had come to preach with the god whom they were blindly worshipping.

He did not rebuke or check their religious ideas, but merely tried to guide them; he distinctly set forth the principle that the pagans were honestly striving to worship "the God that made the world and all things therein".

In this speech Paul lays no emphasis on the personality of the God whom he sets forth: "what ye worship in ignorance, this set I forth unto you,"and "we ought not to think that the Divine nature is like unto gold or silver or stone, graven by art and device of man".

The popular philosophy inclined towards Pantheism, the popular religion was Polytheistic; but Paul starts from the simplest platform common to both---there exists something in the way of a Divine nature which the religious try to please and the philosophers try to understand."


This is the One, True, and Living God who is or should be recognizable to Jew, Christian, and Muslim alike, Aristotelians and Deists, and even to the pagans whom Paul converted. In our doctrinal thises-and-thats, we so often lose sight of that God, and certainly if the West is to achieve a rapprochement with the Muslim world, (which respected Aristotle so much they called him the "First Teacher"), we're going to have to have the wisdom of Paul to locate Him and make Him our common ground.

And if our militantly secular friends are going to get along with the billion and a half Muslims on this earth, they need to leave a little breathing room in things for this Living God. Mebbe they could start with the Jews and Christians already in their own countries, just to practice up. We gotta get back to the basics---if prickly Paul could touch the human heart instead of bashing brains, surely the more highly evolved children of the Enlightenment can do as well as some crabby ol' cementhead.

(Personal note---I wrote this a few days ago and thought it might be too "We Are the World." But after Pope Benedict's very important words yesterday, I realize some things can't be said too often. We are the world, and that's an empirically provable fact. Kumbaya, y'all.)

16 comments:

James Elliott said...


And if our militantly secular friends are going to get along with the billion and a half Muslims on this earth, they need to leave a little breathing room in things for this Living God. Mebbe they could start with the Jews and Christians already in their own countries, just to practice up.


Are you kidding? In what way have we "militant secularists" prevented anyone from exercising their freedom to worship? You can't possibly have one that stands up to scrutiny. The real problem is that the fanatical and the orthodox are always willing to feel oppressed, the better to feel self-righteous.

Hunter Baker said...

Tom, love the idea of militant secularists practicing with the Jews and Christians already nearby. Great line.

Tlaloc said...

I find it interesting the ways that Christians despite their majority status and vast political and economic power can see themselves as persecuted in all things all the time. I noticed it first when talking to catholics about the big scary homosexual agenda. They actually believed the hodgepodge of gay rights groups totally overshadowed their tiny catholic church: a church that holds dominion over a billion people worldwide, owns it's own country, and substantial financial assets (the Holy See alone made 8.5 million dollars in 2000, not bad for people who worshiped a guy who said all rich people go to hell). It's amazing and sad at the same time.

I can only guess that due to the origins of their religion they feel a need to be the underdog no matter how much they have to reorder the universe to make that true.

Hunter Baker said...

Christians may be a majority measured by numbers who claim to believe, but when you get down to brass tacks, we're clearly in the minority. We're getting to be like the Jews and have outsize influence relative to our true numbers. Gotta "solution" in mind for us?

Tlaloc said...

"Christians may be a majority measured by numbers who claim to believe, but when you get down to brass tacks, we're clearly in the minority."

That statement is nonsensical. you're the majority, but you're the minority?



"We're getting to be like the Jews and have outsize influence relative to our true numbers. Gotta "solution" in mind for us?"

See what I mean about a persecution complex. You equate not having dominion over all affairs of state with being ethnically cleansed. It's so far beyond ludicrous.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I wrote the second paragraph just for you, James, and you showed up right on schedule, ready for a fight.

I never brought up "worship." I'm sure religionists are free to practice their little rituals behind the walls of the ghettoes reserved for them.

As long as they abide by moral apartheid and stay out of the public square, everything's hunky-dory.

James Elliott said...

Silly little man. Not the public square. Government! Out of GOVERNMENT! And by which we mean no making the Ten Commandments law or favoring any religion over another. It's not that hard to grasp, but you sure do make a go at missing it sometimes.

"Ghettoes"... there's that "poor little oppressed religionist" meme again, right on schedule.

James Elliott said...

Does it make you feel good to equate yourself with two ACTUALLY oppressed minorities all in the space of one comment? That's the sort of lackwit semantic games that makes George F. Will orgasm.

Tom Van Dyke said...

James, why do you insult me so? There is no nobility in striking the cheek of someone who will only offer the other.

In the modern secular regime, there is fast becoming no difference between government and society. The exile of all moral systems except utilitarianism is certainly a moral apartheid.

However, the reach of law and regimes is limited in the greater Society of Man. Therefore, some accomodation, if there is to be peace, must be made with the other moral systems that include the human heart as well as its brain.

Hunter Baker said...

Mr Van Dyke shows his learning here. It is a well-accepted point among scholars that government continues to expand its reach, thus diminishing the "free" space in the public square. Thus, if religious believers have an integrated life and worldview, they cannot avoid dealing with issues of governing. That's actually a strong argument I've heard put forth by Michael McConnell, who JFE claims to admire.

James Elliott said...

Utilitarianism is what allows people such as TVD and Hunter to claim that you would rather see an innocent man or two tortured along with some supposedly guilty terrorists in order to protect the "good people" of the US of A. After all, you're weighing the value of a few people against the value of a larger number.

As you have demonstrated, your ascription to moral systems, be they utilitarian or whatnot, is predicated entirely upon your need for them at the time.

As for the insult: Let's just say I have low tolerance for people who spend their time flagellating themselves with the horse-hair whips of other groups' legitimate pain in order to make themselves feel oppressed. It's frankly bull$#!+ and sad.

Moral systems are all well and good. We have elected to live within a system of supposed equality towards all. That means that a person must be willing to acknowledge that others will not live according to our socioreligious system. This means, unfortunately, in the square of governance one must be willing to make decisions that respect the rights of all people, even when our morality leads us to feel otherwise. That's what the social contract means. That's what secularism means. Are there militant, anti-religious secularists? Sure. Just as there are militant fundamentalists. They're fringes, and it's high time we stopped equating the majority of the secular or the religious.

Tom Van Dyke said...

In both your comportment and content, you have illustrated my point, Mr. Elliott.

Tlaloc said...

Actually Tom you proved my point that despite your belonging to a group of vast influence you'll try and twist things to make yourself the persecuted minority. And you took Hunter along for the ride :)

BamaDoyle said...

"[I]n the square of governance one must be willing to make decisions that respect the rights of all people, even when our morality leads us to feel otherwise. That's what the social contract means." I am curious, then, where do you root the social contract? Just want to get a handel on where you are coming from...as I believe Bertrand Russell said, feeling could be the only root of morality in a non-theistic framework. Also, how do you determine the hierarchy when rights clash?

Tlaloc said...

Bama, it'd help if you made it clear who you were addressing...

BamaDoyle said...

Sorry, Tlaloc, the quote was from James' post above. But I would be interested in where your repsonse also.