Thursday, July 20, 2017

Christian Ethics In Practice

     Now that I no longer solve other people’s problems for a living, I can allow my thought processes to prowl: to range hither and yon among the many stimuli available, carrying conceptual pollen from one to another, and then to watch, sometimes amusedly and at other times bemusedly, to see what hybrid might emerge. It’s about as close as a contemporary American can come to the job I’ve wanted most of my life: Vice President In Charge Of Thinking Good Thoughts. (Career-hunters be warned: there’s no money in it.)

     It’s been two years now since I retired from wage labor, yet I continue to be amazed at how an old movie, wedded to a seemingly unrelated article, can elicit new and potentially important ideas. But of course, the critical word in that sentence is seeming. The connection had to be there from the start; I just didn’t see it until I’d had some time to think.

     (Memo to me: Must write something about the terrible lack of time to think that afflicts so many Americans today. After thinking about it for a while, of course.)

     Yesterday’s essay coupled to the previous day’s tirade in a fascinating fashion. The “Preparations” piece is rather grim, while the “Shangri-la” piece has a great deal of hope in it. Yet they exhibit a fundamental concurrence. I said as much, obliquely, in the opening to the latter. It’s time to make the concurrence explicit.

     Superficially, the great shortcoming, in our nation and our world, is the lack of true Christian charity.

     When Lost Horizon’s Father Perreault says to Robert Conway that the world’s true hope is for “a way of life based on one simple rule: Be Kind,” he’s expressing the essence of Christian charity. Jesus of Nazareth stated it in a slightly different fashion: in the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and in the Second Great Commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Paul of Tarsus, in one of his few moments of complete lucidity, put it thus:

     Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if [there be] any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love [is] the fulfilling of the law. [Romans 13:8-10]

     The great challenge this presents us isn’t because Christian charity is complicated. Rather, it’s because we’re presented with so many seemingly compelling reasons to behave otherwise.

     “The State is based on threat.” – Illuminatus!

     Our world is hagridden by malevolences: agents of predation and violence. Some of them operate in the open: governments. There isn’t one government anywhere on Earth that doesn’t deserve to be destroyed, root and branch, and all its masters and its minions publicly condemned to sackcloth and ashes lifelong. Yes, that includes the 88,000-plus governments of these United States. Their evil cannot be offset by the trivial amounts of good they (accidentally and unintentionally) do.

     The primary aim of persons in government is the primary aim of “The High” as Orwell put it in 1984: “The aim of the High is to remain where they are.” Their master tactic is fear: specifically, engendering fear in their subjects:

  • Fear of other governments;
  • Fear of punishment for disobedience;
  • Inducing their subjects to fear one another.

     The pattern reaches all the way back to the origin of states. Franz Oppenheimer found that in marauding predator bands that got tired of marauding and settled down to mulct their fattest victims in perpetuity. (Cf. The State) Consider the behavior of Eli Wallach’s raiders in The Magnificent Seven dispassionately. How, apart from not remaining in a single place, do those bandits differ from government tax collectors?

     Perversely, other governments and private predators are what make the exactions of one’s government seem acceptable. The aggregate provides stability to the individual components. They who operate through fear serve as one another’s allies and justifications. They also deprive us of the resources – material and emotional – with which we might otherwise practice Christian charity.

     There’s evil in the world apart from that of governments. There always has been; there will be until Man is no more. The awareness of our vulnerability to that evil, and the sense that we must guard against it, deflects us from positive and constructive relations with others. Charity and distrust are mutually antagonistic – and distrust nearly always wins the contest between them.

     The critical significance of community is its role in damping our fear and distrust of one another. We build communities largely without realizing it. The essential mechanism is the gradual acceptance – nearly always subconscious – that those around us are worthy of our trust.

     He whom we trust is easy to love, in the sense of the Golden Rule. We accept that he’s benevolently inclined toward us, which makes us capable of reciprocal benevolence. A community will form on that basis and no other.

     Yet there are limits to the operation of community. A community of a few hundred souls is plausible; a community of several thousand strains credulity. How can anyone know that many persons well enough to trust in their benevolence? The concatenative assemblage of community – Smith trusts Jones, and Jones trusts Davis, so Smith, reposing faith in Jones’s judgment, trusts Davis – becomes tenuous and weak after three links. When we add significant differences in language and customs, it becomes effectively impossible. We’re aware of this subconsciously as well. Otherwise we wouldn’t be “on guard” when away from our homes. We certainly wouldn’t casually venture beyond them, trusting in the Omnipotent State for our protection.

     The safety Americans once felt when abroad arose from the awareness of the tyrants of other lands of the great power of the United States to take vengeance for offenses done to it. Isaac Asimov captured this in fictional form in The Foundation Trilogy:

     [The lieutenant] motioned curtly to his men, "Take him."
     Toran felt the clown tearing at his robe with a maddened grip.
     He raised his voice and kept it from shaking, "I'm sorry, lieutenant; this man is mine."
     The soldiers took the statement without blinking. One raised his whip casually, but the lieutenant's snapped order brought it down.
     His dark mightiness swung forward and planted his square body before Toran, "Who are you?"
     And the answer rang out, "A citizen of the Foundation."
     It worked-with the crowd, at any rate. The pent-up silence broke into an intense hum. The Mule's name might excite fear, but it was, after all, a new name and scarcely stuck as deeply in the vitals as the old one of the Foundation - that had destroyed the Empire - and the fear of which ruled a quadrant of the Galaxy with ruthless despotism.
     The lieutenant kept face. He said, "Are you aware of the identity of the man behind you?"
     "I have been told he's a runaway from the court of your leader, but my only sure knowledge is that he is a friend of mine. You'll need firm proof of his identity to take him."
     There were high-pitched sighs from the crowd, but the lieutenant let it pass. "Have you your papers of Foundation citizenship with you?"
     "At my ship."
     "You realize that your actions are illegal? I can have you shot."
     "Undoubtedly. But then you would have shot a Foundation citizen and it is quite likely that your body would be sent to the Foundation - quartered - as part compensation. It's been done by other warlords."
     The lieutenant wet his lips. The statement was true.

     That Americans abroad no longer feel quite that safe arises from seventy years of federal government indifference toward the mistreatment of its citizens by such tyrants. Otherwise, Kim Jong-un and the ayatollahs who rule Iran would not have dared to mistreat Americans who’d dared to venture into their domains. Yet those obscenities bear a powerful lesson about community and its limits.

     Fear nullifies the charitable impulse. How can we be kind – to do unto him as we’d have him do unto us – to someone against whom we must guard ourselves? The thing is plainly impossible; the “ought” is impotent in the face of the “is.” Yet having established that, we are not finished with the problem.

     If you’ve been wondering what “seemingly unrelated article” set me off on this course, the moment for “the big reveal” has arrived:

     Everyone who has tried them tells me threesomes are difficult. And anyone can imagine that threesomes with the government are the most difficult of all. Suddenly it’s no longer a matter of whose elbow is in whose eye, but a matter of whose legal rights are getting stripped, which way the courts lean, and who is likely to lose his parental privileges and, likely, his liberty or at the very least his wealth.

     Which is why I find it absurdly rich of CNN (All the News Fit to Fake) to wonder why American couples are having less sex than they were 20 years ago.

     The article disingenuously roots around for an answer (so to put it, to coin a phrase) and comes up with several. It’s not that they’re wrong – precisely – it’s more that they determinedly ignore what is at the back of those obvious causes of the – ah – dry spell enveloping Americans.

     Please read it all. Among the influences Sarah gradually articulates is how the anxiety under which we labor is made manifest within our marriages and similarly intimate relations.

     Anxiety is stress. All stresses other than the purely physical wear the guise of anxiety. Cicero wrote that “No power is strong enough if it labors under the weight of fear.” Whether he had it in mind or not, that includes the power of sexual desire and attraction.

     Anxiety enervates. It synergizes with our other labors to drain away our energies – and don’t kid yourself; sex requires energy. Indeed, all desires and other impulses to action require energy to be actuated. If you don’t have it, you won’t act, no matter how beautiful your spouse or alluring her new negligee and perfume. And that’s not the end of the story.

     The anxious man naturally wants to feel less anxious...less burdened. But what if he comes to see his beloved as a source of burdens rather than a helpmeet? What if as he contemplates her, the difficulty of pleasing her looms larger than her attractions? Hasn’t that been a principal aim of the gender-war feminists for forty years and more? And doesn’t it transform her from an object of desire to yet another source of anxiety and stress?

     Not only does that anxiety affect relationships already formed; it also keeps them from forming in the first place:

     [W]omen aren’t going out into what they’ve been told is a rape culture, and men, particularly men in college – the prime reproductive age – don’t have to deal with kangaroo courts and mattress girls should their partners decide that the sex wasn’t entirely to their satisfaction and thereby retroactively withdraw consent and claim they were raped. Do you blame them? When public officials and the cultural power structures spend so much time convincing both sexes the other is out to get them, we should thank our lucky stars some young people are still willing to risk sex, despite everything.

     More fear, less love and sex. Less love and sex, less children...and less Christian charity. Especially when we note the intimate connection between fear and hatred.

     I could go on. Perhaps I will, at a later date. But I believe the point has been made.

     For Christian charity to have a dominant role in life, that our homes and communities might less resemble bunkers and more resemble Shangri-la, life must be largely cleansed of fear. That will require that we do away with the things that make us fear. How that might be accomplished, I cannot say. Anyway, it’s time for Mass. Be well.

No comments: