Sunday, March 11, 2012

Christians as Political Animals

“Christians as Political Animals”: Brief Review of Marc Guerra’s Monograph
P. Schultz
March 11, 2012

I now have a copy of Guerra's "Christians as Political Animals" and am wandering through it, here and there, and I came across this sentence: "The limits natural or divine law places on human freedom are seen not as revealing the cosmic foundations of human freedom but as direct affronts to human dignity." [p. 157]

Guerra speaks as if the contents of "natural or divine law" are self-evident and, therefore, beyond dispute. How can this be? And if they are not self-evident then his argument is, it seems to me, a house of cards and bound to fall down. Who gets to say what is "divine law?" And do those who "know" this law get to enforce it against the rest of us? Without our consent?

More generally, Guerra says that modern liberal democracy needs "moral foundations." OK.  This seems pretty unremarkable to me and, I think, to most people in the US. Even those who argue for "same-sex" marriage often argue that this is required by their conception of the "moral." And, of course, Noam Chomsky is really just an old fashioned moralist. But Chomsky's intensity feeds on this morality, and of course he is not alone. Appeals to morality often inflame and prove to be incendiary and even deadly.

All of this is meant to raise the question: is morality part of the solution or part of the problem? And when morality is understood to be based on "divine law" or imitation of the gods, does this exacerbate the problematic character of morality or not?

Last point: Those who have committed the greatest crimes against humanity have based their actions on their notions of morality and even natural law. Hitler comes to mind, as does Stalin [laws of history], and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. To imply that these monsters were "relativists," motivated by a technological project, resting on a rejection of "morality" or moral standards is simply not persuasive to me. They did reject some moralities but they did not reject morality itself. And perhaps the same can be said for modernity itself: Its flaw is that its relativism and/or nihilism provides no corrective to the appeal of morality, which resurfaces with a vengeance after its apparent exile or which comes in through the back door after being thrown out of the front door.

Overall, I have nothing against Guerra's argument that what is needed today is to "rediscover the necessity, desirability, and nobility of humanizing limits.' Absolutely nothing. But (a) who needs to learn this lesson more, citizens or those who wield power, including popes and priests? [I think the latter.] And (b) is "divine law" the best way to inculcate these limits? How about what I like to call "small minded politics"? [As Aristotle follows the Ethics with the Politics, I am inclined to believe that he too thought the way to establish limits among humans was politically, not philosophically or theologically.]

No comments:

Post a Comment