In our conversations with our philosophical adversaries, we should aim, not to destroy them intellectually, but to help them understand more fully, and for themselves, such truths as they have already managed to apprehend. Heresy and error, after all, are defects of good healthy doctrines. Certainly we should not refrain from pointing out their contradictions and absurd results. But our notice of such defects in the convictions of our adversaries should operate in them as prompts to deliberation. We can hardly expect them to undertake such a sober procedure when they see that the whole edifice of their thought is mortally threatened.
Once and Future Traditionalist blogger and orthospherean Casey Ann, now on hiatus from her doughty online efforts so that she can concentrate on college, recently commented on a post from 2013 in which I offered an ontological argument for the existence of God, asking for help with the covalent ontological arguments of St. Anselm of Canterbury and of Alvin Plantinga. She wrote:
I’m currently suffering through a Philosophy of Religion course (the democratic nature of these courses is sickening), and we have just gone over the cosmological arguments, arguments from design, the ontological arguments, and their respective criticisms. I’m writing an essay about which I prefer and discussing its strengths and weaknesses. I immediately go toward the ontological argument per St. Anselm, which I have loved for years now. The problem is that each time I study it I find myself peering at it through seemingly various aspects that become obscure to me as the next one approaches (this also could be linked to sleep issues, but anyway). I would love to get your perspective on it. What do you make of St. Thomas’s criticisms of it? Can a Thomist use the ontological argument? Do you think that there are really two ontological arguments made by Anselm? How do you approach Kant’s criticism and does it reject the traditional notion of God as Being? Is modal logic orthodox? (ha…seriously). Lastly (at least for now), what about Plantinga? I’m very unfamiliar with analytic philosophy, so I hardly even tried to tackle his writing on it. I wrote on a paper for a concise summary of his argument, “If it is possible for God to exist, then it is impossible for God not to exist,” and yesterday morning it CLICKED, wonderfully (but at the same time I feel as though there’s a strange gap between the two statements that I need to work out). Is it possible to reconcile this with Anselm’s, whose I am assuming can be thoroughly defended (double question)? What about Aquinas? Please, Kristor, don’t be vague (not to say that you tend to be); I really could use your help even from a personal position. Thank you.
The rest of this post is my response.
The modern crisis all goes back to nominalism. The modern muddlings of clear definitions, confusions of really and essentially different things, and denials of essences or definitions in the first place are all outworkings of the nominalist turn. Once suppose that categories are merely conventional, that universals are merely nominal, that life is never simply black or white, but rather only shades of grey, and you find yourself on a steep and slippery slope to chaos.
Recall from the previous parts that traditionalism reconnects man with the wisdom of his ancestors, that the most important wisdom is to acknowledge God, and that intuition is the foundation of wisdom. Recall also that man also needs revelation and personal repentance in order to be wise, and that once he has begun to repent of liberalism he is ready to find teachers of wisdom.
We have said that man can know the answers to many of his deepest questions or, in other words, that he can know the basic nature of the order of being, through his intuition. Since intuition can be corrupted or obscured, man needs to have these intuitions articulated, guided, and affirmed by authorities. And the highest authority is the Bible, God’s Word.
But there are other religious authorities. The Bible is not the only Christian authority. It is the highest (and the only infallible) authority, but you will need creeds and confessions, pastors and bishops, teachers and theologians to guide you. To become wise about God, you will need eventually to join one of the existing Christian traditions. Continue reading
My latest at The Brussels Journal is “Owen Barfield’s Critical Semantics.” The essay devotes itself to Barfield’s History in English Words (1926), a diagnosis based on etymological studies of the afflicted modern mentality. It is accessible here:
Barfield was friendly with T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and others familiar to “Orthosphereans.” As a follower of Rudolph Steiner’s “Anthroposophy,” he was something of a Gnostic, but that does not invalidate his observations.
I offer a sample paragraph:
Barfield’s argument has by this point in the sequence of his chapters revealed its critical radicalism. From the reconstructed prehistoric beginnings of the Indo-European languages to the High Middle Ages, Barfield sees, in his case-language, English, a net increase of meaning beneficial to the speakers of the tongue; but with the Reformation, which brings the Medieval Period to its end, he sees the phase of meaning-change in the lamentable direction of contraction and diminution for which he employs his term internalization. The same internalization represents a flight from rich participation in reality, with a possibility of transcendence either religious or aesthetic, to cloistered abstraction in the grim Cartesian fortress of disembodied rationality. The resemblance to insanity is hard to miss. No doubt but Barfield intends it. Consciousness, by believing to have discovered its own origin in a random and meaningless process, necessarily renders itself otiose, for how could it be other than random and meaningless? What could it mean to think where consciousness has demoted itself in the world-picture to a neuro-chemical epiphenomenon? But schizophrenically, as it were, the thinking that has abolished itself by a clever theory uselessly goes on jabbering and claims its jabbering to be thinking.
Are Jehovah’s Witnesses Protestant?
How is Protestantism defined ?
“confessional Protestantism (that is, the Protestantism that honors the Word of God by explicitly identifying what it teaches and then codifying these teachings in the various protestant confessions) is the best system.”
You write from theologian’s perspective, perhaps that is looking for best systems. But a believer or a seeker is looking for the best church. Your answer “confessional Protestantism” is too loose, too flabby. It seems like to mean -anything except the Catholic church or the Orthodoxy.
Here’s my response:
OK Vishmehr24, good questions. You sound skeptical, but I hope you’ll allow me to set the record straight.
The key issues underlying your questions would be these: First, Who, or what, has the authority to define Christianity? Second, What difference does it make if one adheres to an invalid (or not-fully-valid) version of Christianity?
The answer to the first question has to be Jesus Christ and the Apostles he trained. And since they are no longer available for direct consultation, we must look to the written record of God’s words, the Bible. This is the correct way to know what Christianity is.
From this morning’s first reading:
“Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.”
Today begins the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, the official beginning of what promises to be a two year campaign to destroy what little of the Catholic Church has managed to survive thus far the dark and terrible springtime of Vatican II. Nothing that lay Catholics can do will influence the outcome of this process, even if that outcome hasn’t been rigged from the beginning (and the quite striking omissions in Instrumentum Laboris do nothing to allay my worries on this). Nevertheless, I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling a strange urgency to say something. I keep thinking that years from now I’m going to look back on this time, and that it will be some comfort to know that when the Gospel was under assault from the hierarchy itself, I didn’t fail to…I’m not sure what exactly. So I’ll do what I always do: remind people of the stakes.
Recall from the previous parts of this series that traditionalism reconnects man with the wisdom of his ancestors and that the most important item of wisdom is to acknowledge the God of the Bible. Recall also that intuition is the foundation of wisdom, and that man also needs revelation and personal repentance in order to be wise. Once you have begun to repent of your liberalism, you are ready to find teachers of wisdom
The greatest teacher, of course, is God, and His teachings are found in the Bible. The most important of these teachings is how you can be saved from God’s wrath through repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ. This truth, of course, cannot be known through intuition. It must be revealed to you, and then you must believe it.
Since the Bible, and only the Bible, is God speaking, it is the highest authority other than God Himself[i]. It is the ultimate authority for testing and correcting our intuitions about the order of being.
But we face an immediate problem: Authorities disagree about exactly what the Bible means. Often these disagreements arise when men don’t want to acknowledge the clear meaning of the words. These are disagreements caused by stubbornness, not by a lack of clarity in the text. But there are genuine disagreements. The authorities disagree about what the Bible teaches.
Perhaps you, the reader, are already a part of a Christian tradition. In that case you already have an authority which clarifies the meaning of the Bible. But this essay assumes that you are not yet a traditionalist. That being so, you do not yet know which authority to trust. Continue reading
Many reactionaries complain that capitalism is eo ipso inimical to tradition. I disagree about that: it is liberal or deranged capitalism that is the problem; so that the problem is not with capitalism per se – which is really nothing other than the natural and basic form of human economic coordination, rooted at bottom in the exchange of gifts and favors, in the love we bear for each other as friends, neighbours and relatives, and so is the default to which all societies recur (and must recur, or else falter and dwindle) – but with its derangement. Latter day capitalism is sick, to be sure. But so is our whole society, beset in all her members and organs by the maladies and diseases by which we infect and corrupt her, a wounded animal struggling ever to heal herself, again and again deformed and crippled by our manifold political foolishness and iterated moral and intellectual insanities.
It’s not economics that is intrinsically inimical to tradition, but philosophy. In a traditional society, there would be no such thing. In a traditional society, no one would wonder how to be a good man, or what the meaning and purpose of life might be, or how and by what agencies the world is ordered. In a healthy traditional society, such questions would not even occur to anyone, because from earliest childhood everyone would have understood the ancient answers handed down by their forefathers from the very beginnings of time. No other answers would be even conceivable. Contrary doctrines would be greeted with outrage, horror and disgust.
Recall from the previous parts that traditionalism reconnects man with the true order of being and the wisdom of his ancestors, and that the most important item of wisdom is to acknowledge the God of the Bible. Recall also that intuition, despite not being infallible, is the foundation of wisdom.
But intuition, although necessary, is not sufficient. Man also needs revelation in order to be wise, for his intuition is not always dependable and because he has a natural tendency to rebel even against the true and the good.
“Revelation” includes Scripture as its most important example, but it also includes any instance when man is not able to know as a result of his own efforts, and must rely on the testimony of those who do know. “Believing revelation” is not the customary way to refer, for example, to a man believing the testimony of a scientist or other specialist about his field of expertise, but it is the same type of act as when a man believes what God has said in the Bible. In both cases, a man trusts the testimony of someone with greater knowledge. Most of what we know, in fact, is knowledge we cannot verify ourselves, and so believing revelation (perhaps under another name) is a necessary part of wisdom. Continue reading