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The Destructive Illusion of Moral Authority

Two stories about the Roman Catholic Church have saturated the headlines for much of the summer of 2018. One concerns developments in the sex abuse crisis that has scandalized the church for almost 20 years: these include revelations of cover-ups in Chile, Australia, and, most recently, Pennsylvania in the United States. The other story concerns Pope Francis’s recent decision to revise the Catholic catechism’s position on the death penalty: previously the church merely discouraged the death penalty, but the new teaching now condemns it without exception. If you don’t stop to consider it, you might not see how these stories are related.

Some commentators, especially conservative critics of the Church’s opposition to the death penalty, have suggested that the revision to the catechism was intended to distract the public’s attention from the intensifying sex abuse scandal. However, I think that if there is a hidden agenda, it’s more likely that it encourages a kind of reflection about the predators. After all, if we are encouraged to show mercy to murderers, then it follows that we should do so to priests who rape children. Ed Mechmann from the Archdiocese of New York, considering his time as a prosecutor dealing with child rapists and murderers, has suggested that the new Catholic position is meant to “teach us a hard lesson in mercy.” After all, he reminds us, “even evil people are made in the image and likeness of God and … they don’t lose their inherent dignity because they have turned away from God and His law.”

Although the Church has given many people reason to question its motives, I think it is likely serious rather than merely opportunistic in its opposition to the death penalty. The revision is not far from the earlier version of the catechism, which echoed Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae in its contention that the death penalty is justifiable only as a last recourse in the rare cases in which it is necessary to defend “the common good.” Francis now maintains that the development of a more effective penal system makes any such recourse unnecessary.

But even if the Church is serious about its new stance, the timing of its statement is still probably not an accident. Although the intellectual leadership of the Church might consider that mercy for the predators in its midst would distract from the scandal, it is not afraid of punishment itself. It is deathly afraid of losing its moral authority, and it desperately wishes to reassert that authority by proclaiming that it, and not secular governments, decides the issue of the morality of the death penalty. With this in mind, it is interesting to consider the reaction to this assertion of its authority, and what that reaction reveals about whether the Church had any credible authority to begin with.

Whether the death penalty is justifiable is a serious question, and there are compelling, rational considerations on both sides of the debate. On one hand, it is argued that people who have committed as vicious and ghastly a crime as murder don’t deserve life in prison; they deserve something much worse. On the other hand, in the last few decades, we have learned a great deal about how many people have been executed for crimes they did not commit. Consequently, a genuine concern for justice demands careful scrutiny not only of the objectivity of the legal system, but also of the arguments advanced for and against giving it the power of life and death.

Does the Church’s new position try to grapple rationally with these competing considerations? No. In every crucial respect, it proceeds by appeals to authority. It invokes John Paul II’s claim, “Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself pledges to guarantee this.” In its defense of the notion that the death penalty is not necessary to protect public order, it cites not some criminological study, but John Paul II’s restatement of the claim in his encyclical. It doubles down on John Paul II’s claim about dignity with its own, asserting that the criminal has “a dignity that is not lost even after having committed the most serious crimes.” It does not explain what this dignity is, why the criminal is thought to have it, or by what means the church has acquired a “clearer awareness” of it. It asserts that its doctrine of mercy is supported by “the Gospel,” without indicating any passages in scripture or why such passages should be taken as reliable indicators of the truth. Tellingly, the letter explaining the new position was released by the subdivision of the church called “the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”—an office that was once known as the Inquisition.

The Church’s position is grounded thoroughly on faith, not rational argument. The only argument to be found is concerned to show that the new position does not contradict the Church’s older doctrine. Ed Mechmann argues that the Church has always maintained that capital punishment is permissible under certain circumstances, and has only changed its assessment of current circumstances. Conservative critics have reacted by arguing that the penal system cannot have changed so much: it can’t be, they say, that jails were ineffective at holding criminals in the past but now are suddenly sufficient to defend society from all criminal aggression. And this is a valid point: it illustrates that the church doesn’t really care whether current circumstances differ from those in the past; it is simply looking for a way to rationalize its changing position.

But do these conservative critics themselves care about what is true? Interestingly, those I have cited do not actually argue that capital punishment is necessary in our current society to protect against criminal aggression. Instead, they suggest that this doesn’t matter, that criminals justly deserve retribution and that taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay to keep them in jail. But in saying this, are they not challenging the only standard of justice that has been advanced in the debate: the inviolable dignity God is said to have assigned to each person, even criminals? This is a question they dare not face.

Instead, many conservatives object to the fact that the church has changed its doctrine at all. Michael Brendan Dougherty worries that its shifting position works to “eat away at the Church’s claim to be an institution trustworthy to teach authoritatively on faith and morals.” Liam Warner, meanwhile, laments the implication that the Church has erred in the past, especially in edicts justifying the death penalty that were issued under the mantle of papal infallibility. But if these critics think it is so dangerous to imply that the Church may have been wrong in the past, why do they have no trouble urging that it is wrong today? How are they more sure of its infallibility then than now? And if they think it is wrong in principle today, why don’t they openly challenge the only principle invoked in defense of the current position?

The point of these questions is underscored by some remarks made without obvious irony by the same commentators. Dougherty remarks that the latest revision has been delivered by “papal fiat” as “a simple thunderbolt from Rome … without consultation or collegial input. Funny how that works.” Funny indeed. Are we to understand that there is something wrong with the idea that knowledge can be obtained by thunderbolts? Dougherty is skeptical that a single individual can claim to know through thunderbolts, but he seems to think they are fine when interpreted by committee. As hard as it is to take this attitude seriously, it’s even harder when it comes from religious conservatives. In their opposition to abortion—another position justified by the inherent dignity of (embryonic) life—they happily welcomed Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, which condemned abortion and birth control—even though Paul VI adopted many of its provisions in defiance of the recommendation of a commission set up by Pope John XXIII. And anyway, almost any religious text is authored by a single individual claiming to bear witness to a thunderbolt from God. Why is it more shocking to think that Church doctrine today advances by the same means?

Religious morality has long been portrayed as a source of timeless, universal, objective moral principles. Indeed it is often claimed that only the embrace of theistic belief can provide the stable foundations necessary for a durable moral order. Recently, Dennis Prager (who is outraged by the new Catholic position on the death penalty) popularized a version of this argument in a viral video, claiming that without a God to tell us that murder is wrong, the evil of murder is just a matter of subjective opinion.

But the debate about the death penalty, with its competing claims to revelation, demonstrates that this is far from true. Whether we decide that “thou shalt not kill” or “an eye for an eye” is the more relevant revelation depends on subjective assessments that these claims are valid sources of knowledge. If we really care about the truth, we should look to found our ethics on coherent moral reasoning and the available observable facts. We won’t find moral objectivity in ever-shifting claims about divine revelations. We’ll find it by doing the hard work of answering the questions others shy away from—What is dignity? Why do we need it? How do we know if others have it? And why should we care if they do?

This brings us back to the ongoing furor over the sex abuse scandal. One perceptive conservative commentator, Jim Geraghty, laments the ongoing scandal and claims that the Church has finally “[driven] the nail into its own moral authority.” He closes with the following remark:

The Catholic Church in the United States is about to learn an extremely hard lesson on squandering moral authority. This is not a gray area or a hard call. This is sexual abuse of children. If the Church can’t be trusted to do the right thing in those circumstances, why should anyone trust their judgment in other circumstances?

We now know that, for years, journalists and prosecutors hesitated to investigate lurid but plausible allegations of rape and abuse, deterred by the perception of moral authority the Church enjoyed. Unquestioning parents delivered innocent children into the hands of an institution that used this perception as a cloak and a shield.  When we assume that the church possesses some kind of moral insight and authority, as we do when we take seriously its shifting dogma about the death penalty and other complex ethical issues, we only encourage the same, unquestioning attitude. But the Church should never have been granted any special moral authority in the first place, since its reasoning rests on thunderbolts of revelation, and appeals to divinely-inspired wisdom that the rest of us have no reason to recognize.

CORRECTION: Pope John XXIII was originally misidentified as Pope John XIII. Apologies for the error.

 

Ben Bayer is a fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute, a contributor to New Ideal, and a former professor with a Ph.D. in philosophy. You can follow him on Twitter @BenjaminBayer

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75 Comments

  1. Amina says

    And if the child sex abuse occurred in institutions which utilized moral reasoning and asked the hard questions about dignity and morality? What then?

    • AC Harper says

      Child sex abuse occurs in other institutions too. But typically they don’t claim to ‘own’ moral authority on behalf of God.

      • Constantin says

        Guarding the Scripture and the wisdom contained therein is not the same thing with “owning moral authority on behalf of God”. The essential element in there is the creed in the moral authority of the Bible – which acts like a constitution of sorts. It does not leave much room for virtuoso improvisation and hubris. It is a severe misrepresentation to assert that the Church has ever asserted divine authority to redefine morality. That a deranged socialist Pope is taking advantage of his position to gain brownie points with the largely atheistic crowd worshipping post-modernism is an entire different issue.

        • AC Harper says

          Consider how the Catholic Magisterium is presented – an authorised way of interpreting scripture.

    • jandranian says

      The police investigates, and presents their findings to the prosecutor who then makes a decision based on the law (created by humans, for humans) on whether or not to bring charges.

    • Tom More says

      Rather famously.. as Aquinas and the church hold.. what is against reason is not to be followed. She is the great defender of the rights of reason.. she holds the universe is the ongoing act of Reason and Justice.. Aristotle’s unmoved mover which is necessary to explain the possibility of anything that exists. She has been and remains the very voice of reason in the west. The corruption of the modern world is lamentable but the vast majority of dedicated religious and priests are doing their best and struggling to instantiate what is good and noble. Great leaders.

  2. Katherine says

    Rod Dreher’s blog at The American Conservative has been giving very thorough coverage to these scandals for years, and from a position which is not antagonistic to faith.
    Edward Feser, on his blog and within a co-authored book, gives a pretty coherent account of the place of the death penalty within an ethical framework. (I’m not sure either he or Aquinas entirely relied on ‘thunderbolts of revelation’ – cute phrase though…)
    As I understand it, the Pope is considered only to speak with the charism of infallibility within a very narrow range of circumstances which are rarely applied.

    • david of Kirkland says

      In the pope’s moral and religious teachings, he is speaking ex cathedra, which is held to be infallible among those who prefer authority over rationality.

  3. Andrew_W says

    But Catholics have recently assured me that there is only one objective morality and that the Catholic “Fathers” completely understand it. So how can there possibly be a difference of opinion over the morality of capital punishment, or, come to think of it, a whole mountain of other moral issues over recent years, within the Catholic Church?

  4. “If we really care about the truth, we should look to found our ethics on coherent moral reasoning and the available observable facts.”

    1.) “Coherent reasoning”, while undefined, presumably means logically valid deductions made from premises. The premises, of course, may be themselves logically valid deductions made from other premises, but in the real world, at some point, the process stops, and a certain set of premises must be simply embraced–whether we want to call that “faith” or “self-evident truths” or whatever.

    2.) If one examines the works of Enlightenment thinkers such as Kant or explicitly secular ethicists, one finds that these thinkers i.) disagree on first principles, ii.) disagree on the consequences that follow from those principles, iii.) even when they agree on principles, disagree about what gets priority (often found in the “liberty” and “equality” debates).

    3.) The fact that no one is on the same page with respect to philosophical ethics can be celebrated as a triumph of liberalism, free exchange of viewpoints, viewpoint diversity, tolerance, etc. However, if one is not in the business of philosophical ethics or appointed to a tenured position in the academy, one still has the problem of how to live one’s life. Should I be a Kantian? A utilitarian? Should I embrace virtue-based ethics? How about evolutionary humanism?

    4.) In the practical domain, ethics are akin to laws, their value lies in the fact that ethical expectations are predetermined and universal (at least on your side of the river). In fact, since ethical codes probably only survive due to reciprocal altruism, that is they survive only because everyone follows those norms and people play the game because they expect others to play the same way, “individualistic” ethics has zero practical value, as does ethical debate, for living an actual ethical life (framed as it has to be in a homogeneous community at least with respect to cultural norms).

    5.) In contrast, in the practical domain, the Catholic solution to this whole problem, that is, the Church tells everyone what the norms are, is superior to “coherent moral reasoning”, in the same way that people will always choose dictatorship over anarchy despite the theoretical arguments that can be made for anarchy, and anarchy sounds like it could “theoretically” be nice if people would just behave.

    6.) My comments here address the methodology of resolving ethical disputes, which is fair because the essay is focused on the methodology of resolving ethical disputes. There is an overwhelming absence of evidence that “coherent moral reasoning” can ever create a functioning moral order, any more than everyone acting as a legislator and judge can create a functioning legal order. Disputes in law are resolved by authorities pronouncing judgments, not individualistic reasoning (especially by parties in the dispute). With respect to informal, non-codified norms, it is unclear how a functional informal normative order that serves the society in which it functions can exist without moral authorities.

    7.) Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Just as someone pointing out that judges are biased and corrupt means that legal disputes should be resolved without anointing legal authorities, someone who claims the same for ethics should provide some empirical or anthropological evidence that such a regime is even possible. One almost suspects that the author’s issue is not moral authorities, but rather that the masses look to the Pope over the professors of philosophy as their authorities, notwithstanding the partial successes of the effective altruism cult. But I have a sneaking suspicion that the forms of institutional and personal corruption in the Church would simply be recreated if professors of ethics were given the same informal social power and influence that the Church historically exercised.

    • “‘Coherent reasoning’, while undefined, presumably means logically valid deductions made from premises. The premises, of course, may be themselves logically valid deductions made from other premises, but in the real world, at some point, the process stops, and a certain set of premises must be simply embraced–whether we want to call that “faith” or “self-evident truths” or whatever.”

      This point—and your other points that depend upon it—rest on an assumed but unstated rejection of induction. Precisely the wrong thing to assume. Moral principles—like all principles—must be reached inductively.

      You are not alone in this, which is why you are correct that those who claim moral reasoning have largely failed to reach any actual moral principles. But, as Dr. Bayer’s article shows, the “bolt from the blue” methodology does not work any better.

      What we need are better reasoners than we have had in the past, who induce moral principles from the facts of reality. What we certainly do not need are more proclamations to be taken on faith, from institutions that have been corrupt from their start.

      “One almost suspects that the author’s issue is not moral authorities, but rather that the masses look to the Pope over the professors of philosophy as their authorities, notwithstanding the partial successes of the effective altruism cult.”

      I think you will find, if you investigate the author’s work, that he is not as friendly to the rule of philosophy professors as you imagine he is.

      • Ah, but induction is not a logically valid argument as David Hume established.

        The sun has risen for 5 billion years every day, ergo, the sun will also rise 10 billion years from now in the same way.

        • But Hume was dead wrong about that. And good thing, too: All our conceptual knowledge is ultimately rooted in induction. The formation of the most basic concepts—concepts on the level of “apple” and dog”—is an inductive process.

          Of course there is such a thing as an erroneous induction, like the example of the sun—but that does not invalidate induction as a method. In fact, our ability to know that these inductions are erroneous is evidence of induction’s power! How do you know that it is not true that the sun will last 10 billion years after this? Only by means of facts learned through induction! You certainly did not deduce that from self-evident observations!

          • “Of course there is such a thing as an erroneous induction, like the example of the sun—but that does not invalidate induction as a method. In fact, our ability to know that these inductions are erroneous is evidence of induction’s power! How do you know that it is not true that the sun will last 10 billion years after this? Only by means of facts learned through induction! You certainly did not deduce that from self-evident observations!”

            Touche…

          • 1.) Induction is a logically invalid argument–you can check any textbook on logic on this point. That does not mean inductive arguments are invalid, it means they are logically invalid. That is to say, if the premise is true, the conclusion does not necessarily follow (per the sun).

            2.) C.S. Pierce wrote an article on “abduction”–which describes the scientific method–and is distinct from abduction.

            3.) You seem to claim that a “science of morals” is possible. There is that whole ought/is problem, but fine, go produce one, convince everyone you are correct, and then we can argue. My point is authority is socially necessary for uniformity (an abductive argument).

            4.) It bears pointing out that “coherent moral reasoning” or alternatively, the “science of morals” is descended from the Protestant Sola Scriptura, the idea that if we all just read the Holy Book and follow its clear meaning we will all agree. All that happened with Protestants is that they splintered into a bunch of sectarian groups each convinced the others were acting in bad faith. To make it secular, you just relativize the Holy Book, or declare Nature to be the Holy Book. But undermining the cultural foundations doesn’t solve the “Protestant Problem”, it just makes it worse with various sects of “rationality” each accusing the other of bad faith and irrationality (see Rationalwiki.)

          • Tom More says

            Hume’s epistemology was and remains incoherent. His “fork” statement does not meet the stipulations of the fork. Aristotelian premises are the coherent ones.

      • I don’t think ethics has much to do with facts or induction at all. Its about inculcating arbitrary norms on people, with the result of promoting social cooperation. Obviously, which norms might be based on a calculation of pro-social value of the norms–but in actual fact is an indirect historical result of political struggle and warfare between different normative communities, with the groups promoting anti-social norms either disappearing or being conquered by the higher asabiya-type groups (all other things being equal).

        What is arbitrary necessitates an authority, and what is based on a historical given (such as morality or English) needs no justification–although it survives in part due to its utility in preserving an enduring group.

        I’m not trying to defend Catholicism here, just a more general point that ethics requires some kind of moral elite, just as law requires a juridical elite.

        • Mathematicians could have just have easily have said that there is no square root of “minus one” as saying the square root of “minus one” is i. It is a totally arbitrary decision of an elite community (see discussion of Cantor’s work).

          However, the invention of complex numbers allows for useful mathematics that allows for the solution of a number of scientific and mathematical problems. Ergo, complex numbers exist–but no more by induction than morals.

          • But the existence of number and calculability seems to point most emphatically toward a realm of things that are timelessly true. The real question seems to be not whether such a realm exists as the extent to which an objective reality points toward the good. Nietzsche demolishes Christian morality but is conspicuously reticent on the problem of truth in number. If the ultimate standard for truth is irrational power struggle between groups, presumably a dominant group will arise claiming that 2+2=5 quite unproblematically.

            An interesting thought experiment is to imagine thinking on morality in the complete absence of the encounter with a world of number and countability. What would be the grounds for claiming superiority of ONE god over many? The problem of the one and the many is likewise at the heart of Plato’s reasoning on metaphysics. It’s unclear exactly If something like a pure form could be imagined if not on the basis of numerical and geometric axioms.

            In short, what is the relationship between morality and number?

        • Should we be surprised that in the major religions of the world, we have Buddha offered as an example of the supreme moral paradigm in Buddhism, Jesus in Christianity, often Moses in Judaism, Muhammad in Islam? Further, we have narrative stories that illustrate the “right way” for believers?

          And what do believers do? They obey, they demonstrate devotion, they attempt to imitate the moral founders in a mimetic pattern. What if there was no way to get around mimesis and morality?

          • “What if there was no way to get around mimesis and morality?”

            What if there was? What if morality was about using reason to discover the cause-and-effect principles that lead to human flourishing, rather than obeying a set of commands generated by who knows whom, who knows how? Morality, on that view, would be objective. It would be discoverable in the facts of reality, particularly the nature of human beings.

        • Historically, much of what has been passed off as “ethics” is much as you describe. An elite dictating their arbitrary whims to everyone else, to be enforced at the point of a spear, sword or gun.

          There is no fact of reality dictating that this state of affairs is inevitable. There are plenty of facts of reality that can be induced into principles that show us how to survive and prosper—in other words, how we are to act if we want to be successful as human beings. These principles are what ethics really is. And people will only be able to fully prosper when they discover objectivity in ethics and throw off the commands—and chains—of arbitrary despots.

          • Bartek says

            The difference between “traditional” and “objective” or “scientific” morality falls very well within the Thomas Sowell’s framework of constrained and unconstrained visions.

            For fifteen years I live under the communist regime and I remember very well how such miserable system frequently appealed to “objectivity”, “science” and “realism”. But the ultimate measure of system quality its it long-term survival, not the pretty wording and packaging. The traditional moral system could be based on highly dispersed intangible knowledge and emergent institutions we will never able to fully understand – and the careless attempt to demolish falls under the fallacy known as “Chesterton’s fence”.

            There is also one very important, though rarely used argument – traditional moral system, because of their evolutionary and emergent nature, are bound to have inconsistencies and errors. But such inconsistences are tolerable and errors cancel each other to some degree. On the other hand, the designed “scientific” systems, while coherent and errorless at face value, could carry – because of its artificial nature – an undetectable design flaw which at some point backfires in critical (a “Black Swan” level) disaster. Reforming morality really requires a great deal of intellectual humility.

          • Well do it!

            I have stated that induction is not a logically valid argument. I am merely providing a thumbnail anthropological sketch of what morality looks like in most historical communities (predetermined and universal in a territorial space). I believe that morality exists and continues to exist because it has utility, and specifically utility to the enduring group that practices it (a hypothesis). I suspect if you alter morality, it will lose its utility (a supposition), which is why it looks like it looks and not otherwise.

            Further, we have to ask the question why would someone want to do this? Because while morality may have utility to the enduring group, it may not have the same utility for individuals (especially what we might call disordered individuals) within that group, or for rival groups.

    • James Lee says

      @KD

      Excellent comment. I might add that “available observable facts” aren’t just sitting there in some neutral space, waiting to be apprehended in the same manner by all reasonable people. Humans bring their own a priori cognitive/perceptual frameworks that were shaped by eons of evolutionary history and the unique contexts of each individual’s life. These frameworks filter out particular data (for example facts that run counter to sacred narratives), and highlight and create other data.

      While it might sound like I’m advancing some radical postmodern position, I do believe we can (and pragmatically do) come to intersubjective agreement on “small t” truths. This is the middle way between the idea of Absolute Objective Truth (whether derived from Revelation or Reason) and an extreme relativistic version of postmodernism. This is also why free speech is so important- we need to be able to openly discuss different facts and perspectives and empirically test our models.

      The identitarian model of reality simply doesn’t fit with a huge array of current data, and the response of the identitarians is to ignore or censor those contrary facts.

      • James Lee:

        I agree. Polyani had some nice work on tacit knowledge–its pretty clear to me that there is the lizard brain, the monkey brain, and the rational brain nested on each other, and that the key to AI would not be rapid symbolic manipulations but replicating a lizard. Something that could discern a territory, violently repel invaders, hunt prey, and mate, and which was inclined toward territorial expansion. Next you add complex social behavior and hierarchy, and only then would symbolic manipulations give you much utility for an artificial life form.

        Only if a huge volume of things are effectively accepted unconsciously, can anything be discerned or described consciously. Everything we know about evolution and biology suggests that many of the traditional philosophical approaches to stuff like epistemology and ethics are totally wrong. I fully embrace that philosophy is normative, not descriptive, but I don’t know how you can talk about norms except as they relate to the task of description.

        What could a child say about a meter stick or spatial extension if they had never learned how to use a ruler? How could the nature of space or measurement norms be understood abstracted from the actual practices of measuring stuff in the real world? Likewise, how does morality actually function in a people? How and why does the narrative of ethics emerge? How does the logos of ethics relate to the praxis? [Interesting ancient schools of philosophy like the Platonists and the Pythagoreans felt it necessary to live in essentially intentional communities combining logos and praxis, and for the moderns, ethics is all talk.]

        • teaparty1776 says

          The matter of a lizard brain is differently formed in lizard and man. One drinks water, not isolated hydrogen and oxygen atoms. Man does not have a lizard brain. Man’s mind, with free will and logic, and without the contradictory absurdity of innate ideas, can be focused, thru the senses, onto concrete reality. Moral authority is the product of the focused mind, not mystical or subjectivist rationalizations of evasion. When man focuses his mind, he becomes his own moral authority. Faith or revelation is that lizard brain splitting from man. The Church is a terrarium of lizards.

    • Alex Russell says

      re: point 7 “someone who claims the same for ethics should provide some empirical or anthropological evidence that such a regime is even possible”

      All the Nordic Countries, most of Europe, Canada, and many other so called western countries all have societies that are based on secular humanism and are all working just fine.

      “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
      Claiming there is a supernatural being that watches over us, intervenes at random, and hands down all morality is much more extraordinary claim than “we should base our morals on facts about people, refined by philosophy”. There is zero evidence for any deity. There is lots of evidence that most people don’t want to be murdered.

      Religion cannot be a basis for morality as it simply sophisticated fantasies.

      • You don’t think there are moral authorities in modern secular Western countries?

        Have you heard of St. Martin Luther King, Jr., or St. Mandela or read the poems of St. Maya Angelou?

        You better check your white privilege before you utter blasphemies against the sacred People of Color Bro!

        Why do you thing there are criminal sanctions in most European countries for denying the Holocaust, if the Holocaust is just another historical fact (say like the historicity of Jesus) and had not been officially sacralized?

        I agree you don’t need God or an explicit theocracy, so long as you have blasphemy and sacralized histories and sacralized personages. Isn’t it interesting that in 16th Century Europe, denying the existence of God would get you burned, whereas now in the 21st Century Europe, denying the Holocaust will get you imprisoned.

        You don’t need God, but you do need something like the Holocaust (or the Cult of Chairman Mao) to replace him. . . and the sacralized narrative requires moral authorities to keep it going, and blasphemy codes, heretics, and state coercion to keep everyone in line.

        • James Lee says

          @KD-

          Great comments again. What Sam and the Rationalist folks don’t understand is that there is zero reason to believe that Reason can create sustainable ethical norms for a human population, and plenty of evidence that it can’t. Sure, there can be small splinter groups with Rational Scientific moral frameworks, and those will differ from other such splinter groups with Rational Scientific moral frameworks…until both are likely wiped out by some other group with a moral framework that provides greater evolutionary fitness.

          Further, as Bartek said, Sowell’s work highlights the dubious nature of these types of social engineering morality projects, as compared with the evolved and selected forms of morality and ethics that natural selection has produced. Nassim Taleb also points to the hubristic and highly improbable nature of these types of social engineering claims. It is certainly what the Communists believed and attempted — they thought they could simply jettision that “irrational” and backwards religious stuff, and install their own version of Ethics and Morality.

    • teaparty1776 says

      Morality is an induced guide to life, not a “revelation” that rationalizes the sacrifice of life. See _Virtue Of Selfishness_ by Ayn Rand. See _Leap Of Logic_ by David Harriman.

      The Enlightenment is Aristotle’s philosophy of reason applied to politics and culture. Kant, the nihilist destroyer of the Enlightenment, said, “I have denied knowledge therefore, in order to make room for faith.”

  5. Looking at the discipline of philosophy from the anthropological stand point, it would be useful to examine issues in which the great philosophers find (at least in contemporary times) “consensus”.

    For example, gay marriage:

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/oeur46bofjyogkc/SSM-e.pdf?dl=0

    Have philosophers reached consensus on the basis of “coherent reasoning”, or by strawman arguments combined with professional purges for dissenters?

    Is it not interesting that group consensus seems to occur through strawman arguments and purging “heretics” in nominally secular organizations, thinking here about the Bolsheviks and the Nazis?

    That is to say, consensus is reached through “politics”, and most secular critiques of “religion” attack the political actualities of religion, without noticing that the political actualities of a secular movement or school must in fact resort to the same types of tactics if they seek to succeed in the real world at creating “consensus”.

    • Thanks for the link. It is indeed very chocking to find such poor reasoning in the humanities. There are plenty of reasons to oppose open homosexuality and even more numerous reasons to oppose homosexual marriage (and all the stuff that comes with it). The idea that the individual pleasure of a tiny number of people should override the proper functioning of the general population is very dubious. There are plenty of groups who are not allowed to pursue their individual pleasure as the collateral effect of their activity is deemed much higher than the loss of their individual unlimited satisfaction.

      It’s also troubling to use the concept of “human rights” to justify it.

      And the concept of “human right” itself is a “social construct” that is not at all a universal root for moral systems.

      • Cerastes says

        Give even one reason that isn’t a) appeal to your favorite imaginary friend in the sky, b) based on empirically falsified claims about consequences (especially now we have actual data), c) nothing but a slippery slope, d) argument from tradition, or e) moronic claims about the “true nature” of things in a very Platonic Ideal sense (since such things obviously don’t exist).

        The answer is there are none.

      • Alex Russell says

        What are the reasons to oppose homosexuality or homosexual marriage? I cannot think of any myself.

        Both ideas and the various activities that go with them hurt no one, and give pleasure and dignity to the people involved.

        I’m going to guess you are a christian of some sort so you are opposed due to christian dogma, and not any rational set of morals.

        • Did you read Sesardic’s article? Granted, he doesn’t really make a case against SSM so much as attempt to demonstrate the sloppy thinking and strawmen used by proponents of SSM to dismiss contrary.

          Granted, my point (distinct from Sesardic’s) is that straw man arguments and purges are simply the political tactics used to create “consensus”–that is eliminating or intimidating dissenters. In which case, “coherent moral reasoning” will end up being a game very similar to governing society on “coherent theological reasoning” or whatever you want to call Thomism.

    • teaparty1776 says

      > philosophy from the anthropological stand point

      Philosophy, is of existence as a whole. It is the fundamental knowledge, the context of knowledge, inc/anthropology. Philosophy is a view onto anthropology. Anthropology is an application of philosophy

      • That’s weird, all this time I thought “philosophy” was a project engaged in by a narrowly educated elite which generally discovered that the status-quo (whatever it happened to be) was the best and most just way of doing things. Perhaps we just need to do more of what we are already doing, of course.

        Aquinas & medeival Catholicism, Hegel and Prussia, Gentile and Fascist Italy, and the philosophers of neoliberalism / “liberal democracy” are legion, if mostly mediocre.

  6. Edmund Southwell says

    “…even though Paul VI adopted many of its provisions in defiance of the recommendation of a commission set up by Pope John XIII.”

    It’s unlikely that Pope John XIII set up a commission to investigate the morality of artificial contraception, given that he lived in the 10th century. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08427a.htm

    But leaving aside the minor detail of confusing “XIII” with “XXIII,” this article really demonstrates what one of Quillette’s most significant blind spots is: an amateurish understanding of religion when it comes under critique. For a “platform for free thought,” Quillette’s articles are pretty homogeneous in their viewpoints on religion, and, well, the majority of issues on which the journal publishes.

    “And anyway, almost any religious text is authored by a single individual claiming to bear witness to a thunderbolt from God. Why is it more shocking to think that Church doctrine today advances by the same means?”

    Has the author actually read any traditional Catholic treatments of the issues at play here with attention? Does he know the distinctions Catholics make between levels of authority in magisterial statements, or that the Catholic Church has long held that it’s possible for a pope to teach error when not speaking ex cathedra? In fact, does the author even know what the term “ex cathedra” means, or why it’s relevant to the question of the authority of the revision in the catechism? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” there certainly isn’t evidence of it in the text the author submitted for publication, even though an understanding of all of these issues is indispensable to intelligently assessing what’s going on here, and whether or not it invalidates the Catholic claims.

    Finding Catholic assertions of moral and spiritual authority suspect is understandable; plenty of intelligent people have done so for centuries, including huge numbers of Christians. But if critics of that religion (or any other) want to be taken seriously, they really should do a little more research on the issues involved, and not content themselves with Sam Harris-level superficiality in their understanding of the issues.

    • I have to agree. I was wincing the entire way through the article, more or less. Not because of how I feel about religion (irrelevant) or the death penalty, but just because the author had a very clear misunderstanding of the Catholic teachings on morality, and where they believe morality stems from. Plus the snide shots thrown in occasionally at the institution of of the Catholic Church, while probably fair, did nothing to help my suspicion that the author is something of an “angsty atheist”. There’s a certain reasonable suspicion and questioning, but this piece lacked some fundamental understanding of Christian moral authority and theological teachings.

  7. Ernesto Raymond says

    Morality is in the crosshairs these days.

    The morality of any institution is predicated on it’s being apolitical and ‘good’ in its mission, means and motives.

    Once an institution begins to unravel (usually from within), they lose moral standing and the very moral high ground they used to rely on becomes unstable.

    Our media, corporations, government, courts, schools/academies, science, churches, and political parties have all sold out their integrity and morality for 3 cups of coffee and a chocolate donut.

    Once you lose trust and you allow your integrity to be auctioned off, it’s just a matter of time before the republic on which it stands begins to quake as well.

    The reason our US Military is held in such high esteem is they are merit based (or used to be) and are apolitical (used to be).

    If the military goes…I’m moving to Eastern Europe. They seem to be the only one’s ‘woke’ to what happens when the Socialists take over.

    People living here largely are naive to the history of civilizations and former empires. They don’t teach about the rise and fall of these civilizations and empires because schools don’t want to take away from their teaching (preaching) that moral authority is whatever your government tells you it is.

    At that point, reasoned people will finally begin to understand that EVERYTHING in life…. is about gaining power and holding onto it so your tribe can dictate and mandate the resources in our nation.

    First they came for dodge ball. Because I didn’t play dodge ball, I didn’t care so I said nothing.

    Next they came for tug of war. Because I didn’t play tug of war, I didn’t care and again..said nothing.

    Finally they came for Tag. Sadly, there was nobody left to speak up. I was it.

    • Constantin says

      Your comment hurts because it is true and sounds desperate. The only thing I would change is to say that morality is fair game as opposed to “in the crosshairs” as the progressive left is trying to secure power by redefining it with an advantageous to them post-modern tilt.
      I, for one, am done with running way. I would much rather fight to preserve and safeguard the Western Civilization here, than battle the indescribable corruption still endemic in the Eastern Europe.

  8. Gordon Tisher says

    Jesus Christ himself was pretty clear about the penalty for child abuse: “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” – Matthew 18:6

  9. Chip says

    Catholic social justice teaching does not actually rely on “thunderbolts”, or spiritual revelation alone.

    There are four parts to discerning justice- one is an analysis of existing facts; then reference to scripture; then revelation; then dialogue and engagement with others.

    Taken together, these four parts balance out individual revelation, with those of others, inviting various viewpoints to lead to a negotiated consensus.

  10. Gregory Lorriman says

    Hmmm, I reckon the author really needed to talk to an expert on Catholic dogmatic theology before writing this. There are a lot of misconceptions and errors.

    Here are some basics, to my knowledge (I’m not an expert): the Catholic Church only defines infallible doctrine (which means teaching) and dogma (fundamental doctrine) either 1)at an ecumenical council of all the Bishops, ie the Vatican II Council of the 60s, 2)when the Pope formally teaches “from the throne” aka “Ex Cathedra”. So far, the capital punishment teaching is a papal indulgence (my own words) that is only binding by ‘religious assent’ (the Church’s words) not as a matter of infallibility. Nor is it part of the ordinary magesterium since it has no precedent before Pope JP II. In fact quite the reverse. So sure, ‘debate is ended’, but not for the Bishops themselves. At a future ecumenical council they could reverse this teaching without impugning the infallibility of the Church.

    As for “Thou shalt not kill”, it uses a word for ‘kill’ that, well, isn’t ‘kill’. Rather it can be interpreted as “Thou shalt not murder”, ie, Thou shalt not kill the innocent. Which is a good thing, because the following laws, after the 10 commandments, include a long list of non-murder crimes of sin that have the penalty of capital punishment (including adultery). It depends on the Bible translators as to which word they use, and there is a lot of argument right there. You could still argue that had sufficient infrastructure existed at the time, that life imprisonment would have been the penalty. But that didn’t come until much later.

    NB: “an eye for an eye”, is part of that law, it’s not just a saying or extra-Biblical proverb.

    • Mark Wickens says

      I’m unclear on where you think the author exhibits “misconceptions and errors.” You don’t explain exactly how he contradicts your understanding (which you admit is non-expert!).

      As for “Thou shalt not kill,” I guess that was a response to Pope Francis himself, who says, “The commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ has absolute value and applies both to the innocent and to the guilty.”

  11. Gregory Lorriman says

    There is a lot of media sensationalism over the sex abuse scandals, and the author has enjoyed skewering the Church on it. But the reality is very different.

    While the absolute numbers look appalling, there are 400,000 priests as of 2012, and 4,000 bishops. The actual proportion of abusers and Bishops who covered up for them is low. This is not made clear in the media. Rather they concentrate on absolute numbers, which because the Church is so enourmous looks very bad indeed. But in fact, most Catholics by far were not abused, nor even aware of abuse. Likewise, most priests by far were not abusers.

    The actual scandal is not in the numbers of abusing priests but in the cover-ups by a minority of bishops presumably either foolish/naive, themselves abusers or being blackmailed. I say this since they broke the Church’s own laws in conducting coverups. More on that later.

    For sure, however, the cover-ups did cause an explosion in numbers of abused, since a single priest could potentially abuse thousands of children. The absolute number of abused children is horrific.

    It’s believed the actual proportion of paedophiles has been historically low compared to the male average (for what few stats exist), and most recent cases are in fact historical, occurring decades ago with prosecution of long-since defrocked priests, or who have already died. And many of whom, it should be assumed, were predatorial paedophiles, quite likely not even believers, since they acted in absolute contradiction to their vows in the most grotesque way, often from the very beginning of their ministry.

    Meanwhile, by far most of these cases have in fact not been paedophilia but priests propositioning or abusing teen boys, ie, cases of homosexuality. This has not been clear from Media reports. The Church recently banned homosexuals from the priesthood. It had previously been happy to have gay priests, but this scandal has been too much of a shock.

    Nevertheless, existing homosexual priests are not being dispensed from the priesthood. The priesthood was an obvious route for a young Catholic homosexual who intended to remain celibate. And the Church has not had a problem with celibate homosexuals as feelings are not considered to have moral weight.

    Meanwhile, the Church itself cannot be directly held responsible for the coverups because historically it has (except for a brief period) had a policy of abiding by local civil laws. How could it not. It would be banned in any country whose laws it attempted to override. There is a directive called Crimens Solicitens that is purported to show that the Church has an official policy of coverups, but that is a matter of internal procedure and doesn’t override the basic laws of the Church. The

    Bishops that conducted cover-ups and caused the scandal did so against the Church’s own laws; though many of them have sadly been given the benefit of the doubt for the excuses they gave. And many of them did not commit crimes, even if they were outrageously naive. This is no longer happening.

    The Church as a whole is highly decentralised. The Pope can only request the resignation of a Bishop, for instance (though in practice it’s more like a command and it’s very rare for a bishop to refuse, which would cause a schism and automatic excommunication, as in the case of Lebebvre).

    The Popes and the Vatican cannot compel national Catholic Churches, and which own their own property (likewise convents and monasteries are fiscally and administratively independent of bishops). And bishops can operate in total secrecy if they wish. The Church is not at all like a business or corporation.

    So….with the encouragement of the Vatican/the Popes, local Churches are implementing policies to attempt to avoid further abuse, such as the Catholic Church of England and Wales adoption in full of the draconian Nolan report. Including suspension of priests on one unsubstantiated accusation, a kind of presumption of guilt. (quite a wrongful policy in my view, knowing the behaviour of a couple of people of my acquaintance who are pathological liars, and that good priests have sacrificed so much). Encouragement is practically as much as the Vatican can do, despite talk in the Media about inaction. There has, in fact, been plenty of action, just not directly by the Vatican.

    So any impression that this is a continuing scandal is wrong. The Pennsylvania scandal is a case in point. Not only are US states like small countries, population-wise (currently 13 million residents; bigger than Austria), but the cases go back decades. So while the numbers are large, they are not properly representative of the situation. This is not a current scandal.

    • Alex Russell says

      Wow. If any corporation was involved in the numerous sordid acts that the catholic church has been it would be destroyed both legally and in the court of public opinion. What has been going on in the church is simply the church putting itself, the organization, ahead of the needs of innocent children.

      The cover ups are shocking. Various bishops statements regarding the investigations prove they care only for their own power and protecting the church.

      I’m not sure why you try to minimize the great evil happening here, but I suggest you would be better to explore why you feel this way towards what is an obvious evil, and how you can improve your own moral beliefs and ethics than continuing to blindly defend the corruption.

      • X. Citoyen says

        It’s a nasty business, yes, but the if-it-happened-anywhere-else line is nonsense. Look at the rape-gang scandals in British cities that were covered up by city councilors, police, and child-welfare authorities for decades. The press is still calling them “grooming gangs,” and the judge placed a publication ban on the recent trial. The authorities are still trying to cover up as much as possible. And how many people got fired? None, as far as I can tell. Last I heard, one of the heads of a child-welfare agency involved in the cover-up in Rotherham won an award a mere 2 years after the scandal broke.

  12. These recurring scandals mean the Catholic Church has already lost its moral authority. This does not mean that catholic faith & scripture has lost anything. Or, that the faithful are any less Christian. The true believer would be bound to reject this corrupt church but cling to catholic virtues even more tightly. This must be part of a catholic reformation that may take a hundred years.

  13. We can measure the power of an institution by its ability to be above the law. The Catholic Church has become so weak that they cannot protect its members.

    Meanwhile, child prostitution is practised at an industrial scale, but only a handful of individuals are attacked, the institutions whose members are chronically involved are never linked to the illegal sexual practices. The very idea of linking the institutions to the crimes of their members is deemed “conspiracy theory”, without feeling the need to justify anything.

  14. Constantin says

    A gleeful celebration of scandals rocking the Catholic Church by an Ayn Rand Institute fellow. What strikes the reader most is how shallow an understanding of the Church and its doctrines and practices does a former philosophy professor display. What strikes me as absolute hypocrisy is a the implied idea that the Church could still enjoy moral authority if priests remained saintly and above the fray of mortal sin. Cute premise to build up an entire Church bashing argument coming from an atheist. Go figure! Institutions may guard millenary traditions and moral values but God save us when they become the source of it. Human nature being such as it is, such institutions become murderous on a scale demonstrated by every atheist state ever experimented with. It is not true that the modern Catholic Church supported the death penalty. It did not take a stab at it because it was not contrary to Church doctrine and was the domain of the laic authority (the domain of the Cesar if you please). The socialist Pope is quite an aberration from many points of view, but it is not surprising that he gets into a laic fray from his pulpit. This is what professional “do gooders” do best: mingle in other people’s affairs while gaining brownie points with their circle of post-modern zealots.
    Whatever the argument was about the Praeger University video, I must have missed most of it. It was something about some sort of irreconcilable dichotomy between the Christian injunction not to kill (as in not to murder someone) and the ‘eye for an eye” principle of justice which put an end to the socially prevailing notion 1000x revenge (You plucked my eye – I’ll mutilate anything and anybody even vaguely associated with you including the old lady from whom you bought an apple last week). False! The injunction against murder is rather silent about the principles of the administration of justice by the laic authority, and the descriptor adopted by the former professor lacks depth.
    The Church is plagued by scandal. It was used as a refuge and then abused by gay men seeking cover for their lifestyle and of whom – some went as far as to propose and abuse teens and children. It is awful and the cover up within has been rather extensive but it appears that like defended like and voices both within and outside have continuously sounded the alarm. What the Pope’s deal – I would not know – but hope that he will have the decency to resign.
    The last paragraph in this article is the most objectionable. We are way beyond a display of ignorance and into mean broadside territory.
    We do not now know thatany journalists and prosecutors hesitated to investigate lurid but plausible allegations of rape and abuse, deterred by the perception of moral authority the Church enjoyed. In fact the very opposite has been true for at least 40 years. Nothing is more fair game in this society than humiliating Christianity in every conceivable form. Unquestioning parents delivered innocent children into the hands of an institution, but it was not the institution that used “this perception as a cloack and a shield. Instead there were bad people using the institution as a “cloack and a shield”. What shifting dogma? This former professor is the last authority one would seek to find out what the Catholic Church dogma is. And “finis opus coronat” we have this gem: “But the Church …… reasoning rests on thunderbolts of revelation, and appeals divinely-inspired wisdom that the rest of us have no reason to recognize. Professor, you have clearly missed the opportunity to watch the series of public lectures on the Bible by Professor Jordan Peterson. You could start there and, if you have any remnant of dignity you should withdraw this last sentence with an apology to your readership.

    • teaparty1776 says

      > A gleeful celebration of scandals rocking the Catholic Church by an Ayn Rand Institute fellow.

      Bayer was clearly disgusted and morally outraged by Churchly pedophiles. He did not express glee. Rand ,contra the Churchly pedophiles and their sleazy apologists, rejects the mystical and nihilist attacks on man’s moral guide, his sacred, focused mind.

    • Mark Wickens says

      As opposed to your comment, which contains an assertion and no argument at all.

    • teaparty1776 says

      Your appeal to authority is noted. What, beyond a virtually schizophrenic and brain-cracking nihilism, has modern philosophy produced?

  15. X. Citoyen says

    I agree with many of the criticism of your piece. You wrote: “the Church should never have been granted any special moral authority in the first place, since its reasoning rests on thunderbolts of revelation, and appeals divinely-inspired wisdom that the rest of us have no reason to recognize.”

    Perhaps you’d care to explain why molesting children is morally wrong without appealing to “thunderbolts of revelation” or “divinely inspired wisdom.” If you’re going to claim cultural universality, you should probably disabuse yourself by looking into it first. Personally, I’d go with natural law, but I doubt that would appeal to a Randian.

    Your piece owes more to (what passes for) journalism nowadays than to philosophy. You avoid the hard stuff—the philosophy and history—trusting that we’ll overlook it and share in your outrage. You stated more than once, for example, that the Church has no moral credibility or moral authority. What is that supposed to mean, exactly? That the Church cannot and should not be believed when it says God says molesting children is wrong? Assuming you believe it’s wrong, how is the Church’s loss of authority on this a good outcome? And, by the way, who has moral authority and moral credibility? You? Ayn Rand?

    One more thing, I’d be more sympathetic if I thought you handled the case poorly because you were venting. But you seemed more interested in showing how this scandal undermines the “credibility” and “authority” of the Church than you were in the scandal or its victims. Maybe I’m wrong (I don’t claim to read minds), but I can’t wave away the smell of opportunism.

    • teaparty1776 says

      For Ayn Rand, reason, purpose and self-esteem are the basic moral values. And rationality, integrity, independence, production, honesty, justice and pride are the basic moral virtues. These are long-range, moral guides to man’s life. There is no room for revelation or short-range, hedonist pleasures, both of which contradict that integrated, mind-body unity called man.

      • X. Citoyen says

        “No room for revelation,” except for Rand’s revelations about the true moral virtues and the “sacred, focused mind” of man, and so on.

  16. Man is flawed. Institutions of men will, therefore, also be inherently flawed. Pointing out or obsessing about the flaws or failures, ignoring the net benefits, is a great way to never be taken seriously in the real world.

    It’s the same way communists try to discredit capitalism/ market based economies. “There is inequality in a capitalist system, therefore (the aspirations of) communism is better.” Ignoring the real world attempts at communism/ socialism in favor of some imagined utopia that could never actually exist in this world.

    • teaparty1776 says

      > Man is flawed

      You are properly horrified by the emotional effects of evading reason. But it is you, with your evasion, that is flawed.

  17. Druzgo says

    Good article that focusses on the question why we should care about an institution that uses arguments of faith and revelation. Morality experts can advise us, but we need to think for ourselves about it. Experts that argue that some god or his prophet said or did something and that it is therefore true or meaningful, should not be taken seriously. Without the veil of moral highstanding, the (and any) Church’s long history of lieing, using force and influence badly, etc. could have been fought much better.

  18. Tolstoy rationally argued against the death penalty using the teachings of Christ over a century ago. Dostoyevsky criticized the Church’s use of the death penalty in the Inquisition dramatically in The Brothers Karamazov over a century ago, also appealing to Christ. There is a way to rationally argue against the death penalty in Christianity. Even if the Catholic Church appealed to authority and not to rationality, to suggest there’s no way to rationally arrive at the conclusion that the death penalty is wrong starting from Christ’s axioms is just not right. To join in the evangelical bandwagon and suggest the Catholic Church is trying to cover for the monsters in its ranks is disingenuous .

  19. AA writes:

    “But the existence of number and calculability seems to point most emphatically toward a realm of things that are timelessly true.”

    Perhaps, but my comments are addressed toward what we say. Mathematicians could say that their is no square root of a negative number. They don’t, and they don’t in large measure because the utility of imaginary numbers in solving mathematical and scientific problems.

    What we say is arbitrary–but what we say also has real world consequences. For example, what we say about demonology or structural racism or other invisible malevolent agents.

    • teaparty1776 says

      > What we say is arbitrary

      The arbitrary is the product of an unfocused mind. Your confession is noted.

  20. Cecil says

    The Protestant Reformation continues to be vindicated even 500 years after Martin Luther concluded that no Pope, no Church Council has any authority moral or otherwise beyond what the individual believers reads in and understands from the Scripture. So if it is to be decided whether the death penalty should be kept or jettisoned it should be done democratically in a society that has not jettisoned all authority because of the inevitable corruption of man and his institutions but one in which its majority sits under the authority of the unchanging Word of God. “Sola Scriptura”

  21. Katherine says

    I’m currently reading journalist Greg Sheridan’s ‘God is Good for You’. He writes convincingly of the great debt which Western culture owes to insights of Christian theology, starting from the (at the time) startling revelation that women and slaves were also made in the image of God, have souls, and should be treated as possessing the dignity that implies. This was one of the reasons why the Christian faith found a ready response amongst many women and other disadvantaged groups of the first century (Rodney Stark has written about this in ‘The Rise of Christianity’). Perhaps, Ben, you could outline in a real and concrete way how you would develop a novel ethical framework, with no reference to the heritage provided by Christian influence, for a future article?

    • teaparty1776 says

      > the great debt which Western culture owes to insights of Christian theology

      Faith-based Christianity is part of the rational West like a fly is part of a bowl of soup. A focused mind is not an unfocused mind. Reasoning is not the rationalization of the evasion of reason.

      • Katherine says

        And a flawed analogy is not a proof.
        The capacity to reason is found in humans everywhere. I am saying that the exercise of that capacity within the context of a culture which had Christian underpinnings, over many centuries, eventually resulted in a more or less coherent system of ethics. Cultures with different underpinnings did not produce identical ethical perspectives, although of course there is a great degree of agreement.

  22. Tom More says

    I was really disappointed with this trvial bit of propagandizing. The “inquisition”? Really? Haven’t even read modern scholarship on this black legend as the Spanish .. and modern scholarship identifies it. Bigot stuff and not more acceptable due to its historical continuance. And apparently the good author is more than a little dismayed that the church really does actually depend upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit promised by Christ and maintains that yes.. this universe wherein intelligent being evolved into persons.. is caused by Person. It is simply a matter of factual coherence. And good sane Catholics also reject the postmodern melee as well and root our intellects into the intelligibly ordered form we reference in our word “information” rooted in Aquinas and Aristotle. Only theism does in fact provide a coherent worldview in which one might coherently speak of “should” and “ought”.. final causation as Ed Feser and Catholic thought coherently references. Mindless matter in meaningless motion does not provide a framework for a moral view. The denial of the formal is the denial of intelligibility itself and of course words become victim to this incoherence. The church in good times and bad… and the abuse thing is not even remotely a “catholic” problem but a horror of the west generally and all institutions since the ’60’s narcissistic materialism took over. .. will carry on just fine as she has done since the resurrection and celebrate the sacraments that makes Christ present to our age as in all ages. The incredibly boring infinite regress of “authority” in groundless materialism sure makes for tiresome cliche thinking and boring articles.

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