Beliefnet
At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Given all of the precious time that they have invested in talking about the gazillions in debt with which Democrats are saddling future generations, it appears that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have imbibed their party’s conventional wisdom to the last letter.

From the outset of this year’s presidential election, it has been said over and over again by many a Republican commentator that, far from getting “personal,” the Republican challenger(s) simply has to address President Obama’s “failed policies” in order to make their case to the American electorate.  Just explain what Obama has done, so goes this reasoning, and the American People—always attentive and eager to do the right thing—will act accordingly at the ballot box.

Plato referred to all socially useful lies as “convenient fictions.”  The idea, relentlessly promulgated by Democrats and Republicans alike, that the American voter is a bottomless font of virtue and wisdom is the convenient fiction par excellence or our day:  considering that every partisan who parrots this line disagrees vehemently on virtually all things with about half of their compatriots, no one can possibly believe it.

The average person, whether American or otherwise, is not moved by allusions to bare facts alone.  Actually, naked facts move no one. 

What moves most people is a good story designed to appeal primarily to their emotions—not their intellect. 

Such a story need not be devoid of facts, but—if they are to inspire action—the facts need to be included in the story. 

Given that the average American is far more interested in who will be America’s next “Idol” than in who will be its next president, one would think that it should go without saying that talk of remote abstractions like some unfathomable national debt promises to be of little effect. 

Of course, it isn’t that the issue of our debt isn’t of importance. But of greater importance, from the standpoint of the average American, is that he has to spend more of his earnings on gasoline for his car than he has ever had to spend in the past.  Of greater importance is that he is now spending more on groceries than ever before.  Of greater importance is that the average American, or someone who he knows and cares for, can’t find a job.

All of these ugly facts—stone cold realities that your average American feels throughout every one of his bones—can be easily packaged into a narrative that has as its chief antagonist the man who four years ago pledged to “fundamentally transform” the United States as we have always known it.  The narrative would make abundantly clear that this is the same man who had spent all of his adult life surrounded by the worst anti-Americans, radicals whose detestation for the country culminated in acts of domestic terrorism. 

The villain of the story—we are all suckers for a good (and even not so good) morality tale—is Barack Hussein Obama, the Architect of the miseries with which Americans have had to live for the last four years.

Man does not live by brute reason alone.  The more conservative minded theorists of yesteryear knew this. 

The seventeenth century French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist, Blaise Pascal, stated: “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.”  We should be on guard against overestimating the power of the intellect, Pascal insisted, for “the supreme function of reason is to show man that some things are beyond reason.”  In the final analysis, Pascal concluded, “all of our reasoning ends in surrender to feeling.”

Another French essayist, Michel Montaigne, said: “Our normal fashion is to follow the inclinations of our appetite, left and right, up and down, as the winds of occasion bear us along.”  A human life is nothing other than “motion and inconstancy,” and “our willing of anything is never free, final or constant.” At another place, Montaigne asserted that “even when our trust is readily placed in them, reasoning and education cannot easily prove powerful enough to bring us actually to do anything [.]” He continues, swearing that “reason is so inadequate” and “so blind, that there is no example so clear and easy as to be clear enough for her [.]”  For reason, “the easy and the hard are all one,” and “all subjects and Nature in general equally deny her any sway or jurisdiction.”

The eighteenth century Scottish philosopher David Hume famously declared: “Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.”  He also said that “eloquence, at its highest pitch, leaves little room for reason or reflection, but addresses itself entirely to the desires and affections, captivating the willing hearers, and subduing their understanding.”

The great Edmund Burke reminded his contemporaries, and ours, that: “We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason,” for “we suspect that this stock in each man is small [.]”  Rather, “instead of casting away our old prejudices, we cherish them to a very considerable degree,” for “prejudice, with its reason, has a motive to give action to that reason, and an affection which will give to it permanence.”

More recently, in the twentieth century, Joseph Schumpeter took a machete to what he called “the classical doctrine of democracy.”  According to this doctrine, the democrat is a rational agent who weighs over facts, draws out their implications, and then chooses accordingly.  This, Schumpeter judged in no uncertain terms, is a fiction of the first order.

“The ways in which issues and the popular will on any issue are being manufactured,” Schumpeter states, “is exactly analogous to the ways of commercial advertising.”  That is, “mere assertion, often repeated, counts more than rational argument” for the average voter.  Rational argument takes a back seat as well to “the direct attack upon the subconscious” inflicted upon him by politicians and their accomplices in the news media.  As in commercial advertising, these attacks assume “the form of attempts to evoke and crystallize pleasant associations of an entirely extra-rational…nature.” 

Schumpeter concludes:

“Thus the typical citizen drops down to a lower level of mental performance as soon as he enters the political field.  He argues and analyzes in a way which he would readily recognize as infantile within the sphere of his real interests. He becomes a primitive again. His thinking becomes associative and affective.”

Men are not moved by reason alone.  An example from early American history illustrates well this truth. 

In his magisterial, Liberty and Freedom, David Hackett Fischer relays an exchange that transpired in 1843 between Mellen Chamberlain and Captain Levi Preston.  The former was a young scholar in search of the roots of the American Revolution.  The latter was a ninety-one year old veteran of the War for Independence. 

Chamberlain wanted to know why Preston fought at Lexington and Concord.  “Were you oppressed by the Stamp Act?” he asked. Preston replied that he had never seen any stamps and, in any event, “I always understood that none were ever sold.”

Next Chamberlain asked him if it was the tea tax that had provoked him. Preston scoffed at this suggestion just as forcefully as he scoffed at the idea that he may have felt oppressed by the Stamp Act.  “Tea tax?  I never drank a drop of the stuff.  The boys threw it all overboard.”

When Chamberlain questioned whether Preston had drawn his inspiration from such great theorists of liberty as [James] Harrington, [Algernon] Sidney, and [John] Locke, the old man said bluntly: “I never heard of these men.  The only books we had were the Bible, the Catechism, Watts’ Psalms, and hymns and the almanacs.”

Finally, as if to throw up his hands in exasperation, Chamberlain asked: “Well, then, what was the matter?” Preston’s response is telling.  “Young man,” he began, “what we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: we always had been free, and we meant to be free always.  They didn’t mean that we should.”

It is not reason, not bare facts, from which our motion originates.  Republicans need to remember this the next time they are tempted to use a televised debate or a campaign speech for but another opportunity to throw around abstract numbers about debts and deficits and anything else.

 

 

Near the close of the Vice Presidential debate in Kentucky on Wednesday night, moderator Martha Raddatz asked Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan about the relationship between their faith and their politics.

What she really wanted to know about, though, is their respective views on abortion.

Biden and Ryan are both self-avowed Roman Catholics.  As such, one would expect that the Church’s 2,000 year-old prohibition of abortion would count for something by their lights. 

And, to hear them both tell it, it does indeed.

Biden and Ryan insisted that, along with Catholics past and present, they reject abortion.  Biden’s answer was particularly interesting.

“With regard to—with regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion as a—what we call de fide.  Life begins at conception.  That’s the church’s judgment.  I accept it in my personal life.”

To judge just from these remarks, the Vice President’s position on this issue appears unequivocal: he accepts the Catholic Church’s view that abortion is an intrinsically immoral act.  However, not unlike every other prominent contemporary Catholic Democrat, Biden is quick to qualify his stance with the assurance that, unlike his opponent, he would never attempt to “impose” it upon others.

“But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews and—I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the congressman.”  Furthermore, Biden adds, “I do not believe that—that we have a right to tell other people,” particularly women, that “they—they can’t control their body.”

In an age when moral inconsistency is the rule of the day, it takes some doing to distinguish oneself as the moral idiot par excellence.  Yet this is just what Biden succeeded in doing here.

Biden claims that he agrees with the Church’s judgment that a human life comes into existence at conception. And he claims to agree with it that abortion is an evil. But the Church judges abortion as an evil simply and solely because it consists in the unjustified destruction of that innocent life that began at conception. 

Abortion, that is, is evil for the same reason that it is immoral to unjustifiably destroy any human being—regardless of whether he is in the womb or outside of it.

In other words, if Biden is sincere about agreeing with the teaching of his Church on abortion, then he has just as much an obligation to do what he can to prevent the destruction of unborn human beings as he has an obligation to prevent the destruction of those human beings who have already been born.

However, Biden maintains that he hasn’t “the right” to proscribe women from pursuing an abortion.  This, evidently, means that he holds that it is immoral for him or any other champion of the sanctity of human life to “impose” their belief upon others.

This is a most peculiar line of reasoning—especially as it is coming from a man who just finished informing a national audience that his “religion defines who I am.”  What in your faith, we may ask Vice President Biden, which teaching of the Church, prevents you from “imposing” this view of yours on abortion upon others?  

Biden says that it is his faith—“Catholic social doctrine” specifically—that motivates him to care for those “who can’t take care of themselves, people who need help.”  It is on the basis of this religious belief of his that he supports a robust welfare state. Democratic politicians from John Kerry to Barack Obama, Charley Rangel to Andrew Cuomo, Nancy Pelosi to, now, Joe Biden, routinely seek to justify their leviathan of redistributionist policies in terms of Christianity’s teachings on helping the poor.

That is, Biden certainly has no reservations about “imposing” this view of his upon those who either reject Catholic teaching in this respect or Biden’s interpretation of it.

To put this in perspective, Biden, for some reason that remains unclear, thinks that it is wrong—a violation his faith?—to “impose” upon those who don’t share his belief that abortion is unwarranted homicide, yet he does not think it is wrong for him to coerce his fellow Americans to part with their hard earned resources in order that others may take possession of them.

So, it is ok for Biden to impose some of his religious beliefs, but not others—or at least not his belief that abortion is immoral. 

Why?

We are left with one of two possible answers to this question.  The one possibility is that there is some Catholic doctrine or other that requires Catholics and Catholic politicians to put up zero resistance to abortion in public life.  The other possibility is that Joe Biden is full of the very same “malarkey” of which he accused Paul Ryan of being full.

As a practicing Catholic myself, my money is on the latter option.   

 

 

 

Over the span of the last four years, there has been much talk over whether or not our 44th president is a socialist.  Of course, that Barack Obama is a socialist will be denied only by those who choose to give his redistributionist agenda a different name.  But in the final weeks leading up to Election Day, we ought to realize that Obama is no less committed to another ideology, one that hasn’t been nearly as often remarked upon.

Obama, you see, is every bit as much a proponent of blackism as he is a champion of socialism.  In fact, it is his embrace of the former that explains his embrace of the latter.

Like any other ideology, blackism consists of a small handful of basic, interrelated principles.   

First, the blackist affirms an explicitly—and thoroughly—racial conception of history.  Historical actors, here, are nothing more or less than abstract racial categories—whites, blacks, etc.  And history is an epic melodrama, a perpetual contest between the forces of white “racism” or “supremacy,” on the one hand, and, on the other, the “oppression” suffered by people of color. 

Second, white racism is endemic.  This the blackist must believe with all of his heart.  Whatever gains black Americans and formerly colonized peoples of color in other parts of the world have made over the decades, white racism remains as formidable, and destructive, a force as it has ever been. This explains the blackist’s insistence that white racism, far from diminishing, has simply gone covert.

Third, blackism demands of all of its adherents in good standing that, whenever possible, they express some measure of indignation or rage regarding the historical injustices suffered by blacks and the persistent omnipresence of—what else?—white racism.

Fourth, the blackist unabashedly heeds the call of “social” or “racial justice.”  What this in turn means is that he must favor a robust and activist government, for only such a government will possess the power necessary to compensate blacks for the past harms that had been visited upon them by white racism.  And only such a government will be strong enough to protect them against its ravages in the present and future.

Finally, central to blackism is the idea of “racial authenticity.”  Racial authenticity can be achieved, it promises, by way of the very simple act of affirming blackism!

Like all ideologies, the ideology of blackism is a distillation of what we may call “black culture.”  It is the cliff note, so to speak, the Reader’s Digest version, of a complex of black cultural traditions stretching back centuries.

In theory, the tenets of blackism can be affirmed by anyone.  However, only a biologically black person can be a blackist.  That is, it is instant made for just those blacks like Barack Obama who, while biologically black, know next to nothing about black culture.  For those blacks, like Obama, who are in search of racial authenticity, the ideology of blackism is their Rosetta stone.  It is their salvation.  The reason for this is simple.

To genuinely know a tradition well enough to make it one’s own, it is necessary to immerse oneself in it.  In glaring contrast, the knowledge of an ideology can be mastered by anyone in no time at all, for an ideology is constituted by just a few simple propositions that any school child can effortlessly confine to memory.     

The blackist par excellence was, not coincidentally, the one person whose autobiography Obama alludes to more than any other book in his first memoir: Malcolm X. 

Malcolm would invoke “the authority of history,” as he put it, in condemning whites for having “stole our fathers and mothers from their culture of silk and satins” and bringing “them to this land in the belly of a ship [.]”  He famously declared that blacks “didn’t land on Plymouth Rock,” but “Plymouth Rock landed” on blacks.

Malcolm also blasted whites for having secured their “position of leadership in the world” through “conquering, killing, exploiting, pillaging, raping, bullying” and “beating.”  Throughout the white man’s “entire advance through history, he has been waving the banner of Christianity” in the one hand and, in the other, “the sword and the flintlock,” Malcolm charged.

The light-complexioned Malcolm, who, like Obama, was raised and schooled within a predominantly white environment, never spared an occasion to assert his racial authenticity.  In addition to decrying white racism from the rooftops, he was also fond of blasting other blacks—like Martin Luther King, Booker Washington, Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis, and Roy Wilkins—as “Uncle Toms.” 

Obama, obviously, is not of the same temperament as Malcolm.  But he is every bit as much of a blackist.

As its subtitle makes abundantly clear, his first memoir was designed to be “a story of race.”  This alone weighs substantially in favor of this thesis. But if this doesn’t convince, there is much more evidence ready at hand.

Obama has a long history of allying himself with the most radical and anti-American of types, it is true.  But it is his 20-plus year relationship with his pastor and friend, the self-avowed champion of Black Liberation Theology and Louis Farrakhan admirer, Jeremiah Wright, which most decisively determines his allegiance to blackism. 

Yet now that Obama has had four years to govern, we can see that he hasn’t governed in a manner that is appreciably different from that which we could expect from Wright himself. 

As Pat Buchanan and other commentators have noted, Obama’s redistributionist policies have the effect of disproportionately benefitting blacks while disproportionately harming those whites whose resources will be confiscated to fund these policies.

Obama has uttered not a word to stop his supporters from charging his opponents with racism.  He has actually exacerbated interracial relations by siding with those blacks, like Trayvon Martin and Henry Louis Gates, who were involved in nationally publicized confrontations with whites.  Flash mobs have formed all across the country during Obama’s tenure, yet he has been silent in the face of these orgies of black-on-white violence.

His appointments, from Eric Holder to Van Jones, further reveal Obama’s racial commitments.

Going into the voting booth on November 6, let us realize that while our current president is an ideologue, the ideology to which he is most attached—and that is most dangerous—is not socialism or leftism.

It is blackism.

Many of my fellow Paul supporters insist that in this year’s presidential election, under no circumstances will they vote for either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama.  Even if one of these two candidates can rightly be judged the lesser of two evils, an evil is still an evil.

And one must never will an object that conscience has declared to be an evil.

The great Christian thinker Thomas Aquinas agreed.  However, he was quick to make two observations.

First, conscience, because it is nothing else than a species of reason, does indeed go wrong.  Just because my conscience declares this or that to be a good or an evil doesn’t make it so: each object of the will is good or bad independently of what we happen to think of it.

Secondly, one’s ignorance of the moral significance of an object may or may not be pardonable.  For instance, ignorance of right and wrong—the natural law, Aquinas would say—fails as miserably as a justification for evil doing as ignorance of the law fails as a justification in court for unlawfulness.

There are just some things of which we must be aware.

In light of this highly attenuated account of Aquinas’ ethical analysis, it is safe to say that while my fellow Paul supporters are correct in their judgment that conscience forbids us from deliberately choosing evil, it is their application of this principle to the presidential election that demands further examination.

Liberty is a good.  Paul supporters recognize this.  But what is liberty? Liberty consists in a decentralization of authority and a diffusion of power.  Paul supporters know this also.  They know that the more centralized a government, the less free are its citizens.  In desiring liberty above all, every Paul supporter seeks, then, a decentralized government.

Sadly, it has been quite some time—arguably a century-and-a-half—since Americahas had anything even remotely approximating a federal government of the scope and size delineated by our Constitution.  So, Paul supporters know—or at least should know—that if such a lost governmental structure is ever to be restored, it is not going to happen over the next four to eight years—regardless of whether our President over this time is named Obama, Romney, or Paul. 

We must judge matters from where we are at.  In other words, ignorance of our reality—ignorance of the immensity of our national government, say, and ignorance of the sheer powerlessness of any one person or even group of persons to scale it back to so much as a shadow of its counterpart from the eighteenth century—is inexcusable.  To make a decision regarding something as momentous as the future of our country on the basis of this sort of ignorance—even if it accords with one’s conscience—is to condemn oneself.

You should know better. 

From the standpoint of liberty, I agree that Paul is a better choice than Romney.  As I have already indicated, though, this is not because Paul would necessarily be able to do all that much more than Romney would be able to do in the way of freeing up the American citizen.  But he would at least be willing to do more than Romney.  And, at this stage in our national life, this makes him a better choice. 

Paul, however, is no longer an option.  Still, the same reasoning that drives the liberty lover to choose Paul over Romney should drive him to prefer Romney to Obama: though Romney is not going to be able to dramatically reduce, or reduce at all, the size of government, he is resolved to prevent it from growing to the size that Obama desires.

There are a number of policies that Romney advocates that are less inimical to liberty than are those advanced by Obama.  The latter—like Obamacare, for example—Romney promises to repeal.  Will Romney follow through?  No one–maybe even Romney himself–can know for sure.  But even if he doesn’t, that he has pledged to reduce the scope of the federal government while Obama has pledged to expand it yet further should be enough to bring the lover of liberty around to his side.

Think of it this way: if your loved one, your child say, had a terminal illness and there was the slightest—just the slightest—chance that he could be either saved or maybe even kept alive longer in the hope that, in the meantime, a cure may be discovered, would you not jump at the chance to stop the Grim Reaper from claiming him then and there? 

Our country is our loved one, and it is sick.  It is very sick.  We should attend to it with all of the care and concern, all of the sobriety, with which we would attend to our children.

But, the Paul supporter will object, even if Romney is the lesser of two evils, the lesser of two evils is still an evil, and it is always wrong to choose an evil!

To meet this objection, we should again turn to Aquinas.

Aquinas articulated what has since been recognized by theologians and ethicists as the doctrine of “double effect.”  The doctrine asserts that since moral worth hinges primarily upon an agent’s intention, it is permissible for a person to will a course of action that he foresees will have bad consequences if the consequences are unintended and the action is necessary in order to prevent a greater evil. 

For example, suicide is always immoral.  Even if a person is terminally ill, it is not permissible for him to intend his own death.  But suppose a terminally ill person seeks not to end his life, but to administer to himself dosages of morphine sufficient to relieve his pain but equally sufficient to end his life.  This would be permissible, for though death is a foreseeable consequence of his action, it is not an intended one.  It is an unintended side effect of a non-suicidal act: an act intended to relieve pain—not end life.  

It is indeed always and everywhere unacceptable to willingly choose what one thinks is evil.  Yet even if one is convinced that Romney is the lesser of two evils, in voting for him, one need no more be guilty of choosing an evil than a terminally ill person who consumes a lethal dosage of morphine to relieve pain can be said to be guilty of having chosen evil.  A liberty lover needn’t be any more attracted to any of Romney’s policies in order to vote for the Republican nominee than need the prospect of a fatal drug overdose appeal to the terminal patient in search of pain relief, or chemotherapy appeal to a cancer patient.

The liberty lover simply (yet reasonably) needs to believe that the only way to achieve some measure—any measure—of relief for his country from Obama’s liberty-eroding agenda to “fundamentally transform” it is to vote our 44th president out of office.

However, the only way to do this is to vote for Mitt Romney.