Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Lies, Damned Lies, and Definitions, XIII: The Road to Nihilism — What God?

In yesterday's posting we saw that Hugo Grotius resolved his paradox of giving equal standing to faith and reason by effectively dethroning reason while remaining a rationalist. This is, in fact, child's play for someone who bases the natural law on his own private interpretation of something he believes to be a command from God. The problem here is, what God are we supposed to use in all this?

That the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the God whose Word we are to obey, and that He gave humanity the Bible — "Holy Scripture" — as His infallible Word and the vessel containing the natural law is a matter of faith, not reason. It is therefore opinion, not knowledge. We cannot know by reason alone that God speaks to us in the Bible; the Bible is a book written by believers for believers, and cannot apply to anyone who does not believe that the Bible is the Word of God.

By giving opinion the same status as knowledge, Grotius laid the foundation for the massive confusion we see around us today. All people being equally human, all opinions are equally valid . . . unless, of course, you don't mind clubbing anyone who happens to disagree with you. In that case the one who can force others to do his will must be in the right. Might makes right. When I want your opinion, I'll give it to you.

Grotius's system could only work by his becoming very vague on definition, and — despite his doubletalk about the use of reason — by shifting the basis of the natural law from God's Nature, self-realized in His Intellect, to his personal interpretation of something he believed to be God's expressed Will, from reason to faith.

More honest (though less consistent) than Occam, however, Grotius insisted that God cannot turn evil into good by His mere command; that the natural law, even though based on God's Will, cannot be changed by God's Will. This, too, is a confusing paradox, because in effect it removes the necessity of God from the universe — to say nothing of making God's commands greater than God Himself! As Grotius himself admitted,

"What we have been saying would have a degree of validity even if we should concede that which cannot be conceded without the utmost wickedness, that there is no God, or that the affairs of men are of no concern to Him." (Prolegomena, II.)

Grotius's great achievement was to put forth a concept of international law that would operate among nation-states even in times of war. This was a return to the idea of the essential unity of the human race found in the scholastic philosophers of the Middle Ages. The problem was that this was accomplished only at a very high cost, and established on a very unstable foundation: the shift in the basis of the law from Intellect to Will. As Rommen analyzed Grotius's position,

"Grotius was a rationalist. He believed it possible to derive by strict logic a suitable system of rational law having force that would be great enough to bind the will: a body of law with detailed prescriptions covering debts and property, the family institution and inheritance. The Scholastics, on the other hand, considered only the general institutions themselves of marriage, property, and contract as belonging to natural law, not the particular prescriptions about marriage and the family, possession and the form of private ownership, and the like." (Rommen, The Natural Law, op. cit., 65.)

It is easy to see in this the roots of Keynes's contention that the State has the power to "re-edit the dictionary." Objective and demonstrable truth of anything becomes irrelevant when not accepted on the basis of faith; "It's not our way" becomes a valid excuse for ignoring or attacking something or someone for the fact of differing. Being different, in fact, becomes a crime, to be punished sometimes with death.

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