Yesterday we looked at what you can’t do: mix politics and religion. When we start basing things in the realm of natural law, or human positive law based on the natural law, on faith, we’re just asking for trouble.
By insisting that the natural law is based on anything other than reason, that is, knowledge arrived at through the intellect and the senses, absolutes are eliminated, and everything becomes opinion. Before he became a Catholic, G.K. Chesterton called the shift from reason to faith (usually in one’s own opinion or “the inner light”) the “suicide of thought” (Orthodoxy, 1908, Chapter III).
Fulton Sheen, who was inspired (at least in part) to write God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy (1925) by Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, called this shift “mental suicide,” combining Aquinas’s “intellectual self-annihilation” and Chesterton’s chapter heading. (As an Anglican, the “Apostle of Common Sense” seems to have been unaware that in Orthodoxy he was reiterating Aquinas’s argument.)
Chesterton, in Saint Thomas Aquinas: The “Dumb Ox” (1933), his “semi-sequel” to Sheen’s book, God and Intelligence (to which he wrote the introduction), referred to the shift from reason to faith, or from knowledge to opinion, as “the assassination of Thomism.”
Denying that faith must be grounded in reason, that knowledge of God’s existence and of the natural law can be through reason alone, or that faith cannot contradict reason, is the basis of what is called modernism in religious society (“the synthesis of all heresies”), and positivism in civil society. It is, as the popes and others have argued, the basis for totalitarianism.
This is because, where reason requires sound argument or empirical evidence — facts — faith severed from reason, or used as the foundation of reason (instead of the proper order of reason being the foundation of faith) requires only that those who wish to force their opinions on others have the power to do so. Might makes right. Something is not true because it can be proved, but because others can be coerced into accepting it.
This has caused massive frustration as the “new things” Leo XIII noted have undermined society. People accept on faith that certain things are right, but other people and the system seem determined to do what is not right; reason and faith seem to be in opposition. That being the case — and this was the mistake made by the Inquisition — people must be forced to do what is right. Essential rights, virtues, the natural law, even human nature must be redefined to fit the pattern dictated by faith. Which faith? Whichever one people can be coerced into accepting.
That, however, is precisely the wrong thing to do. The correct response to the growing social, political, and economic chaos today is not to force results, but to organize and study the situation to determine the cause(s) of the problems (social charity), and then restructure the institutions of the social order to enable the system to work properly (social justice). This was the breakthrough of Pius XI, building on the work of Leo XIII.
In the interim, it will be necessary as an act of individual charity or political prudence (expedience) to provide for those individual goods that people are unable to provide for themselves through their own efforts, at least until the social order is restructured. The latter, State redistribution, a non-objective evil, is allowed under the principle of double effect.
State redistribution is not, however, and can never be social justice, which is the particular virtue directed to the common good, that vast network of institutions within which people realize their individual goods. Nor is it distributive justice, except in the very broad sense that any justifiable acts carried out by the State constitute “distributive justice,” an interpretation that does extreme violence to the true meaning of distributive justice.
Thus, such measures as the Inquisition or the Welfare State may be necessary in the short term (although there can, no doubt, be endless discussion as to whether the Inquisition was truly necessary, or violated fundamental human rights — that is not the issue here), but they are not, and can never be, a solution. They are expedients to address an emergency.
The only real solution to counter the “new things” is the act of social justice, by means of which the social order is restructured so that people can take care of themselves through their own efforts. They will thereby become more fully human by exercising their natural rights, and the environment is provided wherein people can exercise freedom of conscience with respect to their religious beliefs without coercion from other individuals, groups, or, especially, the State.
Anything less — or more — is tyranny.