Most readers of Newsweek magazine dated 04/13/09 probably missed the less-than-subtle irony of the ad between pages 42 and 43 in an issue titled, "The Decline and Fall of Christian America." The ad displayed a photograph of a vaguely 19th century gentleman with "mutton chop" side-whiskers and a blazer with "OZ" prominently embroidered on the right-hand side of the coat. The ad promoted a federal government-sponsored website by querying, "Have you ever wondered how the Wizard of Oz seemed to know everything?" and stating that the website could "make you as all-knowing as the Wizard of Oz."
Right. Evidently the ad agency hired by the U.S. General Services Administration for their "public service message" promoting their own omniscience never actually read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum or saw the 1925 or 1939 film adaptations. There's some excuse for not viewing the 1925 version, as it is considered, in spite of the appearance of the great Oliver Hardy, as the worst adaptation of a book to film in history. Nevertheless, despite the 1925 film's crimes against humanity (Dorothy Dwan — not a misprint — who plays Dorothy, is portrayed as a flapper), the character of the Wizard as a fraud and a conman (although well-intentioned) was retained, and carried over into the 1939 remake.
Thus in the feature article of the 04/13/09 issue of Newsweek we have the obvious dethronement of "the Christian God" in America. This is juxtaposed with the promotion of the United States government as an all-knowing, all-wise, and very likely omnipotent replacement, freely offering people the fruit of the modern equivalent of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil . . . with the Being many people regard as absolute good derided as unimportant: "The Christian God isn't dead. But he's less of a force in U.S. politics and culture than at any other time in recent memory." (p. 36.) Evidently the ad agency and the editorial department of Newsweek counted on people not realizing that in the Christian mythos it was not God, but Satan, who offered free access to all knowledge without first properly forming one's conscience and developing man's natural capacity to know right from wrong.
The conclusion of Newsweek simply states the obvious. The "Christian God," who is, by popular rumor, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and thus the Jewish and Islamic God as well, has effectively been a nullity for some time. This is due principally to the rejection of the Aristotelian understanding of the natural law as the basis for civilization, and the consequent decay of the west as well as the confusion rampant in the east.
What is the connection between rejection of the thought of a dead, white, semi-European pagan (well, pagan's not so bad) male, the "decline and fall of Christian America," and the moral, political, and economic chaos that assails the world today?
The full explanation is complex and would strike most people as extremely esoteric, but we can briefly summarize for the purposes of this posting. According to Aristotle, "good" is "that at which all men aim." In other words, we can know what is "good" because of the common consent of all mankind that a particular thing is "good." The principles that all mankind perceives, however dimly, as "good" are the absolute precepts of the "natural law" embedded in each human being. That is, if a principle can be shown to be part of the natural law, it is binding on every human being simply because he or she is human.
Thus, precepts such as prohibitions against murder, theft, adultery, false witness, and so on, which members of a particular religion might believe were received from their particular god (as all, ultimately, do, as the noted jurist Dr. Heinrich Rommen pointed out), an individual does not need to believe in that particular religion in order to be bound by the precepts. Such things are prohibited not because some deity said so, but because, being contrary to human nature as perceived by the common consent of all mankind, they are inherently wrong.
Thomas Aquinas, the Christian Aristotelian, in common with Moses Maimonides, Aquinas' correspondent and fellow-Aristotelian, and Ibn Khaldûn, the orthodox Islamic Aristotelian who came a few centuries after Aquinas and Maimonides, refined Aristotle's concept. They concluded, based on the shared belief that God created man in God's own image and likeness, that what the common consent of all mankind regards as "good" must also, logically, be consistent with God's Nature.
Thus, even though a Christian might believe in the divinity of Jesus who delivered the fulfillment of the law, a Jew that the Tables of the Law were handed down on Mount Sinai personally to Moses, and a Muslim in the validity of the revelation to Mohammed by the angel Jibril, belief in any of these things is not necessary to the truth of the precepts of the natural law that they teach. The essential precepts remain true whether or not someone has ever heard of Jesus, Moses, or Mohammed, or read a line of the New Testament, the Torah, or the Qu'ran. Aquinas referred to this as "primacy of the Intellect," meaning that it is possible to know right from wrong by the unhampered and unaided use of human reason.
Unfortunately, there is another view of the matter, one which we will cover in tomorrow's posting.