As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, how we understand the meaning and purpose of life has a significant effect on our thinking. If we think that this life is primarily or solely to establish a perfect world — what the early socialists called “the Kingdom of God on Earth” — then anything that gets in the way of building a perfect society can and must be eliminated. The end justifies the means.
Of course, there is also the small matter of who decides what blueprint to use for the Perfect World. It’s astonishing how many different forms a totalitarian society can take, depending on their criteria of perfection.
That may present a problem if the society in which the godly or the perfect live choose not to accept that particular vision. As historian Christopher Dawson noted more than once in chronicling the spiritual and cultural decline of the West, a common response among the godly or the perfect is to reject modern culture and — in a sense — “retreat to the catacombs” to get away from the world of sin or unacceptable behavior.
This response, while grossly inadequate, at least acknowledges that there must be objective and even absolute standards of human conduct, i.e., the natural law. It is not, however, the Aristotelian-Thomist understanding of natural law in its strictest sense, that is, based on reason guided and illuminated by faith.
Instead, while lip service may be paid to reason, and the necessity of faith and reason going together, there is a subtle shift in the basis of natural law from reason to faith. This was the error of Hugo Grotius, the so-called “Father of Natural Law,” who was chiefly responsible for the change, or at least the most consistent in developing his theories. (Rommen, The Natural Law, op. cit., 62-66.)
In the thought of Grotius, the basis of the natural law changes from God’s Nature reflected in that of human beings, to God’s commands as interpreted by some authority one accepts. Something ceases to be right because God — and thus human nature — is so, to being right because God (or whatever one puts in the place of God) says so. Law changes from being reasonable (lex ratio — “law is reason”), to being arbitrary (lex voluntas — “law is will”).
If “law is will,” the Lawgiver or any other absolute standard becomes unnecessary once you have the law. As Grotius explained, “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.” (Hugo Grotius, De Jure Belli ac Pacis Libri Tres, Proloegomena, II, Oxford-London, 1925. Cited in Rommen, The Natural Law, op. cit., 62.)
While Grotius’s analysis was not as crudely put as Kallikles the Sophist’s “might makes right,” the result is the same. Instead of a worldview based on empirical evidence and logical consistency, you put faith in that which controls you or that you find most compatible with your own opinion. (According to Kallikles the Sophist, natural justice demands that superior men take over the power and possessions of those who are inferior. Plato, Gorgias, 484c. Despite the possibility that Kallikles may be a character invented by Plato to refute a theory with which he disagreed, Kallikles’s position influenced such later philosophers as Machiavelli and Nietzsche.)
|Msgr. Ronald Knox|
People become divided into the godly or perfect (those with whom you agree) and the ungodly or imperfect (those with whom you disagree), into persons (who have rights) and non-persons (who have no rights), or even in extreme instances into humans (“us”) and non-humans (“them”). Msgr. Ronald Knox’s analysis of this phenomenon — which he called “enthusiasm” or “ultrasupernaturalism,” and defined as “an excess of charity [that] threatens unity” (Knox, Enthusiasm, op. cit., 1) — is an education in itself.
According to Knox, the enthusiast believes himself to be a member of a group especially chosen by God, either to save the world or survive as a remnant once Satan or who- or whatever has taken to himself the ungodly, the worldly, or the unawakened. Inevitably, it sooner or later becomes perceived as a virtual necessity for the godly to separate from the ungodly if the righteous do not have the power to force the unrighteous to become virtuous. As Knox explained,
God’s elect people, although they must perforce live cheek by jowl with the sons of perdition, claim another citizenship and own another allegiance. For the sake of peace and charity, they will submit themselves to every ordinance of man, but always under protest; worldly governments, being of purely human institution, have no real mandate to exercise authority, and sinful folk have no real rights, although, out of courtesy, their fancied rights must be respected. Always the enthusiast hankers after a theocracy, in which the anomalies of the present situation will be done away, and the righteous bear rule openly. Disappointed of this hope, a group of sectaries will sometimes go out into the wilderness, and set up a little theocracy of their own. (Ibid., 3.)
Enthusiasts are suffused with the idea that the surrounding culture is too sinful to tolerate or even to survive. Their only recourse is to retreat to the wilderness (or some equivalent) and found a City Upon the Hill where life can be lived in a godly manner.
|"Dear Sirs, that's not what I meant."|
Generally, lip service is paid to the need to do something about the surrounding culture. This is usually in terms of inspiring — or even coercing — a conversion to whatever faith or philosophy motivates the individual or group.
Forced conversions, however, are rarely if ever real conversions. It is also contrary to so many fundamental principles to force religious belief on others that it is should not even be mentioned, much less given serious consideration.
At least as repellent as forced conversions is the growing tendency not merely to regard the ungodly or the un-whatevers as having no rights, but to act on it. Anyone outside the number of the chosen is fair game. After all, did not Saint Paul himself say that all things are lawful to the elect? (1 Cor. 6:12, 10:23; Rom. 14:14.) Of course, Msgr. Knox noted that what Saint Paul really meant was not anything like what such godly folk desperately want it to mean, but so what? As long as it gets you what you want, who cares except the ungodly, and they don’t matter.
It becomes allowable to do what you will to the ungodly. More, the conviction grows that God commands you to lie, cheat and steal, even torture and kill anyone stubborn enough not to accept your views, or — horror of horrors! — perversely accepts them the wrong way. And that, as we will see in the next posting on this subject, resulted in some very bizarre conclusions.#30#