Thursday, November 21, 2019

Against candy-ass Christianity


The Mr. Rogers biopic, with Tom Hanks in the starring role, comes out this week and has been getting a lot of positive attention – in some cases, embarrassingly rapturous attention.  This might seem surprising coming from Hollywood types and secular liberals, given that Rogers was a Presbyterian minister.  But of course, Rogers’ adherence to Christian teaching has nothing to do with it.  Commenting on the movie, Angelus magazine reports that “Hanks mentions that Rogers was indeed an ordained minister but seems to take comfort that Rogers ‘never mentioned God in his show.’”  In the movie’s trailer, a man says to Mr. Rogers “You love broken people, like me,” to which Rogers replies “I don’t think you are broken” – never mind the doctrine of original sin.
 
So, why the adulation?  The movie poster reminds us that “we could all use a little kindness.”  The Daily Beast story linked to above tells us that Rogers was America’s “one true hero” and that “Hanks could very well be a living saint,” all because of their extraordinary… “niceness.”  Indeed, “Tom Hanks playing Mr. Rogers may save us all,” because the movie reminds us that “the world we live in now still does have niceness in it.”

Niceness.  Well, it has its place.  But the Christ who angrily overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, who taught a moral code more austere than that of the Pharisees, and who threatened unrepentant sinners with the fiery furnace, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, was not exactly “nice.”

Now, my point is not to criticize Rogers himself, who I’m sure was a decent fellow, and who was, after all, simply hosting a children’s program.  I don’t know anything about his personal theological opinions, and I don’t know whether the movie accurately represents them or even refers to them at all.  The point is to comment on the idea that an inoffensive “niceness” is somehow the essence of the true Christian, or at least of any Christian worthy of the liberal’s respect.  For it is an idea that even a great many churchmen seem to have bought into. 

This is evident from the innumerable vapid sermons one hears about God’s love and acceptance and forgiveness, but never about divine judgment or the moral teachings to which modern people are most resistant – and which, precisely for that reason, they most need to hear expounded and defended.  And it is evident in the tendency of modern Catholic bishops to emphasize dialogue and common ground rather than conversion, orthodoxy, and doctrinal precision, and to speak of the Church’s teachings on sexual morality, if at all, only half-apologetically, in vague and soft language, and in a manner hedged with endless qualifications. 

Such “niceness” is in no way a part of Christian morality.  It is a distortion of the virtues of meekness (which is simply moderation in anger – as opposed to too much or too little anger), and friendliness (which is a matter of exhibiting the right degree of affability necessary for decent social order – as opposed to too little affability or too much). 

As always, St. Thomas illuminates where modern churchmen obfuscate.  Where meekness is concerned, Aquinas notes that just as anger should not be excessive or directed at the wrong object, so too can one be deficient in anger, and that this too can be sinful.  For anger is nature’s way of prodding us to act to set things right when they are in some way disordered.  The absence of anger in cases where it is called for is, for that reason, a moral defect, and a habit of responding to evils with insufficient anger is a vice.  Thus, as Aquinas writes in Summa Theologiae II-II.158.1:

Chrysostom says: “He that is angry without cause, shall be in danger; but he that is angry with cause, shall not be in danger: for without anger, teaching will be useless, judgments unstable, crimes unchecked.” Therefore to be angry is not always an evil…

[I]f one is angry in accordance with right reason, one's anger is deserving of praise

It is unlawful to desire vengeance considered as evil to the man who is to be punished, but it is praiseworthy to desire vengeance as a corrective of vice and for the good of justice.

And as he adds in Summa Theologiae II-II.158.8:

[As] Chrysostom says: “He who is not angry, whereas he has cause to be, sins.  For unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices, it fosters negligence, and incites not only the wicked but even the good to do wrong.” …

Anger… [is] a simple movement of the will, whereby one inflicts punishment, not through passion, but in virtue of a judgment of the reason: and thus without doubt lack of anger is a sin

Hence the movement of anger in the sensitive appetite cannot be lacking altogether, unless the movement of the will be altogether lacking or weak.  Consequently lack of the passion of anger is also a vice, even as the lack of movement in the will directed to punishment by the judgment of reason

The lack of anger is a sign that the judgment of reason is lacking.

End quote.  On the subject of friendliness or affability, Aquinas notes that just as one can be deficient in this trait and thus difficult for others to get along with, it is also possible to go too far in the other direction.  In Summa Theologiae II-II.114.1 he writes:

[F]or the sake of some good that will result, or in order to avoid some evil, the virtuous man will sometimes not shrink from bringing sorrow to those among whom he lives… For this reason we should not show a cheerful face to those who are given to sin, in order that we may please them, lest we seem to consent to their sin, and in a way encourage them to sin further.

And in Summa Theologiae II-II.115.1 he describes such excess as a vice opposed to genuine friendliness:

[A]lthough the friendship of which we have been speaking, or affability, intends chiefly the pleasure of those among whom one lives, yet it does not fear to displease when it is a question of obtaining a certain good, or of avoiding a certain evil.  Accordingly, if a man were to wish always to speak pleasantly to others, he would exceed the mode of pleasing, and would therefore sin by excess.  If he do this with the mere intention of pleasing he is said to be “complaisant,” according to the Philosopher (Ethic. iv, 6).

To be “complaisant” in this sense is to be agreeable, amiable, or keen to please.  It is, in short, to be Mr. Rogers-like.  And that is not only not per se Christ-like, it can, as Aquinas says, even be sinful if what is called for is talk that is bracingly frank and displeasing.

What is the root of these vices masquerading as the pseudo-virtue of “niceness”?  I would suggest that it is twofold, in part an error of the intellect and in part a malady of the will.  The intellectual error is the one that Pope Leo XIII referred to as “Americanism” – in particular, the

principle… that, in order to more easily attract those who differ from her, the Church should shape her teachings more in accord with the spirit of the age and relax some of her ancient severity and make some concessions to new opinions.  Many think that these concessions should be made not only in regard to ways of living, but even in regard to doctrines which belong to the deposit of the faith.  They contend that it would be opportune, in order to gain those who differ from us, to omit certain points of her teaching which are of lesser importance, and to tone down the meaning which the Church has always attached to them

End quote.  This is essentially the mentality that has come to prevail in the decades since Vatican II.  Eternal damnation, the necessity of conversion to the Catholic faith, the immorality of contraception, and many other unpopular doctrines are simply not much talked about, and are hedged and softened and deemphasized on the rare occasions when they are talked about.  By contrast, the rhetoric of freedom, human dignity, dialogue and ecumenism, and other themes and jargon congenial to the liberal mindset are trumpeted as if they were somehow at the very heart of Catholicism.  The stern gravitas of the Fathers, Doctors, and saints has with many churchmen been replaced by a back-slapping, glad-handing affability. 

Predictably, this has resulted, not in people being drawn to the Church in greater numbers, but rather in a massive decline in observance and orthodoxy among Catholics, and a general assumption among Catholics and non-Catholics alike that the unpopular doctrines are not really important after all and will inevitably be abandoned.

The malady of the will that underlies the contemporary Christian fetish for “niceness” is the one Aquinas labeled effeminacy, by which he meant a softness in the face of even relatively mild difficulties.  In Summa Theologiae II-II.138.1, he explains:

[F]or a man to be ready to forsake a good on account of difficulties which he cannot endure… is what we understand by effeminacy, because a thing is said to be “soft” if it readily yields to the touch.  Now a thing is not declared to be soft through yielding to a heavy blow, for walls yield to the battering-ram.  Wherefore a man is not said to be effeminate if he yields to heavy blows… [P]roperly speaking an effeminate man is one who withdraws from good on account of sorrow caused by lack of pleasure, yielding as it were to a weak motion.

End quote.  Effeminacy in this sense is rife among modern churchmen, who seem to fear controversy above all things, and especially controversy that might earn them the disdain of the secular liberal intelligentsia.  And for most of the last few decades, the worst they would have faced is some bad press.  The way Western culture is turning now, they will probably face far worse than that in the not too distant future – and will face it precisely because they did not speak and act boldly and consistently enough when bad press was all they had to fear.  Appeasement only ever breeds contempt among those appeased, and spurs them to greater evil.

In the end, pseudo-Christian “niceness” will only doom both those who practice it and those they fear to offend.  In the book of Ezekiel, God famously warns those placed as “watchmen” over his people:

If I say to the wicked, O wicked man, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.  But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way; he shall die in his iniquity, but you will have saved your life. (Ezekiel 33: 8-9)

Churchmen take note: A little more harshness might just save your soul, and the souls for which you are responsible – but nice guys finish last.

178 comments:

  1. When you see a condemned man on his way to the gallows, it moves you to pity. If you could do something to free him, you would do it. Well, brothers and sisters, when I see a person in mortal sin, I see someone drawing nearer with every step to the gallows of hell. And seeing him in this unhappy state, I happen to know the way to free him: that he be converted to God, ask God's pardon, and make a good confession. Woe betide me if he does not.
    Neither can I understand why other priests who believe the selfsame truths as I do, as we all must do, do not preach or exhort their flock so that they might avoid this unbearable eternity of Hell. It is still a source of wonder to me how the laity - those men and women blessed with the Faith - do not give warning to those who need it. If a house were to catch fire in the middle of the night, and if the inhabitants of the same house and the other townsfolk were asleep and did not see the danger, would not the one who first noticed it shout and run along the streets, exclaiming: "Fire! Fire! In that house over there!" Then why should there not be a warning of eternal fire to waken those who are drifting in the sleep of sin in such a way that when they open their eyes they will find themselves burning in the eternal flames of Hell?'

    Some relevant wisdom from St. Anthony Mary Claret

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  2. Some good points, but the piece exhibits a vision of Christ and Christianity that is largely inauthentic. Remember who Christ was actually preaching against, namely, the wealthy, the powerful, and the dogmatic religious leaders of his day. These are the people who do need to be preached "at" and harshly.

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    1. I think you're partly mistaken when you say Christ preached against, specifically, the dogmatic religious leaders of the day. He didn't...at least, not because they had dogmas.

      The ability to formulate dogmas is what distinguishes humans from animals. A man's dogmas might be correct, or they might be mistaken, but a man with no dogmas -- like the one you just articulated about who Christ preached against -- barely qualifies as human.

      The principle of non-contradiction, the principle that one ought to do to others as one would have done to oneself: Those are dogmas: Things you don't constantly revisit to see if they're true, but rather use as foundations both for deriving truths and making decisions. (In Catholicism, of course, there's a yet-more-refined sense of the word "dogma" which is this same idea, intensified by a sort of institutional stare decisis.)

      If there is a source of divine revelation in the world, it will naturally be a source that produces reams and reams of what men call "dogmas," and the persons tasked with preaching those truths will be called "dogmatic" by those who resent what they say, but "faithful" by those willing to listen. That much is obvious; but it means that "dogmatic," as an adjective applied to a religious leader, isn't necessarily a rebuke, even when intended as such. It might be the highest compliment a fellow creature can give him!

      The targets of Christ's rebukes surely had dogmas, inasmuch as they were men. But Christ usually rebuked them for laying heavy burdens on others while not lifting a finger to help with those burdens. Or, he rebuked them for simply preaching their dogmas while failing even to try to practice them. Jesus doesn't necessarily disapprove of the teaching itself, but of the failure to live up to it: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice." (Matthew 23:2-3)

      So I think Ed's "vision" of Christ is spot-on, if taken the way he intends it to be used. For he clearly intends it to be taken as a corrective, to balance out the one-sided and diabolically deceptive Very Nice Man picture which most folk have in their heads. Fred Rogers may have been heroically Christlike in a certain way, but he certainly isn't the best human icon of Christ's role as glorious king, husband, prophet, priest, victor, and judge.

      True enough, Ed's view doesn't include much of Jesus' expressions of mercy and tenderness, for that much is already assumed, indeed overstressed. So Ed's "vision" would not be a complete picture if left standing alone. But as a corrective and a counterbalance, it works nicely.

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    2. I needed to read this. Thank you.

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  3. Great piece. We are falling to the idol of comfort and 'niceness.'

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  4. Ed, very well said! Thank you.

    The virtue, of course, lies in hitting the proper and due mean, in between excess and defect. In meekness, we ought to bear some things without complaint - like being last in line or taking the dregs of a communal meal on occasion. But we ought not take some things without complaint, like following along with everyone else when everyone else accepts a suggestion to, say, commit some petty vandalism.

    Likewise, affability implies being easy to get along with in social situations, but not infinite easiness, just the right amount. In the excellent story The Virginian, the narrator makes a mistake in being overly affable out the starting gate with his interactions with the Virginian, but is corrected and eventually becomes a true friend, not just a social acquaintance.

    I would not have thought of connecting excess in affability with the error of Americanism. I thought Americanism is essentially the error of thinking that it is a positive good for a society to be religiously pluralistic, rather than homogeneous. (It seems easy enough to argue against it: how could it possibly be better for a society that is partly Catholic and partly not than to be all Catholic - all other things being equal?) But I suppose that an excess of affability will be a very typical outcome of a widespread erroneous belief in the benefits of pluralism.

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    1. I love Leo XIII. I wish we had him back.

      But as an American, I've always somewhat resented that label, "Americanism." It's like renaming Nazism or Marxism "Europeanism."

      A bad ideology or a bad intellectual habit can infect one country or culture more than another, of course. And perhaps there's a fair bit of "Americanism" in certain Americans. But it isn't obvious to me that either excess affability or inclination to water down Christian doctrine as a concession to the world has ever been quintessentially, distinctively, or constitutionally American in the sense that the national identity of the United States relied on it.

      Is an insistence on private ownership of firearms or the right of any hardscrabble laborer to become a millionaire through clever or lucky entrepreneurialism the same as "excess affability?"

      Is opposing slavery by force-of-arms, waving bayonet-tipped rifles while intoning "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; He is trampling out the vintage
      where the grapes of wrath are stored; He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword; His truth is marching on!" ...is that ruggedly American scene what is meant by "relax[ing] ...ancient severity and mak[ing] some concessions to new opinions?"

      If the shoe fit better, I'd wear it (with shame).

      I just don't think the shoe fits. Not America.

      Now the current crop of American bishops...that might be a better fit, no? Not all of them, though. I'd exclude a few personal heroes of mine like the fellow in Tyler, Texas. Now that guy strikes me as more characteristically American, because he doesn't practice "Americanism."

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    2. R.C., one of the fun and interesting factoids about Leo condemning Americanism is that - as quite a number of theologians have remarked - it is not clear that any American prelates or important authors at the time actually argued for Americanism. So, was it a heresy without a heretic?

      Alternatively, perhaps Leo was being prophetic, in that there certainly are now people who believe Americanism is valid. Probably not the best explanation.

      But it isn't obvious to me that either excess affability or inclination to water down Christian doctrine as a concession to the world has ever been quintessentially, distinctively, or constitutionally American in the sense that the national identity of the United States relied on it.

      Oh, I agree with you. None of these ills are quintessentially American. We could have America, a true and fulsome America, the "real" America, without them.

      Nevertheless, one can rightly say that it is a mark of America that she has managed pluralism in religion rather well, all things considered (not, though, by any means perfectly). And that pluralism has become something of a feature at a minimum very close to being knit into her bones. For example, while initially it was only the federal government that was definitively hands-off about a religious establishment (and most of the colonies originally did have an established religion), during the first American century every one of the states abandoned its religious establishment, and passed state constitutional rules forbidding the establishment of religion. So, while there was no formal necessity that America become a nation that repudiates established religion, she did become so. She did so, not haphazardly and accidentally (which is illustrated by the fact that ALL of the states abandoned established religion, not just some), but as part of the ethos of America at least as they then understood it.

      And the religious indifferentism that followed after that, although it took time to become prevalent, was a clearly foreseeable outcome of that pluralism: manifestly so, because it was a common complaint of those who remained in favor of an established church, that disestablishing religion would lead to indifferentism. And while Pius IX and Leo XIII rightly objected to many more critical errors in the liberal agenda, one of the ones that they repeatedly referred to was that religious indifferentism they saw as firmly connected to liberalism.

      While it is hardly a necessary cause-and-effect feature of religious indifferentism that people who bear this attitude also have an excess of affability, one can still see a causal link between them: the indifferentism at least lends itself to an excess affability (at least about all things religious, if not universally), which provides more social space for such excess to become common, and (eventually) a social norm.

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    3. Tony,

      My brother, that was a truly excellent reply. You made the connections, clearly, without overstating the case. Thank you.

      I'm not sure I agree, though, with one point you made: You say, "So, while there was no formal necessity that America become a nation that repudiates established religion, she did become so."

      I think America has a strand in her DNA that simultaneously requires a certain civic metaphysical dogma -- a sort of minimalist established religion, as it were -- but which also makes the establishment of a (more full-featured) religion, even by the states, untenable.

      The dogma I reference is the claim that declaring independence and forming a more perfect union were within the rights of the people by virtue of "The Laws of Nature and Nature's God," and that the people delegate the authority of the government to it.

      The founders agreed that all authority comes from God. His Moral Law forbids evil; but it also grants each man great liberty to choose which particular goods he spends his time on. When a man acts within the constraints of God's Moral Law, exercises this delegated authority; but when he acts outside those constraints, he is trespassing outside the scope of his delegated authority from God. A sinner is a usurper.

      We know God grants each man just authority to use force to defend the innocent against forcible threats to their lives, freedom, property, etc. (that much is in the Catechism). And God grants each man just authority to hire employees, and to delegate to those employees some subset of his own authority, to be exercised on the man's behalf. (I can pay you to paint my house, because it's my house.) And of course God grants each man just authority to join in Solidarity with other men, to pursue the common good.

      When those three grants of divine authority -- formation of civic/political associations, the hiring of employees, and the delegation to one's employees of one's just authority to forcibly defend the rights of the innocent -- are combined, the result (according to the American civic dogma) is that a government is instituted.

      But does it follow that such a government has just authority to compel this religious observance, in preference over that? That would only seem to follow if each man in We The People had been granted authority from God to point guns at other men to compel their adherence to this or that religion.

      After all, in the American view, the authority of the Federal government is delegated to it; and what authority is not delegated is retained by "the States respectively, or the People." But if each man lacks authority to compel religion, then all of them do. And if We The People lack such authority, how on earth could we delegate it to our employees, the government? You can't delegate authority you don't have!

      So, given the civic dogma of how the people of the United States got just authority to form their own government, certain limitations on the just authority of that government naturally follow: It may only exercise authority that was delegated to it (in the Constitution), and that authority would seem not to include authority to establish a religion. (Unless one argues that God ever delegated me authority to walk next-door, pistol in hand, and forcibly convert my neighbor from Buddhism to Christianity: A tough sell!)

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  5. A society partly Catholic may be better (for us) than one entirely Catholic. In the entirely Catholic society we may become complacent, and think that having been baptised into the right religion we are now OK. Conversion to the faith is just a beginning, not an end. I think that historically we can see complacent and corrupt Catholic regimes in places like pre-revolutionary France.

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    1. Pre-revolutionary France wasn't very Catholic in its official ideology, which was cobbled together in the mid-seventeenth century. The other point about the Church's place in society is that, to take your point to its extreme is that the blood of martyrs might be the seed of the Church. However, denial of the Church's rightful place as objectively an evil.

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    2. You cannot definitively prove the point solely by history because it is impossible to find in history parallel cases that are truly equal in every respect EXCEPT that one is a Catholic country and one is religiously plural.

      Nevertheless, there are plenty of Catholic countries that lasted a long, long time before they became visibly corrupted and complacent in their Catholicism - much longer than it took plural America became the hothouse of religious indifferentism that she has now become. Nor can we find and determine such parallels that allow us to say with even a tiny bit of confidence that "more people in pluralistic Country B have been holy and gone to heaven when they die, than in Catholic Country A, even though all other things are equal". But that should be the ultimate criteria of whether "we" are better off as pluralistic or as a Catholic country.

      So, as far as history goes, it is not at all feasible to demonstrate that a country as a whole will be better off being religiously plural than being a Catholic country. (That's completely independent of principled reasons to prefer that the country be Catholic, of course, the reasons that don't depend on historical details.)

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    3. Tony:

      I'm sympathetic to what you say there, but let me ask:

      When you distinguish between a country which is "religiously plural" and a "Catholic country," how are you defining either category? And what role does the use of force (especially, the use of force in establishing religion) play in either definition?

      It seems to me that in the United States, if through evangelization 60%+ of the population were to become Catholic (with the remainder divided among other groups in roughly the same proportions they have today), the United States would then be a "Catholic country." It would have done so without making Catholicism the official religion (which, given the underlying premises of American government, it lacks authority to do).

      I agree -- of course! -- that it would be better to have a Catholic country in that sense. I'd be even more pleased if the Catholic percentage were higher.

      However, when we make the claim that the United States (and Russia, and the U.K., and Saudi Arabia) ought to be "a Catholic country," the question arises whether we mean that country to become and remain majority-Catholic...
      (a.) as a result of evangelism and voluntary adoption of Catholicism?
      (b.) as a result of economic disincentivization of other faiths, philosophies, and functional-religions (e.g. atheism)?
      (c.) as a result of government-funded compulsory instruction in the tenets of Catholicism?
      (d.) as a result of prohibitions on public argument in favor of ideologies or opinions incompatible with Catholicism?
      (e.) as a result of the exclusion of non-Catholics from voting?
      (f.) as a result of outlawing non-Catholic expressions of worship or places of worship?

      Since the United States cannot, given its theory of how it obtains authority, compel persons in religious adherence, it can't become a Catholic country in the sense of having Catholicism as the established religion.

      But it could easily become a Catholic country if the persons in it were mostly voluntarily Catholic.

      And it seems to me that having your country's population composed mostly of Catholic families is the thing which prevents the most evils (ranging from indifferentism to abortion).

      But if you're arguing for an established religion -- which ain't gonna happen, but just for the sake of argument we'll consider it -- then you have to show that adding compulsion to the mix (a.) is permitted by God's Moral Law, and (b.) helps more than it hurts.

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  6. This piece makes some helpful points about how Mr. Rogers is not simply about niceness. So, obviously, I don't post this as a way of challenging Ed's main point at all but to suggest that - to a certain extent - Fred Rogers might agree:

    https://hillsdaleforum.com/2018/12/12/the-root-of-everything-witnessing-divine-love-in-wont-you-be-my-neighbor/

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  7. Trite and vapid homilies, people scurrying about in an ever multiplying number of "ministries", spineless (but very "nice") bishops , the euphemism of "dialog" . . . Ah the indignities of being entertained.

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  8. I found this article a while back about meekness and found it quite interesting. It comes to some very different conclusions about what "Blessed are the meek" mean than most modern homilists.

    https://www.warriorpriest.net/blog/2018/5/2/blessed-are-the-war-horses-on-christian-meekness

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  9. Interesting post. I would love to hear your comments on texts like Colossians 3:12, 1 Corinthians 13:4, and 2 Timothy 2:24-26.

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    1. Let's take Col 3:12: I'm going to go out on a limb to say I think Ed would want you to read this verse in the context of the whole chapter, book, Bible, and faith, as opposed to, say, ignoring everything else and making this one verse the whole of the gospel. Make sense?

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    2. Not really. This type of answer comes across as dismissive of the passages I mentioned. However, the same type of argument could be made against those who appeal to Aquinas, Chrysostom, and the story of Jesus driving the merchants from the Temple - e.g. Aquinas and Chrysostom need to be read in the greater context of Scripture and Tradition, and Scripture includes the passages I mentioned, or the story of Jesus driving out the merchants needs to be read in light of Psalm 69:9 and Christ's fulfillment of the Old Testament.

      What I would hope to find from someone who favors Feser's post is not a dismissal of these passages but, rather, some type of synthesis of these passages with the positions articulated above in Feser's initial post. That would be the most interesting type of reply.

      For example, one possible route: "thumos" (the anger directed at injustice that Feser defends) is a passion of the soul, while 2 Timothy 2:25, e.g., is explicitly about, not a passion of the soul, but actions - namely, responding to opponents with gentleness. Therefore, we are called to process our anger (anger which is entirely appropriate and virtuous) in such a way that we respond with gentleness. On this take, both the passion of anger and the way of responding outlined in 2 Timothy are affirmed.
      (I am not fully endorsing this synthesis. It is an example of the type of reply that would be more edifying, in my opinion).

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    3. Ahhh .. ironically what you say about anger and we responding gently does NOT corroborate with Jesus temper with whip lashing those people out of the temple.
      So what you say does not make sense. Acting gently is necessary yes, for the true condition of ones soul be undisturbed, but when something IS in actual fact disturbing because it is wrong, acting as such does not distort gentleness. It actually promotes firmness.

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  10. > To be “complaisant” in this sense is to be agreeable, amiable, or keen to please. It is, in short, to be Mr. Rogers-like.

    This gets Fred Rogers wrong. He was in fact driven by a war of sorts against what he saw as the misuse of the medium of television. He did enter into moral conflicts, as when he posed for a picture with a black police officer with their feet in a small pool whilst controversies around racially segregated pools were raging. Etc. And he did talk about God on his show, he even gave an overview of the Trinity once.

    Just as meekness can be misconstrued, so can courage and strength. Who should we hold up as courageous: those who spend their time in a boxing gym, or those who take risky stands for the marginalized? And who exhibits more strength, someone who is physically strong, or someone who works to overcome self-centeredness and seeks to fashion their life around others? Who should children look up to more, Mike Tyson or Mr. Rogers?

    To the extent Fred Rogers fashioned himself on the principle that "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control", supposing that this is a form of weakness rather than strength betrays a profound naivete about what is necessary to overcome our self-centeredness and our sinful desire to dominate others (even if only in debate).

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    1. Thomas, Professor Feser says this:

      Now, my point is not to criticize Rogers himself, who I’m sure was a decent fellow, and who was, after all, simply hosting a children’s program. I don’t know anything about his personal theological opinions, and I don’t know whether the movie accurately represents them or even refers to them at all. The point is to comment on the idea that an inoffensive “niceness” is somehow the essence of the true Christian, or at least of any Christian worthy of the liberal’s respect.

      Knowing Hollywood, it vastly more likely that (a) they mis-represented Fred Rogers and what he was about, and (b) they mis-aligned WHY being more Rogers-like is praiseworthy, than not. ("They" being the makers of the movie and the adulating commenters on it.) Ed was not per se attacking Mr. Rogers, but attacking the common notion that niceness is an absolute value, a view that many probably would attribute to Mr. Rogers however wrong that attribution would be.

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    2. Tony:

      That wasn't my criticism of the article though. To use someone's name as a shorthand for something negative isn't cured with a proviso. If I said "I don't know if person A is right when they describe Tony as a stubborn person who cannot listen to opposing views" but then proceed to talk about how "Tony-like" cable news has become, I imagine you would rightly object. (To be clear, I don't think that at all.)

      You would expect that if I were to associate you with something negative, it's not enough to say you're not sure if it's true or not. Especially when Fred Rogers is actually an example of moral courage in a number of ways, and his television mission was motivated by a righteous anger about the use of the medium.

      And, as I've mentioned, the more common error than the one Dr. Feser mentioned runs in the other direction: to supposed that gentleness is a form of weakness ill befitting men. Fred Rogers has a lot to teach those, in particular, who are like to win arguments -- among whom, I would include myself. Not that we cannot disagree, but that we cannot reduce interlocutors to mere examples of bad judgment, ignorance, and poor training. Gentleness is a real virtue and we should abide by it in our speech.

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  11. I am a simple man, but to me there is a blatantly obvious thing: you do not convert persons through arguments and fire and brimstone alone. The man who courts a prospective woman does not convince her to marry him through logical arguments of what she will miss-out on if she doesn't marry him. That is NOT to say reason and logic are not part of the process of assenting (and in this case the assent of the woman to marry the man). But to predicate conversion on the notional understandings and processes of argumentation of fire-and-brimstone alone will woefully fall short. What I believe much of this "niceness" is aiming toward (but missing the mark) is an attempt to treat the human person in a relational manner (to walk with and not yell at). An attempt to "condescend" to the sinner and "meet them where they're at" with the hope of conversion through this kind of interaction; obviously, this isn't working either for the very reasons you're mentioning: no one is talking about about the hard stuff, and thus not actually changing their ways. The approach seems to need both: all the truths of the faith, not an over-or-under-emphasis of a select few AND some kind of authentic interaction with sinners whereby they actually assent to the propositions of the faith as such. We need some yelling, but it ought not ALL be yelling. We need to somehow behold that we're loved while being corrected at the same time, so as to be moved to authentic conversion.

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  12. What a shameful perversion of the gospel. I'm at a loss for words. Perhaps you should dig deeper into the tradition. Read the sayings of the desert fathers, especially Abba Poemen. God's aim is to soften our hearts and have us be more merciful, not to harden them.

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    1. @tanner

      You upset, bro.? Did Feser's words upset you to the point of issuing a strong rebuke? His words are a perversion of the gospel??

      Well, welcome to the Feser Fan Club. You're doing exactly what he, in principle, endorses. When somebody, anybody, perverts the gospel, preaches blasphemy, endorses sin, etc., s/he merits opprobrium. Odd you didn't catch that.

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    2. Lord have mercy. What is the gospel of Jesus Christ?

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    3. @Tanner

      What difference does it make what the gospel is? Whatever it is, you're upset at Feser for perverting it. So, however you define it, you're displaying the very thing that Feser endorses: "righteous" indignation over somebody perverting what the Lord has given to us.

      Nonetheless, in answer to your question:

      1 Timothy 1
      9 Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,
      10 For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;
      11 According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.

      Also:

      1 Corinthians 15
      15 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
      2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
      3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
      4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

      In short, the "gospel" is the totality of the church's doctrine with respect to salvation (holiness, Christ's death, burial and resurrection, etc.).

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    4. Yeah, there's none of that vapid sentimental love and mercy stuff in there. Think less like Javert and more like Jean Valjean. God bless.

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    5. Love, in Christian teaching, isn't a sentiment. You've mistaken sentimentalism, which is ultimately a form of materialism, for Christian teaching.

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    6. I agree, love isn't sentimentalism. It also isn't whatever joyless rigid nonsense was expressed above. The idea of "love" expressed in this article is a far cry from 1 Cor 13

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    7. Except that's nonsense. All Feser is reminding us is that Christian love isn't meant to sweep away all rigor, justice, and virtue. What you are offering is a kind of sentimentalism, or you are just wilfully misinterpreting Feser.

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    8. And we all know what goes on a lot these days: love, whether God's or human love/affection, is used to excuse or even justify sin. That's sentimentalism and it's directly repugnant to the Christian view of Christ's message. Christ associated with prostituutes, adulterers, and other sinners. Certainly, he made it clear it isn't for the Christian to self-righteously cast out sinners. However, he didn't justify or excuse their sin. He expected them to stop sinning.

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    9. Listen, you really think the Mr. Rogers movie is telling us we don't have to be virtuous? This whole post is dumb. It's just some tradionalist catholic screed against some purported liberal bogeyman that doesn't exist, or at least doesn't matter. At least I think so. Christ did associate with sinners and curiously enough His compassion is what always showed through. He was only ever harsh with people because they were not merciful or loving enough. Look at the story of the woman taken in adultery. He didn't punish her at all, not even with a rebuke, not even a gentle one. His only words were, "go forth and sin no more." This tradionalist catholic/Thomistic/Augustinian line of having to take sin more seriously than God's mercy is absolutely foreign to the gospel, because as St. Paul says "Where sin abounded, there grace abounded more." Anyways, forgive me if I myself have been acting against charity. Have a great weekend and wonderful Thanksgiving and Advent. God bless!

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    10. Except that's a strawman. No one is saying sin is more important than God's mercy. All they are saying is that mercy and love do not excuse or justify sin.

      And what are you talking about, some liberal bogeyman that doesn't exist? We see it all the time. All the time people argue, for example, that so called gay marriage should be supported by Christians because it's love.

      Even your own comments are ambiguous. You don't make it clear you think that love and mercy don't justify or excuse sin. I think it also false that Jesus was harsh only to those not merciful or loving enough. That makes it sound like all he cared about was sentimentalism. This isn't how Jesus acts. That
      he is compassionate to those who seek mercy, would be a better way of putting it. All the prostitutes, adulterers, etc. who he shows compassion to have sought him out and are surely on the journey to reformation. It isn't clear he was harsh only to the unmerciful per se. Christ makes it clear he demands a lot from us. Look at his comments on unadultery, for example. Christ certainly isn't always indulgent to human failings. St. Paul certainly harshly rebukes all kinds of sin.

      Look, it's a balance. We do need to avoid self-righteousness and lacking mercy and compassion. But, on the other hand, we do need to make sure we make it clear sin is sin, and not excuse or justify by sentimentalism. That, to me, is all Feser is doing. It's not Augustinianism or Thomism per se, or even Catholicism. It's what the apostles and Fathers did.

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    11. Christ did associate with sinners and curiously enough His compassion is what always showed through. He was only ever harsh with people because they were not merciful or loving enough. Look at the story of the woman taken in adultery. He didn't punish her at all, not even with a rebuke, not even a gentle one. His only words were, "go forth and sin no more."

      It's like you know your own view is wrong. "Go forth and sin no more" is a gentle rebuke; you cannot call someone's action a sin and tell them never to do it again without eo ipso issuing a rebuke. So also did Christ rebuke the woman he met at the well. So generally did Christ meet with sinners and also call them to repentance. Sometimes he was harsh, other times not, as the circumstances dictated. He thought we also should, with circumspection and discernment and humility, confront others about their sins:

      “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

      It's not easy to do. But it is what we are supposed to do. It's certainly not inconsistent with mercy.

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  13. Thomas Aquinas believed God did not ultimately desire the salvation of his human family, but instead desired His mercy and justice to shine forth with the blessed and damned. Thomas was the ultimate anti-Mr. Rogers

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    1. It doesn't take a Mr. Rogers to exceed that particular notion of God in love and mercy. Few people today seek to aggrandize themselves in the physical torture of others.

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    2. He does desire that all be saved, but when MEN Do Not desire it: He then ALLOWS them to exemplify His justice.

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    3. So God is defeated?

      While this is a common universalist rhetorical trick, noone can literally be defeated without someone defeating them, and only an idiot would think that in consigning oneself to hell one has defeated God. Although, I suppose, given the widespread behavior of people trying to own others by owning themselves, there's a certain psychological realism in people thinking they could do so.

      What you really mean is 'Can God therefore fail because of this?', but Tim the White already answered that question: No, because His purposes already make allowance for it. That would mean by definition that it wouldn't be a failure.

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    4. You are absolutely wrong Brandon. What is defeat, failure? It is when the ends you intend are frustrated. We know God is love. We know love never fails. We know God intends to save all men. If God's "intention" is frustrated or not carried out, what on earth else could that be but defeat and failure? The only way to get out of this is to say that God does not in fact intend to save all men, which is obviously false for many reasons. It contradicts scripture and reason, it goes against God's goodness and love.

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    5. It is when the ends you intend are frustrated.

      And, again, Tim the White already explicitly answered this in his comment by saying that part of God's ends were to allow it; if God's purpose allows it, it follows by definition that God's purpose is not frustrated when it happens. Your point has already been answered. Sticking your fingers in your ears and ignoring the answer already given is not a refutation.

      What you logically would need in order to answer Tim the White is a proof that God never allows things to deviate from the plan He offers for them; which we also know to be false, because God allows evil, which is a deviation from divine plan. But evil is also not a defeat or failure of God's purposes, because God's purposes make allowance for its happening. And, a fortiori, if evil is not a defeat or failure for God, punishment of evil cannot be.

      We can imagine someone, call him Rennat, arguing thus: "What is defeat, failure? It is when the ends you intend are frustrated. We know God is love. We know love never fails. We know God intends for men to be good. If God's 'intention' is frustrated or not carried out, what on earth else could that be but defeat and failure? Therefore there is no sin and no evil." And Rennat would be wrong, because Rennat has an incorrect view of how intentions work.

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    6. Wrong again. Tim the white may have said it,but what did the author of 1 Timothy write? He wrote that God intends the salvation of all men. Can't you see the difference between a temporary vs. permanent allowance. Obviously God allows evil temporarily, but you are straying from basic Christian orthodoxy to say that evil is something that God allows eternally. You are positing a cosmic eternal dualism here, i.e. manicheanism.

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    7. I mean in your view what was the point of the Incarnation anyways?

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    8. Tim the White also explicitly said that God intends the salvation of all men, so you have again failed to address his point.

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    9. I mean in your view what was the point of the Incarnation anyways?

      We aren't talking about my view, Tanner, we are talking about your failure to address Tim the White's point.

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    10. Ok let's break this down barney style.

      1. God intends the salvation of all men.
      2. God is infinitely powerful and free and created beings ex nihilo.
      3. Therefore all beings will be saved.


      it's pretty simple. As for saying that God doesn't always get what he wants, that's stupid. God allows all sorts of things in the less important realm of secondary causality. But He can never ULTIMATELY be defeated. His purposes may be temporarily frustrated, but never ULTIMATELY. God gets what God wants. He wants all men to be saved, so all men will be saved, no matter how hard they fight, it is only a matter of time. Or do you not believe in providence?

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    11. Ok let's break this down barney style.

      1. God intends the salvation of all men.
      2. God is infinitely powerful and free and created beings ex nihilo.
      3. Therefore all beings will be saved.


      it's pretty simple. As for saying that God doesn't always get what he wants, that's stupid. God allows all sorts of things in the less important realm of secondary causality. But He can never ULTIMATELY be defeated. His purposes may be temporarily frustrated, but never ULTIMATELY. God gets what God wants. He wants all men to be saved, so all men will be saved, no matter how hard they fight, it is only a matter of time. Or do you not believe in providence?

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    12. And Rennat says:

      1. God intends all men to be good.
      2. God is infinitely power and free and created beings ex nihilo.
      3. Therefore no sin is every committed.

      To which, no doubt, he would add, "Or do you not believe in providence?"

      Adding 'ultimately' does not change anything in the argument, nor in Tim the White's point, because, as Tim the White pointed, out if God's purposes allow for it, there is no failure if it happens.

      His purposes may be temporarily frustrated, but never ULTIMATELY.

      God's purposes cannot be frustrated even temporarily. Or do you not believe in providence?

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    13. So maybe I'm slow, but you think that when it says that God intends to save all, it really means God will not save all.

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    14. And your conclusion doesn't follow in 3. It's not that no sin is committed, it's that sin will ultimately be banished, thwarted. So it should be.

      1. God intends all men to be good.
      2. God is infinitely powerful.
      3. All men will eventually be good.

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    15. So maybe I'm slow, but you think that when it says that God intends to save all, it really means God will not save all.

      Again, Tanner, we are not talking about my view; we are talking about how your response doesn't address Tim the White's point. Tim the White explicitly said that God desires that all men be saved, so this also does not address Tim the White's point.

      And your conclusion doesn't follow in 3.

      And Rennat says,

      1. God intends all men to be good.
      2. God is infinitely powerful.
      3. All men will eventually not have sinned.

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    16. I should add, lest it's unclear that (3) logically implies that no sin is ever committed.

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    17. This may be my last reply. This is like talking to a brick wall. Tim's point makes no sense. When God intend something it gets done. He allows for things to go astray in secondary causality, but eventually all things will return to Him, more glorious than they were before. That is why God became man and the Lord suffered death on a cross, you know. By allowing some specious distinction like God allowing people to damn themselves, we are making an error. God doesn't merely allow, if that is the ultimate destiny of some, it was positively chosen by Him from all eternity. But anyways I know this is going nowhere. Have a good day.

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    18. He allows for things to go astray in secondary causality, but eventually all things will return to Him, more glorious than they were before.

      And this may well be true, but it is already assuming that Tim the White is wrong, and it does not show that Tim's point makes no sense, and you yourself have shown this: you have already conceded that God allows things He doesn't desire, and that their happening is not a failure because His purposes allow them. Therefore when Tim the White says that God allows men to act according to their own desire not to be saved, to respond by equating this with defeat or failure is logically incoherent; it's not defeat or failure, and yourself have to admit it or regard every sin, which God desires not to be done, as a defeat of God. God's purposes allow people to sin; so when sin is committed, it is not a failure of His purposes or plan. If God's purposes allow people to damn themselves, the same thing would follow. It's this, and this alone, that is in question: You assume that if God fails temporarily, He hasn't really failed, and Tim the White isn't committed to the view that God fails even temporarily.

      Had you really been interested in addressing Tim the White's point, you should have argued specifically for your assumption that God does not allow people to damn themselves. Instead you went for the cheap rhetorical trick that makes no sense in context.

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    19. Perhaps it is because it is fairly self-evident to me that God doesn't allow people to damn themselves, forgive me. I assumed people on a Thomist forum would support the intellectualist model of freedom and not voluntarism or libertarianism. I assumed to much I guess. Anyways, I really think I'm done here. But have a good holiday coming up. God bless. I'll let you have the last word and consider your thoughts.

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    20. Tanner,
      I don't think the intellectualist model of freedom removes blame or responsibility, as one can very well choose what is wrong knowing that it is wrong, willingly giving in to a lower good. Hell would still be open.

      I think the argument from God's intention and power is *good* at least defeasibly. But keeping in mind the fact that 1- the vast majority of Christendom has for the longest time held the possibility of eternal damnation (as well as its actuality), and 2- that salvation really requires some free act on the part of the person to cooperate with God, and a free being is able to choose to insist on a lower good, I think universalism becomes quite implausible. At least in its absolutist forms - "God WILL save everyone, everyone MUST be saved", etc.

      What the argument should give us is hope for the salvation of every individual, hope for the salvation of most people, or - if you're particularly optimistic - hope for the salvation of all people. Because if God wants something and has the immense power He has, we should be hopeful indeed. But the stronger conclusion is itself too strong, and faces problems.

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    21. Atno,

      Well by definition the intellectualist model of freedom would conflict with what you've said. It states you can never will evil as evil. Let's say you chose a lower good over a higher good? Why did you do that? The only answer is ignorance, at least in the intellectualist model. Once you start saying that it is due to an irrational impulse of the will you are starting to sound like a voluntarist. Once you cross the line further and start saying that you are infinitely culpable for an irrational impulse you can't control and will be punished forever for it, we have now left the bounds of sanity and reason and dove headlong into irrationality to defend something that is already morally scandalous.

      The only thing going for the eternality of hell is the fact that so many for so long have believed it, even great and wonderful saints and theologians. But Truth stands firmly in the way here. If your best objection is "well other people are doing it" that's not a good argument at all. Point 2 you raised also conflicts with the intellectualist view, because there is no conflict between freedom and God. God makes us more free and so we cooperate more with Him. He allows us to dwell in Hell for as long as we want, but that cannot be forever. The worse it gets, the more likely we are to abandon this as a good idea.

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    22. I'm sorry, Tanner, but you are surprised that people on a Thomist forum do not think that the guide of the good implies that all sin is (non-culpable) ignorance? What do you think Aquinas thought about the causation of sin?

      If all sin were non-culpable ignorance, then there would be no sin, and if there were no sin, then there would be no mercy, and the crucifixion would have been pointless. God would not be saving all men because of his good will and power but just because the damnation of a rational creature would be metaphysically impossible.

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    23. Tanner,

      I am very sympathetic to a lot of what you're saying, since at one point in my life I believed in all that - especially the idea that sin is due to ignorance, which back in the day I identified as a "Socratic view", etc. But I am not convinced anymore, and I'm afraid you are being too quick with your conclusions.

      First, these are complicated matters, so they invite a healthy dose of skepticism. We might not be able to see how such and such is the case, but that could simply be an indication of our own limitation. You're free to maintain your view, but keep that in mind and be careful to not be overly confident in it, especially since, again, the majority of Christendom has believed in at least the possibility of hell. Including great saints. This does carry weight.

      Secondly, the idea that the intellectualist model of freedom would still allow for us to willingly choose lower goods over higher goods. We might very well be able to choose irrationality. The "intellectualist" part can be fulfilled by the thesis that our minds are ultimately attracted by a perceived good, but the "free will" part is such that this perceived good does not determine our action. We choose to act on the basis of a perceived good, but this perceived good did not determinately produce our action. Our will still has to "kickstart" the action even if it is very attracted by some good. Especially since no finite good can, by itself, overcome our will - precisely because it is a FINITE good, the will is also partly repelled by it insofar as it recognizes its limitations.
      So in practice, someone could perhaps recognize a lower good AS a lower good and still nevertheless choose it over a higher good. That would not be a brute fact, since the action would still be explained by the finite goodness present in the lower good (which motivates the action); it would simply be wrong and irrational. But such is the power of free will.
      So nowadays it is no longer clear to me that every evil choice is the result of some inculpable ignorance. After all, intellectualist models do not require that the will be determinately moved by the perceived good, only that it be motivated or attracted - it is still up to the will to consent to this attraction and kickstart the action.

      I want to stress that I think your arguments are good - I myself used to be a universalist with very similar views years ago. But that being said, I think you're being a bit *too* confident. It's a very complicated matter and triumphalism doesn't help either way.
      I think hopeful universalists are in a much better position. God's omnipotence and goodness certainly warrants lots of hope for us, I think - hope for the salvation of many, or most. If you're very optimistic, maybe even salvation of all (I think this one is implausible though). But to think we really can be confident that God WILL save everyone, God MUST do this or that, no one can even possibly be lost forever - that's complicated, to say the least.

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    24. Thank you for your perspective Atno. I will ruminate on your words. These are complicated matters.

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    25. Greg, you're wrong. The reason being is a begging the question fallacy. I maintain that sin is ignorance. So, there is sin and God became man and died and rose again in order to save us from the hostile powers who have enslaved our intellects and wills, causing us to sin and die. The eternal damnation of a rational creature while maintaining that the creature is fully rational and that God is Good is logically impossible. Either the creature is insane and then God is either too evil or impotent to help them, being just a god and not God or He will save all. So in the end, I must reject your idea as well Atno, since it is logically impossible, not merely a mystery or paradox we find suprarational or difficult to understand. It just makes no sense to say that a finite creature merits eternal punishment for doing things in an irrational state of mind. Thomas, in de malo admits that when you commit sin you are not rational, but oddly states that you are fully culpable. With decreased rationality goes culpability. This is also eminently biblical. John 8 for one. Also Christ said "Forgive them Father, they do not know what they do." He did not say "Punish them forever because they know exactly what they were doing and deserve it."

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    26. Two points. First, you said earlier, "I assumed people on a Thomist forum would support the intellectualist model of freedom." You think there's some incumbency upon Thomists to think as you do. Don't you know that "sin is ignorance" is just not Aquinas's view? Maintain whatever you want. I asked you what you thought Aquinas's view about the causation of sin was because he is neither what you called an intellectualist nor what you called a voluntarist.

      Second, I take it that sin and culpability are essentially the same (though one is free to repurpose words if one wants).* So my original point can be put this way: If all sin is ignorance, and all ignorance is non-culpable, then there is no culpability, and if there is no culpability, then nothing is the fitting object of mercy, and there was no need for the crucifixion.

      Put it another way. There is a distinction, at least in our ordinary practice, between culpable and inculpable ignorance. Sometimes, to say 'I didn't know' is not an excuse, because one should have known. So it would be if I sold a defective, untested product. I thought it worked, but I should have known otherwise. So it wouldn't be if I served food which had been unexpectedly and unnoticeably poisoned by someone else. The intellectualist view denies this familiar distinction; if we examine the former case, we will see that it is really like the latter. Perhaps in failing to test the product I acted out of greed or laziness; but there is some good in greed and laziness, and I was simply mistaken in thinking that it was better than the good in discharging my responsibility to my patrons. Or maybe I am not responsible for my errors, because I am not responsible for my upbringing.

      If, on the other hand, not all ignorance is inculpable, then there is a remainder of culpability which fails to be explained by ignroance, and intellectualism is false.

      One is welcome to try to defend this revisionary account of culpability. On at least the standard account it is Socrates' view. But it just makes nonsense of Christianity. That's the weird thing about universalists who take this line. They argue that it would be evil for God to punish sinners eternally because sinners are actually just ignorant of the good, where this needs to mean that sinners are inculpably, excusably ignorant, or else their ignorance would be irrelevant to excusing them. But why ever would God need to redeem those who are already excused? "With decreased rationality goes culpability."

      One wants to know also what eternity has to do with anything. Why are we thinking about punishing the excusably ignorant at all? Talk about 'evil'.

      *A natural way of hearing "sin is ignorance" is as a radically revisionary, iconoclastic claim, intended precisely to deny that anyone is culpable for anything.

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    27. Greg, I think you don't understand the thought of Aquinas very well. Thomas was definitely an intellectualist and vociferous opponent of voluntarism. Feser himself is very against voluntarism. It's strange how you say it goes against Christian tradition to be intellectualist, since it is actually long been held by virtually every church father through the ages (even if they didn't follow it to its logical conclusion) including St. Thomas. It is actually necessary. Let me explain.

      The intellectualist view of freedom is NECESSARY for a few reasons. 1. Voluntarism makes everything absolutely meaningless. It logically follows from voluntarism that words have no meaning and up could be down, black could be white, etc. you get the idea. Feser himself argues against voluntarism here: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2018/10/the-voluntarist-personality.html and here: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2014/11/voluntarism-and-psr.html quoting the Summa. 2. Besides that, another reason that intellectualism is necessary is because if it weren't then we could will the evil as evil, making evil something of real substance that is an actual alternative to God, who is the source of all things. Privatio boni is the classic christian (as well as pagan) definition of evil. Why? Because God can't create evil and still be called God.

      So what do we have here? Let me sum up. God created everything that is and holds it in being. This naturally leads to evil as privatio boni. Privatio boni logically leads to intellectualism, denying that we can will the evil as evil. Since we can only mistake the evil for good, this is a mistake due to ignorance on our part. Which means absolute culpability is out the window. There is some measure of culpability here, but it isn't absolute. And certainly not enough to merit an eternal sentence for a finite creature. That is absurd nonsense.

      You ask why would God ever need to redeem people who are not fully culpable? He is the redeemer of people that are enslaved. If you were captured by someone and enslaved, how is it not considered salvation when you are freed from slavery? You don't have to "deserve" your slavery to be considered saved from it. Of course, you must then accept the Christus Victor model of the atonement (which is after all the most ancient, scripturally and logically supported model). I take it you aren't too familiar with the Greek Fathers? Augustine was an innovator when he wrote that Adam was 100% culpable for his sin. That is foreign to the earlier fathers. Irenaeus writes that Adam and Eve committed the first sin because they were like infants and didn't understand what they were doing. Universalism has deep Christian roots, and only later centuries managed to repress it although never entirely.

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    28. re Thomas in De malo: When Aquinas says that sin is against reason or against the order of reason (maybe this is sometimes even put as 'sin is irrational') he does not mean that sin is necessarily done in an "irrational state of mind," where that calls to mind, e.g., people doing things that make no sense. E.g., consider the conversation:
      A: Why are you turning that lid clockwise? Don't you know that it opens the other way?
      B: Yes, I know that, but I want to open it.
      That is a mistake called 'irrational'. But if sin is irrational, then it's not irrational like that--or else the ideas of forgiving sins and of redeeming sinners are absolute nonsense.

      I have some thoughts about how to understand Christ's words on the cross, which I admit I find genuinely difficult both for traditional Christianity and for common sense, since it looks like an excuse, but excusing is precisely not forgiving. But I'm not going to get into a proof text discussion. Anything I have to say about it will be less violent that universalism's general treatment of scripture.

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    29. It's also quite interesting that the Greek word for sin is hamartia i.e. missing the mark. https://biblehub.com/greek/266.htm

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    30. By the way, I do not hold that we have no culpability, just mitigated culpability, not absolute, which I believe has been what the universalist tradition has held from Origen to Gregory of Nyssa to Isaac the Syrian, etc. Which is why we are punished, that punishment is only for correction in order to purify us.

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    31. Here is what the Thomist Herbert McCabe had to say about forgiveness of sins that I think is true:

      ‘If we are going to understand anything about the forgiveness of sin we cannot just be content with pictures; we have to think as clearly as we can. … The initiative is always literally with God. When God forgives our sin, he is not changing his mind about us; he is changing our mind about him. He does not change; his mind is never anything but loving; he is love. The forgiveness of sin is God’s creative and re-creative love making the desert bloom again, bringing us back from dry sterility to the rich luxuriant life bursting out all over the place. When God changes your mind in this way, when he pours out on you his Spirit of new life, it is exhilarating, but it is also fairly painful. There is a trauma of rebirth as perhaps there is of birth. The exhilaration and the pain that belong to being reborn is what we call contrition, and this is the forgiveness of sin. Contrition is not anxious guilt about sin; it is the continual recognition in hope that the Spirit has come to me as healing my sin.

      So it is not literally true that because we are sorry God decides to forgive us. That is a perfectly good story, but it is only a story. The literal truth is that we are sorry because God forgives us. Our sorrow for sin just is the forgiveness of God working within us. Contrition and forgiveness are just two names for the same thing, they are the gift of the Holy Spirit; the re-creative transforming act of God in us. God does not forgive us because of anything he finds in us; he forgives us out of his sheer delight, his exuberant joy in making the desert bloom again.

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    32. Tanner, when I say Aquinas is not "what you called an intellectualist," what I meant was that Aquinas is not what you call an intellectualist. I did not say he is not any kind of intellectualist. That's probably a fine label for his view in an adequate schematization of positions. (That said, in light of your most recent post, I am no longer confident about what you take the defining feature of intellectualism to be.)

      Aquinas holds the privation view of evil. He believes that the will's object is the good and that it can will perceived goods as goods. He denies that it is possible to will evil as evil. For those reasons it might make sense to label him an 'intellectualist'. He doesn't hold, though, that the error in sin is simply a result of ignorance, for he does not hold that any finite good determines the will, and he has a subtle account of how even someone confronted with one and the same collatio of options might genuinely act in different ways. In that sense, one might deny that he is an intellectualist: he does not think one's grasp of the relevant truths determines one's will, unless that truth is the Truth. Tellingly, when he asks what the cause of sin is, he answers that it is "the will lacking the direction of the rule of reason." One way that can happen is intellectual error. (And often that intellectual error is culpable.) But that is just one way, Aquinas thinks.

      On redemption: The trouble is that we are already familiar with the distinction between culpable and inculpable ignorance. Since he is morally sane, Aquinas recognizes that inculpable ignorance excuses entirely. You admit that the ignorance to which you are appealing cannot be ignorance which excuses entirely. But this fails to address the other part of my argument:

      If, on the other hand, not all ignorance is inculpable, then there is a remainder of culpability which fails to be explained by ignroance, and intellectualism is false.

      A human are not simply be culpably ignorant of something. To make someone out as culpably ignorant we need to identify what is wrong with their failing to know about what they should know. Their failure in knowledge then is a further sin, and also on (your) intellectualism must be rooted in ignorance. This will go on ad infinitum. Hence intellectualism cannot account for culpability.

      You ask why would God ever need to redeem people who are not fully culpable? He is the redeemer of people that are enslaved. If you were captured by someone and enslaved, how is it not considered salvation when you are freed from slavery? You don't have to "deserve" your slavery to be considered saved from it.

      My question wasn't this one because I didn't make use of the partial/absolute culpability distinction, but I do notice that after trying to carve out some place for partial culpability on the universalist picture, you adopt a metaphor (or something more?) where culpability, partial or otherwise, doesn't matter. Sure, if I were captured and enslaved, I would consider it salvation when I was freed. I just would not understand my savior if he followed up by saying 'Also, I forgive you'.

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    33. A human are not simply be culpably ignorant of something.

      Oof, what a horrid sentence. Let it be: A human being is not simply culpable of something.

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    34. It is obviously more complicated than just the slavery analogy. Another analogy Gregory uses is of a rope caked in filth being pulled through a hole of slightly smaller diameter than the rope. We are the rope and our sins are the filth that gets cleansed. As an Orthodox I definitely take the language of Christ as physician and healer and sin as a spiritual sickness as more normative than the more legalist western view, although that is part of the tradition and no one analogy can cover the full range of truth in the atonement. I get that you are saying that Thomas isn't a full blown intellectualist, but that is precisely why I think he is in error on this issue. He abandons the only rational account of freedom in order to defend eternal damnation. I think intellectualism is absolutely necessary for christianity and it inexorably leads to universal salvation. It just doesn't make sense to say that someone should be held culpable for something they don't fully understand. It makes less sense to say they fully understood and knowingly willed evil.

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    35. It makes less sense to say they fully understood and knowingly willed evil.

      Satan (formerly known as Lucifer) certainly fully understood the evil of what rebellion against God entailed, and willed it knowing the eternal consequences (with 1/3 of the angelic host). "Better to reign in Hell then serve in Heaven". Hell is locked from the inside; the place where Pride rules, and God's mercy cannot enter. God provides sufficient grace and time for those who have chosen against God to repent. Those who will not accept God's love and mercy in their "70 or 80 years if they are stong", never will.

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    36. Anon,

      Begging the question. It makes no sense for someone to fully understand evil and then will it. That would be willing evil as evil and is not permissible for a Christian to believe. Or do you not believe in final causes?

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    37. Just stop and think about it for 2 seconds. If I offered you pizza on the one hand or a bottle of poison on the other and you chose poison I would not say that decision was free. It may be a choice, but it is an irrational one that entails ignorance.

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    38. It may be an irrational (against right reason) choice but it need not entail ignorance (lack of knowledge). Have you ever sinned? Knowing something was against God's moral law and deliberately doing it anyway? I have. The choice is always available to will my own sovereignty over serving God knowing full well that I will not achieve the type of "happiness" I was created for. I can see that I was made for God, and will only achieve the happiness consonant with my nature by uniting myself as creature through the gift of grace with the God who made me for Himself. However, I may choose to make myself sovereign by saying to that invitiation -- "the Hell with that. Non Serviam". That is what Satan did and does, and many angels with Him. And that option is available to all rational creatures who will make themselves like unto God rather than submitting to the proper order of creature to Creator, of son to Father -- even though they know exactly what that entails. "All good to me is lost; Evil, be thou my Good". That's how I see it anyway. God bless!

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    39. I have chosen to sin yes, but that's evidence of irrationality isn't it? And being a good intellectualist I realize that means that I'm not fully under my own power as saint paul also says. If someone chooses to drink poison that is clear evidence they are insane. If someone chooses hell over God then they are clearly sick and in need of help. How wonderful they have an omnipotent and loving Father who can work all things for the good.

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    40. Our Heavenly Father will not force the will of his creatures to love Him. So as long as one chooses self over God then there is need for Hell. If you admit that it is a possibility to set one's will in opposition to God eternally (and the existence of Satan and his minions indicates that this is more than just a possibility), however much God wills the eternal good of that soul, then an eternal Hell is needed. If you think Satan will be converted, I'd like to see where in the Tradition that is a live option. I'm not a patristics scholar so the request is legitimate.

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    41. Anon,

      God is not an object among other objects. He is not some competing will that rivals our will. He transcends us. We can't say choose between God and a coffee cup. Every choice we make is first put into motion by God Himself. This is something Aquinas and Feser defend. See Feser's The Last Superstition. I'm sure he also covers it in other places as well. As for Satan ultimately converting that is found rarely, but it is found. Most notably in St. Gregory of Nyssa lauded as the "Father of Fathers" by an ecumenical council and as a "Pillar of the Church." His sister St. Macrina also believed it as well. Most western theologians do not believe in the restoration of the devil. But it is more widespread in the East. St. Isaac the Syrian believed in Satan's restoration for instance. Origen also seems like he may have, and although typically denounced as a heretic, it is hard to see why with recent scholarship reviving his reputation. I'm not a patristics scholar either, just a simple layman trying to figure things out. Many modern orthodox saints seem to be universalists as way like St. Silouan the Athonite.

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    42. Most orthodox theologicans don't believe in the restoration of the devil either.

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    43. "I have chosen to sin yes, but that's evidence of irrationality isn't it? And being a good intellectualist I realize that means that I'm not fully under my own power as saint paul also says. If someone chooses to drink poison that is clear evidence they are insane."

      Yes, but this still might not remove culpability.
      This way that human agency is analysed under universalism is the most unattractive part of it to me. This makes unicersalism lead to moral paralysis.

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    44. But I am not saying that it's badly motivated, just unacceptable.

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    45. Anon, this is true but not as true as you may think. More and more are in favor or silently agree or at least push the hopeful universalism. It wouldn't matter anyways. Truth isn't voted upon democratically.

      Red, I don't see how it leads to moral paralysis. We still must become perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. We will not get out of prison until we pay the last farthing. As George Macdonald says "The only judgment worth having on sin is to make the sinner himself its executioner." And I do not believe intellectualism removes all culpability, just a great deal. We must still be punished, but this punishment will always be for our correction, not mere retribution. At least I think so.

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    46. I don't see how analysing all wrong doings as just mistakes doesn't lead to paralysis but if it doesn't remove culpability then hell remains viable as punishment for sins.

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    47. And please note that I don't intend to write this as a knock down argument. These are just problems I find with universalism.

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    48. All patristic universalists defend hell, it just isn't considered eternal by them. A universal purgatory if you will.

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    49. To be a universalist you have to believe that Satan will repent and accept God's mercy and love. Christ said of Satan: "You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies." John 8:44

      Christ revelead that Satan took on a new "nature" as enemy of God through the choice of his will. He unmade himself through his "non serviam". There is no longer any truth in him. There is no hope for him since his will is fixed in hatred of God.

      It is biblical data like this, and the reading of such revelation by the majority of the Fathers, that confirms my belief in an eternal Hell, as much as I would like it to be otherwise, the opinion of some universalist theologians 2000 years removed notwithstanding.

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    50. First of all, no you don't. Not all universalists accept the conversion of any fallen angels or the chief one in particular. A creature cannot unmake themselves, that is to say that God made a mistake. What about Romans 5:18, 1 Cor 15:22, etc. There are an abundance of straightforward universalist statements that you have to make absurd claims to ignore like that all means not all, etc.

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    51. OK, so a universalist in good standing can believe that Satan will not be converted. So is that a semi-universalist? Also, Jesus said that Satan "speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies." Now God did not make him a liar, since God created him good. So which "nature" is Christ referring to, other than what Satan did to himself through his "non serviam"? Anyway, what you are arguing for, at least according to my lights, is not consonant with the Scriptures and the majority of the Fathers. I'll have to stick with the latter. Good luck and God bless!

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    52. Well St. Gregory of Nyssa, the Father of Fathers as he is called has never been condemned and he adamantly defended the conversion of Satan. In order to do exegesis on that particular pericope of scripture I'd need to see the Greek and have more training. That is a good point you bring up though and look to see how people like Gregory and Isaac defend their belief in light of that pericope. But I think you as well need to take a look at the universalist passages. Remember that truth is not determined by majority. Perhaps Catholics believe this issue has been ruled on dogmatically (though some dispute that), but the Orthodox have not (although some too dispute that). Either way God bless you as well! Thanks for your thoughts and pushback.

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    53. But I think you as well need to take a look at the universalist passages. I have looked at these, and they have to be contexualized with the rest of Scripture just as does the teaching on faith and works (Romans and James for example). The parallels of Adam and Christ for death and life have to be harmonized with the parallels of Mt. 25:46 where “Then they [the damned] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” If all are saved in Christ just as all are dead in Adam, then this passage and others like it that refer to reality of an eternal punishment don't make sense. But I am no scripture scholar either. But I enjoyed our discussion and learned a few things. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

      John

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    54. Sorry, just re-read the above and it wasn't clear. I meant to write, that the parallel in Mt 25:46 with eternity refers to both life and punishment. As Christians believe life with God in Heaven is eternal, so for Mt 25 to make sense the punishment must be eternal as well. And this does not fit with the universalist reading of those other verses. Anyway, peace out and God bless! John

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    55. Goodness, if sin were simply a matter of ignorance, Weightwatchers and Slimming World would cease to exist overnight.

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    56. Sue, that comment shows painfully clearly that you have never read anything from Feser nor Aquinas nor anyone in the Patristic or Medieval Christian tradition.

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    57. Tanner, you shouldn't gloat. Greg knocked you six ways from Sunday the intellectually.

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    58. Forgive my impertinence, but I always thought the elements of sin were pointed out in the Ten Commandments. Notably idolatry, envy, resentment and deception of self and others. Also considering the bicameral nature of human consciousness - it would seem that ignorance affects the brain but deception is what occupies the mind. The mind has the capacity of self awareness where the brain does not. The capacity to sin cannot be resolved without appeals to self-awareness and elimination of self deception, which also is the elimination of ignorance it would seem.....'>......

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  14. Hanks and his wife practice Eastern Orthodoxy which certainly does not stress niceness as a Christian virtue.

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  15. This calls to mind the liberal value of "tolerance" which means that you tolerate everyone... except the "intolerant".

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  16. RE: softness, failure to overcome easy obstacles

    It always seemed strange how easily people abandoned traditional sexual morality. It's not like they are selling their soul to have extra-marital sex with Victoria's Secret models or NFL quarterbacks. That might be wrong, but it's understandable. Instead, people, both men and women, seem willing to forsake eternity for a roll in the hay with a 6.

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  17. It's hard for a Christian to talk bracingly to others about divine judgment when the only coherent form of Christianity is the universalist kind. David Hart's new book on universalism makes that latter point unavoidable.

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  18. I agree with this post to a certain extent, though given Feser's focus on traditional masculine virtues and hostility towards feminism, I'm somewhat confused by the gendered language and use of the term "effeminacy" here. Is harshness in this sense to be understood as an inherently masculine virtue, and therefore something that women should not be engaging in, lest they sacrifice their feminity? Or are there different points at which this behavior becomes sinful, depending on what gender you are? Or is it simply an unfortunate language choice?

    I'm an admirer of virtue ethics, but the drive to reclaim traditionally masculine virtues often leaves me wondering to what degree women are off the hook for anything that doesn't directly involve the family. I'd appreciate clarification at some point on precisely what responsibilities an explicitly gendered interpretation of the virtues would assign to women, since equating moral weakness with the feminine nature gives the impression that the issue in question is irrelevant for women altogether.

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    1. As he pointed out, 'effeminacy' is the term that one finds in English translations of Aquinas for the vice in question; he's not introducing it as his own term. It has always been the common English translation for malakia in Greek or mollities in Latin. Those would be more literally translated as 'softness', although a standard synonym in ancient Greek for malakia is anandreia, which depending on context can be translated either as 'lack of manliness' or 'lack of fortitude'.

      what responsibilities an explicitly gendered interpretation of the virtues would assign to women

      In this case it's purely a matter of how Greek historically influenced English translations of Latin, not an interpretation of virtues at all. But in traditional virtue ethics, responsibilities aren't assigned by virtues at all, but by conforming roles or duties (officia) to them, so even if it were taken to apportion virtues by sex (it couldn't in this context be gender), it wouldn't on its own tell us anything about responsibilities.

      But it is very true that 'effeminacy' as a translation misleadingly suggests to people that women either automatically have the vice or can't have it as a vice, both of which are false, and both of which have been recognized as false since Plato.

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    2. Thank you for the response! As is probably obvious, I'm something of a Plato aficionada, and very much had in mind his challenge to the idea that virtues and vices would differ depending upon gender. I didn't comment merely because of the use of the word "effeminacy" here, but because there have been recent posts in the blog specifically on the topic of masculine virtues, which in combination with the language here really left me scratching my head. I'm still not sure what to make of that.

      Thank you for the original Latin word from Aquinas also! That's a couple of new words for my vocabularies. I'm not sure to what degree I'd attribute this sort of translation issue merely to convention, though--obviously even the word "virtue" itself is automatically gendered, given its etymology, and I don't think we've ever entirely escaped from that. Not much to be done about that but to be aware of it, but it does immediately set off warning bells whenever the word "effeminacy" is used.

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    3. Yes, there is definitely a double line in the history of virtue ethics, the (largely) Greco-Roman views that gave it much of its vocabulary and the more purely philosophical views deriving from Platonic arguments like those you mentioned and (to a lesser extent) Aristotle's doctrine of the mean, which recognize the deficiency of that vocabulary and try to find a way to go beyond it in a principled way.

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    4. Hypatia, this doesn't necessarily connect with what you're discussing here, but you might be interested in reading Saint Edith Stein. She was a noted philosopher and phenomenologist, and she had some interesting ideas on how women have their own special attributes - she could be considered a kind of Christian feminist (though of course the term "feminist" today has a very negative and/or controversial political connotation, Stein's feminism had more to do with pointing out women's own intellectual prowess and their particular advantages - and disadvantages- in relation to men, etc). It's interesting stuff.

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  19. Face it. Anything Hollyweird depicts as 'Christian' is demented since the core message is anti-Christian.

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  20. Well, looney tunes had to weigh in

    https://www.patheos.com/blogs/markshea/2019/11/mr-rogers-and-two-film-reviews.html#disqus_thread

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    1. Just wasted a little time over in his combox. My goodness, what a gang of lunatics.

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    2. I followed in behind you. My, my, you're practically considered the anti-Christ over there.

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    3. It's interesting at least one of the loud-mouths Shea prefers over Feser is a self-proclaimed atheist. Also notice how it's really all political for Shea. It's all about Trump, even though Feser barely mentions him. I had to chuckle at the alt-right allegations. That word really has no meaning, does it?

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    4. It's amazing that the issue is somehow about Trump and the alt right given that they are basically never discussed here. Running a quick search, Trump has been mentioned in one post in 2019 (excepting another in which his name occurs in a quotation of another writer).

      Speaking as someone who had (somehow) not even heard about the Mr. Rogers film until I read Feser's post, my immediate impression was that for all Feser wrote the movie might be like the the recent Tolkien film, that is, simply pretending that faith was not of paramount importance to its hero. It's obviously neither a direct nor an indirect takedown of Mr. Rogers himself.

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    5. It really is absurd. They obviously aren't heeding Feser's advice by behaving with a reactionary anger, attacking straw men, not pausing for a second to properly understand and respond to whatever heresy they think Feser is guilty of.

      This needs to stop. Everything is couched in the language of political fear. Fear of some corrosive conservative anger that threatens our peace. People prefer to attack labels, seeing others as mouthpieces for ideologies, rather than individuals with arguments.

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    6. Concur.....The volume of Mr. Rogers Luv over there constitutes idolatry of grandiose proportions......

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  21. A possibly useful review of an old and familiar work.

    "Chapter 10 Nice People or New Men C S Lewis Mere Christianity Book 4 Beyond Personalty"

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwz823Pt-B0

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  22. Der PerFeser says,

    "In the end, pseudo-Christian “niceness” will only doom both those who practice it and those they fear to offend. In the book of Ezekiel, God famously warns those placed as “watchmen” over his people ..."

    And he is right ... with another "hat tip" to Lewis who pointed this out somewhere ...


    https://www.etymonline.com/word/nice

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  23. That's a great picture at the top, where did you find that??

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    1. I am not going to comment on the contents of the article, but the picture is disgusting.

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    2. It's a great picture!

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    3. Thomas and Ethan,

      That's from an old Western movie called The Wrath of God.

      Walter,

      You need to lighten up, buddy.

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    4. Walter supposedly an atheist, but he doesn't half like to lecture Christians on what he thinks their beliefs entail. He's done it quite a few times. It wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't obviously just his own highly questionable views of what we should believe.

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    5. Ed (since we're buddies, I can call you Ed, I suppose)

      I am well aware that this picture isn't meant to be taken seriously, but I am not so certain that there are no hard-line conservative Catholics who might one day think that the use of machine guns is a good way to defend what they believe is the only truth.

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    6. Mr van den Acker,

      The use of machine guns is an excellent, sometimes necessary, way of defnding ONESELF. See, for instante, the Spanish Crusade of 1936-1939.

      E.g.
      http://disabledfriendlyhotels.com/modules/cms/images/wais/scw2_752407_6936.png

      Then there's our brothers in the Faith that dwell in the East. I'm sure we all support ecumenism here.

      https://sadanduseless.b-cdn.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/priest8.jpg

      Remember Psalm 144:1.

      Best,
      Al

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    7. Al

      What about turning the other cheek?

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    8. "but I am not so certain that there are no hard-line conservative Catholics who might one day think that the use of machine guns is a good way to defend what they believe is the only truth."

      This could be said about just about any substantial view. So this doesn't prove a point.

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    9. The point is that I think putting a picture of a priest with a machine gun in an article against candy-ass Christianity is not a good idea.
      There is IMO a huge difference between not always speaking pleasantly to others, or even being angry and using machine guns.

      I sincerely hope that any "substantial view" will think twice before using machine guns or bombs.

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    10. Your reasoning for that is poor: based on what I've said.

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    11. but yes, I do hope the same. Everyone is prone to violence.

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    12. I mean it's partly satirical. Feser isn't legitimately calling for violence. And a priest with a machine gun, is that inherently evil? Maybe he's performing a noble act? Perhaps he's safeguarding innocent children from a conclave of terrorists.

      I'm not particularly a strong proponent of the Second Amendment but, damn, the culture has vilified even the appearance of a gun. I know schools that no longer permit imaginary cops and robbers or military games because of the use of guns. They've become overblown symbols of mass destruction. Guns, like any object that can be utilized as a weapon, are morally neutral.

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    13. I know that Feser isn't calling for violence, and a priest with a machine gun is not necessarily inherently evil.
      But to use this picture as an illustration of an article that criticizes "candy-ass Christianity" and calls for a little more harshness IMO, is not an appropriate image.

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    14. What do you mean not appropriate? Are you trying to act as umpire of what Christians should believe and do, from their own principles, again? That never seems to go well.

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    15. That never seems to go well. You don't have a good grasp of what Christians or Catholics actually believe (rather than some simplistic caricature).

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    16. I don't really care what seems or doesn't seem to some anonymous guy.
      I only care about consistency. It doesn't take a genius to see there is a lot of inconsistency among Christians or Catholics.
      BTW, I was born and raised a Catholic, so I know what Catholics believe.

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    17. I would venture that Feser's use of this image has no tendency to lead any "hard-line conservative Catholics" to employ violence in implementing and enforcing their beliefs. Seeing a joke image of a priest holding machine gun actually doesn't make you use machine guns. This is true even if "hard-line conservative Catholics" someday decide to use machine guns to implement and enforce their beliefs.

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    18. Greg

      Provided they see it as a joke image, I agree with you.
      But I am afraid some of them don't see it as a joke.

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    19. 1. Who?
      2. It is obviously a joke, like so many other images that accompany Feser's post.
      3. If someone were to see and accept that image as some kind of call to arms, then the problem would not be the image but that they already were prepared to use violence inappropriately in response to a minor stimulus.

      I can't imagine the mental life of someone in whom the image would causally contribute to violent behavior.

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    20. This stuff about the image is almost autistic...

      Anyway, the problem with your fight for consistency is you usually don't know what you are talking about (e.g., the stuff about Catholics having to believe human life can never be taken).

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    21. Greg

      I know it's a joke, like so many other images that accompany Feser's posts, but I don't think it's wise to joke about everything.
      Not everyone is as mentally stable as you.

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  24. The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
    -James 1:20

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  25. I worked in a parish office for some time. The parish was far from orthodox. Some office workers had a biting disdain for the use of Latin--there was a general atmosphere of pioneering a new church, one which was more digestible for its time.

    I was appalled by the catechesis. Children were taught that God was inside their hearts and whenever they felt good feelings God was extra watching over them. God was seen as synonymous with feeling happy, loved, accepted. The older youth were taught that God is a mystery and we cannot know him aside from adhering to a nauseating fideism. The catechists were accidental Ockhamites--God is hidden from us because the whole point of faith is having hope in Him and His ways when we can't know him in any other way (like natural reason).

    Something needs to change. I am disgusted by the way a lot of catechesis is done in the Church. Doctrines are softened, God is reduced to being a big friend, fideism is said to outweigh natural reason. This is the perfect way to make disenchanted atheists. One wit of skepticism will dismantle a purely fideistic faith. I see the Church murdering itself, becoming more shallow and empty.

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    1. Very true, bearing in mind that Faith is not the same thing as knowing God exists.

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    2. "... there was a general atmosphere of pioneering a new church, one which was more digestible for its time."

      In that simple, off-hand line, is expressed an outstandingly apt characterization.

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  26. I never let my sons watch Mr. Rogers. I thought he was creepy. He was effeminate. He was a bad example of what it meant to be a man.

    OTOH...

    I usually watch the evening news. After that my wife likes watching Jeopardy. Then I turn off the TV sound while I work. Eventually a network sitcom comes on -- minus the sound.

    I say sitcom but you wouldn't know that from the visuals. When I look up, I'm struck by the nastiness of the characters. They're always angry. There's a constant flow of condescension and hate. Nothing about those visuals tells me they are happy people. It's not comedy. It's tragedy with laughs for people who relish pain.

    I don't like talking about the 'good old days.' But if you compare the personal interconnections between TV sitcom characters in the 1950s, 60s, or 70s to those of today, it's hard to miss the fact that anger was largely absent in sitcoms of the past but makes up the virtual totality of some sitcoms today.

    This is only one symptom of the disease.

    We live in a world obsessed with anger. I believe that's part of the reason we see so many shootings. People are too angry. They think it's justified. But rarely does anger lead to good. It sure can't be pardoned with quotes from Aquinas or Chrysostom or the Bible where, btw, one can find conflicting quotes.


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  27. I guess you could say that Rogers was promoting a simplified principle/practice of Loving Kindness, which is obviously a good place to start. But the Process that is True Religion requires much more than that.
    True Religion is a process, a specific activity or practice which transforms you into a benign personality. If you not in this moment a benign personality you are not practicing true religion. If you are not becoming a more radiant, loving, benign, happy person, you are not practicing true religion. If you are are not bringing order to your life, if you are not becoming tranquil and more capable of existing in a higher, pleasurable state, then you are not practicing true religion, because True Religion is about literally transforming the body-mind in the process of love-surrender to the Living Divine Being.

    Therefore religion must be assessed in psycho-physiological terms, in factual terms, real, actual, living, human terms. That is how you tell the difference between true practitioners and mere (self-righteous) "true believers". What is the quality of their existence? What do they actually do? If you see people practicing some religious path and they look happy, and they are healthy, and they are sane, and they are also intelligent, and their experience is real and also extraordinary, then naturally they are attractive and there is value in listening to them. They must be doing something appropriate at some level if they are in such a good state.

    But if you see a group of crazy self-righteous and fanatical people, who call themselves true believers but who have no clarity, no humanity, no love, no ability to inspect and transcend themselves, then you can immediately know that, whatever they are doing and saying, they are not practicing anything more profound than mechanically feeling their own insides or mumbling the usual nonsensical belief in the Myth of Jesus.

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  28. "I never let my sons watch Mr. Rogers. I thought he was creepy. He was effeminate. He was a bad example of what it meant to be a man."

    How about that. I agree with you for at least the second time in probably fewer than that many years.

    Even accounting for the fact - I assume - that it was an act Rogers put on for toddlers and preschool aged kiddies, it was as you say, edging toward creepy.

    And, you are right regarding anger. Most people have never had it so good materially, in world historical terms, yet are so angry as to be almost completely irrational.

    Perhaps it is partly due to a widespread embrace of the irrational which the heresiarchs of the 60's and 70's proposed as the path to true self-realization.

    Young people nowadays may indeed have something to feel frustrated about as they compare their parents' and grandparents' material lives in context, and then assess their own life chances; especially if they are calculating those chances in terms of an advancement through large institutions: either of the government, or co-opted private, kind.

    But in this, they, some of them, are in some measure ironically railing at the personally felt effects and fall-out of a partially implemented left-wing sociopolitical agenda, which pollsters say their cohorts in good measure support.

    Perhaps some think that the solution to a crippled and thus weakly performing free market, is to kill it off completely.

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    1. "But in this, they, some of them, are in some measure ironically railing at the personally felt effects and fall-out of a partially implemented left-wing sociopolitical agenda, which pollsters say their cohorts in good measure support."

      I blame left and right pretty equally. These are trying times for an optimist like me.

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  29. Hey Ed, you might want to make a post to advertise the new Thomistic Institute channel on YouTube. They're doing really great work making short, accessible popular-level videos and animations presenting Thomistic philosophy. They deserve more attention.

    https://youtu.be/RAcZaBhEuE0

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  30. The Lonely ProfessorNovember 25, 2019 at 5:47 PM

    I don't know that the main premise is actually true, though. Just try to defend the Third Reich or slavery, say that women shouldn't vote or put forth an argument for monarchy, or claim that sexual harassment really isn't that big of a deal, and see how "affable" people are. Not to mention the continual "outrage" culture on social media.

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    1. Well, yes, of course most won't make compromise on those ends. I think Feser's post is geared more towards those "softer" issues which have been pushed for and socially galvanized almost by cultural default. like proliferation of Lgbtq norms or the morales of the pro-choice movement. There's immense social pressure to be affable, to avoid controversy lest one be labeled a heathen by cultural consensus. One is tempted to remain timid, agreeable, compromising in order to preserve his social reputation.

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  31. I don't disagree with the main point of the post but the tone and the name are very disrespectful, and not in a good way.

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  32. The thing is, I feel you could make a fairly strong case for "nice" Christianity from the Bible (many Scripture verses enjoining us to be peaceful, gentle, avoid quarrels, etc.) and from the lives of the saints (who are usually, though not always, extremely irenic figures). Just as Dr. Feser could also make the argument he makes above, with a wealth of supporting texts.

    Jesus obviously seems to be criticizing the Pharisees for excessive harshness at times-- and excessive laxity in others.

    It's hard to tell who is right about this, so I tend to favour listening to our appointed pastors, lousy as they can often be.

    And Mark Shea is a nutjob.

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    1. Surely that suggests the answer is somewhere in the middle? Though not in a lazy, split the difference kind of a way. This, it seems to me, is what the Church has tended to teach. It has taught God's love and mercy, but also that sin is sin and sinners must repent. The problem with the cult of niceness is it ignores the latter, and reduces God's profound love to mere sentimentalism.

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  33. As a big fan of your works and a general theist myself, I gotta say I completely disagree. God needs to be really damn pety to send gays to hell or annihilate them. Say "no" to cruel theism!

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    1. If you're a big fan of Feser's work, perhaps you could deal with his arguments on sexual morality, instead of invoking lazy, sentimentalist slogans.

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    2. Sure, when he posts an argument as a part of an article.

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    3. Fortunately God doesn't care about opinions of strangers on the net. He does what is right.

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    4. That goes for both of us, I'm sure.

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    5. Yes, but you're the one who thinks God must adhere to what you consider right.

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    6. I'm to original anon who responded to you, distinct from the other one. You are either be disingenuous or dense. Feser has made arguments on these subjects here and elsewhere.

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    7. Sure do, and why wouldn't I? I have a powerful moral intuition that happens to be shared by the majority of the Earths population. I'm not about to throw it away without a good reason.

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  34. Mark Shea Banned me(again) from his blog for bad spelling.:-)

    I live for the day Trump appoints more conservatives to SCOTUS and they overturn ROE vs WADE. On that day I will rub it in the Sheaman's face.

    I enjoy having goals.

    Jim the Scott, BenYachov strikes again.

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    1. Actually, you were banned for calling Linda Daily stupid.

      Delete
    2. No a plain reading of his response tells me it was clearly the spelling. Complaining about me calling her stupid (which she clearly was...wow what an airhead I tell ya buddy) was clearly an after thought.

      It is obvious.

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    3. Jim, you're falling down on this one. In reply to your post calling Linda stupid, Shea wrote, "Linda: Please take the insults of Jim as the badge of honor they are. I keep a pretty loose hand on the reins here, but him calling you stupid is where I draw the line. He's gone."

      In reply to your misspelling, Shea wrote, ""latter", O Expert on Words."

      The banning as marked by Shea was a consequence of "stupid" not of "later".

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    4. But is she stupid? That's the question!

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    5. So what you are saying Ficino is I should actually read what Mark literally says instead of reading into him my own ideas & I should treat him fairly & with justice?

      What a novel Idea! Now if only Mark would do that if only once in his life...

      Till then as far as I am concerned he banned me over spelling & this claim he banned me for calling the Linda the stupid "stupid" is just an afterthought to save face.

      Now maybe that is not true? But who cares? I know Mark doesn't care otherwise he wouldn't pull crap like this in the first place.

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  35. Has anyone *read* Mr. Rogers? He's not shy about bringing up belief. Consider this quote:

    "My hunch is that the beginning of my belief in the caring nature of God came from all of those people–all of those extraordinary, ordinary people who believed that I was more than I thought I was–all those saints who helped a fat, shy kid to see more clearly what was really essential. I realize that it isn’t very fashionable to talk about some things as being holy; nevertheless, if we ever want to rid ourselves of personal and corporate emptiness, brokenness, loneliness, and fear, we will have to allow ourselves room for that which we cannot see, hear, touch, or control." (Life's Journey According to Mr. Rogers)

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    1. People want the niceness of Mr. Rogers without the thing that made him nice in the first place.

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  36. Well the anonymous user is hitting the nail on the head! Loving your responses! And Edward feser.. Love this blog! Absolutely love this post!

    I am sick of the church and its newly adopted nonsense. Its time to wipe out niceness and come out with bold simplicity called truth.

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  37. Ahhh reading these comments. So many people are so filled with the niceness contagion it is unmistakably irritating. God's justice is His mercy and His mercy His justice. I donot see why everyone (well almost everyone) has a spastic flip out when people REFER BACK to God's Justice. Correction is necessary. Mercy allows for That correction to take place but Justice is what keeps us in line... has disciple just got up and walked out the door people ? What has happened to man that everything must be easy, as is seen with the overly merciful God regime, that y'all throw Justice and righteousness out the window?

    THE CHURCH OF NICE MUST BE OBLIERATED AND THE CHURCH OF TRUTH AND TRADITION REINSTATED.

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    1. There's no need of mercy if a person hasn't done something that justly deserves punishment. Doing away with justice does away with mercy, too. In what is often a laudable desire to remind people that God is merciful, many people pretend that we don't require mercy because we are, in fact, sinners.

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  38. Ed – you really should read the original Tom Junod article on which the movie is based. It's a great read.

    https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/tv/a27134/can-you-say-hero-esq1198/

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  39. If people think of themselves as so 'broken' as to be beyond salvation, either because of their past sins or because of the pains of life, then correcting that is a perfectly Catholic thing to do: we don't believe in total depravity.

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  40. Mr Rogers once told a homosexual that God loves him just the way he is. Basically that the man needn't change his ways at all. He was overly nice. He even had a whole episode of his show dedicated to the topic of divorce in which he did not condemn divorce but made it acceptable for children.

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    1. Or he could mean God loves that man flaws and all and changing isn't the issue. Refraining from doing evil is the issue. Gay people aren't required to "become straight" (Why? So they can upgrade to fornication vs mere sodomy?). They are required to refrain from committing the un-natural sex acts.

      Also stop being a Mark Shea and read Feser's article. He is not bagging on Mr. Rogers or even the movie about him but the Cult of Nice.

      Not condemning something doesn't mean you condone it. For example nowhere in yer post do you condemn Baal Worship so therefore you must be a Canaanite pagan.

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  41. Amen. The only thing we seem to be allowed to be angry about these days is abuse of minors, and our bishops seem oddly reluctant to even be angry about that. We hear lots of unfocused outrage over many things -- much of it feigned -- but little in the way of righteous anger over sin. Unless it's the "approved" anger over "not being welcoming."

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  42. "Predictably, this has resulted, not in people being drawn to the Church in greater numbers, but rather in a massive decline in observance and orthodoxy among Catholics, and a general assumption among Catholics and non-Catholics alike that the unpopular doctrines are not really important after all and will inevitably be abandoned."

    I think making causation arguments of this sort are tough to prove.

    I am glad the bishops are not saying people like Rev Martin Luther King Jr. are in in hell because he was not Catholic.

    I doubt priests and bishops constantly saying everyone who uses birth control, thinks a lustful thought, or misses a mass on Sunday, and dies before going to confession are in hell is great for the church.

    I am not saying they need to change any views nor am I saying they need to teach error. Jesus told us to be perfect and it is only right that the Church should give us the best model for what that means. I am just saying de-emphasizing some of these legalistic aspects and sticking to Jesus's clear cut message of love is good. Jesus repeatedly cut against the legalism of Judaism and lived a life of love.
    https://trueandreasonable.co/2019/11/12/anti-theists-and-pharisees-can-interpret-the-old-testament-the-way-they-want-i-will-interpret-it-the-way-god-wants/


    You say you don't mean anything against Mr. Rogers but why tie him to any of this at all? He seemed to act kindly to others out of love. Is kindness not a fruit of the spirit? I really don't understand the backlash against Mr. Rogers that I am reading on some of these blogs. It's just really bizarre to me.

    Sure God and Jesus will judge but that is not what we are to do. Here are some verses on judging others.

    https://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/bible-verses-on-judging/

    I agree that it can be appropriate to point out other peoples sins at times. But that is not a central principle of Christianity - if anything the opposite is true.

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