Saturday, February 6, 2021

What is religion?

The question is notoriously controversial.  Consider a definition like the following, from Bernard Wuellner’s Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy:

religion, n. 1. the sum of truths and duties binding man to God. 2. personal belief and worship in relation to God.  Religion includes creed, cult, and code.

By “creed,” what Wuellner has in mind is a system of doctrine.  A “cult,” in this context, has to do with a system of rituals of the kind associated with worship and the like.  The “code” referred to has to do with a system of moral principles.  So, the definition is telling us that doctrines, rituals, and moral principles are among the key elements of religion.

Perhaps some would quibble over that part, though it seems safe to say that the best-known examples of religions all involve some doctrinal, ritual, and moral components, even if some religions emphasize some of these more than others do.  But the standard objection to this kind of definition has to do instead with the reference to God.  For aren’t there religions (such as Buddhism) in which the notion of God does not feature, or is even rejected?

In light of such considerations, it is common these days to define religion more broadly so as to include non-theistic religions.  The trick is to avoid defining the term so broadly that it ends up including things that aren’t really religions.  The desired happy medium would be something like the following definition, from John Carlson’s Words of Wisdom: A Philosophical Dictionary for the Perennial Tradition:

Set of beliefs, relations, and activities by which people are united, or regard themselves as being united, to the realm of the transcendent (often, although not always, with a focus on Absolute Being or God).

The idea here would be that, although not all religions affirm the existence of God, they do all affirm that there is some reality transcending the material world.  A view that denied any such transcendent reality (such as scientism, whether in its positivist form or its scientific realist form) would not fall under a plausible definition of “religion.”  This seems reasonable enough.  For example, however we spell out Buddhist notions like karma, nirvana, etc., they are probably not going to be expressible in terms acceptable to a Rudolf Carnap or an Alex Rosenberg. 

Nominal or real definition?

Having said that, it doesn’t actually follow that Wuellner’s definition is wrong.  For it depends in part on what kind of definition we’re looking for.  Scholastic philosophers distinguish between nominal definitions and real definitions.  A nominal definition aims to capture how people use a certain word, whereas a real definition aims to capture the nature of the reality that the word refers to.  Hence, suppose I ask you to define “water.”  I might be asking for an explanation of how the term “water” is used by English speakers – in which case you might respond that it is used to refer to the clear liquid that fills lakes and rivers, etc.  But I might instead be asking about what it is to be the actual stuff, water (whether we refer to it as “water,” “Wasser,” “agua,” or whatever) – in which case you might discuss its chemical composition and the like.

Now, nominal definitions are essentially descriptive.  They are trying to tell us how people do in fact use words.  There may be certain normative implications to the extent that we are aiming to track actual usage.  We may find out that the way we use a certain word in is contrary to currently prevailing usage, and therefore “wrong,” but if a critical mass of people start using the term this way it will end up no longer being wrong but merely an alternative usage.

Real definitions, by contrast, are essentially normative.  They are not trying to capture actual usage, even when they are not in conflict with it.  Again, they are trying to capture the nature or essence of the reality itself, which doesn’t change with changes in usage.  And there is an objective fact of the matter about that, even if there is no objective fact of the matter about how a word (considered merely as a string of letters or phonemes) should be used.  (Anti-essentialist views often rest on a fallacious conflation of real definitions and nominal ones – as if a change in the usage of words could change reality itself.  In fact, the most it can do is muddle our thinking about reality.) 

Now, to evaluate a definition like Wuellner’s, we’d need first to know whether he intends it as a nominal or a real definition.  Considered as a nominal definition, it would indeed be defective in just the way described, since people use the term “religion” to refer to non-theistic systems of belief as well as to theistic ones. 

But that is surely not how Wuellner meant it.  Rather he was, as a Scholastic and a Catholic, trying to capture the objective reality behind the phenomena we call “religion.”  He would probably say that in light of the fact that God exists and that we are by nature oriented to seeking and worshipping him, religion arises in various cultures as a byproduct of this natural tendency.  Like everything else in nature, this tendency is subject to distortion and frustration.  Sometimes our religious inclinations might be directed toward an improper object, as in idolatrous or non-theistic religions.  Sometimes they may be altogether stifled, as in atheism.  But the natural inclination toward God is there all the same, and should inform any attempt at a real definition of religion.

Naturally, a real definition of a phenomenon like religion is bound to be controversial.  But it is not a serious objection to such a definition to point out that it doesn’t correspond exactly to actual usage.  It isn’t trying to do that.

Consider another example.  Marx famously said: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.  It is the opium of the people.”  Suppose this was meant as a definition of religion.  I certainly think it is wrong.  But it would be a stupid objection to say: “Marx, that’s not how people actually use the term.  Most people don’t think of religion as analogous to a drug that enables them to deal with oppressive socioeconomic conditions.”  Marx was well aware of that, of course.  He was not doing lexicography, but rather what he considered to be a kind of scientific explanation of the function that religion performs in the sociopolitical order.  He held that, whatever people think religion is about, the objectively true explanation of why it exists is that it helps to fortify an existing economic order by reconciling people to that order’s harsher aspects. 

This is a functional explanation, just like an explanation a biologist might give of a bodily organ – and just like Wuellner’s explanation, albeit he and Marx attribute very different functions to religion (in Wuellner’s case, it functions to orient us in a certain way to God, and in Marx’s it functions to orient us in a certain way to the established economic order).  And just as a biologist might appeal to an organ’s function in giving a real definition of it, Wuellner and Marx are each appealing to the function they attribute to religion in giving a real definition of it. 

I think that Wuellner’s definition happens to be correct and Marx’s wrong, but that’s a separate issue.   The point, again, is that we need to know what kind of definition a theorist is proposing before we can evaluate it, and that in the case of real definitions it misses the point to note that a definition doesn’t correspond exactly to actual usage.

Religions or philosophies?

But there’s another potential problem with the standard objection to definitions like Wuellner’s, even when considered as nominal rather than real definitions.  For why should we count examples like Buddhism as religions in the first place?  Well, everyone does so, you might say.  But there’s a problem with that.

Suppose the purported counterexample raised against Wuellner’s definition was Epicureanism rather than Buddhism.  That is to say, suppose the critic said: “You can’t define religion in general in terms of the worship of God or gods, because Epicureanism doesn’t feature the worship of God or gods.”  A defender of the definition would no doubt respond by saying that Epicureanism is not a religion in the first place, but a philosophy, so that it isn’t a genuine counterexample.

But why not count it is a religion?  After all, even if the worship of the gods doesn’t feature in it, the existence of the gods does, at least insofar as it isn’t denied.  So, arguably the existence of some kind of “transcendent” realm is allowed.  Of course, this particular transcendent realm doesn’t play a role in the moral life of the Epicurean, so that might be thought to justify not counting it as a religion.  But now consider the example of Stoicism.  Here too we have something like a transcendent reality – the divine logos or world soul – and one’s proper orientation to it does play a role in the moral life of the Stoic.  Yet Stoicism too is usually classified as a philosophy rather than a religion.

Now, someone might conclude: “OK, so maybe we should classify these systems as religions rather than philosophies.”  But why not instead conclude that Buddhism too is not after all a religion, but rather a philosophy?  True, it has aspects that usually bring to mind religion rather than philosophy, such as certain rituals.  But why not just say that it is a philosophy with which certain religion-like elements have come to be associated, just as Marxism is (with its personality cults in cases like the Stalinist and Maoist versions of Marxism)?

The point is that the range of the actual use of the term “religion” seems to be somewhat arbitrary.  People don’t actually apply it to a clearly demarcated set of phenomena, but rather in a way that reflects criteria that are loose at best and maybe even inconsistent.  Now, sometimes with nominal definitions, when we encounter usage that is loose or inconsistent in this way, we propose a stipulative definition to tighten usage up at least for some particular purpose (as in a legal context).  And you could read a definition like Wuellner’s that way.  Someone could say: “Sure, we don’t use ‘religion’ to refer only to systems that feature belief in a God or gods.  But then, the ordinary usage of the term is a mess anyway.  I propose that we reform existing usage by tightening it up and relegating systems that don’t involve the worship of a God or gods to the ‘philosophy’ category.” 

Maybe that’s a good idea, and maybe not.  But the point is that the actual usage of the term “religion” is indeed messy enough that even considered as a nominal definition, a definition like Wuellner’s can’t reasonably be dismissed too quickly on the basis of alleged counterexamples.  For the counterexamples might reflect a problem with actual usage, no less than a problem with the definition.

Inventing “religion”

These problems are not surprising given the history of the usage.  For as scholars of religion often point out, the category of “religion” as we understand it today is actually a modern invention.  Brent Nongbri’s book Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept is a useful study.  As Nongbri points out, we tend today to think of “religion” by way of contrast with “secular” matters, as if these are two clearly demarcated spheres of human life.  But that is an invention of modern Europeans, and indeed an artifact of Protestant vs. Catholic and Enlightenment-era polemic.  Non-Western and pre-modern Western thinking on the subject drew no such distinction. 

True, there were distinctions like the distinction between Church and State and between the spiritual and temporal realms.  But those distinctions are very different from the modern “religious” versus “secular” distinction.  To be sure, and as I have discussed elsewhere, the idea of Church and State as clearly demarcated institutions with distinctive functions is central to Christianity, though foreign to religions like Islam.  But this was not taken to entail a separation of Church and State, any more than the fact that the soul and the body are distinct and clearly demarcated aspects of human nature entails that the body can exist in separation from the soul. 

In ordinary human life, we have a variety of concerns – what to have for dinner, how to earn a living, where to send our children to school, who to vote for, how to fix a car, and so on.  And we also have concerns about getting ourselves right with God, doing right by our fellow religious believers, and so on.  Now, no one thinks that the fact that the concerns in the first set are very different in nature entails that there are clearly demarcated and hermetically sealed off realms like the “culinary,” the “economic,” the “educational,” the “automotive,” etc. that can or ought to be kept totally separate.  No one calls for a “separation of economics and state” or a “separation of the automotive from the state.”  That would, or course, be ridiculous.  Yet modern Westerners pretend that the “religious” is some clearly demarcated and hermetically sealed off realm, an aspect of human life that can be (and, in the view of many, should be) conducted separately from those other aspects, which are purely “secular.”  That conception of religion is, as Nongbri points out, a modern invention.

How did it arise?  To understand this, we need to begin by considering the set of attitudes that Nongbri says it replaced.  First, though the term “Europa” is ancient, medieval Europeans did not conceptualize themselves as “Europeans” – that is itself a modern secular category.  Rather, they thought of their homeland as Christendom or as the respublica Christiana.  And they didn’t speak of a variety of “world religions.”  Rather, groups like Manicheans and Muslims were classified as heretics, insofar as they shared some beliefs in common with Christians but rejected others and (from the point of view of Christianity) distorted the ones they did share.  And those who worshipped gods like those of Greece and Rome were classified as pagans, whose deities were in reality demons. 

In other words, matters of “religion” were conceptualized from a distinctively Christian point of view.  Now, Nongbri does in fact oversimplify things here.  From the beginning, Christians did recognize a category of natural theology by which pagans were capable of some imperfect knowledge of the true God.  All the same, he is correct to say that they took Christianity as normative, and certainly did not conceptualize it as one option alongside the others in a “world religions” smorgasbord.  And the point is not that they thought of it as the best or even as the correct option.  The point is that they didn’t think in terms of options at all.  In particular, they didn’t think in terms of “religions,” any more than modern people think of physics, astrology, acupuncture, Star Trek lore, etc. as different possible “sciences,” with physics being the best or correct one.  Rather, they thought in terms of there being (a) the truth about God and his relationship to the human race, and (b) greater or lesser deviations from this truth.

But then came Protestantism, which destroyed this unified view of the matter.  And it did so not only at the intellectual level, but at a practical and political level – so much so that the sequel to the Reformation was decades of war.  Thinkers like John Locke judged that a political solution to the problem of restoring peace would be to relegate theological disagreements to the realm of private opinions that ought to have no influence on public affairs, and can be safely tolerated to the extent that they are segregated from politics.  And therein, Nongbri argues, lies the origin of the conceptualization of “religion” as an idiosyncratic sphere of subjective belief sealed off from the “secular.”  I would add that this “subjectivizing” of religion was facilitated by a strongly fideistic strain within Protestantism that was hostile to the notions of natural law and natural theology.  (See chapter 5 of my book Locke for critical discussion of Locke’s theory of toleration.)

What happened next was that this compartmentalized conception of “religion” was projected by post-Enlightenment Westerners onto the rest of the world.  Western scholars would look at, say, the ancient and complex set of philosophical ideas, devotions to various deities, moral attitudes, sociopolitical institutions, etc. to be found in India, lump them all together as if they were part of some unified system, and slap the label “Hinduism” on this imagined system.  They would do the same with “Buddhism,” “Confucianism,” and so on, and then announce that these various “world religions” are all instances of some general phenomenon called “religion.”  Then they would look at now defunct sets of practices and ideas of the past, lump them together, and classify them as various examples of “ancient religions,” further species of the same general phenomenon of “religion.”  And again, this general phenomenon was conceived of as an idiosyncratic, subjective thing in a sphere of its own only contingently connected to politics, morality, and the rest of human life – even though the ideas and practices in question had never been understood that way, outside the imaginations of post-Protestant, post-Enlightenment Westerners.

Now, one can debate whether the demarcations of the various so-called “world religions” are actually as arbitrary as writers like Nongbri imply.  I think we need to be careful not to overstate things.  All the same, there is some non-trivial degree of arbitrariness here, and it is certainly arbitrary to characterize “religion” in general as some idiosyncratic and subjective sphere separable from the rest of human life, the way that modern Westerners now reflexively tend to do.

The rhetoric of “religion”

The reason this characterization survives is the same as the reason it was introduced in the first place by early modern thinkers like Locke.  It serves political and polemical purposes.  It is a rhetorical weapon by means of which certain ideas can be put at a political and/or intellectual disadvantage right out of the gate.

Think, for example, of the double standard that many contemporary academic philosophers apply to arguments for God’s existence.  Any other idea in philosophy, no matter how insane – for example, that the material world is an illusion, that consciousness does not really exist, that infanticide and euthanasia are defensible, that the distinction between the sexes is a mere social construct, that it might be morally wrong to have children, and so on and on – is treated as “worthy of discussion,” something we must at least hear out with respect even if we suspect we will not be convinced.  But if a philosopher gives an argument for God’s existence, then in at least many academic circles, every eyebrow is immediately raised, every eye rolls, and it’s smirks all around – as if such a philosopher had just passed gas, or proposed wearing a tinfoil hat to protect against mindreading.

This is, historically speaking, extremely odd and idiosyncratic.  In first-rate thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Avicenna, Anselm, Al-Ghazali, Maimonides, Aquinas, Scotus, Suarez, Descartes, Leibniz, Clarke, et al. one finds arguments for God’s existence that are no less central to their thought than any other arguments they give for conclusions of a metaphysical, epistemological, or ethical nature.  There is absolutely no objective reason to treat the arguments with any less interest and respect than anything else they say.  And this would have been generally acknowledged as recently as just a few decades ago.  But in recent decades, those who don’t have a special interest in philosophy of religion often not only neglect such arguments, but treat them as having a second-class status to which other philosophical ideas and arguments are not consigned.

The reason for this, I would suggest, has to do with the hegemony of the modern idea that “religion” is an idiosyncratic and subjective sphere having no essential connection to the rest of human life.  It leads people reflexively to be suspicious of any argument for a religious conclusion, no matter how sophisticated and subtle, as if it were “really” “nothing but” an exercise in rationalization.  Hence we have the absurd situation where a philosopher can give slipshod arguments for the most morally depraved conclusions whatever, and no one is ever supposed to think: “Hmm, I guess I’ll hear it out, but you do kind of wonder if he’s trying to justify being a pervert.”  But if, say, an Alex Pruss or Rob Koons presents a theistic proof, no matter how rigorously, the circumstantial ad hominem suddenly becomes a decisive refutation: “Oh come on, we all know that he’s just trying to rationalize his religious prejudices!”

Or think of the rhetorical game New Atheist types play in order to cast doubt on the rational and moral credibility of the general phenomenon of “religion.”  They will lump together, as representative samples of “religion,” ideas, practices, and people as diverse as: Thomistic metaphysics, sola fide, snake handling, Zen Buddhism, jihadists, the Tridentine Mass, Gödel’s ontological proof, the Heaven’s Gate cult, the Norse gods, the six schools of Indian philosophy, Lao-Tzu, Jimmy Swaggart, Pope St. Pius X, Kirk Cameron, Deepak Chopra, Adi Shankara, Joseph Campbell, Averroes, etc.  The more embarrassing things on the list are supposed to make us doubt the worthiness of the others. 

But you could play this same rhetorical game with any subject matter in order to make it look disreputable.  For example, suppose we gave the following list as a representative sample of “science” and “scientists”: general relativity, phlogiston theory, caloric theory, the Periodic Table, pre-Copernican astronomy, phrenology, Lysenkoism, quantum mechanics, parapsychology, Lamarckian evolution, Darwinian evolution, Paul Dirac, Rupert Sheldrake, Alfred Wegener, Immanuel Velikovsky, etc. Suppose we kept Isaac Newton off the “science” list and put him on the “religion” list, since he wrote more about the latter topic than the former.  Suppose we took Deepak Chopra off the “religion” list and put him on the “science” list, on the grounds that he uses the word “quantum” a lot.  And suppose we did the same with the Heaven’s Gate cult, because they talked about comets and extraterrestrials.  We could by such a tactic make science look pretty stupid to people who didn’t know much about it, just as New Atheist types are able to make religion look stupid to people who don’t know much about it. 

Hence we have a further reason why “religion” has turned out to be a difficult concept to define, which lies in the political and polemical interest some have in making the definition come out a certain way.  And this interest has its roots – like so much else in modernity – in the apostate project of supplanting what once was Christendom.

185 comments:

  1. "Hence we have the absurd situation where a philosopher can give slipshod arguments for the most morally depraved conclusions whatever, and no one is ever supposed to think: “Hmm, I guess I’ll hear it out, but you do kind of wonder if he’s trying to justify being a pervert.”

    Do share that story Ed!

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  2. One main reason that Buddhism is usually thought of as a religion is that Buddhism on the ground typically involves dealings with all kinds of gods. It is really only Theravada Buddhism as practiced by a few elites that can be classified purely as a philosophy.

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    1. That has always puzzled me, because (in my very limited knowledge of the details) I thought Buddhism defined the final goal in a way that either absolutely precludes there being gods, or at least makes them utterly irrelevant.

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    2. I'm no expert, but as far as I can tell it mostly boils down to the local peoples among whom Buddhism spread wanting to keep the colorful and/or comfortable parts of their popular religion. High-minded asceticism may be noble, but it's not going to find a receptive audience among the general public. Notice that many Buddhists believe in some kind of good afterlife (especially the "Pure Landers") and some form of spiritual protectors (the whole Mahayana tradition, etc).

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    3. ...to complete my previous comment - "they believe in these things even though the Buddha didn't teach about or seem to care about either thing.

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    4. First a little background:
      I am living in a place where the largest religion is Buddhism. I focused in the study of Buddhism in my one-semester World Religions module during my Christian seminary days, while for many years till today I continued to read some academic and semi-academic works by scholars of Buddhism and academic Buddhist monks. I learned basic Buddhist breath meditation from a senior Buddhist monk who knows I am a Christian. I participated in Buddhist talks and meditation events (I would not perform the ritualistic aspects of such events since I am Christian). For years till today, almost every week I have breakfast with Theravāda Buddhists friends who often would converse about various aspects of Theravāda Buddhism (eg about the latest Dhamma talk given by certain monks).

      I am aware that a very small minority of Buddhists (from other countries) who believe that Gotama Buddha did not teach rebirth. But from my little readings on the arguments on whether the Buddha taught rebirth or was rebirth added by later Buddhists after the passing away of the Buddha: Gotama Buddha very likely taught rebirth/rebecoming (note: rebirth is not reincarnation, given that reincarnation is often understood in a Hindu way). Gotama Buddha did not blindly agree with the existing assumptions of his days; he rejected many other common assumptions (such as various kinds of Indian assumptions of atta or “soul”), but he modified reincarnation (which assumes atta/“soul”) to become rebirth/rebecoming in the light of his conviction about anatta (not-self). Very likely he actively taught rebirth/rebecoming; rebirth is likely not something added to Buddhism by Buddhists after the death/parinibbana of Gotama Buddha.

      The whole point of Gotama Buddha’s Buddhism is to teach its believers how to ESCAPE from rebirth. Buddhism claims to provide the solution to the problem of rebirth/suffering/dukkha (it is an alleged problem).

      The ultimate goal of Theravāda Buddhism is to attain full liberation from rebirth BECAUSE rebirth is a key condition for one to experience suffering/dukkha. To attain such a full liberation is to attain Nibbāna/Parinibbana.

      No more rebirth
      = no more dukkha (being conditioned & impermanent)
      = Unconditioned Permanent “Happiness”

      But I do not believe in Buddhism’s version of reality, because various deductive reasonings (including certain versions of Ontological Arguments) have demonstrated that the God of Classical Theism is the Ultimate Reality, and that abductive reasoning via the historical method has shown that Jesus was bodily resurrected from the dead.


      Cheers!
      johannes y k hui

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    5. Tony is correct that gods and Brahma (Creator God) are irrelevant to Buddhism, especially Theravāda Buddhism, because in Buddhism’s view, even the gods and the Creator Brahma are subject to rebirth. Buddhism accepts the existence of the Creator Brahma and the gods, but like humans, they are also trapped in rebecomings/rebirths.

      The Buddha On the Deluded Creator
      ============================

      In one of the Buddhist scripture, Patika Sutta, the Buddha said:

      “On this, O disciples, that being who was first born (in a new world evolution) thinks thus: ‘I am Brahma, the Great Brahma, the Vanquisher, the All-Seer, the Disposer, the Lord, the Maker, the Creator, the Chief, the Assigner, the Master of Myself, the Father of all that are and are to be. By me are these beings created. And why is that so? A while ago I had this thought: Would that other beings too might come to this stage of being! Such was the aspiration of my mind, and lo! these beings did come.”

      “And those beings themselves who arose after him they too think thus: ‘This Worthy must be Brahma, the Great Brahma, the Vanquisher, the All-Seer, the Disposer,’the Lord, the Maker, the Creator, the Chief, the Assigner, the Master of Myself, the Father of all that are and are to be.”

      “On this, 0 disciples, that being who arose first becomes longerlived, handsomer, and more powerful, but those who appeared after him become shorter lived, less comely, less powerful. And it might well be, 0 disciples, that some other being, on deceasing from that state, would come to this state (on earth) and so come, he might go forth from the household life into the homeless state. And having thus gone forth, by reason of ardour, effort, devotion, earnestness, perfect intellection, he reaches up to such rapt concentration, that with rapt mind he calls to mind his former dwelling place, but remembers not what went before. He says thus: ‘That Worshipful Brahma, the Vanquisher, the All-Seer, the Disposer, the Lord, the Maker, the Creator, the Chief, the Assigner, the Master of Myself, the Father of all that are and are to be, he by whom we were created, he is permanent, constant, eternal, unchanging, and he will remain so for ever and ever. But we who were created by that Brahma, we have come hither -all impermanent, transient, unstable, short-lived, destined to pass away.”

      What Gotama Buddha claimed was that in one of the many eons, a completely new world was reborn, in which the the Creator Brahma was the first being. This Creator, like most of us, could not remember his past lives, and just because other beings started to come into existence after he had a thought about other beings, the Brahma mistakenly thought that he had created, by his will, these other beings. And hence he misunderstood that he is the Creator of these other beings. These other beings also had the same misunderstanding that they were created by Brahma.

      Hence Brahma (who has lived, and would live, for a very long time before he would die, and hence he wrongly thought he is eternal) and all gods were themselves trapped in rebirths.

      Only fully enlightened ones (the Buddhas and Arahats) know the way to be fully liberated from rebirths/suffering/dukkha.

      No more rebirth
      = no more dukkha (being conditioned & impermanent)
      = Unconditioned Permanent “Happiness”

      Again, I do not believe in Buddhism’s version of reality, because various deductive reasonings (including certain versions of Ontological Arguments) have demonstrated that the God of Classical Theism is the Ultimate Reality, and that abductive reasoning via the historical method has shown that Jesus was bodily resurrected from the dead.


      Cheers!
      johannes y k hui

      Delete
  3. Why should we allow our categorizations of "religion" or "philosophy" be dominant, and subordinate different systems of thought so they can be safely tucked into one or the other? This is an artificial process, and it should not be a surprise that there are many ways of approaching life that are neither just "religion" nor just "philosophy", but a mixture of these approaches (and possibly others).

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    1. One Brow, you took the words right out of my mouth. I wish I could've seen this post earlier.

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  4. Ed, do you know of a good source that discusses real definitions and nominal definitions? The distinction makes sense and I would like to learn more about it.
    Your "even if there is no objective fact of the matter about how a word (considered merely as a string of letters or phonemes) should be used" is ambiguous as to whether you claim that there is no objective fact on this topic or are agnostic about it. I would argue that even at the level of a word considered as a string of letters (or other graphemes in the case of languages such as Akkadian) or as a string of phonemes, there is some objectivity. Although the arrangement of a certain ordered set of phonemes or letters to count as a certain word is conventional, arbitrary, and language-specific, once that convention has been established, deviations from it are objectively wrong. Once conventions have become established, there are wrong spellings and wrong pronunciations. It is true that words are artifacts and not natural objects and so words do not possess essences. But essence is not required for normativity. Not only semantics, but syntax has normativity.
    I would argue that there is normativity even below the level of syntax. Phonemes and their written equivalents are abstractions; they are formal causes. Any exemplification of a phoneme is a hylemorphic union of a material cause (the sound) and a formal cause (the phoneme). The same is true of a letter (a written symbol representing a phoneme). And there are normatively bad exemplifications of both phonemes and letters.

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    1. Hi Tim,

      The distinction is often discussed in some detail in Neo-Scholastic logic manuals. For example, volume 1 of P. Coffey's Science of Logic, Richard Clarke's Logic, G. H. Joyce's Principles of Logic, John Oesterle's Logic, Edward Simmons' Scientific Art of Logic, and Francis Parker and Henry Veatch's Logic as a Human Instrument would each have at least a couple of pages on it, and sometimes more. And there are other such manuals too.

      Re: objective facts about usage, I agree with what you say. I didn't mean to imply that there is no objectivity there whatsoever, but just that nominal definition depends on part on convention (and of course, there can be objective facts about what the conventions are) in a way that real definitions do not.

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    2. Hello Ed,

      Fascinating article, but I do have a question regarding the distinction between real and nominal definitions given.

      At first, I would think that a descriptive definition - which would describe the actual qualities of the thing being defined - would be more akin to a real definition than a nominal one.

      In like manner, when I think of norms, they generally seem to deal with "oughts" and "should be" (hence having a norm for behavior, etc.), instead of describing the actual essences of objects and things. By this metric, a normative definition would seem to more nominal than real.

      Am I simply misreading things, or am I in the ballpark?

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    3. Hi Anon,

      A nominal definition will have some connection with reality, since the whole point of using words is to refer to reality. Hence if I give a nominal definition of "water" by saying that it is a clear liquid that fills lakes and rivers, etc., naturally I am making reference to real features of the world. But what makes the definition nominal is that the focus is on capturing usage rather than on identifying the essence of the thing referred to. (And none of those features capture the essence of water in the Scholastic sense but at most -- as in the case of it's being clear and liquid at room temperature -- some of the properties that flow from the essence.)

      Re: "normative," what I meant is that where a nominal definition is not primarily concerned with getting extra-lingusitic reality right, a real definition is concerned with precisely that.

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    4. Hi again Tim,

      I notice that volume 1 of Coffey's Science of Logic is online at Archive.org:

      https://archive.org/details/thescienceoflogi01coffuoft/page/102/mode/2up

      I wouldn't be surprised if some of the others can be found that way too. A unversity library might have some of them (though sadly, many such libraries have discarded them, though on the upside that is why they can often be found in the used book market).

      Delete
    5. Thanks for the references, Ed. I shall try to look up some of those references. I thought that we would be on the same page with respect to normativity and words. Even a real definition has to be communicated with conventional artifacts such as words.

      Delete
    6. When you say used book market, these are all shops right? Does anyone know of a good used book website?

      Delete
  5. Another great article. I can’t believe this stuff is free.

    Well, the effort to supplant Christendom has, of course, worked very well. There is the default presumption that atheism is a symbol of erudition. The average internet atheist has, after all, seen a few snarky Christopher Hitchens YouTube videos and is ready at any moment to roll out the sophisticated spaghetti monster argument.

    Meanwhile, he believes that gender isn’t anchored in biology even though, as a self-described materialist, he claims everything else is. He also thinks his thoughts and assessments are objective, abstract, and mind independent even though he claims they are merely the arbitrary output of a blind chemical process. None of this will slow him down one bit. Drunk on himself and his own brilliance, he pounds away on his keyboard as if acerbic wit and relentless pedantry is a perfectly good substitute for a good argument.

    I really don’t blame them though; there is no shortage of stupid Christians saying stupid things. And besides, something in their effort betrays the indelible quest to know and love the truth which they cannot shed. Pride produces such waste.

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  6. How much of religion is really transcendental? Is having your unmarried daughters tend the fire at the ancestral altar, offering the annual calf to the storm god and the annual piglet to the grain goddess, and putting out the fire on the days of the dead transcendental, especially if your concerns while doing it are keeping things going smoothly?

    Is offering an extra piglet because the crop was bad this year, and you want the grain goddess in a better mood, transcendental?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's objections like this that make religion really hard to pin down as a definition.

      Delete
    2. Believing there is a grain goddess that effects material outcomes is transcendental, yes. Whether it is true, is a different question.

      Take the issue of morality: I have no problem with someone who says morality is attributable to, say, aggregate self-interests. No problem. The question is why are those self-interests what they are?

      Delete
    3. This makes me think about the Philebus, where Socrates chides Philebus for calling Aphrodite Herself "pleasure", as if She could be reduced to an idea, activity, or result. He says instead that he calls Her what pleases Her, that is, Aphrodite. So each Gods individuality precedes any act in which They choose to involve Themselves in. From this view, there is no mere "grain goddess", or "storm god", as They are first Themselves and no contingent thing They cause to occur exhausts Their individuality.

      Delete
    4. No contingent thing humans do exhaust THEIR individuality. That doesn't make us transcendental.

      Also, that she prefers Aphrodite to Pleasure doesn't mean that she actually had any choice in what sphere she reigned over.

      Delete
    5. If I can choose one act over another, my very choice presupposes that there is something transcendent about me, such as using my will to properly order my intellect and my actions in a way that comports with the Good.
      Since being a Deity just is to be Good, to be absolutely One, then Aphrodite need not even do anything as She needs nothing and cannot add to Her own unity. So yes, Aphrodite absolutely has choice.

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    6. That description is completely incompatible with the obvious and professed beliefs of Greeks about Aphrodite.

      Delete
    7. "Believing there is a grain goddess that effects material outcomes is transcendental, yes."

      Why?

      Many gods as describe even in religious texts (not merely myths) show no signs of transcendence.

      Delete
    8. No, it isn't. Even Plato said that each God was the best and most beautiful thing, since each God was an absolute individual with no concept of species or genus overhanging Them. Homeric myth isn't grounds for fundamentalist interpretation, no matter how hard monotheists try.
      Here: The great and amorous sky curved over the earth, and lay upon her as a pure lover. The rain, the humid flux descending from heaven for both man and animal, for both thick and strong, germinated the wheat, swelled the furrows with fecund mud and brought forth the buds in the orchards. And it is I who empowered these moist espousals, I the great Aphrodite .... by Aeschylus. So here we have Aphrodite overseeing the union of things, in such a way as it makes even grain and storms possible, far outstripping mere "love" or "pleasure". She goes above and beyond it all, as each God does, all working in tandem to create contingency, which need not exist but does exist by Their pure grace.

      Delete
    9. For a look at how the Greeks and Romans understood transcendence, look up The Elements of Theology by Proclus.

      Delete
    10. "Many gods as describe even in religious texts (not merely myths) show no signs of transcendence."

      A "god" could somehow be not transcendent. Oh . . . ok.

      Delete
    11. Great point, Mary.

      Delete
  7. It's funny, because I was making a video on my YouTube channel about the subject of religion and secularism - about whether we ought to use it in our dialogues. My argument was much stronger though - I argue that "religion" and "secular" have, in practice, no non-arbitrary definition and thus ought to be abandoned if we want a clear idea of reality.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You have a Youtube channel? Link? You do have some cool insights on politics(maybe in more, but is politics that i remember right now).

      And yea, defining "religion" and "secular" is quite hard to do, if it can be done, that is. The natural/supernatural divide as normaly used also seems pretty arbitrary. A similar thing on left/right on politics. While these definitions can probably be done, giving nominal definitions of these that makes sense does not seems easy at all, we rarely stop to check the criteria we use, so rhe common use of these terms is a mess(as Dr. Feser shows on his post).

      Maybe we need a new Socrates?

      Delete
    2. Are you "The Geoconservative"?

      Delete
    3. Talmid, yes, I am.

      https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1axYBuo8spmzxzFtJGAD_w

      Delete
    4. Thanks! Gonna take a good look latter.

      Delete
  8. I have found the article interesting and I have learned some ideas. The historical reconstruction of the meaning given today to "religion" is convincing. The end of the article is not. I think it misrepresents the reality. In most philosophy departments that I have visited, the large majority of the people are convinced atheists. The reason they dismiss arguments for the existence of Good is simply because they really see these arguments as arguments for wearing the tin hat to prevent mind reading. And the reason they prefer not to voice this clear is only because they respect emotional feelings of the few believers in God, so they do not want to offend them, because hey know these topics touch emotional chords. Just that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Prof. Rovelli,

      Thanks for your comment. In my experience, the majority of academic philosophers who take such an attitude toward the traditional arguments have -- unless they are experts in philosophy of religion -- a confidence in dismissing them that is massively out of proportion to their actual understanding of them. This is demonstrable (as I show in places like my book Five Proofs of the Existence of God).

      For example, it is extremely common to hear, even from otherwise intelligent and well-informed academics, the objection “If everything has a cause, then what caused God?” as if it were a devastating retort that theists had never considered. In fact it is (as is well-known to both theist and atheist scholars with expertise in the history of cosmological arguments) a childish objection directed at a straw man. (For starters, no version of the cosmological argument rests on the premise that “everything has a cause.” And that is just the tip of the iceberg of misunderstandings that the best-known objections rest on.)

      Serious atheist philosophers (Graham Oppy, Quentin Smith, J. Howard Sobel, et al.) do not raise foolish objections like this. But such objections are extremely common among those philosophers and scientists who confidently dismiss the traditional arguments despite not having made a special study of them, instead relying on superficial treatments they read in popular works or as undergraduates. And they are very difficult to dislodge because people who raise objections like this tend to get locked into a pattern of circular reasoning that prevents them from reconsidering whether the traditional views are as easily dismissed as they suppose. They think: “Everyone agrees that the arguments are not worth investigating further, because they seem open to such obvious objections. And we must be right in supposing that they are open to these obvious objections and that we’re not misunderstanding them, because, after all, everyone agrees that the arguments are not worth investigating further.”

      This widespread conjunction of confidence, ignorance, and circular reasoning calls for some sociological explanation, which is why I made the remarks I did at the end of the post above. But I think there’s much more to it than what I say there. (For example, it also has to do with an unexamined prejudice in favor of scientism and consequent impatience with metaphysical argumentation; hyper-specialization and consequent ignorance of fields of study too far removed from one’s own specialty; and other factors.)

      Delete
    2. It would be interesting to read a response from someone of the intellectual stature of say Professor Bart Erhman, a historian of international note on the New Testament, on how he finally arrived at the diametric realisation from you that there is unlikely to be a God of any stripe behind the christian fable. And he came to his conclusion after a lifetime of research into the very words that were apparently 'God-spake'. What people are actually coming to painfully, slowly understand [and I say painfully because the process of that realisation sucks an enormous amount of personal psychological and mental energy] is that the god narrative is indeed only apparent, an apparition of the mind-state.

      There is more than ample sociological research, even if one only started at Durkheim, to appreciate understanding of religion as first and foremost a socially constructed, utterly terrestrially-bound phenomenon primarily related to establishing and maintaining (1)social cohesion, (2)social control and (3)social conformity. That's why we have 1,000s of religions, all attempting in their own way to achieve the same thing. Catholicism has no more an exclusive or inalienable right on the process of social control, or more successfully, than any other religion [or none] ever imagined by societies over human history. Just ask the Jews about their rejection of christianity as a social enabling force from the very outset. Or the establishment of Islam; even after six hundred years of blanket christian immersion in the Middle East, Muslims still went ahead and rejected the core tenets of christianity to establish their own religion and largely kick christianity out of the Middle East as the antithesis of what a 'true religion' entails.

      No. You have all your work ahead of you to turn around the ineluctable shrinking of religious thought as a meaningful and viable framework for today's increasingly multicultural society.

      A recourse to "unexamined prejudice", "scientism", "impatience with with metaphysical argumentation", are symptomatic of the polemics of a reactionary grouch who is no longer making a dent in the public square. It is understandable. But perhaps a rethink of how one could better contribute to solving today's challenges rather than a double-down on old and rickety solutions of the past might be in order.

      Just saying.

      Delete
    3. Papalinton, you've been around here for too long to still have an excuse to make such a silly comment. Just saying.

      Delete
    4. @Carlo Rovelli:

      "And the reason they prefer not to voice this clear is only because they respect emotional feelings of the few believers in God, so they do not want to offend them, because hey know these topics touch emotional chords. Just that."

      Speaking only for myself, the disdain and contempt is mutual.

      Delete
    5. Papalintron, Feser is not just a reactionaty grouch who is no longer making a dent in the public aquare, but also a very minor academic who is not making one in the academic square either. Utterly irrelevant.

      Delete
    6. Papalinton,

      You are basically begging the question, you know that, right?

      First, even if I were an atheist who accepted that religion was an entirely man-made phenomenon, none of that conflicts with Feser's point in the article - that the "religion-secular" divide is ALSO socially-constructed and at least somewhat arbitrary.

      Second, even if you're a religious person, to say that religion is influenced by political concerns doesn't contradict your beliefs.

      Third, your entire "argument" against Feser begs the question, from beginning to end. How does "ample sociological research" disprove religion? How is Feser wrong about the unexamined prejudices of academia when he has, at several points, shown that they admit to having such biases? How are Feser's "old and rickety solutions of the past" wrong? You don't get that.

      The intellectual vacuity of "secularists" like yourself is astonishing. Pretty much everything you say about religious people with regards to their rationality and arguments is doubly true of you.

      Delete
    7. Unknown,

      Ah yes, the argument from popularity. The conceit that popularity equal correctness is the height of progressive argumentation.

      I'd argue that the people who are dissident are the ones more likely to have the correct ideas, because they don't have a built-in bias toward opinions selected by power.

      Delete
    8. I think some folks are a little freaked out when they come across this blog, because it isn't easy to dismiss out of hand, as just some religious mumbo jumbo. So they post self comforting stuff, rather than make any substantive points.

      Delete
    9. Unknown's comment is doubly bizarre since Feser is arguably one of the most well-known philosophers of religion working today, and clearly THE most popular Catholic of the kind.

      Delete
    10. By the way, is that THE Carlo Rovelli? What on earth?

      Delete
    11. Kalimere, you'll have to excuse Unknown, who is one of our regular trolls and may be mentally ill. He shows up now and again to huff and puff about what a "minor academic" I am, unworthy of notice, etc. -- all while he can't seem to stop reading the blog!

      Delete
    12. Mister Geocon @ February 8, 2021 at 8:16 AM

      1. "First, even if I were an atheist who accepted that religion was an entirely man-made phenomenon, none of that conflicts with Feser's point in the article ..."

      Precisely. There is no point to Feser's article. Full stop.

      2. "Second, even if you're a religious person, to say that religion is influenced by political concerns doesn't contradict your beliefs."

      True. It simply demonstrates how weak and useless religious beliefs are in guiding good behaviour especially in the age of Trump and the disgusting fawning by the religious Right on a person who is the antithesis of a 'good person'.

      3. "How does "ample sociological research" disprove religion?"

      It doesn't. Religion itself does that through its own volition. What sociological research demonstrates is that there is a very different explanatory framework in which to assess the nonsense of religious thought, one that does not invoke a disembodied, non-corporeal, an apparently 'intentional' agent out in the blue beyond that monitors one 24/7, an agency out there who helps you win the lottery, or cure your cancer by the flick of HIS omnipotence, all of which is very much the thinking of a child in delayed maturity.

      4. "The intellectual vacuity of "secularists" like yourself is astonishing. Pretty much everything you say about religious people with regards to their rationality and arguments is doubly true of you."

      Just another 'youtooism' ad hominem. It's to be expected when one has run out of anything meaningful to add. Barren.


      Delete
    13. Kalimere

      Feser may be well known to the general public as philosophers of religion and metaphysicians go , and popular in that he churns out material for popular consumption, but he is not a serious, weighty academic. Such people conduct research , supervise PhD students and publish extensively in peer reviewed journals. Feser's scholarly output is very meagre. He prefers to spend his time on apologetics and public outreach, churning out endless blogposts and popular works, writing for magazines and doing speeches. He has nothing much original to contribute. Pointing this out really gets under his skin, hence his response to a supposed troll above, in which he suggests that I might be mentally ill. My comments a bit too close to the bone eh Feser?

      Delete
    14. Unknown pipsqueak,

      I really oughtn't to waste any more time responding to you, but because I'm in a charitable mood: The trouble with your remarks about my "scholarly output" is that even if they weren't laughably ill-informed (as anyone who consults my main website knows), they would still amount to ad hominem irrelevancy to the topic under discussion, which is among the things I do not allow people to crap up my combox with.

      Charitable mood over. Buzz off, and any further comments from you will be deleted.

      Delete
    15. Papalinton,

      Are you a robot, or are you just that inept at actually making an argument that doesn't beg the question? You do know that's a fallacy, right? Or has your irrational hatred for Donald Trump blinded you so much that you've lost your ability to think logically?

      Delete
    16. Papalinton, you seem emotionally wound up by the idea that people believe in God. Your posts commonly have a quality of unfocused "lashing-out" that is hard to ignore.

      Since you rarely agree with or interact constructively with anything written in the articles or in the comments - and religion in general seems to irritate and confuse you - I have to wonder why you have make this site a habit.




      Delete
    17. I've knocked heads with Paps years ago at Biologos and the Dangerous Ideas blog under my other nome de plume Jim the Scott. He has been using the same ad populum fallacy over and over and over and over. He hasn't improved with age.

      The man doesn't understand any philosophy and he understands even less science. He hasn't improved with age and he confuses his left leaning political views with religion.

      Which is daft because there are right wing Atheists and pseudo left wing Catholics and Thomists (Herbert McCabe comes to mind & he was a Christian Socialist but Feser has recommended his Thomistic writings including the writings of his successor Fr. Brian Davies).

      Ridicule is his sole means of polemics. But actual reasoned polemics against Classical Theism...yeh we never see that.

      He is a low rent Loftus.

      As for Unknown. Awe wee lamb!

      Delete
    18. I'am sure that Papalinton does argues for his positions. It is just that he prefer to put the arguments in a separate post, because the argumentative part is pretty big.

      A shame that he usually forget to post the argument post...

      Delete
  9. A few observations:

    1. There are other related terms, besides religion and philosophy: ideology, worldview, metaphysics. People will also often refer to ersatz religion, pseudo-religion or substitute religion.

    2. Religion is sometimes used to mean belief in non-material agents, regardless of whether those agents are particularly transcendent. Not all pagan cultures have much interest in the transcendent, but they still have belief in ghosts and spirits of some kind.

    3. Religion is often also defined as that which one values the most.

    4. Religion is often used in an extended sense to mean something that one is enthusiastic about or builds one's life around. For example, someone might say that football is their religion.

    6. Many believers now also use religion as a synonym for a non-rational set of beliefs or a set of beliefs held for non-rational reasons, often in a polemical context. For example, many religious believers will say that secularism or liberalism are just as much religions as Christianity or Islam. The intention is to put everybody's belief systems on the same level, though it seems pretty short sighted to me.

    ReplyDelete
  10. “Thinkers like John Locke judged that a political solution to the problem of restoring peace would be to relegate theological disagreements to the realm of private opinions that ought to have no influence on public affairs, and can be safely tolerated to the extent that they are segregated from politics.”

    And that is how the Catholicism of Amy Coney Barrett makes her a zealot set to revive the Inquisition, and the “Catholicism” of Joe Biden makes him a compassionate man of deep faith (which, I take it, must mean something good).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And yet you can catch the very same leftists who decry as "theocracy!" any time they catch a right-winger with political views that align with the Church will accuse Christians of not practicing their religion the very moment they don't agree with their (rather tortured) exegesis in favor of leftist positions.

      Pointing out that the Church excommunicated legislators for supporting segregation, or that Martin Luther King Jr. quoted Scripture in telling people how to vote neither makes them turn against that nor persuades them to give up the "theocracy!" pose.

      Delete
    2. You guys don't understand how it works: certain ideologies are defined as "religious" and certain ideas are defined as "secular" according to what is politically useful for secular liberals. Then, they'll scream bloody murder about the religious ideas being in power.

      Delete
    3. mr. Geocon, I think there's some truth to this, Dooyeweerd's definition of religious belief/religion (which is largely Classical and perennial), DOES end up taking in many STEM, political and sociological theories and ideologies, which is why he and students account that there is "no religious neutrality" in theories, or pretty much any thinking aloud beyond a few words.

      Delete
  11. I thought Brent Nongbri was a papyrologist only. Very interesting to see that he works on religion!

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  12. I had always been most comfortable with Hermann Dooyewerd's definition oriented specifically around belief, and Roy Clouser's more recent explication of the same; "A religious belief is a belief in something as divine per se no matter how that is further described, where 'divine per se' means having unconditionally non-dependent reality."
    https://www.metanexus.net/excerpt-myth-religious-neutrality/

    ReplyDelete
  13. Papalinton
    Sometimes I like what you say, but Bart Ehrman got hammered when he debated William Lane Craig. You can Google the debate.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think so. And I've watched the debate. The premise of WLC's argument is to say:
      "Why would the Gospel writers say that Jesus rose from the dead if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead?"
      It's called the 'argument from incredulity'.
      A pretty stupid argument really. And certainly not evidence by any stretch, unless of course one is a christian with a much lower threshold of what constitutes evidence. Equally, WLC's ...“the self-authenticating testimony of the Holy Spirit” trumps everything. To him, no matter if all the historical evidence should point against Christianity, he claims he would still be justified in his belief. That is not the mark of a bona fide philosopher but an unabashed apologist for all the wrong reasons.

      So, Anonymous, I reject your assertion that WLC wiped the floor with Erhman.

      Delete
    2. We must always remember when evaluating people such as Craig and Feser that they are first and foremost apoligists and promoters of their religion. Though trained in philosophy, their thinking will necessarily be warped to justify their belief in something that they were always going to believe anyway.

      Another tactic that Craig uses to justify his belief in the resurrection is to challange atheists to offer a naturalistic account of the 'facts' and events described in the gospel accounts, the idea being that a supernaturalistic one does this far better. But are we seriously meant to believe that the gospel accounts are complete in all pertinant respects, or that they do not omit crucial information that would be necessary to evaluate what actually occurred? It is often the case that an apparant mystery (an unsolved crime, or an alleged paranormal occurrance or UFO sighting ) is solved when an erroneous assumption/ piece of obscuration is swept away, or when that crucial, previously unknown piece of the jigsaw is discovered. There is no good reason to think that the same is not true of the alleged resurrection of Jesus.

      Delete
    3. Do you guys have any theories on why you are hyper focused on things you call irrelevant?

      Delete
    4. I've got one, TN: they're unthinking drones.

      Delete
    5. @Mister Geocon:

      "I've got one, TN: they're unthinking drones."

      I envy your charity.

      Delete
    6. grodrigues,

      If they were malicious actors, they'd have at least responded intelligently.

      Delete
    7. T N,
      Do you guys have any theories on why you are hyper focused on things you call irrelevant?

      Because the people who believe in these irrelevancies dominate the culture.

      Delete
    8. One Brow,

      Oh . . . so it's not irrelevant then. . .

      Let's see, do I want to spend the next 597574828 days arguing with a narcissist seeking supply? Na

      Delete
    9. One Brow, please don't tell me you're one of those "creeping theocracy" types who believe that conservative Evangelicals are on verge of turning America into a dominionist state or something to that effect.

      Delete
    10. Mister Geocon,

      I don't think I've ever interacted with someone who didn't wish their government reflected their values more closely (outside of groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses). It would be unusual for a Christian to not want the government acting in pursuit of their Christian values.

      So, if you are asking if I think Christians want a more Christian-oriented country, sure. You've said so yourself from time to time. Do I think they work behind the scenes from time to time? Of course, why wouldn't they? I hope you'll acknowledge the reality of some Christians openly calling for a "dominionist state".

      That said, I don't think there is sufficient agreement or trust among the various groups of Christians to actually make significant strides in that direction.

      Delete
    11. T N,
      Oh . . . so it's not irrelevant then. .

      Living within one's culture is usually relevant socially. That does not imply other sorts of relevance.

      Delete
    12. OneBrow:

      "Because the people who believe in these irrelevancies dominate the culture."

      Seriously? I don't belong to a religion or political party and this is a silly statement. I would say that in a country where Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris write best-selling books, same-sex marriage and transgenderism are commonly accepted, music, movies and television do not seem primarily to be dominated by religious thinking right wing types. I would say that America seems increasingly "libertarian-ish" than anything Feser or anyone here would like, which shows they are NOT dominant....

      Delete
    13. I skimmed threw Ehrman book on the problem of evil after having read dozens of books by Brian Davies. No wonder he is an Atheist/Agnostic now. He was a bloody Theistic Personalist as an Evangelical.

      Theistic Personalism sucks more than anything that has sucked before. Classic Theism Rulez.

      Delete
    14. Proof that Son of Yak is Rab C. Nesbitt in disguise.

      Delete
    15. DrYogami,
      Seriously? I don't belong to a religion or political party and this is a silly statement.

      Christians are 65% of the country, yet 90% of Congress and 77% of SCOTUS.

      However, if you were claiming only that right-wing Christianity is not dominant, I agree. Since the context of this thread is the belief that 'Jesus rose from the dead', I was not limiting myself to right-wing Christianity.

      Delete
    16. One Brow,

      Why are you assuming that Congress and SCOTUS are real centers of cultural power here? I thought the claim was that they dominate the culture?

      Delete
    17. One Brow,

      "Christians are 65% of the country, yet 90% of Congress and 77% of SCOTUS."

      I'm trying to understand why you care? I mean, are you wanting to throw in some Jews and Muslims for diversity points or something?

      "Since the context of this thread is the belief that 'Jesus rose from the dead', I was not limiting myself to right-wing Christianity."

      I wasn't aware that that was the context of the thread. The post was about how 'religion' is categorized and then it took a turn when Unknown made a remark (following Papalinton's lead) about how Feser was a 'reactionaty (sic) grouch' and 'a very minor academic' who was 'Utterly irrelevant.'

      Delete
    18. DrYogami,

      One Brow will literally argue about every word in every post forever. You can, of course, decide for yourself, but it's best to not put a lot of energy into it.

      Delete
    19. Mister Geocon,
      Why are you assuming that Congress and SCOTUS are real centers of cultural power here? I thought the claim was that they dominate the culture?

      I see them as being elected/appointed by, in a nebulous way, the cultural power. They are examples of that power in action, not the center. I could go on for dozens of examples, but this is merely a comment box.

      Delete
    20. DrYogami,

      Are you suggesting I should not care about the opinions and thoughts of the people around me? What my neighbors, coworkers, etc., believe has impact on my life. I'm not sure why this is even a question.

      I wasn't aware that that was the context of the thread.

      Well, the top comment by
      Anonymous at February 8, 2021 at 8:15 PM refers to a debate between Craig and Ehrman, and the first response by Papalinton at February 8, 2021 at 9:20 PM summarizes a position of that debate as being about Jesus rising from the dead.

      The post was about how 'religion' is categorized and then it took a turn when Unknown made a remark (following Papalinton's lead) about how Feser was a 'reactionaty (sic) grouch' and 'a very minor academic' who was 'Utterly irrelevant.'

      Which was certainly rude, seemingly untrue, and utterly uncalled for, but not in this particular thread. However, since Dr. Feser did a more-than-adequate job of rebutting this nonsense, I don't see the point in discussing it.

      Delete
    21. T N,

      You are aware that "poisoning the well" is also a fallacy? Or, if you truly believe this sort of comment is proper, I assume you would not object to me listing out my opinion of you and your faults?

      Delete
    22. One Brow,

      "Are you suggesting I should not care about the opinions and thoughts of the people around me? What my neighbors, coworkers, etc., believe has impact on my life."

      I see. Joe Biden is Catholic and Hillary Clinton is a Methodist and this has an impact on your life. How so? Please be specific.

      Delete
    23. One Brow,

      I see them as being elected/appointed by, in a nebulous way, the cultural power. They are examples of that power in action, not the center. I could go on for dozens of examples, but this is merely a comment box.

      Hollywood, NGOs, news media, and academia are THE creators of culture. Generally speaking, they are all pro-secular liberalism. The Christianity of the people within these institutions is what belies the heritage of this ideology as an outgrowth of American Protestantism. But that applies to Richard Dawkins as well as Joe Biden. Both are secular liberals. Both believe in the concepts that grew out of American Protestantism. The difference is that one of them has discarded the belief in God as though it were unnecessary to the rest of his beliefs.

      I postulate that many of the Christians in Congress are exactly like that - secular liberals whose belief in God is like an evolutionary holdover from an earlier stage of their movement's evolution.

      Delete
    24. DrYogami,

      To my knowledge, I don't live near either of them nor work with either of them. However, I will take this as a question of how their policies on a national scale have a local or social impact. If you meant something else, please let me know.

      One example would be the support for faith-based initiatives. Started by Bush, support was slightly reduced (but not eliminated) under Obama, and Biden hasn't made a move to eliminate them.

      There's the carving out of a special status for churches under the Covid19 precautions.

      Domestic Christian terrorist groups are rarely labeled as such.

      Biden's attending a National Prayer Breakfast. Think he'll be setting any similar examples by attending an atheist event? Do you think he'll ever say something like 'take actions instead of making prayers'?

      Delete
    25. Mister Geocon,

      Hollywood, NGOs, news media, and academia are THE creators of culture.

      Hollywood and the news media are capitalistic organizations, that create culture only when they think it will sell. They are the mirrors of our culture, and they have changed as our culture has changed. I'm old enough to remember the Hays code, which Hollywood was happy to adopt when they thought that's what would sell.

      NGOs certainly included groups engaging in faith-based initiatives, which are very deeply religious in nature.

      Academia is definitely more secular and liberal than most of the country, but I don't see their influence to be as large as the combined effects of the Pat Robertson/Kenneth Copeland/etc. group, much less all the priests/pastors/etc. who talk to their congregation every week. Which group do you think really gets more time at the lectern/pulpit and talks to more people, professors or preachers?

      Both believe in the concepts that grew out of American Protestantism. The difference is that one of them has discarded the belief in God as though it were unnecessary to the rest of his beliefs.

      Well, Dawkins would have come from English Protestantism, but I agree with this to a large degree.

      I postulate that many of the Christians in Congress are exactly like that - secular liberals whose belief in God is like an evolutionary holdover from an earlier stage of their movement's evolution.

      If you are going to say any Christian belief set that differs from Catholic conservatism is really the same as being an atheist, then upon the definition you could make your position. However, it seems to me that would be engaging in one of the more egregious forms of nominalism. Deeply religious people are not engaging in a holdover simply because you so name it.

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    26. Hollywood and the news media are capitalistic organizations, that create culture only when they think it will sell. They are the mirrors of our culture, and they have changed as our culture has changed. I'm old enough to remember the Hays code, which Hollywood was happy to adopt when they thought that's what would sell.

      You say that as if “what sells” is determined by the spontaneous desires of individuals. In reality, “what sells” is determined by political authorities. Since Hollywood can influence politics, it is a political authority. Hollywood doesn’t reflect culture, it is an active power in cultural creation. Hayek was wrong.

      If you doubt this, then why are there such thing as advertisements? Why are liberals so concerned with “representation” in media? If they were simple reflections of the culture, then advertisements would not be responsible for getting people to buy products, and demanding representation would not be efficacious to the goals of liberals in promoting new racial norms.

      NGOs certainly included groups engaging in faith-based initiatives, which are very deeply religious in nature.

      And how influential are these “faith-based” NGOs compared to the secular liberal ones? What’s their funding like? I doubt there’s any competition.

      Academia is definitely more secular and liberal than most of the country, but I don't see their influence to be as large as the combined effects of the Pat Robertson/Kenneth Copeland/etc. group, much less all the priests/pastors/etc. who talk to their congregation every week. Which group do you think really gets more time at the lectern/pulpit and talks to more people, professors or preachers?

      It's not the quantity of the people you preach to, but the quality of the people you preach to. Pat Robertson might reach the hearts and minds of middle America, but secular liberal academics reach the commanding heights of power. I mean, where do you think critical race theory came from? How much money was poured into the political science that informed the Civil Rights movement? Where did all the “human rights initiatives” around the globe get their money and organization? And how does that compare to conservative evangelicals and their organizations?

      Here’s a thought experiment for you: if you could press a button that made every secular liberal a conservative evangelical and made every conservative evangelical a secular liberal (such that the Pat Robertson/Kenneth Copeland/etc. group were all secular liberals and academia was filled with conservative evangelical Christians), would you? Frankly, I’d rather have neither of these groups in power, but if I were a conservative evangelical, I would press that button. Because the idea that these academics don’t have power is a fantasy that only an academic could think up.


      Well, Dawkins would have come from English Protestantism, but I agree with this to a large degree.

      Where do you think American Protestantism came from originally?



      To the contrary: I would argue that Dawkins is a “cultural Christian.” I believe he’s said as much on more than one occasion. Specifically, his tradition of thought emerged out of post-war Anglo-American Protestantism. This belief became more atheistic/secular over time because of changing legal norms (belief in God was inimical to gaining power under the twentieth-century interpretation of “separation of church and state”). This is because the pursuit of power (aka “freedom”) is and always was more fundamental to this tradition than the belief in God.

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    27. Mister Geocon,

      I agree there is a influence from Hollywood et. al. into the culture, as well as the other way around. Still, if Kirk Cameron movies and Kevin Sorbo movies were blowing out the attendance figures, we'd see a lot more of them. Individual actors and producers sometimes see political issues, studios see only money they can make, like any other corporation.

      Also, while it's true liberals want more representation for disadvantaged groups, it would not be happening if the companies involved lost money when so doing. Both Home Depot and Chick-Fil-A benefited from their (opposite) positions on inclusion of homosexuals.

      According to this list, the largest NGO is secular (but not really liberal, unless you consider getting people medical help to be a liberal activity), and the next four are either explicitly religious or primarily aid religious institutions. I think that's a pretty good sign the faith-based groups have substantial reach and influence.

      You're right, I wouldn't make the switch, but it hardly has to do with power. The preachers wouldn't know how to conduct the research, and many of the academics don't have the people skills to help in that way (or in the case of the TV preachers, bilk in that way).

      I think academia produces a new theory about race every year or so. Critical race theory has taken root not because some people are pushing on it, but because it offers a framework that helps people on the ground explain their experiences.

      I would consider myself a cultural Catholic, and agree with your description thereof. I see some pretty big differences between post-war American Protestantism and the British version.

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    28. One Brow,

      I agree there is a influence from Hollywood et. al. into the culture, as well as the other way around. Still, if Kirk Cameron movies and Kevin Sorbo movies were blowing out the attendance figures, we'd see a lot more of them. Individual actors and producers sometimes see political issues, studios see only money they can make, like any other corporation.

      But they also influence people’s minds. And we know that they make movies to influence people and have done so for a long time. I mean, the CIA paid them to do propaganda for them in WWII. Who’s to say that they aren’t still doing propaganda (if not on behalf of the CIA, then for whatever cause the studio wants to push)?

      Also, while it's true liberals want more representation for disadvantaged groups, it would not be happening if the companies involved lost money when so doing. Both Home Depot and Chick-Fil-A benefited from their (opposite) positions on inclusion of homosexuals.

      For every big conservative-run big business, there are probably ten liberal-run big businesses. Meanwhile, how many corporations donated to (say) Black Lives Matter? How much money has gone into diversity initiatives?

      According to this list, the largest NGO is secular (but not really liberal, unless you consider getting people medical help to be a liberal activity), and the next four are either explicitly religious or primarily aid religious institutions. I think that's a pretty good sign the faith-based groups have substantial reach and influence.

      But what do they do with that money? I know that liberal foundations like Ford and Rockefeller disseminate a diversity ideology, create “collaborative” movements that act as a new level of American government, and spend money on public interest litigation and advocacy. Does Samaritan’s Purse do anything like that? We know from sociological studies like those of Stanley Rothman’s that liberal advocacy groups outnumber and outspend their conservative counterparts, and that whatever money Lutheran services in America and MAP International spends, it’s not towards the kinds of things I’m talking about.

      You're right, I wouldn't make the switch, but it hardly has to do with power. The preachers wouldn't know how to conduct the research, and many of the academics don't have the people skills to help in that way (or in the case of the TV preachers, bilk in that way).

      You know that’s a cop-out that doesn’t answer my question. I asked you what if I made the professors conservative evangelical professors and the preachers secular liberal preachers/activists. If you think that the conservative evangelicals have some kind of structural advantage and are on the verge of theocracy, then surely, this switch would be advantageous for your side, no? But I have a feeling that you wouldn’t want to make that switch. Because we both know that academia has a lot of power that you’re not acknowledging.

      I think academia produces a new theory about race every year or so. Critical race theory has taken root not because some people are pushing on it, but because it offers a framework that helps people on the ground explain their experiences.

      Yeah… if you buy that, then I have some oceanfront property in Arizona to sell you. Meanwhile, in reality, Kimberlé Crenshaw’s Critical Race Theory was rolled out by the Rockefeller Foundation in the form of the Bellagio Project.(See: https://web.archive.org/web/20200304173111/https://aapf.org/kimberle-crenshaw, https://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/initiative/the-bellagio-center/)

      I would consider myself a cultural Catholic, and agree with your description thereof. I see some pretty big differences between post-war American Protestantism and the British version.

      But there’s not a lot of differences between British Leftism and American Leftism, and both of them came from the same type of Protestant – the kind that rose to prominence during what we’d call the “Progressive era.”

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    29. Mister Geocon,
      Who’s to say that they aren’t still doing propaganda (if not on behalf of the CIA, then for whatever cause the studio wants to push)?

      I agree there is likely some propaganda being pushed out, but that is secondary to profits, and in terms of politics, comes from both extremes as well as the middle. Fortunately, there's more than one studio, and if you feel one studio is producing stuff that's too liberal, you can choose another studio's material.

      I almost feel like you are taking a position that the populace, as a whole, has no influence on what movies get made and what values get taught. Do you really think that is true? If not, then aren't we getting what we are asking for?

      For every big conservative-run big business, there are probably ten liberal-run big businesses. Meanwhile, how many corporations donated to (say) Black Lives Matter? How much money has gone into diversity initiatives?

      Is a lack of diversity a conservative value? If not, why are diversity initiatives automatically liberal?

      As for who runs the businesses, that would be the very deep pockets of our billionaires, hundred-millionaires, etc. The vast majority want to keep their money, so they vote for and financially support the party of lower taxes.

      But what do they do with that money? I know that liberal foundations like Ford and Rockefeller disseminate a diversity ideology, create “collaborative” movements that act as a new level of American government, and spend money on public interest litigation and advocacy.

      1) Foundations, like Ford, Rockefeller, Heritage, Cato, Carnegie, etc. are different from NGOs. 2) There are plenty of conservative foundations.

      We know from sociological studies like those of Stanley Rothman’s that liberal advocacy groups outnumber and outspend their conservative counterparts ...

      Well, we know from over 1400 foundations, of the 43 that were willing to respond to a survey, many were judged by the Federalist Society authors to be liberal. That's not very impressive.

      I asked you what if I made the professors conservative evangelical professors and the preachers secular liberal preachers/activists. If you think that the conservative evangelicals have some kind of structural advantage and are on the verge of theocracy, then surely, this switch would be advantageous for your side, no?

      So, your thought was, rather than worry what's better for society, my chief concern would be what's more likely to enact my political preferences? Is that how you view the world?

      If my primary concern were the enactment of my political views, I would happily shuffle all the conservative preachers into college jobs and the liberal professors into pulpits. You get influence by dealing with voters on a day-to-day basis, when they are in pain, or lost, or even just trying to help the world. Who's made a bigger difference in your life, your professors or your pastors?

      Yeah… if you buy that, then I have some oceanfront property in Arizona to sell you.

      I don't need to buy it. I'm describing my life experiences as well.

      Meanwhile, in reality, Kimberlé Crenshaw’s Critical Race Theory was rolled out by the Rockefeller Foundation in the form of the Bellagio Project.

      Meaning someone else saw in it a framework that helps people explain their experiences? If not, what do you think you are proving?

      But there’s not a lot of differences between British Leftism and American Leftism, and both of them came from the same type of Protestant – the kind that rose to prominence during what we’d call the “Progressive era.”

      You mean, the type that doesn't consider Catholics to be inferior citizens?

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  14. I liked when Craig neatly summed up Ehrman with "Ehrman's Egregious Errors."in the debate. Read Craig's books on Jesus and the New Testament. Esp his book debate on the resurrection with Gerd Ludeman. Craig's scholarship is superior.

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  15. Wuellner's definition incorporates the oldest Christian understanding of the etymology of religion, that it derives from religare. Creed, cult and code are what constitute this binding or connection to God, but the connection is the formal part. As there is one God, who has told men from the start how he is to realise this connection, the real definition is that religion applied only to one thing, the Old and New Testaments.

    As this requires a personal connection to God, the nominal definitions are not as misleading as they might seem. It explains why philosophies aren't regarded as religions; it's almost as hard to have a religious attitude towards the world soul as it is to the goddess reason. And to say that the existence of gods features in Epicureanism insofar as it isn't denied doesn't get one very far; Epicureanism doesn't deny the existence of the tooth fairy either, yet we can't conclude that she features there. Even knowledge of Gods's existence is not religion, the binding or connection to a personal God.

    Nominal definitions tend to understand religion as a personal connection with supernatural beings. In the past, animism was understood as particularly depraved, because this personal element was vague or non-existent. As for "higher" religions, the gods of the nations are described as demons in the Old Testament. But even their cults sought a personal relation with false gods. By looking at these religions, it's easy to see the analogy with what true religion does; worshiping, praying, speaking to God. No pagan philosophy ever did that.

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  16. "The reason this characterization survives is the same as the reason it was introduced in the first place by early modern thinkers like Locke."

    I'm not convinced. Enlightenment thinkers (in general) were not atheists and certainly not New Atheists. Indeed the New Atheists find this characterization useful and therefore use it, but it doesn't follow that that was why it was introduced in the first place. In fact all this forms the basis of a counter-polemic as to how "persecuted" believers are.

    I'd really like to see the crux of the issue addressed. It is not the question of the religious believer individually segregating his "secular" actions from his "religious" ones. It is a question of how things need to be divided on a societal level in order to assure its continued existence.

    How can civil society survive if Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, and Jews each claim the "right" to violence against each other solely on the basis of religion? Meanwhile, roads and bridges need to be built. And can I really claim my fervent belief that space aliens are about to contact Earth (I mean, they contacted me personally and told me) as justification of a jihad against "unbelievers" and a demand that public funds be utilized to build alien "welcome centers"?

    Yet, Enlightenment-based society does privilege a certain epistemology. I favor things like mandatory vaccination and some mandatory measures against COVID-19, and don't care how fervently people believe vaccines cause autism or the COVID-19 is a "plandemic". Yet of course those people will tell me I have blind trust in scientists and "scientism" and my epistemological position is essentially no different than theirs. But if it isn't, then how is the decision to be made?






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    1. Why do groups that see the world in so diferent ways even have to live by exactly the same rules? If you got a part of the population that believes in x and other that believes in y you will need to pick a side and force the other to ignore what it believes, the diference being a religious one or not.

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    2. The obvious best solution on a societal level is the liberal secular state, which maximises the freedoms of all groups, religious and otherwise. I do not mean an atheistic state, but a secular one, which does not favour belief or unbelief, but tries to stand impartially above this divide. Of course, maximising the freedoms of disparate groupings does not mean that limitations would not be necessary and so ultimately repression required in order to enforce them , but these are likely to be least in a democratic, liberal secular state than in other arrangements. If I waa a theist - especially of a minority variety- I would still be a secularist. Indeed many are.

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    3. I think the question of how "thin" the social fabric (common beliefs/behaviours/customs/priorities etc) can get in a healthy State before things turn for the worse is a relevant question here. I'm not at all that optimistic about the liberal pluralism we all politely nod to each other about. Accusations of xenophobia and the sort do prevent us from having a mature conversation about these matters.

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    4. GoneFishing,

      John Locke may not have been an atheist, but then, most of the early Enlightenment secularists weren't atheists. They were all people who were skeptical of theological knowledge, however (as seen in Locke's Treatises and the works of Spinoza). More to the point, these early thinkers invented the concept of religion for an expressed political reason - namely, to create a "secular" state that would be "neutral" between religions.

      This leads me to your other point. When you say "It is a question of how things need to be divided on a societal level in order to assure its continued existence. How can civil society survive if Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, and Jews each claim the "right" to violence against each other solely on the basis of religion?” This is exactly the argument of people like John Locke and Co., and their solution was institutionalizing the bifurcation between “secular” and “religious” actions. If this bifurcation is as arbitrary as Feser argues and as you concede when you admit that “Enlightenment-based society does privilege a certain epistemology,” then Locke and Co. were wrong

      The correct answer is obvious then: to prevent the in-fighting, the state must privilege certain beliefs over others, thus establishing a clear pecking order. The idea that the state can be “neutral” in a real way is false and likely to create more conflict.

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    5. Mandatory vaccines violate the my body and my choice mandate. Just sayin.

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    6. "Lets say you wake up plugged into a famous violinist who needs to be attached to you for the next 9 months because he can't get a covid vaccine and the Society of Music lovers have kidnapped you because you have the necessary antibodies."

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    7. Oh goody, can I play too? Let's say when you die, your soul goes to a garage in Buffalo.
      Anonymousely Unanimouse

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    8. The obvious best solution on a societal level is the liberal secular state, which maximises the freedoms of all groups, religious and otherwise.

      Of course this is the best state - if you are a secularist liberal. Not necessarily so if you aren't. For one reason (out of, say, 40 or 50): "Maximize freedom" can only be understood in terms of maximizing the possibility of happiness ONLY if that specific kind of freedom that is allowed is one that leads to happiness, and not otherwise. The kind of freedom that secular liberalism permits is a kind of freedom that is at best only tangentially related to true happiness, and (eventually) interferes with some higher aspects of freedom.

      Here's an analogy: suppose you are a materialist who believes that all "good", when properly considered, inherently resolves down to "that which maximizes physical pleasure, and that which minimizes physical pain." Goods which are not themselves pleasure are then reduced to instrumental goods only to the extent that they would TEND toward increasing pleasure or reducing pain. The consequence, then, would be that the state could completely dispense with things like justice if it could thereby guarantee the maximum enjoyment of pleasure and the minimum suffering of physical pain (even though unjustly delivered). Justice would be merely a tool to be used only if useful, and to be discarded when not useful.

      The problem with such a model of the good is that it throws non-physical enjoyment out of the window, such as the enjoyment of knowledge, and of friendship. And (most especially) the enjoyment involved in doing the virtuous act because it is virtuous and reasonable, a satisfaction inherently enjoyed in the mind, not the body. So such a system necessarily will (eventually, carried to its conclusion) defeat the possibility of non-physical enjoyment.

      Well, secular liberalism has similar non-neutral views about what constitutes "the good" for men, and will (necessarily), unless blocked by opponents of liberal secularism, arrange matters so as to DEFEAT goods that don't fit its view of the good. It simply CANNOT be neutral about the good.

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    9. Tony,

      Yes. The problem with utilitarianism: what is the "maximum good"?

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    10. Tony

      I support the liberal secular state because it pragmatically allows people with very disparate projects and world views to rub along together, pursuing their interests and goals in life with a minimum of overt conflict. Of course many philosophical problems can be raised against it, but anyone wishing to conciously act in the world to improve it ( rather than simply be an unthinking bystander ) must take a position on what kind of state they would like to see implemented. Now some might conclude that a Christian theocratic or revolutionary socialist state would best implement the good as they see it, and of course the liberal secular state permits people to have such minority oppinions and agitate towards them within limits, which is a great plus in my oppinion, and infinitely preferable to a very partisan state that would constrain activity ( and thought as far as it could ) to a certain vision of the good ( eg Roman Catholocism or state socialism ).

      I am curious to know what kind of state formation you consider the most desirable, and why. I ask this for sincere reasons in order to better understand you. I am an occasional visitor to this site and have encountered your posts before, and so know you to be both a philosopher ( or at least trained in philosophy ) and a Roman Catholic, so I presume that you have a well thought out position on this issue. I freely admit to not having a huge amount of depth and erudition philosophically, so would genuinely like to understand how the democratic secular state can be improved upon without assuming a particular conception of the good ( as explicated by Thomism for example ) and tyrannically forcing it upon a probably largly unwilling population. If you have discussed your vision in previous threads please just refer me to them. Thanks.

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    11. Anonymous,

      The idea that the liberal secular state is special in allowing "people with very disparate projects and world views to rub along together, pursuing their interests and goals in life with a minimum of overt conflict" is kind of laughable to me. If you have ever read liberal philosophers - and Rawls in particular stands out - you come to find that they only tolerate those ideologies that accept liberal secularism.

      The idea that the liberal state doesn't have its own "tyrannical impositions" (stated as if all impositions that go against majority opinion are tyrannical!) is pretty risible too. I mean, what's with all this victimocratic stuff that we see? The enforcement of "LGBT rights" and "anti-discrimination laws" are forced upon people all the time under liberal secularism. Am I supposed to pretend like the liberal state is somehow "neutral"?

      Here's the dirty secret: EVERY state asserts a particular conception of the good and "tyrannically" forces it upon a largely unwilling population as a matter of course. Some states (i.e. the liberal ones) just pretend like they don't.

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    12. Hey Anonymous,

      If you want the positive vision of the Catholic Church's position on states, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Specifically those parts that have to do with the ten commandments.

      For example, see paragraph 1901

      "If authority belongs to the order established by God, "the choice of the political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free decision of the citizens."20

      The diversity of political regimes is morally acceptable, provided they serve the legitimate good of the communities that adopt them. Regimes whose nature is contrary to the natural law, to the public order, and to the fundamental rights of persons cannot achieve the common good of the nations on which they have been imposed."

      So on this account, the political regime itself is irrelevant so long as it respects the natural law, which is revealed by revelation in the ten commandments, but which is also instantiated across the world in similar formulations and can also be arrived at from reason alone.

      Regimes can fall afoul of the ten commandments by, for example, defining the nature of personhood in too limited a way, excluding whole groups of people, such as slaves or the unborn, from protection under the law.

      The liberal state is not allowed to take a tolerant and neutral position in such cases. As the CCC says in paragraph 1902

      "A human law has the character of law to the extent that it accords with right reason, and thus derives from the eternal law. Insofar as it falls short of right reason it is said to be an unjust law, and thus has not so much the nature of law as of a kind of violence."

      So in this respect, your quest for a "...secular state [that] can be improved upon without assuming a particular conception of the good" is impossible. A state must be judged on the basis of its adherence to the ten commandments. To the extent to which the liberal state departs from this standard is the extent to which it has failed as a state.

      Cheers,
      Daniel

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    13. Here is an interesting article from Ed on the supposed impartiality of the liberalism and libertarianism:


      Self-Ownership, Libertarianism, and Impartiality


      "All told, libertarian claims to impartiality prove, upon analysis, to be devoid of interesting content. A libertarian theory of justice is neutral between various comprehensive political philosophies – as long as they more or less share the same premises as the libertarian writer who happens to be presenting said theory of justice. A libertarian polity is neutral between the various comprehensive moral and religious doctrines that prevail in a pluralistic society – as long as they are willing to incorporate into themselves a basically libertarian conception of rights and justice. A libertarian society treats all its citizens equally – but the intelligent, sane, and fortunate are more equal than the stupid, mad, and unfortunate. As J. L. Austin famously put it, ‘there’s the bit where you say it and the bit where you take it back.’[xxvi]"

      Cheers,
      Daniel

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    14. The idea that the State should remain neutral among competing conceptions of the good is self-contradictory and impossible, for it implicitly assumes neutrality as the overriding conception of the good, or whatever other goods flow from neutrality. Agreed.

      But that doesn't answer the question of how to prevent civil society from becoming a never-ending power struggle among different factions with their own conception of the good, promoting civil war and revolution whenever another faction is in power, and claiming such government is "illegitimate" as not being ordered to the good.

      So, it seems to me, whatever one may think about it philosophically, keeping the peace, as a practical matter, must be the primary good the State seeks to promote; for if not, civil society simply won't endure and each faction will be free to promote their version of the good right up until the next revolution.



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    15. Now some might conclude that a Christian theocratic or revolutionary socialist state would best implement the good as they see it, and of course the liberal secular state permits people to have such minority oppinions and agitate towards them within limits,

      What if the opinion thus tolerated becomes the majority view, and is then enforced with state power? Let's take, for instance, the Australian province of Victoria, which just passed a law criminalizing acts (including, for example, a prayer to God) saying or even implying that a homosexual or transgender person's view of themselves might need correcting. They have just criminalized parents teaching Christianity to their own kids. They have even criminalized a gay or transgender person speaking to a priest or minister or rabbi in such a fashion as being open to the possibility that they might have been in error about their lifestyle.

      This is one of those examples of liberal, secular democracy forcing the liberal view of a more-vocal-minority (not even an actual majority) on people. It just so happens that the opinion being enforced is one that aligns with liberal theories of "the good" and against Christian theories of the good. This "just so happens" is the natural result of the secular liberal state, of course.

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    16. GoneFishing - I entirely agree. Christianity was in what it considered to be an unjust society, the Roman empire, for the first three hundred years of its existence. Jesus himself rejected the notion of establishing the kingdom of heaven on earth, as opposed to the messianic expectation of many Jews of his day.

      Christians lived out their convictions by picking up discarded babies from trash heeps, visiting prisoners, feeding the poor, and so on. The hope is that natural law, which is inscribe in reality itself, will reassert itself in time and sick cultures like our own and the Roman empire will eventually mitigate the evil they have institutionalized.

      Other ideologies, like communism, have violence embeeded in its very conception. Islam also has a problem with political violence as Islam began as a war of conquest.

      Violent revolution, in short, is not something Christians are likely to resort to. And just war theory applies here as well. Injustice has to be fought against, but there are many tools to fight against injustice, and, arguably, the least effective of them is political violence.

      The role of the Prophet can be seen as a form of non violent political protest against the injustices that continually appeared in the history of the Jewish people.

      Cheers,
      Daniel

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    17. GoneFishing,

      But that doesn't answer the question of how to prevent civil society from becoming a never-ending power struggle among different factions with their own conception of the good, promoting civil war and revolution whenever another faction is in power, and claiming such government is "illegitimate" as not being ordered to the good.

      The way you prevent factionalism is by having one group dominate the whole of society and be at the center of power, imposing its vision of the common good over all society and crushing those who would raise up arms against it or form factions that would undermine its authority. That’s literally how any functioning system works, and it’s a fantasy that things could turn out differently.

      The only reason you might find this offensive is that you were raised to believe things like division of powers and limited government were moral goods. But these things facilitate the kind of internal conflicts that turns civil society into “a never-ending power struggle among different factions” that ultimately ends in “civil war and revolution.”

      So, it seems to me, whatever one may think about it philosophically, keeping the peace, as a practical matter, must be the primary good the State seeks to promote; for if not, civil society simply won't endure and each faction will be free to promote their version of the good right up until the next revolution.

      Agreed, and that’s precisely what the Aristotelian-Thomist position teaches.

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    18. MR GEOCON

      The above being the case, to make things explicit as you frame it, we secular liberals must redouble our efforts to maintain and extend our hegemony over the social order, and to further marginalise such as yourself, both practically and ideologically. I take it that you are working furiously to achieve the domination of your brand of conservative Christiànity over society, and to crush humanistic perspectives such as my own. Thank you for being so open and frank about your thinking, which I agree just reflects the way things actually operate socially, though this is sometimes obscured by ideology. You have inspired me to dedouble my political struggle against you and your ilk.

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    19. Unknown,

      Your side is literally in the driver's seat right now. You are speaking power to truth.

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    20. Mister Geocon

      The second part of what you say above is simply not how most secular liberals see things, in that 1. they believe that they are promoting a noble project to maximise the freedoms of disparate, competing groups and to maintain civil society in the face of conflicts arising between them, and 2. would not accept that you possess any kind of truth at all.

      Although the liberal secular state has many defects, I would suggest that it is infinitely preferable to other real world alternatives, and if you seek to undermine it you should be careful what you wish for, as the result might well be social formations much more inimical to your values and freedoms as a Christian.

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    21. The second part of what you say above is simply not how most secular liberals see things, in that 1. they believe that they are promoting a noble project to maximise the freedoms of disparate, competing groups and to maintain civil society in the face of conflicts arising between them, and 2. would not accept that you possess any kind of truth at all.

      What secular liberals believe that they are doing and what they are doing are different things. Your framework would only make sense if the state could somehow be the neutral facilitator of the political desires of the masses. As this is impossible (since all state action or inaction is a choice based on some moral consideration), the secular liberals are wrong. Secular liberalism is the facilitator of power. For every liberal “freedom” presupposes a bureaucracy that will crush any subsidiary power that threatens said “freedom” at the behest of the individual. Therefore, maximizing freedom is the same as maximizing the power of this bureaucracy.

      You can deny the truth all you want, but you’ve done nothing to show otherwise.


      Although the liberal secular state has many defects, I would suggest that it is infinitely preferable to other real world alternatives, and if you seek to undermine it you should be careful what you wish for, as the result might well be social formations much more inimical to your values and freedoms as a Christian.

      You can suggest that, but you would be wrong. Considering what secular liberalism is (the facilitator of centralization for centralization’s sake under the guise of “maximizing freedom”), it is supremely inimical to my values. It must be inimical to my values because my values don’t facilitate centralization as secular liberalism does.

      Delete
    22. MR GEOCON

      When I referred to your values and freedoms as a Christian , I had much more in mind than the degree of centralisation in the social order and the reasons for it!

      It is difficult to imagine the eclipse of secular liberal democracy anytime soon, but if it does eventually occur through demographic change and societal breakdown/ conflict, it seems to me that the more probable outcomes include state socialism, fascism and Islaamic dictatorship. In all these cases you would likely have far more to worry about that quibbles, and long for the day when the current system that you so despite had hegemony.

      Delete
    23. Mister Geocon,

      The way you prevent factionalism is by having one group dominate the whole of society and be at the center of power, imposing its vision of the common good over all society and crushing those who would raise up arms against it or form factions that would undermine its authority. That’s literally how any functioning system works, and it’s a fantasy that things could turn out differently.

      Stalin or Xi Jinping couldn't have said it better. But I'm sure you won't mind when others impose their vision of the common good on you. It's necessary for society to function, right? So we WILL take your guns and you WILL get the coronavirus vaccine. I'm sure you'll understand. (Remember, it's only "tyranny" when the other guys do it.)

      The only reason you might find this offensive is that you were raised to believe things like division of powers and limited government were moral goods.

      Or perhaps, these things really are moral goods and I didn't let religious dogma erode any and all sense of human decency to the point where I would support totalitarianism.

      But these things facilitate the kind of internal conflicts that turns civil society into “a never-ending power struggle among different factions” that ultimately ends in “civil war and revolution.”

      Yep, because the occurrence of civil wars and revolutions is much greater in modern democracies than in totalitarian states. Oh wait...


      Delete
    24. Unknown,

      When I referred to your values and freedoms as a Christian, I had much more in mind than the degree of centralisation in the social order and the reasons for it!

      Sure, but when I look at the values of liberalism, I see something that is both demonstrably false and is only dominant because it’s a useful tool for centralization.

      It is difficult to imagine the eclipse of secular liberal democracy anytime soon, but if it does eventually occur through demographic change and societal breakdown/ conflict, it seems to me that the more probable outcomes include state socialism, fascism and Islaamic dictatorship. In all these cases you would likely have far more to worry about that quibbles, and long for the day when the current system that you so despite had hegemony.

      I’ll agree that none of these alternatives are good ones to liberalism. The problem is that liberalism is just as bad as them! I mean, state socialism and fascism both share a great deal in common with liberalism, given how they all come from the same Enlightenment roots. And modern fundamentalist Islam is also an anarchic tool of centralization, similar to how Protestantism was in its day. But all of these systems are also unstable. Even if I did ally with liberalism, I think the expiration date for this system is about up.

      Gone Fishing,

      Stalin or Xi Jinping couldn't have said it better. But I'm sure you won't mind when others impose their vision of the common good on you. It's necessary for society to function, right? So we WILL take your guns and you WILL get the coronavirus vaccine. I'm sure you'll understand. (Remember, it's only "tyranny" when the other guys do it.)

      Well, at least you’re honest about it. You and I both want to use state power to impose our vision of the good onto society. The difference is that your ideology is false and evil, and mine is true and good.

      Or perhaps, these things really are moral goods and I didn't let religious dogma erode any and all sense of human decency to the point where I would support totalitarianism.

      Good. I don’t let religious dogma erode human decency either (for religious dogma is necessary for human decency), nor do I support totalitarianism. I just regard imperium in imperio as a solecism.

      Yep, because the occurrence of civil wars and revolutions is much greater in modern democracies than in totalitarian states. Oh wait...

      Yes, because totalitarianism suffers from the same problem as democracies – namely, factionalism. Hitler, Stalin, and Mao all had to deal with factions vying for control, and none of these rulers named any successors. It’s no wonder they were so bloody – they were constantly mired in the very same factionalism that plagued democracy.

      And if you think democracy isn’t susceptible to civil war, then somebody hasn’t been paying attention to history! I mean, fascism and communism are ideologies that only came about in the age of democracy, and both claimed to be democratic in some form, so… yeah. It’s not looking good for you.

      Delete
    25. An addendum: I regard liberalism as false because I reject the following:

      *The idea of the state of nature

      *The notion that imperium in imperio is desirable.

      *The possibility of a "neutral" state that simply caters to the desires of sovereign individuals without positing any conception of the good.

      If you have good ideas for these things, I'd like to hear them. But I've not seen any good arguments for them in my time, so I'll continue to reject them as false and immoral ideas.

      Delete
    26. Mr Geocon

      Liberalism is just as bad as fascism, state socialism or Islaamic authoritarianism? This might make sense in relation to particular specific features which you dislike, but per se? I must admit that you have lost me here. If they really are all as bad as each other, you presumably would not mind if liberal democracy was eclipsed by any one of them, which seems positively insane to me.

      Do you think that this is a position that would be supported by your Pope and Magisterium?

      Delete
    27. Liberalism is just as bad as fascism, state socialism or Islaamic authoritarianism? This might make sense in relation to particular specific features which you dislike, but per se? I must admit that you have lost me here. If they really are all as bad as each other, you presumably would not mind if liberal democracy was eclipsed by any one of them, which seems positively insane to me.

      No... that's wild interpretation of my views. I don't want ANY of them to in charge. I want something new. Can we just get past the 20th century already?

      Also, it's a historical fact that socialism came from liberalism and fascism came from socialism. I'm not sure how you can argue otherwise, given the intellectual history of these movements.

      Do you think that this is a position that would be supported by your Pope and Magisterium?

      I know they haven't disallowed it.

      If you can point to me where the Pope and the Magisterium have said that I have to believe in the state of nature a la Thomas Hobbes or John Locke, or in the goodness of imperium in imperio, or in the possibility of a neutral state, please let me know.

      Delete
    28. As interesting as I find Mister Geocon's views, don't confuse his ideas with those taught by the Catholic Church. As I've posted above, the church is willing to accept in principle, any regime, so long as it respects the natural law. This in itself excludes some regimes, such as communism, since it is formulated in such a way that it excludes various aspects of the natural law.

      But Ed's blog isn't explicitely Catholic, so he is free to share his ideas.

      Cheers,
      Daniel

      Delete
    29. Mr Geocon

      I really havn't a clue what the Pope and Magisterium have said or not said about anything i'm afraid, and in general I do not remotely care. I just raised the question in relation to your lack of a preferance between secular liberalism , state socialism, fascism and Islaamic authoritarianism, because that is clearly what you articulated. You may have been careless about how you expressed yourself, but you actually stated that you thought they were as bad as each other. Now you may wish to have done with all of them and somehow move on - presumably to your idyllic Roman Catholic theocracy - but logically, if you think that these systems are all as bad as each other, you would not be concerned if one ( specifically secular liberalism ) was eclipsed by another. As i said, that seems a little unhinged to me, especially for a Christian who presumably wishes to openly practice and promote his faith.

      Delete
    30. Daniel

      Thank you for the caution. Maybe I have jumped the gun by even assuming that Mr Geocon is Roman Catholic?

      I appreciate your explication of the mainstream Catholic position at numerous points in this discussion , both to me and others.

      Delete
    31. Unknown and Daniel,

      My position ought not to be confused with the general Catholic position. I am a Catholic, but Catholic orthodoxy allows for a wide range of opinions on these matters. There have been many prestigious Catholic thinkers who have disagreed with me on the issues I’ve talked about – Cardinal St. Robert Bellarmine, Francisco Suarez, and Jacques Maritain being among them. That said, I don't think I'm outside the bounds of the Church when I say that they are wrong on these issues, and I have given reasons for why my position is correct.

      I really haven’t a clue what the Pope and Magisterium have said or not said about anything I’m afraid, and in general I do not remotely care. I just raised the question in relation to your lack of a preference between secular liberalism, state socialism, fascism and Islamic authoritarianism, because that is clearly what you articulated. You may have been careless about how you expressed yourself, but you actually stated that you thought they were as bad as each other. Now you may wish to have done with all of them and somehow move on - presumably to your idyllic Roman Catholic theocracy - but logically, if you think that these systems are all as bad as each other, you would not be concerned if one (specifically secular liberalism) was eclipsed by another. As I said, that seems a little unhinged to me, especially for a Christian who presumably wishes to openly practice and promote his faith.

      All four of those beliefs – secular liberalism, state socialism, fascism, and Islamic authoritarianism – all go against the Catholic faith in one way or another. While a Catholic may incorporate some aspects of certain beliefs and remain orthodox (i.e., the secular liberal belief in the efficacy of free-market capitalism), the whole picture is inimical to Catholicism. But I believe that Edward Feser has covered this topic in his post comparing Liberalism and Islam, wherein he dissects them both and concludes that they are both heretical to Christian orthodoxy. (Here: https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2016/01/liberalism-and-islam.html)

      As to why I don’t see secular liberalism as being better than fascism or socialism, well… look at what’s happening around us. The events of the past ten years have made it very clear that, when it comes to the open practice and promotion of my faith, secularism liberalism is just as bad in that regard as the other three ideologies. Maybe they are all different flavors of bad, but they’re all bad. The events of 2020 exposed the old “constitutionalist conservative” narrative to be utterly false. It is those sections of secular liberalism that are the most hostile to traditional faith and practice that are in charge of our system right now. And honestly? I think the secular liberal system that we’ve been operating under since the postwar period is collapsing under the weight of its contradictions.

      Also, Unknown, I don’t appreciate your pathetic and dishonest attempts to slander me with emotionally charged accusations (“theocracy”, “unhinged”, etc.). I kindly ask you to stop.

      Delete
    32. Hey Mr. Geocon,

      "I am a Catholic, but Catholic orthodoxy allows for a wide range of opinions on these matters."

      Yes, agreed! I just wanted to make it clear that you were not presenting the official teaching of the church, which is broad and allows for many competing views within its umbrella. I didn't mean to imply you were not Catholic yourself.

      My personal view is that some political systems are better than others, but that all political systems are infected and corrupted by the standard greed and selfishness that is inherent in every individual as part of original sin. It can also be built up by virtuous people. But there is no one perfect system.

      My beef against Rawlsian liberalism is that it appears to despair of ever attaining any kind of truth, but only aims at just getting along. I can't abide that despair. There has got to be something better than that. That and, as is clear, the Rawlsian liberal project really does presupose a vision of the good. It is not neutral, and in many respects, is corrosive to natural law.

      It has also began attacking more orthodox positions as outside of its current liberal consensus of allowed beliefs. And I believe there will be an intensification of its assault against people who maintain the natural law.

      I will fight against these errors with every fiber of my being and I will fight for a restoration of a proper view of human nature.

      I also think that limiting the power of the government is a good thing. Government performs a function but should not be exhaulted.

      As Pope Piux XI wrote in Mit Brennender Sorge against the Nazis in Germany,

      "8. Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State, or a particular form of State, or the depositories of power, or any other fundamental value of the human community - however necessary and honorable be their function in worldly things - whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God; he is far from the true faith in God and from the concept of life which that faith upholds."

      Governments that violate the natural law have no right to do so and must be resisted.

      Cheers,
      Daniel

      Delete
    33. As I've posted above, the church is willing to accept in principle, any regime, so long as it respects the natural law.

      Since secular liberalism - at least as currently instantiated by several dozen liberal states - demonstrably does NOT respect natural law. The original teachers of the liberal theory (Montesquieu, Locke, Rousseau,etc) rejected natural law. The pattern of practice of secular liberal states has been to gradually eviscerate or outright kill one natural law after another as passion combined with ignorance of human nature suggest ever newer pathways of license that prior generations had not (yet) desired.

      Since secular liberalism is opposed to natural law, seemingly the Catholic Church's teaching is not willing to accept such a regime.

      Delete
    34. That would appear to be the implication, yes.

      Delete
    35. My beef against Rawlsian liberalism is that it appears to despair of ever attaining any kind of truth, but only aims at just getting along. I can't abide that despair. There has got to be something better than that.

      I agree. Here is one example of how the modern liberal ideal (elevating a certain cast of "equality" over other important goods) has made it impossible to enjoy a good life within such a state:

      (This is largely an Aristotelian depiction) In order to live a good life, a good man needs to "live with" other good men with whom they hold friendship. By "live with" I mean live in frequent, (almost daily) significant interaction with such men, and this implies physical nearness as a common condition. E.G. in a neighborhood constituted, in significant part, of such good men, each owning their respective properties. By "other good men" I mean other men who also hold the virtues. By "in friendship" I imply that these men - in addition to other qualities - hold the same good things dear and hold the same bad things contemptible, for a friend is "another self" and holds dear what you hold dear.

      But modern America has made it formally illegal to plan or attempt to erect communities of men holding their various properties, wherein they are selected explicitly or IMPLICITLY according to such things as what kind of men they are or what they hold dear. These are known as "anti-discrimination" real estate laws, and are enforced with dragon-like zeal. If I tried to form a neighborhood of like-minded men by formulating a plan to keep out those who are not-like-minded, I would be fined or imprisoned.

      I don't know about you, but I grew up in a neighborhood that satisfied the description above. Since moving as an adult, I have never once lived in such a neighborhood nor in any community that could even REMOTELY be likened to one. I have despaired of having the (now apparently impossible) privilege of having a close relationship (i.e. true friendship) with any of the 5 neighbors closest to me, and cannot imagine actions and circumstances that would likely bring it into existence - under the current regime.

      Similar but slightly different patterns strongly militate toward forming close friendships at work, especially if you work for a large organization. And (even more) since it is virtually impossible that people who are friends at work also live close enough to one another to be the kind of neighbor-friends described, the dis-jointedness of home-community from work-community ITSELF damages the possibility of true friendship.

      Equality uber alles actively frustrates ordinary, wholesome friendship. Any number of pundits (on both sides of the aisle) have noted and lamented the increasing "alienation" and "fragmentation" of men in this society, but few have grasped what I have described as one (of several) of the causes.

      Delete
    36. imilar but slightly different patterns strongly militate toward forming close friendships at work,

      Sorry, that should have been "strongly militate against"

      Delete
    37. Daniel

      I also think that limiting the power of the government is a good thing. Government performs a function but should not be exhaulted.

      There’s a problem with this: what is responsible for limiting the government? If the government is limiting itself, then it’s not really limited, it’s just agreeing to follow a set of rules. If the government is being limited by something outside of itself, then why isn’t that thing limiting the government the real government? And if you claim that we have division of powers that limits the government, well… you know what I said about imperium in imperio, correct?

      Food for thought.

      Delete
    38. Part 1

      I am an occasional visitor to this site, whose objective is to better understand a world view so diametrically opposed in many ways to my own. This discussion alone has justified my efforts, as I have learned so much. Not being a philosophical sophisticate, I had never seen liberalism as an ideology for example, but as sitting above such things. In retrospect, it should have been obvious that this is not so, and that by allowing pluralism with respect to lived out conceptions of the good, it is adopting one itself, and necessarily some others will have to be repressed. It still seems to me that secular liberalism is the best real world system on offer though, as it maximises the range of conceptions of the good that can be lived out ( or approximately so ), as well as generally keeping the peace between the disparate groupings and factions.

      Delete
    39. Part 2

      Mr Geocon seems to have taken umbridge when I stated that I found it a little unbalanced of him to claim that secular liberalism, state socialism, fascism and Islaamic authoritarianism are all as bad as each other, and for typifying his preferred option as Roman Catholic theocracy, commanding me to STOP. Now I had no intention of being abusive and offending you Mr Geocon, but was stating things as I see them, something that I will continue to do despite your injunction. I still do not understand why you would not prefer secular liberalism over the others, and fight for its preservation in the face of a real word threat from one of them ( say by revolution in an unstable country ), even if just for pragmatic reasons, so that fellow Christians could continue to practice and promote their faith unhindered. And as regards your preferred social system being a Roman Catholic theocracy, well isn't it? You have made it abundantly clear that your views are correct and good, and the way for a state to implement a conception of the good is through the use of physical and ideological power, whilst crushing rivels . As you are a Roman Catholic, would all this not imply that you would like to see us all crushed under foot by a Roman Catholic theocracy?

      I have very different values and perspectives from many of you on this thread, so much so that they are clearly incommensurable. Daniel stated that he would fight for the preservation and implementation of natural law views with every fibre of his being, yet I do not accept the very concept of natural law, let alone a deity standing behind them, and so am supportive of ( for example ) artificial birth control, LGBT rights and abortion ( with caveats ). Ultimately, if liberal secular democracy breaks down, such a division can only be resolved through the exercise of naked power by some grouping or other, and this means that it is conceivable that one day I will meet Daniel on the streets, if his claim is a genuine one. Unfortunate, but clearly true, as I will fight with every fibre of my being to undermine and thwart his vision. Nothing personal you understand!

      Delete
    40. Part 3

      An apology to Mr Geocon as I mischaracterised things when I stated in 'Part 2' above that he commanded me to STOP. His admonition was was not expressed so forcefully and unreasonably, I simply misremembered precisely what he did say. My response still stands however.

      Delete
    41. Tony,
      What if the opinion thus tolerated becomes the majority view, and is then enforced with state power? Let's take, for instance, the Australian province of Victoria, which just passed a law criminalizing acts (including, for example, a prayer to God) saying or even implying that a homosexual or transgender person's view of themselves might need correcting. They have just criminalized parents teaching Christianity to their own kids. They have even criminalized a gay or transgender person speaking to a priest or minister or rabbi in such a fashion as being open to the possibility that they might have been in error about their lifestyle.

      At the very kindest interpretation, you are grossly misstating the law and its effects. The Victoria laws bans gender conversion therapy, nothing more. The concept of gender conversion therapy didn't even exist until about a hundred years ago. There is nothing in the law to stop people from saying that acting on certain desires is sinful.

      This is one of those examples of liberal, secular democracy forcing the liberal view of a more-vocal-minority (not even an actual majority) on people.

      Actually, this is an example of reasonable policies being misinterpreted and then believed by a person too credulous for their own good.

      Delete
    42. Dear Unknown,

      I understand you feel that way about liberalism, but much of what you are saying is false. As I (and Edward Feser in other areas) have argued, secular liberalism only tolerates those conceptions of the good that are compatible with itself. Any view that is incompatible with secular liberalism is decidedly not tolerated because of its “intolerance.” You might say this is a good thing because secular liberalism is good for some independent reason, but to say that it’s the most tolerant ideology and therefore it’s the best for a pluralistic society is questionable. In my experience, the way it has accommodated pluralism in our society is by way of “divide and conquer” – amplifying divisions and then incorporating them into the wider, conflict-ridden system. This can best be seen with liberal foundations and their interaction with black separatists in the mid-twentieth century. (Read Top Down: The Ford Foundation, Black Power, and the Reinvention of Racial Liberalism by Karen Ferguson and “The Billions of Dollars That Made Things Worse” by Heather MacDonald for more information on how this worked)

      Why should I fight for secular liberalism, a system run by people who hate me and my beliefs, a system that’s falling apart under the weight of its contradictions as we speak? Even if I wanted to make Catholic-friendly liberalism, the system we have now does not allow us to “practice and promote [the Christian] faith unhindered.” The system now funds quasi-communist revolutionary thugs to beat people in the streets and burn down city blocks while putting law-abiding citizens under house arrest for the 2020 holidays. Say what you will about Russia, Belarus, and Turkey, but they didn’t do that. If this is “freedom”, then I say “to hell with it!”

      I understand the feeling. You think it’d be nice to have politics work like your ninth-grade social studies teacher said it did. It feels good to have a “say” in government. And I’ll admit: it’s nice to not be thrown in jail for being a dissident. But you are stuck in a mental trap right now – the “liberal moderate” loop. It always goes something like this: “I see the problems with the present system. I see the insanity of the Left. I see that the institutions whose job it is to correct wrong ideas are not working as they should and that some very bad ideas are guiding policy in areas like policing and education. But come on, Mr. Geocon! If you point these problems out, then nobody will believe in liberalism and democracy, and that’s when the socialist/fascist/Islamic authoritarians will take over! It’ll be terrible!”

      However, pointing out a system is broken isn’t what’s making it broken. What’s making it broken is the fact that liberalism is false. Even if liberalism was some noble lie that needed to be maintained, the people who are most effectively undermining liberalism at this stage are the radical left, who have taken over both academia and the media. The radical left does not believe in rule of law, economic freedom, freedom of expression, or democracy. (This is a video made by a liberal who breaks down, point by point, how the modern progressive movement is, in many ways, directly opposed to the classical liberalism of the Enlightenment: https://youtu.be/zH0mPfR-K2U). This idea of an “open society” where everyone can be free and rational? The Left is undermining this faster than right-wingers like myself ever could, and they’re coming out of NPR, the New York Times, and Harvard.

      (Cont.)

      Delete
    43. (Unknown Cont.)

      We’re entering into a new generation of thinkers who don’t value classical liberalism or the freedoms that would allow me to “practice and promote [the Christian] faith unhindered.” Furthermore, this tendency towards self-undermining leftism is not an accidental quality of liberalism, but an inherent part of it. Look back at the history of liberalism, and you’ll see that it keeps tracking further and further to the Left. And this pattern continues over time until it digests ideas that are insane (like Critical Race Theory). In this context, your “moderate” position is a complete denial of reality.

      The kinds of ideological conflicts that exist between you and I can only be resolved with naked power. The only people who are blind to this are secular liberals, who believe in this fantasy that we can all come together and have a discussion as equals. You must understand that I regard this as a fantasy on par with communism. This liberal ideal has never existed nor will it ever exist. The only conversation that can be had with regards to pluralism is which ideology can be dominant and what methods of ensuring conformity are permissible to those authorities. And liberalism is no exception to this. As the the Josias pointed out in their critique of Locke’s Doctrine of Tolerance, traditionally, the liberal position has been this: “as long as each religious group subordinates its doctrine and practices to the one supreme doctrine of toleration, these religious groups are free to differ all they want in their self-confessed subjective beliefs. And despite all their apparent disagreements, they will nevertheless belong to Locke’s universal church of toleration. The Catholic Church will then be eliminated by consensus, for all the other churches will be united against the Catholic Church for rejecting the one supreme dogma. Toleration will then become the ultimate religious good.” (I highly recommend reading Jeffrey Bond’s three-part essay on Locke, by the way: https://thejosias.com/2015/05/16/lockes-doctrine-of-toleration-a-contract-with-nothingness-part-iii/)

      I repeat: the belief that naked power is necessary to deal with pluralism is no less the liberal position than it is the reactionary one. The only difference is that the liberals are less honest about it.

      Re: Your apology. I accept it, but does this mean you are admitting that you are using emotionally-charged and dishonest rhetoric and that you feel no remorse in doing so?

      Delete
    44. MR GEOCON

      Sorry, but my reply was inadvertantly placed in the wrong thread later on.

      Delete
    45. The Victoria laws bans gender conversion therapy, nothing more.

      I think you are mistaken about both the FACT of what the legislation does, and about how it will be used and enforced.

      Let us admit that there is a body of practices - mostly from long ago (as psychology practice measures change) - that could be reasonably characterized as "conversion therapy", in that the object of the process was, in the case of a person who convinced their proper gender was different from that of their biological sex, to change their view of the matter so that they became convinced their gender matches their biological sex. Some of the kinds of practices that were used for this included:
      lobotomy
      electro-shock treatment
      chemical castration
      nausea-inducing drugs
      mastubatory reconditioning

      Let us accept that these are bad and should not be used. Let's even say that these should be outlawed. That's not what this law does. It does not make illegal the above (and similar) discrete practices that are clearly harmful and wrongful in themselves. It uses GENERAL language to characterize conversion behavior, and outlaws that. So, what general language does it use to outlaw "conversion"?

      (1) In this Act, a change or suppression practice means a practice or conduct directed towards a person, whether with or without the person's consent—
      (a) on the basis of the person's sexual orientation or gender identity; and
      (b) for the purpose of—
      (i) changing or suppressing the sexual
      10 orientation or gender identity of the
      person; or
      (ii) inducing the person to change or
      suppress their sexual orientation or
      gender identity.


      This overbroad language doesn't only address itself to protecting persons who have fully decided and committed to an untraditional gender identity, it also covers those who are so far uncertain about it, those who are conflicted about it, AND ALSO those who are certain about their gender identity as a traditional gender but who struggle with feelings that are unwanted. It will be used to criminalize helping the latter person getting rid of those unwanted feelings - people have ALREADY attacked healthcare (or religious) practitioners trying to do just that. It criminalizes parents who try to teach their troubled child that there are only 2 genders in nature. It will be used to criminalize Catholic (and other religious) teachers teaching what is in Genesis 1, if there happens to be even one single gender-troubled child in the class. And from there it will be used to bring down religious education as a whole - this is the avowed intention of some of the people who push for such laws and of people in bureaucracy who will carry out enforcement. And it clearly criminalizes a parent going to a minister and saying "my son is thinking of 'becoming a girl', will pray for him, to ask God to lead him to make the right decision and stay the way God made him?"

      There is nothing in the law to stop people from saying that acting on certain desires is sinful.

      Clearly, the law criminalizes an act of a religious person telling a male teen or young adult "mutilating yourself to 'become a girl' is contrary to divine and natural law, and acting on a desire to do that would be wrong."

      Particularly troublesome is the phrase in the law "with or without a person's consent". The most horrific things are allowed by "consenting adults" these days, including sadistic sexual practices. But State forbid that if a person wants to get HELP to overcome unwelcome untraditional gender feelings, that is so much MORE evil than consensual sadism that it must be punished.

      Delete
    46. Mister Geocon,

      Well OK, then. All conversations about what common good governments should pursue being ruled out a priori and everything simply coming down to naked power, we have the naked power and will use it to crush you. You can call us evil all you like, and that plus $5 gets you a latte at Starbucks. We will call you evil, and have the force to back it up. You evidently have the psychological maturity of five-year-olds and thus you will do as you're told. Because we say so. Or else.

      Delete
    47. Well OK, then. All conversations about what common good governments should pursue being ruled out a priori and everything simply coming down to naked power, we have the naked power and will use it to crush you. You can call us evil all you like, and that plus $5 gets you a latte at Starbucks. We will call you evil, and have the force to back it up. You evidently have the psychological maturity of five-year-olds and thus you will do as you're told. Because we say so. Or else.

      Thank you for honestly encapsulating what the liberal/leftist position is when you take away all of the empty mysticisms like “freedom”, “equality”, “science”, etc.: the alliance of those who pursue power by any means necessary. And what fellowship can light have with darkness? Or good with evil? And yes, GoneFishing, I do regard liberalism as being false and evil, and people like you especially have a corrupt, unreasonable character.

      Delete
    48. DIGNITATIS HUMANAE

      On the right to religious freedom:

      "2. This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

      The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself.(2) This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.

      It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth. However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed."

      Mister Geocon, I believe this document from Vatican II contradicts your theory.

      Cheers,
      Daniel

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    49. Daniel,

      Let’s be clear here: there’s some vagueness in that document. Take this statement: “This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.”

      Imagine the seed of damnation inherent in this statement if the phrase “within due limits” were to be removed! That would mean that, essentially, you couldn’t coerce anyone to do anything, period! For one can only make someone act against their beliefs by using coercion. So, if some abortionist felt he had a right to perform abortions, then he’d have a right to do so that had its foundation in “the very dignity of the human person.” I’m sure you can understand the insanity inherent in such a thing, correct?

      Therefore, we must ask: what are the “due limits” of this freedom being afforded to us? Do they allow for the unregulated preaching and practice of error, as the liberal would have it? Or would there be room for some common-sense regulations, like the ones that myself and the Josias would recommend?

      Delete
    50. Tony,

      It will be used to criminalize helping the latter person getting rid of those unwanted feelings - people have ALREADY attacked healthcare (or religious) practitioners trying to do just that. It criminalizes parents who try to teach their troubled child that there are only 2 genders in nature. It will be used to criminalize Catholic (and other religious) teachers teaching what is in Genesis 1, if there happens to be even one single gender-troubled child in the class. And from there it will be used to bring down religious education as a whole - this is the avowed intention of some of the people who push for such laws and of people in bureaucracy who will carry out enforcement. And it clearly criminalizes a parent going to a minister and saying "my son is thinking of 'becoming a girl', will pray for him, to ask God to lead him to make the right decision and stay the way God made him?"

      Perhaps the act you quoted has some legal terminology that means something completely different from the ordinary use of English, or perhaps there are some idioms unique to Australia/Victoria I am not aware of. Failing that, the act simply does not say what you claim it says, and it's pretty plain about that.

      Some key points:
      (1) In this Act, a change or suppression practice means a practice or conduct

      This seems pretty clearly directed at practices, that is, some sort of professional environment devoted to conversion therapy.

      The Act itself defines what a practice is: (3) For the purposes of subsection (1), a practice
      includes, but is not limited to the following—
      (a) providing a psychiatry or psychotherapy consultation, treatment or therapy, or any other similar consultation, treatment or therapy;
      (b) carrying out a religious practice, including but not limited to, a prayer based practice, a
      deliverance practice or an exorcism;
      (c) giving a person a referral for the purposes of a change or suppression practice being directed towards the person.

      (b) for the purpose of—(i) changing or suppressing the sexual orientation or gender identity of the person; or (ii) inducing the person to change or suppress their sexual orientation or gender identity.

      Getting rid of unwanted feelings is not changing or suppressing their sexual orientation or gender, nor inducing it. Parents raising kids are not engaged in a practice as defined under this law, nor are religious teachers. Religious education health care employees seem like they would be affected, but I don't think restrictions on that group will bring down religious education as a whole. It certainly doesn't affect a minister and a parent praying for the kid, unless they are forcing the kid to participate/witness, as there is no injury to the kid (see the list of offenses in Division 1 of Part 2 -- they all require "serious injury").

      You are grossly exaggerating the scope and effect of this law.

      Delete
    51. Mister Geocon:

      Yes, it is in fact about all those things, including freedom, equality, and science, but because appeals to them are unavailing to the likes of you because you care about them not one whit, the only recourse is to crush you by force. Maybe when you grow up you'll begin to appreciate those things and then you can actually be part of the conversation.

      In the meantime, you're not going to have your "Integralist" society where punishment can be meted out to individuals who say horrible things like the earth revolves around the sun because the clergy don't like it. I suggest you get used to it, just like being made to eat your vegetables.

      Delete
    52. GoneFishing,

      I don't care about them one wit because both freedom and equality are both alternative names for power, and science in the modern sense is, in practice, a rival religion rather than an honest empirical study (see Feser's paper on the topic here: https://americanmind.org/salvo/scientism-americas-state-religion/).

      I know this might be alien to a power-addict like yourself, but things don't become true just because you use state power to comply with them. Liberalism is false, has always been false, and will continue to be false well into the future. I invite you to prove otherwise, but, I can see that merely contradicting your liberal assumptions has caused you to become the kind of unthinking authoritarian you think I am. The violence that you plan to invite upon me is not a parent disciplining a child, but an unruly brat trying to make the world conform to his childish fantasies and failing.

      Delete
    53. Brow, what part of "not limited to" in

      (1), a practice includes, but is not limited to the following—

      do you not accept?

      Delete
    54. Tony,

      I accept that the law is listing these as examples of the types of harmful practices. "Not limited to" does not mean "anything at all".

      Delete
    55. One Brow,

      I don't mean to butt in, but what is a "harmful" practice will depend on your definition of what's good for people, correct?

      I'd imagine that a regime that sees homosexuality as a moral evil and a social ill would define the encouragement of homosexual feelings as a "harm", right?

      I think therefore that we would have to ask: what do California's lawmakers consider harmful? And are they correct in their assessment?

      Delete
    56. Mister Geocon,

      Since you don't care one whit about freedom or equality in the abstract, you can hardly then complain about being told what to do or not having an equal voice in the public square. And since you don't care one whit about science, you have no basis whatsoever to object to vaccines, since it takes scientific analysis to investigate their potential for harm.

      And it also doesn't become true that the earth is the unmoving center of the universe just because the Church was able to use power to enforce compliance. It doesn't become true that Trump won the election just because you wish it so. It doesn't become true that COVID-19 is a hoax just because you wish it so. Or even because someone like Abp. Vigano wishes it so.

      Yes you are, psychologically, a stunted five-year-old. WAAAH!! MY PARENTS ARE SOOOOO MEAN!!! If you don't make it possible for us to peacefully coexist with the likes of yourselves then prepare to be crushed. That's reality. I suggest you get acquainted with it.

      Delete
    57. Oh and yes, I am more than prepared to argue that (and this is what I mean by "liberalism") that societal peace is the highest good civil government should aim to promote, and that this is almost self-evidently true, for there is no civil society if there is constant warfare among factions. I'm not saying societal peace is the highest civil good in itself, but only the highest one government should aim to promote.

      Delete
    58. GoneOffTheDeepEnd,

      How do I begin to argue against someone who thinks anyone who isn't some kind of liberal is a "stunted five-year-old" and then goes to define liberalism as just good governance? Have any hints?

      Delete
    59. It is funny to see someone argue that the liberal State is very good in mantaining peace when his country just stopped being lead by a man that is hated by, like, half the population(i think, i'am a outsider). And if there where no pandemic he would probably had won again!

      One could argue that a non-democratic model would be even less peaceful, but that needs to be argued. The democratic model has the problem that by nature it is pluralistic, so conflict is a inherent part of it. It does not usually comes down to physical conflict, but in both democratic and non-democratic forms of goverment this is mostly the case thanks to the fact that trying to overturn the State would result in a pathetic defeat...

      Delete
    60. Mister Geocon,

      I don't mean to butt in, but what is a "harmful" practice will depend on your definition of what's good for people, correct?

      I agree that what a government defines as harmful will depend on that government. In this case, Victoria, Australia, has defined "conversion therapy" to be harmful, and Tony and I were discussing the reach of that law.

      Delete
    61. GoneFishing,

      And it also doesn't become true that the earth is the unmoving center of the universe just because the Church was able to use power to enforce compliance.

      At the very least, that's a serious mischaracterization of the position of the RCC on heliocentrism and the history of that change.

      Delete
  17. A few thoughts:

    Real definitions apply only to things, not words. Words are intrinsically arbitrary so it doesn't make sense for them to have real objective definitions. But things are objective. Hence, they have real objective definitions.

    The are many different things we call "religion", and for each of them a discussion could be had about its real definition. There is no need for each of these things to have the same univocal definition (if they did, they wouldn't be different), although if the word "religion" is to be applied to them with good reason, then there should be something in common among the things.

    The key point here I think is that our use of language is generally analogical. The things we typically call religions usually have some kind of way of relating to a transcendent realm and/or involve divine worship, mysticism and/or a system of supernaturally revealed dogmas and ethics. So anything that exhibits one or more of these traits can be called a "religion" but "religion" isn't necessarily being predicated univocally.

    We can call Catholicism a religion. We can call Buddhism a religion. But clearly they are not religions in the same sense. A religion that involves (or claims to involve) supernatural divine revelation is not univocally the same kind of thing as one that does not even though we can abstract away from the differences and find something in common to both.

    I also don't see why the words "philosophy" and "religion" would need to apply only to things that are mutually exclusive. I find it's better to simply use additional words to clarify the meaning. Language is limited. Reality is infinite. A single word can only be so specific.

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  18. The OP discusses how the modern project set out to privatize “religion” so that it could be dismissed as a personal preference rather than an objective truth claim. But the moderns didn’t remove “religion”, they just replaced it with another. In the effort to discard A/T with it’s universals, hylomorphism, and all the rest, they just replaced it with their own, poorer versions.

    Take, for example, the effort to liberate sex. When Michel Foucault, Simone de Beauvoir, and 3rd wave feminism sought to lift the veil and show that the relations between the sexes, family, the rearing of children, etc. was not grounded in any nature of the A/T sort, but merely social convention, they still grounded their arguments in the same ideas under different words: for what do words like “liberation”, and “equality”, and “justice” mean if they don’t presume nature (and, indeed, a final cause)? How is it that women could need to be “liberated” from oppression unless oppression was a violation of nature? It’s just obvious that claiming ultimate and radical selfishness as the key to happiness is a non-starter for anyone with two brain cells. The feminist idea that the way to make women free is to make them sexually aggressive--as if giving every man a harem is a way to punish men—is just obvious lunacy.

    Whenever the modern world “liberates” us from the older A/T idea, it always just replaces it with something worse. As Chesterton said of the Catholic sacrament of confession: “if young girl may not tell her sins to a celibate man in the corner of a Church, it is today the only place she may not do so.” One look at Dr. Phil and reality television is all one needs to see that’s true.

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    Replies
    1. Indeed. The difference between the ideas like Catholicism and ideas like Third-Wave Feminism is that the former are "religious" and the later are "secular." These labels are totally arbitrary (if you don't believe me, check out the example of Imperial Shintoism, the "secular" belief that the Japanese Emperor was descended from the kami).

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  19. "Religion", in essence, is the way by which human beings relate to God. From a psycho-social point of view, it is the way by which human beings relate, individually and / or collectively, to what they perceive as "Divine", that is, what is at the apex of the ethical, aesthetic and intellectual scale that automatically emerges from any worldview.
    As the term was originally adopted by some pre-modern worldviews to describe themselves, it has come to be widely used by modern worldviews to, through a series of rhetorical tricks, circumscribe to themselves (and to those worldviews historically perceived as theirs precursors)the entire field of human rationality.

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  20. Pretty interesting post, but i think that you are missing a thing in the nominal definition of religion:

    "But now consider the example of Stoicism. Here too we have something like a transcendent reality – the divine logos or world soul – and one’s proper orientation to it does play a role in the moral life of the Stoic. Yet Stoicism too is usually classified as a philosophy rather than a religion".

    A important part of the normal concept of religion* is that religions, along with the transcendent, have a hierarchy or at least a sort of organization, have a set of beliefs, a set of rituals and(usually) a official scripture. Stoicism(i think) got none of that, so it is not a religion, while Buddhism has all that, so it is a religion.

    This is how some use the word where i live, you americans probably face that too, seeing the "i'am spiritual but not religious" thing. This particular aspect of the word "religion" also is used a lot to talk about what is perceived as a opressive, hollow and hypocritical form of spirituality that exists more to benefit a few that to change lifes.

    Of course, the usual people i see contrasting religion and spirituality like that doe not care about both, but that is not important now...

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  21. Having discussions with people that have different thoughts and opinions is valuable; it prevents confirmation bias. But, some people find it necessary to fill every thread with their complaints and denials of the most basic tenets of A/T philosophy. This is a blog that presumes the tenets of A/T philosophy. If you don’t like A/T philosophy, that’s fine, but it is not the case that people who do use this blog as a resource for A/T topics need to constantly rehash the pet peeves of every angry Internet troll who keeps coming here because they feel empty inside, or whatever.

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  22. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    Replies
    1. MR GEOCON

      No of course it does not. My apology very clearly related to the fact that I had misrepresented your admonishion because I had misremembered the detail of it, when I should have read it through again first before replying. I did find your neutrality between the various types of regime listed to be a little unhinged, and I do still take your favoured societal formation as being a Roman Catholic theocracy. This is not emotiomally charged and dishonest rhetoric at all. I think that you are a little too sensitive Mr Geocon!

      Delete
    2. I don't consider myself a theocrat at all. Theocracy collapses the distinction between Church and State, but Integralism maintains the distinction and simply states that the Church has authority over the State in certain areas.

      And calling me "unhinged" is very stupid and dishonest, since I've given reasons for my beliefs. Saying "that's crazy!" without say why they're crazy is not an argument.

      Delete
    3. "Integralism'? Give it a break, Mr Geocon. How about 'distinctionism' or 'maintainism'?

      You're turning the discussion into an asinine food fight over a word salad, for what? Philosophical Wordism? Jesus H Christ on a bike! Give. It. A. Break.

      No one church or any church should have authority over the State in any area. Churches run best under a secular state because every colour and stripe of churchianity, and those of no church persuasion, are treated equally and fairly without special treatment. That is the fundamental premise of living in a civilised society founded on the rule of law.
      Goodness gracious me! The church had centuries of unfettered authority over states. Be thankful for small mercies that you can still memorialise over long past times and pine, "Ah. Them were the days."

      And yes, your argument is crazy talk in a modern community. I know the transition to a reality-based worldview is difficult but you'll get used to it and see the sense of it eventually. It's hard to break from the worship of one MAN. Just ask the Republicans how hard it is to break the cycle of ONE MAN WORSHIP. But in the end it is all for the best.

      Delete
    4. Papalinton,

      Question-begging. Can you stop doing it?

      Delete
    5. Mister Geocon,
      I have absolutely no problem with your One Man Worship. What you do in your spare time is completely your prerogative and you have an inalienable right to practice and worship as you please. Me? I fly model aircraft and helicopters on Sunday.

      So it's not a matter of question-begging. It's a matter of challenging what or who ought or ought not 'have authority over the State in certain areas'.

      Delete
    6. MrGeocon

      Quite apart from being generally appalled by your views, I must return to my perplexity that you have no preferance for secular liberalism over a whole variety of authoritarian and dictatorial systems which would be inimical to the free and open practice of your religion, in fact they would render such a thing impossible. This reminds me of the commumists in early 1930s Germany who refused to build a united front with reformist socialists against Hitler ( under instruction from Stalin, who had no intention of allowing revolutionary socialist movements and even victories to occur which might challange his power ) on the pretext that reformist socialism was 'social fascist' and should not be differentiated from fascism itself. Because of this, fascism came to power in a country with a huge and well organised labour movement ( and an organised communist contingent of millions ) with essentially no opposition on the streets, even when the movement was young and could easily have been physically confronted, prevented from organising and destroyed ( Trotsky was of course writing and warning about the stakes at hand, but by that time was hardly in a position to do anything else ). We all know what happened to the communists who took reformist socislism and fascism to be 'the same".

      Mr Geocon, do you not believe that Christians are called upon to preach and spread The Gospel to all mankind, and so should surely desire a polity which both makes this possible, and where aspects of life that you are morally opposed to ( abortion for example ) can be opposed and campained against with the real possibilty of being restricted or even halted? That being so, how on earth can you think secular liberalism is as bad ( per se, not in very particular ways ) as Islaamic authoritarianism, fascism or authoritarian state socialism? I would suggest that you are being irrational here.

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    7. Papalinton,

      Except you're begging the question against me every time you bang on about how my beliefs are delusional or evil without explaining why. What I haven't seen from you or One Brow or GoneFishing or any of liberals on this comment section is an actual defense of liberalism as liberalism. I don't believe in the "state of nature"-based anarchistic ontology. I think its implications are ridiculous and that it's justified with pure fantasies. I don't believe that imperium in imperio is desirable. It seems to introduce factionalism into society. I don't believe that the state can be a neutral arbiter between competing conceptions of the good. Any state action or non-action presupposes some moral framework. If you have arguments against my worldview, then let's hear it. But your frothing-at-the-mouth rants about God and Donald Trump tell me that you can't argue. Until you give me an argument for liberalism that isn't obviously fallacious, I'm going to ignore you.

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    8. Quite apart from being generally appalled by your views, I must return to my perplexity that you have no preferance for secular liberalism over a whole variety of authoritarian and dictatorial systems which would be inimical to the free and open practice of your religion, in fact they would render such a thing impossible.

      I see you have been ignoring me, Unknown. Now, you might have missed my last post when I explained my position already. Or, you might be a troll. I’ll just link to it here to see if you intentionally ignore it.

      https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2021/02/what-is-religion.html?showComment=1613150116761#c8044220841007021686

      https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2021/02/what-is-religion.html?showComment=1613150180824#c4557782258612108830

      By the way? Going around calling people’s beliefs irrational while ignoring what they actually say is itself pretty irrational.

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    9. Mr Geocon

      You seem to be a very sensitive fellow and clearly get prickled and defensive very easily. I did not miss or ignore your comments, and I am not a troll either. I just did not think that the reasons you gave for not preferring secular liberal democracy to the various alternative authoratarian state formations listed, was remotely convincing. I did not call any of your specific beliefs irrational, nor your reasons for finding liberalism problematic, but I do find your 'plague on all their houses' attitude to be irrational, as it is clearly in your interest as a Christian that you are able to openly practice your beliefs and promote them, so implementing the 'great commission'. This is possible for you under secular liberalism ,but hardly in the other kinds of system mentioned, where minimally you would be under severe legal restriction, and quite possibly find yourself in a prison camp or worse. You would not be doing much proselytising and gaining many converts then.

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    10. Unknown,

      First, I get prickled by people calling me irrational, insane, immoral, etc. without any good reason, as you have done.

      Second, I already addressed why I don't think secular liberalism allows Christians "to openly practice [their] beliefs and promote them," arguments that you have yet to refute. You, like Papalinton, seem to be unable to argue without begging the question.

      Don't bother responding, troll.

      Delete
    11. Mr Geocon

      I am afraid that you are revealing yourself to be a bit of a jerk, which I always suspected,but which has never been quite manifest until now.

      I am not a troll, and have certainly never called you insane or immoral, or indeed irrational per se, just that your preferance neutrality as regards the range of state formations listed is irrational, given that it is clearly contrary to your own interests as a Christian. Are there any other Roman Catholics out there who think that todays western liberal democracies are just as bad as say, Stalin's Russia, Hitler's Germany and Afghanistan under The Taliban, and so cannot express a preference between them, or who would not fight to preserve our current system if it was under immanent threat of revolutionary transformation into an Islaamic , fascist or communist dictatorship?

      I would also suggest that your claim that secular liberalism already does not allow Christians to openly practice and promote their faith is clearly absurd, and once again reveals a severe lack judgement on your part, where a quibble or unfortunate and unrepresentative incident or law is magnified beyond all reason, so that you cannot see that thanks to the political system you are fortunate to live under, you infact have complete freedom to believe as you wish, and to practice and promote your religion.

      Your dismissal of me as a troll is pathetic Mr Geocon. Another example of faulty judgement.

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    12. Unknown,
      Mister Geocon IS the christian taliban. Christians that hate secular liberalism as a properly functional form of governing have put all their eggs into the authoritarian and dictatorial governance basket, words and intentions that are synonymous with autocratic, absolute, omnipotent, supreme, magisterial, imperious. So one can see how Mister Geocon so easily segues from the Magisterium to the dislike of secular liberal democracy, seeing such secularism as a direct threat to his belief structures, in other words, "‘Who are you to set yourself up as an individual in opposition to the pope and the authentic magisterium?’" And he wants to oppress others in the community in insuring that the Church [His church, no doubt] 'has authority over the State in certain areas'.

      That is dangerous talk in a multicultural society.

      Delete
    13. Papalinton,

      Dangerous talk because liberalism has no answer to it other than incoherent screeching and question-begging.

      Delete
    14. Papalinton

      I have never interacted with an authoritarian Christian extremist before, who is unable to make even temporary pragmatic accommodation with secular liberalism when it is in his own self interest to do do, but who effectively cries 'World Roman Catholic authoritarianism or nothing!' This is really childish, and apart from anything else reveals that he is politically inept.

      I have concerns about possible future threats to secular liberalism, but they are not from the authoritarian Christian far right. Would you concur that people of Mr Geocons ilk are ill adjusted oddballs who have no significant influence and who are therefore best ignored?

      Delete
    15. Unknown,

      You have nothing to fear from me, since you secular liberals are the ones in power right now. The only thing you can't do to me is logically refute my arguments. Hence, you can only make appeals to my supposed self-interest.

      Delete
  23. Who can help me to find the triangle analogy for Divine Simplicity which was explain in the panel discussion with William Lane Craig?

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    1. This one? https://amp.reddit.com/r/CatholicPhilosophy/comments/ab7ged/an_analogy_for_divine_simplicity_using_triangle/

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    2. What kind of support an analogy gives to a conclusion?

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    3. In some cases, like this one, it makes understanding the conclusion easier.

      Delete
  24. I see the anti-theists/non-religious here are acting like there typical selves. Who said that you needed movies and tv for entertainment? I suppose it's their ire with religion and like dogs hear/see the word and get all hot and bothered. Woof woof! Oh the irony.

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  25. Ha, ha

    So the conservative social worker makes sn appearance. Bet you are popular.

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  26. @Unknown:

    Is that all ya got?

    Woof woof, boy! That's a good boy!

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  27. Let me try a definition.

    Religion is any ideology that defines what is good and shat is evil EXCEPT liberalism.

    This way the separation of religion and state means that only liberalism can be the official ideology of the State.

    So it's a way for liberalism to play a rigged game in which only liberalism can win

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