Philosophy

What should government be?

[This post got stuck as a draft and now isn’t very timely. Oh well, better late than never!]

As we approach the general election on the 8th May, I thought it would be good to think a bit about politics. So, let’s start at the very beginning…

Where is authority ultimately from?

Authority comes from truth. Equivalently, we can say that authority comes from God, the author of all creation. We should listen to the truth and to those who instruct us according to the truth, simply because what’s in accordance with the truth is in accordance with our true being. As the (virulent atheist) anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin said,

Does it follow that I reject all authority? Perish the thought. In the matter of boots, I defer to the authority of the boot-maker.

This requires humility, because we have to recognise that sometimes, the truth, including the truth of ourselves, is not in accordance with our own wills and desires. At times like this, our desires, if not submitted to truth and reason, actually enslave us, denying us our true dignity and glory.

Today, this is probably not such a common concept of authority. We live in a world that is “post-God” and “post-truth”, believing that these tend towards oppression. Instead, the world believes in desire and force. What’s important is that I claim my “rights”, over against yours. Authority is then just a word for more established power.

Where does government come from?

My guess is, that government more or less grew out of natural structures of authority. At the lowest level, a father is naturally and historically the head of his family, as the one primarily responsible for its defense and provision, and therefore most aware of how to make the best decisions for it. In society at a larger level, say an extended family or a village, a father figure will emerge too; one who is strong, wise, and provides for the people. At each larger level, “father” figures may emerge, as and when groups become more integrated, and need someone to give them unity and provide for the common good.

Of course, right from the lowest level, and right from the beginning, violence ruins this lovely human family. There are bad fathers, bad chieftains, and bad kings, and then there are usurpers, often friends and relatives, who take power for themselves with the best or worst of motives, so that “authority” is rarely held by those who deserve it.

Plato believed that the ideal government was that of the Philosopher Ruler, but that this would degenerate into a timarchy (military/honour based rule, e.g. Sparta, or feudal [Samurai] Japan), which would degenerate into oligarchy (wealth based rule- think of the USA), which then degenerates into democracy (people/pleasure based rule- think of ancient Athens, or Norway, Iceland, or Sweden), which finally degenerates into  tyranny (the rule of absolute violence, and unrestrained desire). I think he was onto something. It is essentially the process of men and societies diverging from the highest good, Goodness Itself, to lesser, more divided goods, going through honour to wealth to selfish happiness to unrestrained desire.

What should government be?

The government’s duty is to serve the common good in accordance with the truth (it is impossible in discord with truth). Therefore, it should be honest; should seek the truth on every matter, with open, humble ears; it should respect the freedom of lower levels of government and society, which are generally better placed to look after their own common good; it should be firm in justice, but double so with itself; it should serve all, and respect all; it should be both strong and gentle; both reserved and courageous; it should be genuinely humble, never glorifying itself, but placing itself beneath others; it should be self-sacrificing and unprofitable; and undoubtedly much more. To simplify, a good government, and the people who compose it, should have all the qualities of a good father.

At this point you’re perhaps thinking this is literally paternalistic government. But the issue of paternalism would actually be an issue in a father too. The problem is the same in both overbearing parents and overbearing governments: both children and peoples need freedom in order to flourish, including the freedom to make mistakes.

Is this realistic?

If we could have a government of saints, absolutely! But saints are hard to come be, and generally wouldn’t want such a position. They know too well, how violence and sin thrive in power, and they don’t seek power, or its prestige and rewards. Their humility keeps them from seeking any position except the least. And the struggle for power, is a struggle, and they do not desire struggle and strife, but love and unity.

Still, it’s good to have ideals to reach for. If you’re in government, be like a good father and you’ll do well. For the rest of us, this can shape our engagement with politics, and perhaps we’ll see a conversion of our government.

palace_of_westminster2c_london_-_feb_2007

 

Finally

‘You know that among the pagans their so-called rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man Himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.’
[Mk 10:42-45]

Whenever I read this passage, it makes me wonder if a Christian should be in politics at all. I don’t suppose Christian virtue would go very far. After all, the kingdoms of the world belong to satan, and are given to his worshippers [Lk 4:6]. I guess we must engage according to the gospel, and abandon any struggle for domination.

 

Please, share your thoughts! God bless you!

What does it mean to be human?

What does it mean to be human?

The ancient, “in the image of God” sums it up quite nicely for me. I’d put it two ways: it is our ability to reach eternal, invisible truths, such as maths, the laws of physics, beauty, morality, love, humanity, etc. and also our ability to explore and express these in entirely new ways, through our own creativity and shared life. We bring eternity into time. I believe this is what St. Thomas Aquinas was getting at (more or less) when he claimed we each have a “rational soul”.

While animal life, even as far as they are capable of reasoning, is determined by the nature of each species, life for humans has no boundaries imposed upon it, but is capable of reaching/creating entirely new horizons. Humanity is essentially transcendent, innately seeking to go deeper, and express more fully, breaking apart old ways to create new possibilities.

But we see how terribly humans can abuse this power, these new possibilities. We see our great inhumanity. The same scientific breakthrough that allows billions of people to live today, was utilised by the Nazis in their horrific gas chambers. I would argue that our greatest atrocities follow when we sever these two ways; separating eternal truth from our self-creation, and so making our self-creation a mere perversion. Here is, I believe, the original sin, the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.

Our personhood, I believe, refers to our freedom in our relationship, both with these higher truths and with each other. We deny others their personhood (and our own too) when we refuse to relate to them in freedom, whether because we don’t understand, or we are afraid, or we wish for power.

What about those who are unintelligent, or incapable of self-expression? The definition I gave is, I believe, entirely qualitative, and so we do not become “more human” as we become more intelligent or more expressive. Intelligent people often scoff at meaningful questions, while the supposedly stupid often have profound insights (though they also often lack the confidence to recognise them as such). Regardless of intelligence or ability, we have an innate openness to eternal truths, to the divine, and for these to come to the world through us (even those without working brain cells). Indeed, at her very conception, the Blessed Virgin Mary was intimately united as spouse to the Holy Spirit of God.

[This originated as a comment on the video.]

God bless you

The Ontological Argument for God’s Existence

[This is my favourite argument for God’s existence. I love the idea that God’s existence should be demonstrable, and even undeniable, from absolutely nothing but logical thinking.]

Consider in your mind, the idea of That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought. Whatever That may be, it is impossible to think anything greater.

You have conceived this concept, and so That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought may be said to exist in your thoughts.

Now, either That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought exists outside of your thoughts also, or it doesn’t.

But if it doesn’t exist beyond your thoughts, it would be greater (in thought), if it did exist outside of your mind. But then there could be a greater thought than that which, by definition, is That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought, which is a contradiction. To think of That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought existing outside of our thoughts is greater than to think of That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought, being confined to mere thought.

Hence That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought must exist also beyond our thoughts, in reality.

What about islands?

How about That-Island-Than-Which-No-Greater-Island-Can-Be-Thought? Must that exist too?

No. As a creation, Islands are necessarily limited, and so we must consider them as at most times and in most places, not existing. Now, an island would be greater if it was, beyond mere thoughts, in every place and time (it’s a lot more convenient to me, at least). However, then it would no longer be an island at all (it would be upon its own coast!).

And so, That-Island-Than-Which-No-Greater-Island-Can-Be-Thought, is a contradiction, and cannot exist, either in or beyond thought. While the thought of the verbal formula [That-Island-Than-Which-No-Greater-Island-Can-Be-Thought] does exist in the mind, the actual thing, even as a conception of logic, cannot exist in the mind, because it contradicts the definition of an island.

And the same goes for all finite things.

To help illustrate, consider that there does not, and cannot, exist a greatest finite number. By virtue of being finite, it has a boundary, an end (fin), and hence, it is always possible to exceed that boundary.

In fact, all definitions impose boundaries, and so, the argument does not work for anything that is defined. And so we arrive at the conclusion, that That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought, cannot be defined. And how extraordinarily great It must be, to be too great for our definitions!

St. Anselm of Canterbury, pray for us.

God bless you!

The Present Moment: Living in it and God in it (innit)

What is the present moment? Where is the present moment?

The past is knowable, but can’t be changed. The future is changeable, but can’t be known. Is the present possibly both? The present is given to us, and we have no time in which to either know or change it. Yet at the same time, it is where we live: and living is both knowing and changing. The present cannot be known, but it is the only moment that can ever be lived. The present cannot be changed, but it is the only moment we can ever change the world from. The present is both past and future, with the weaknesses of both, and yet a great power all of its own.

In this infinitely small gap between the past and the future, there is no time for change to occur. And yet, occasionally, a change will occur. Miraculously, each thing becomes something it wasn’t; what was off turns on; and although “trees are green”, trees become golden. Miracles can only happen in the present. While it is future, we have only possibility; once it is past, we have only history; in the present, we have neither, and the impossible can occur.

now-is-the-time-logo1-cropped

I would find it tempting to simply conclude that the present does not and cannot exist, if only it wasn’t where I myself lived. This is possibly the most important fact about the present: I live there, and can’t live anywhere else. The past and the future both reject me, as long as I live, and so I’m forced into this paradoxical moment. It may well be true, that the present only exists for people. Objects make no attempt to know or decide; they just react; they just are. To them, the past, present, and future are all as unknowable and unchangeable, and, ultimately, non-existent.

On the abyss of the present, where we stand both blind and powerless, we exist. Our life makes a paradox of time, and this is its power. The only time we are given is this moment in which we can know nothing and do nothing, and yet, we live: we know ourselves and we change ourselves, and thus we change the world. In the present, we have nothing to give but ourselves.

I’ve heard that the present moment is closest to eternity. I’m not entirely sure how. To God in eternity, all things are known, and yet all are subject to Him. To God, past and future do not exist. Perhaps what they mean, is that God knows and acts, as we do in the present. There exists nothing antecedent to God for Him to know. As we live, and so work, “on the abyss of the present”, so God Himself works “ex nihilo”-out of nothing. God does not know anything as “given”; to God there is no history. God knows us completely and perfectly, but not as facts, but as His own present work: God’s knowledge of us is contained in God’s knowledge of Himself, in His Logos, His Word, His Wisdom, His only begotten Son, through Whom He creates all things.

God is with us in the present. Even in its emptiness, He is with us intimately and profoundly, living and creating ex nihilo, and enabling us to live and create with Him. He dares even to live and create within us.

As the saints and wise people throughout the ages have been telling us, we ought live in the present moment, for the glory of God.

“Jesus, I will not wait; I will live the present moment and fill it with love.”
Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan

“I simply recall that I must live each day, each moment as if it were the last one of my life. I leave aside everything accidental and concentrate only on the essential; then each word, each gesture, each telephone call, and each decision I make is the most beautiful of my life.”
Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan

“It is not the number of our works that are important, but the intensity of the love that we put into every action.”
Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta

“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God”
1 Corinthians 10:31

“Happy the soul who reposes in the bosom of God (in sinu Dei), without thinking of the future, but managing to live moment by moment in him, without any other preoccupation than doing well his will in every event.”
St. Paul of the Cross

God bless you!

P.S. I wrote this after reading a chapter of Testimony of Hope, by Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, on the present moment. The more philosophical rambling on time is mine, but the whole thing is inspired by this brilliant chapter of a (so far) brilliant book. I can’t recommend it enough.

I’ve also began (yesterday) to look into “mindfulness”. So far, it seems like its a very good thing, getting people to live in and appreciate the moment. It seems like a welcome remedy for our hectic world. But it seems sad to me, that this is coming from eastern religions and psychologists, when Christians have been doing it for a long time, and with reference to God (which, I believe without evidence, must improve it). It seems we have failed to offer the world the solution it needs, even though we have it plentifully.

Thank you for reading the post-script. God bless you again!!

Can God create a stone…

Can God create a stone so heavy that He cannot lift it? If yes, how is He all-powerful? If no, how is He all-powerful?

I love this question. Initially, it seems like a perfect proof that an all-powerful being is impossible, which is troubling (to say the least) from the standpoint of religion. It is the kind of question that probes into the fabric of reality. It seems like the perfect trap. But I don’t believe it is inescapable. In fact, I would say that such questions force us to look into the depths of reality, and the fundamental facts of God Himself.

It seems that to answer yes, is to admit defeat, and to answer no, is also admitting defeat. Apparently we can do neither.

The first key to the question is the difference between what God could do theoretically (i.e. what’s in His power to do), and what God would do (i.e. what’s in His nature to do), and the second is the power of the question itself. Yes, God could (theoretically) create a stone so heavy that He could not lift it, and what’s more, He could then lift it. Yes, this is the contradiction the question was after. But what question is so powerful as to bind God? God is not subordinate to logic (or He is not God), nor did He create logic (or He Himself would be inconceivable), but God is (in a sense) logic (look up the theology of Jesus as the divine Logos and the divine Wisdom).

So, if God is logic, can God do something illogical? Theoretically, He could if He changed Himself. Can the unchanging God change Himself? Again, theoretically, yes. Nothing constrains God but God.

But then again, God won’t ever create such a stone, do something illogical, or change Himself, because of who He is. God will never change; He will never lie; He will never be unfaithful. And God will never change, because there is nothing that can affect God but Himself; and He will never choose to change because He is not even subject to time, and to change your mind requires time’s work. He already knows all things perfectly, and will not discover anything to change His mind.

So if we consider that God is, in a certain sense, unable to create and lift such a stone, it is only because He Himself, by His very being, makes it that way, by His free and continued choice.

 

God bless you

[P.S. I’d love to keep the discussion going, so if you have any further points, either agreeing or disagreeing or neither, I’d love to see them. Thanks]

The truth will set you free

Freedom is a bit of an obsession of mine, largely because of its relationship to truth.
If I believe a lie, I am a slave to the deceiver, because I don’t live according to the world I live in. I’m not in accordance with the nature of my existence.
If I tell lies or live a lie, I make a slave of myself, as I deny my own nature in favour of one that does not exist. A lie always concerns the liars nature, at the least by the idea that they know what they talk of.
What is freedom but being true to yourself? But who is yourself? We are such twisted creatures that we seem to be contradictory things at different times, and often at once. And not only are we divided, but we are profound. We contain depths beyond our own knowledge.
That ‘Who am I?’ is a valid question, is enough to show its significance. It is one of the greatest question of all. Whether we study maths, chemistry, animals, people, religion, God, or anything else, we’re looking for where we fit in, and what that makes us.

“If you continue in my word, you shall be my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth: and the truth shall make you free.”
John 8:31-32

What truth does Jesus mean? The truth about who we are.
According to Jesus and his disciples, we are the objects of God’s love, we are His children, we are called to His family. We are here to love. This is freedom.
But this is not just the answer for humanity. We are not loved just as a part of humanity, but as an individual child of God, made in His image. Our place isn’t as specks in a faceless mass.
We exist for perfect love. What is love?

By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
1 John 3:16

Love is a giving, and especially a giving up. And love is also receiving, and sharing.
Love is giving what is good, and especially giving up what is good, for another’s sake. Love is sharing in another’s sorrows, weaknesses and struggles. And love is receiving another’s gifts of love, with joy, thanksgiving, and the plan of giving back whatever you can. And so, love is the complete sharing of life.
God gave us life and His Son, Jesus Christ gave up his life for us. By his incarnation, Jesus, the eternal Word made flesh, shared in the sorrows, weaknesses and struggles of all humanity. We ought to receive his gifts, including his very self, with joy, thanksgiving, and the plan of offering him ourselves, as we follow him, carrying our crosses. And he will be faithful, and receive our offering with joy, and continue to give himself to us. And we will share in his life, as he abides in us, and we abide in him.
This is what we truly are, this is what we are made for, and this is our freedom.

Love doesn’t seem to be perfect freedom. What if we were slaves? Would we not then be free by resistance and disobedience, rather than love?
No, because if we consistently disobeyed, for example, the masters could just tell us what not to do. My point is, we can even become slaves to resistance itself.
Undoubtedly, there are times and ways to resist all injustices, and it is an imperative of love to take such opportunities, but resistance is not freedom itself. Even in such conditions, love is the greatest freedom, because by love, we are our true selves no matter who or what may oppose us.
To love our enemies is not only righteous and relaxing, but genuinely liberating, as we live by the truth of us, of them, and of God, that no one’s actions can ever change.

I’d like to finish with a prayer:

Heavenly Father,
Help us to know, remember, and live by the truth;
Help us to live in freedom, and to liberate others;
Help us to live by your love, always.
Give us to love and seek the truth with all humility, and with great joy and zeal.
Teach us to be grateful to you at all times, for our existence and for our redemption, and so for our entire lives.
Teach us, by your Holy Spirit, to pay without ceasing, so that we may thank you always, serve you always, listen to you always, and accept you always.
Amen.

May God bless you, and your family.

Any questions?

I haven’t posted anything for more than a month now, for a few reasons. I was slightly busy at first. Then, it was a matter of being uncertain of what I wrote, and even when I was pretty certain, I wasn’t sure it was even worth anyone reading.

So my solution here, is that I will ask you for questions, then try to answer in a post as best as I can. Not that I have the answers, but I want to explore questions and see what may be found. I need some guide of what to consider and what to share, and I think questions fit the bill nicely. I expect I may have to give various thoughts on each question rather than an answer.
So please share with me any questions, areas you’re curious about, or challenges to my ideas. I generally post a combo of philosophy, politics, theology and general religion (often with an emphasis on freedom) but anything will do.
Maybe if there’s something you have been pondering for a while, and would like to see another’s perspective on, you could share that. Or maybe if you have a question on something I’ve posted in the past, you could share that.
Please give me a question. I don’t want to be the fool answering questions no one asked.

Thank you very much and God bless you.

God and Satan never team up

Therefore, there can be no such thing as a necessary evil. Necessary evil is an oxymoron, and the idea of it shouldn’t be tolerated anymore.
But does this mean that “necessary evil” is just evil, or just good? Is it the action itself or the sum of its consequences that determines whether it’s good or evil?

This is a tough question, so I’m going to look back to the relationship between God and the Enemy.
God sometimes permits the Enemy to act. We see this in the book of Job, and it makes sense of God’s all-powerful nature and the Enemy’s working. But why does God give the permission?
The Enemy is not God’s servant, seeking to serve Him in counter-intuitive ways. The Enemy is a thief and a destroyer, and utterly set against the keeper and creator. But God allows His Enemy to work, because He can work strength from weakness, and good even from evil.
So does this evil serve God? Only because of God’s goodness. The evil remains evil in itself, but is overwhelmed by goodness. That the darkness makes the light seem brighter, does not make darkness light. Evil presents the opportunity for good, but isn’t good itself.

From this I would say that “necessary evil” is actually just evil. Doing evil will not (without good intervention) result in good.
If doing good must involve God, then it must be wholly good, and not evil in any part. This means it must work entirely for God at all times. Therefore, the act itself must serve God directly.
Evil seeds will produce evil; hate will produce hate; violence will produce violence. But, love will produce love, and ‘the love never fails.’ (1Corinthians 13:8)

The Enemy thinks it has victory in all it does, because it cannot comprehend the power of God’s goodness, or His strength through weakness. Strength through weakness is, to the world, the fool’s approach.

We cannot use evil against evil. It will not work to the detriment of evil. At best, it will direct evil away from us, towards others.

In evil times (and when wouldn’t qualify?) evil seems most attractive, and goodness most powerless. But it is here that all things good are needed the most.
It is through the cross we were saved: not by vengeance and wrath with power, but by forgiveness and love with pain.

God bless you.