Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Restoring Faith in Politicians

I had a conversation with my neighbor the other day in which we both agreed that were it not for the fact that we each wanted to be able to vote in primary elections we'd be tempted to register as Independents. Even as I was agreeing with him, though, I was thinking that there really are a lot of good people in the party with which I'm affiliated (the GOP), people that I think are the future both of the party and of our nation, and that perhaps I shouldn't give up on the Republican party just yet.

One of these points of light is Congressman Paul Ryan who has been very impressive throughout the health care debate in arguing that the bill that has just been signed into law is an irresponsible, even disastrous, piece of legislation.

Here's Ryan making his case to Politico's Mike Allen:

Paul Ryan is a nightmare for the Democrats. He's bright and knows what he's talking about. Here's more of Politico's interview with him:

Like I said, he's an impressive guy. People like him are such a refreshing change from the sort of politician who's always walking right on the edge of ethical propriety, who's more concerned with winning than with doing what's right. If the American people ever have their faith restored in politicians it'll be because of men and women like Congressman Ryan.


Personally Opposed, But ...

You've doubtless heard politicians justify their support for an unlimited abortion license by saying something like this, "I'm personally opposed to abortion, but I wouldn't want to stand in the way of someone else who wanted to have one."

Robert P. George once did a clever riff on this rather odd rationalization. Here's what he wrote:

I am personally opposed to killing abortionists. However, inasmuch as my personal opposition to this practice is rooted in a sectarian (Catholic) religious belief in the sanctity of human life, I am unwilling to oppose it on others who may, as a matter of conscience, take a different view.

Of course I am entirely in favor of policies aimed at removing the root causes of violence against abortionists. Indeed, I would go so far as to support mandatory one-week waiting periods, and even non-judgmental counseling, for people who are contemplating the choice of killing an abortionist. I believe in policies that reduce the urgent need some people feel to kill abortionists while, at the same time, respecting the rights of conscience of my fellow citizens who believe that the killing of abortionists is sometimes a tragic necessity - not a good but a lesser evil.

In short I am moderately pro-choice.

So here's the exit question: If the "personally opposed but..." argument is adequate justification for allowing a woman to abort for whatever reason she chooses, why is it not also a justification for refusing to condemn the murder of abortion providers?

Just asking.


Premoderns and Postmoderns (Pt. II)

I'd like to continue our look at the First Things essay (Christians and Postmoderns) by Joseph Bottum that we began yesterday.

Bottum writes that:

[T]he massive scientific advance of modernity reveals how easy it is to discover facts, and modernity's collapse reveals how hard it is to hold knowledge. We have an apparatus for discovery unrivaled by the ages, yet every new fact means less than the previously discovered one, for we lack what turns facts to knowledge: the information of what the facts are for.

Precisely so. Modernity offers us no satisfying interpretive framework for assigning meaning to the facts discovered by science. It attempts to supply the need for such a framework by interpreting everything in terms of evolutionary development, but the view that each of us is just a meaningless cipher in the grand flow of time and evolution fails somehow to quench our deepest longings. According to the modern worldview there really is no purpose for the existence of anything. The facts discovered by science, as important as they may be for the furtherance of our technology, don't really have any metaphysical significance. Like everything else, they're just there.

And so "we must learn to live after truth," as a group of European academics wrote in After Truth: A Postmodern Manifesto. "Nothing is certain, not even this . . . The modern age opened with the destruction of God and religion. It is ending with the threatened destruction of all coherent thought." Nietzsche may have been the first to see this clearly .... But, even in the fundamental thinkers of high modernity, hints can be found that knowledge requires God: Descartes uses God in the Meditations in order to escape from the interiority where the cogito has stranded him; Kant uses God as a postulate of pure practical reason in order to hold on to the possibility of morality.

What believers have in common with postmoderns is a distrust of modern claims to knowledge. To be a believer, however, is to be subject to an attack that postmoderns, holding truthlessness to themselves like a lover, never have to face. The history of modernity in the West is in many ways nothing more than the effort to destroy medieval faith. It is a three-hundred-year attempt to demolish medieval (especially Catholic) claims to authority, and to substitute a structure of science and ethics based solely on human rationality.

But with the failure to discover any such rational structure-seen by the postmoderns-the only portion of the modern project still available to a modern is the destruction of faith. It should not surprise us that, in very recent times, attacks on what little is left of medieval belief have become more outrageous: resurgent anti-Semitism, anti-Islamic broadsides, vicious mockery of evangelical preaching, desecrations of the Host in Catholic masses. For modern men and women, nothing else remains of the high moral project of modernity: these attacks are the only good thing left to do. The attackers are convinced of the morality of their attack not by the certainty of their aims-who's to say what's right or wrong?-but by opposition from believers.

I take Bottum to be saying here that modernity, in its death throes, wishes only to finish the business of killing off God, or at least belief in God. Modernity has nothing else to offer. It cannot give answers to any of life's most gripping existential questions. Nowhere in the writings of the anti-theists at large today do we find an answer to any of the following: Why is the universe here? How did life come about? Why is the universe so magnificently fine-tuned for life? Where did human consciousness come from? Why do we feel joy when we encounter beauty? How can we prove that our reason is reliable without using reason to prove it? How can we account for our conviction that we have free will? What obligates us to care about others? Why do we feel guilt? Who do I refer to when I refer to myself? What gives human beings worth, dignity, and rights? If death is the end justice is unattainable, so why do we yearn for it? Why do we need meaning and purpose? What is our purpose?

Ask the Richard Dawkins' of the world those questions and all you'll get in reply is a shrug of the shoulders or a recitation of the historical crimes of the Church. They dodge the question because they have no answer. This is a bit ironic: Neither modern nor postmodern atheism has an answer to the most profound questions we can ask. The only possible answer lies in the God of the "premodern" and this is the one solution to man's existential emptiness that the modern and postmodern atheist simply cannot abide.

More tomorrow.