the September AD 2009
And 5 Others That Didn't Help
Benjamin Wiker (Washington: Regnery, 2008)
260 pp, Hardbound, US $27.95 (Discount available)
One of the great failings of American public education is the failure to provide students with even a basic philosophical background. At the high school level, philosophy is generally unavailable as a course offering, and can be avoided in many degree programs at the university level. The engineering student may take more formal logic than the liberal arts student. Even in many Catholic schools, where one could have expected courses like apologetics and Christian belief to have a philosophical underpining, the relativist philosophies of Modernism have supplanted the Scholastic philosophy of the pre-Vatican II era.
At many levels, literature, which claims to examine the problems of the human condition, is made to replace philosophy without being subject to systematic questioning. A skillful author may paint an appealing but unrealistic picture of things without being called to account about his assumptions or their logical development. 10 Books That Screwed Up the World is a successful attempt to call fifteen of the worst offending authors to account.
Benjamin Wiker holds a Ph.D. in ethics from Vanderbilt University and has taught at a number of Catholic colleges. His writing completely avoids any of the philosophicl jargon that might scare off the average reader. The high school student who intends to go on to college would do well to read Wiker's 10 Books during the summer before beginning junior year--and his parents should do the same, quickly enough for him to take the book to college to be used as a reference. Likewise, any citizen with an interest in the Church and the society in which he lives.
Can we fix the world? Wiker's answer comes near the end of the book:
Can we gather, from what screwed up the world, what we might do to save it?
To ask such a question is to have slept through the lesson. In no small part the carnage and confusion was caused by notions that the world, rather than human beings, needed to be saved from and for something. To save the world from political impotence, Machiavelli would have us embrace effective brutality. To save the world from skepticism, Descartes would have us become both more skeptical and more prideful. To save the world from industrial oppression, Marx and Lenin would have us annihilate half the world in revolution. To save the world from disease, poverty, and every social ill, Margaret Sanger and Adolf Hitler would have us eliminate the hordes of "unfit." To save the world from male oppression, Betty Friedan would have women kill their offspring.
Until the twentieth century, the notion of salvation had a decent pedigree. Now that the notion has been so tainted by its secular adherents, it will be a wonder if the idea of salvation itself can be saved. What all our authors have grasped, in one way or another, is that something is wrong and needs to be righted. But they have also suffered acutely from one terrible insight: If God really does not exist, then it is all up to us. If this world is our only world, this life our only life, then it would seem that every effort, any means, and all passions fair or foul should be unleashed in an effort to transform the miseries of human life into a durable earthly happiness. If we all bang on the gates of paradise with our collective force, they must break open and allow humanity to enter, even though some will be lost in the crush.
If such is the result of rejecting the notion that it is man, and not primarily the world, that has fallen, then the way might be open to a very sober reassesment of an ancient insight.... (228-229).
Machiavelli, Descartes, Hobbes, Rousseau, Marx and Engels, Mill, Darwin, Nietzsche, Lenin, Sanger, Hitler, Freud, Mead, Kinsey, Friedan--what do all of these have in common? What might we look for in other writings as a tell-tale sign that an attempt at putting one over on us is in progress.
Perhaps the most common error, underlying most of these works, is that there is no God, or at least not a God who is interested in human behavior. Man is free to do whatever he feels is necessary to "save the world." Religion, which is usually accompanied by a system of morality is a dangerous thing in that it keeps the masses from cooperating with the elites in their attempt at "collective salvation."
Most of the writers advance a fictitious vision of the "way the world was originally," or "the way things will be" without any serious demonstration that they are correct. Some present an alternative view of man in his "original state"--sometimes they hold that "original man" lived in harmonious peace, but sometimes he lived in continuous violence. Sometimes the continuous violence is one of every individual against every other individual, sometimes is is a struggle between classes, castes, or genders. Sometimes the "collective salvation" requires a return to man's "original state," but sometimes it requires purification from the "original state" to reach a utopian future. The discerning reader will learn to ask several questions: "What evidence do you have that things were once the way you say they were?" and "What evidence do you have that things will become the way you say they will?" "What is the cost of doing things the way you say they should be done?" and "What if you are wrong?" "How is your description of things at all superior to the traditional insights of our civilization?"
One might re-phrase that last question: "How can you possibly justify what you wrote, based on the outcome that we have witnessed?" "Don't the deaths of millions of people and the destruction of families and nations prove your ideas wrong forevermore?" Mr. Machiavelli? Mr. Hitler? Mrs. Sanger? Mr. Marx? Mr. Kinsey? Ms. Friedan? The awful reality is that the ideas in all of the fifteen books covered by Doctor Wiker are still "alive and well." Worse, they are "alive and well" in our own society--both Church and Satate. And, even worse, they are "alive and well" without most people even realizing that they are.
Benjamin Wiker's 10 Books That Screwed Up the World is must reading for every student, every parent, and everyone else. We may not be able to "save the world," but we might be able to save our own souls. And who knows--without the interference of the "elite," the "masses" might just build a tolerable world on their own. A sequel promises to review the books that changed the world for the better. We will let you know.... Church Tax?
Question: In Nazi Germany Christians were required to pay a "church tax," from which theycould "opt out" by taking an oath that they did not believe the teachings of the Church. Some are suggesting that the same scheme might be imposed in these United States in order to finance the massive deficits of the federal government. Since such a tax on the exercise of religion would be utterly immoral, would it be permissible for a Catholic to take such an oath, pretending not to believe in the Catholic religion, while continuing to practice all aspects of the Faith? Is an "oath to a scoundrel" binding in conscience?
Answer:: Just as a point of history, the German church taxes go back nearly to the Protestant Reformation. The government recognized a number of denominations, including Catholicism, and recognized that none of them had the sort of income from church owned lands that they had in the middle ages. The government levied the church tax, and then distributed it to the denominations on a per capita basis. The ability to "opt out" was granted by Otto von Bismarck in 1873 as part of his campaign against Catholicism--in practice more Protestants than Catholics exercised their "right" to Kirchenaustritt (leaving the Church). Hitler's rise to power greatlyexacerbated the Kirchenaustritt, with the number peaking in 1939 with 95,000 Catholics and 395,000 Protestants removing themselves from the government maintained church roles. Curiously, Hitler and Goebbels remained on the government's (Catholic) church role, and continued to pay the church tax even though neither one could be considered a practicing Catholic by any religious standard. Kirchenaustritt declined rapidly as Hitler's military fortunes waned. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_ in_Nazi_Germany#Organised_religion_in_Germany_1933-1945).
Persecution of Christians is an integral part of all totalitarian societies. God created men and women with the unalienable natural rights to do for themselves what is necessary to live decently in this world in preparation for eternity in the next. As the individual is responsible for his own life and his own salvation, these rights are granted to individuals and not to societies. This individuality is incompatible with the "progressive" state that wants to organize all human activity, and particularly so if the state intends to exercise its power at the expense of the individual--in practice all centrally organized civil societies infringe individual rights in order to provide for some theoretical "common good" that is determined by the ruling class. When the infringement is significant, Christianity often finds Itself at odds with the government--something which the totalitarian state will not allow--which issues in persecution.
Even when the persecution is not physical, the "progressive" society tends to marginalize Christianity, making It out to be a "reactionary" movement quite incompatible with "enlightened" modern thinking. The Church is excluded from public influence--at first Its bishops and theologians are not consulted in forming public policy, the advice It gives its members is first ridiculed, and then made illegal--Its institutions are forced to do things against the divine moral law. In such a society, even without violence, life is made easier for those who abjure the Faith at least in practice. Indeed, "progressive" society may be happy to point to its nominal "Christians" who are willing to violate the moral law in pursuit of the theoretical "common good"--e.g. the socialist governor, the pro-abortion senator, the pro-divorce bishop or theologian. "Progressive" society will glory in the foibles of those who are Christians in name only--the altar boy molesting bishop, the embezzling priest, or the one who runs away with the lady organist--such things will be "news" when they involve Christians, but will be ignored in the media when they involve "progressives."
When persecution involves violence, there is often an attempt to replace Catholicism with a false religion--often a state-centered religion. One must worship the gods of Rome or the racial purity of the Aryan people--the Emperor or the Führer become divine personages, worshipped in elaborate and compulsory public ceremonies. In such a state, Catholicism becomes a crime, for the Christian cannot worship Zeus, Hitler, Caesar or Mohammad's Allah--even if he is still allowed to worship Jesus Christ. Even the atheist state, like Stalinist Russia, is jealous for the worship of its followers--for it, the worship of Jesus Christ is a crime of disloyalty to the all consuming state.
Can one swear a false oath to such a state to escape bloody persecution? The Sacred Scriptures (Matthew v: 34) counsel truthfulness to the extent that one's word is never questioned, and, consequently, no oath is ever demanded--nonetheless, in grave matters, in telling the truth concerning something morally acceptable, which one intends to bring about, it is morally lawful to take an oath. Most definitions of the word "oath" involve calling on God as a witness to the oath takers intention to tell the truth or to promise some action--certainly that would be part of the Catholic definition. To call on God to witness a willingness to do something evil would be a grave sin in and of itself--God does not approve of evil, nor does He condone lying in His name. An oath abjuring Catholicism would be a grievous sin against Faith, and lying about it with God as a witness would only make it worse. An oath given to a scoundrel is not different from an oath given to an honorable person, for both call equally upon God as a witness that one will do something that is good.
Between roughly AD 52 and 312, Christianity was persecuted in the Roman Empire. Details of the persecution vary with time and place, but in general terms Christians were required to demonstrate loyalty to the Roman gods by some combination of offering sacrifice to them, by giving up the books containing the Scriptures, by profaning an object sacred to the Faith (e.g. a cross), or an explicit renunciation of Christ. Those who complied received a certificate (libellus) from the Roman authorities, to save them from the trouble of having to repeat the process each time there was a question of their loyalty.
After each persecution died down, there were generally some number who had renounced the Faith but who wanted to be readmitted to the Church and to the Sacraments. Some had merely purchased a libellus without actually abjuring the Faith, others had demonstrated loyalty to the false gods. The question of their return to the Church was hotly debated. The libellatici were generally considered to be of lesser, but real, guilt, for they had given the example that apostasy was something acceptable--others might have been persuaded to betray the Faith through their bad example. It may surprise modern Catholics, but there was some question as to whether or not the apostates could be forgiven at all. Among those who would grant forgiveness, some bishops required long penances, even life long penances that could be completed only at the time of death. Some heretics held that the lapsed would have to be baptized a second time to return to the Church, but this opinion held little sway. With the return of persecution around 252 AD, those who had been doing penance were re-admitted to the Sacraments in order that they might be fortified against another lapse.
Belief in God and what He has revealed is the essence of the Catholic Faith. It cannot be given up--not even in make-believe--without serious sin and the loss of Communion with the Church. If the martyrs of Christianity could give their blood rather than deny Christ, a "church tax" would be a minor annoyance--albeit one completely beyond the right of a legitimate government to levy.
Question: What message was the Lord trying to convey by Luke 5:36,37,38,39? (MS: Colorado)
Answer: In Saint Luke’s Gospel, Our Lord began His public life in chapter four with a forty day fast in the desert, during which He is tempted by the devil. His first public appearance was at the synagogue at Nazareth, where the people became enraged with His teaching and tried to throw Him over a cliff. He has moved to Capharnaum, preached a sermon from the back of Peter's boat, worked a few miracles, and healed a man with Palsy, saying (verse 20) “thy sins are forgiven thee.” This is a whole new concept to the Jews, who thought of Jesus as only a man, and knew that only God can forgive sins. Verses 36-39 are a parabolic way of saying that a number of things to which the Jews were accustomed under the Mosaic covenant must change--i.e. “you cannot put My teaching into the same old vessels used for the teaching of Moses”—“you have to be open to a further revelation from My Father.”
Our Lord did not come to abolish what had been revealed by Moses (although many of the ritual prescriptions of the Mosaic Law would no longer bind God’s people). The revelations of the New Testament are an expansion of those in the Old, not a contradiction of them. During His public life Jesus would reveal Himself as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, and proclaim a way of salvation by becoming the adopted sons and daughters of God. He would establish a new priesthood and a new sacramental system. He would establish His Church, giving it authority to teach all nations in His name. All of these concepts were new to the Jewish people, and the questioner’s passage was Jesus’ effort to prepare the people to receive them.