January 10, 2009

"Thinking about law and the right ordering of the world..."

In honor of Fr Neuhaus, who died recently, I'm quoting a bit from has delightful book, Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth...

...In an encyclical on evangelization, Redemptoris Missio, John Paul the Great offered a marvelous formulation. The Church imposes nothing, she only proposes. What she proposes, however, is the truth, and the truth does impose itself. That is because, at least according to Catholic anthropology, human beings are, so to speak, hard-wired for the truth. we live in an intelligible world that is accessible to reason. Our mind participates in the mind of God. With respect to the right ordering of the world, we can know God's law. Here too, St Thomas Aquinas is the helpful teacher. He writes of four distinct meanings of law: There is the eternal law, the natural law, the positive law, and the divine law. The eternal law is one with the eternal Being of God Himself. The natural law�and here Thomas follows St Paul in Romans 1 and 2�is the understanding of right and wrong that is written on every human heart. These are the truths that we "cannot not know," although we can deny that we know them. The positive law is human law: the man-made laws and regulations that societies adopt. These may or may not be in agreement with eternal and natural law. Fourth and finally, there is divine law, the law and laws revealed by God in the scriptures and Spirit-guided teaching of the Church.

There is no denying that this way of thinking about law and the right ordering of the world�and especially the right ordering of our own lives!�goes against the grain of our culture. The very idea of "moral truth" is a puzzlement and offense to many of our contemporaries. Twenty-five years ago the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre published his extraordinary little book, After Virtue. His argument, put much too simply, is that not only intellectuals but our popular culture has largely abandoned an understanding of moral truth and virtue, with the result that we are all dog-paddling in the murky sea of "modern emotivism."

Morality has become almost totally a matter of feelings and preferences. You have yours and I have mine. If I say that something is "wrong," I am expressing no more than my personal preference. "I am not comfortable with that." "I feel that is not right." "I would prefer you not do that." In short the making of arguments is replaced by the expression of emotions. In such a cultural context, the appeal to "conscience" is only an appeal to my personal preference. Conscience, in this view, does not discern moral truth, but subjectively establishes the truth...


Posted by John Weidner at January 10, 2009 6:21 PM
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