Saturday, October 24, 2009

Standards, even if they are breached, are crucial

Comment of the Day

Wretchard made an outstanding point (again) by saying that standards, even if they are breached, are crucial. It is one thing to have standards we sometimes don’t live up to and another thing altogether to say there are or should be no standards. The former exposes human imperfection, the latter ultimately leads to chaos.

And those who pointed out the importance of the Declaration’s reliance on the Creator, on Nature and Nature’s God, have pin pointed the key restraint on governments and on individuals. Rights come from the Creator or from Natural Law, not from the state or from another person. Therefore there are limits on what man can rightly do to man.

Do we need religion? As a society the answer is “yes.” Select individuals can live excellent lives of goodness without religion, but society cannot sustain three generations in a row of such ethical goodness without a transcendental source of guidance and restraint. This is somewhat like vaccinations — 20% of the population can get away without vaccinations if the other 80% has them, but when a certain threshold of of non-immunized population is reached, the whole society is threatened with epidemic.

Do we need “One God?” Yes. The concept of one God means that all of humanity is subject to the same ethical restraints. And this is precisely what multiculturalism and relativism has been eroding. The torture of children is wrong for ALL. The burning of widows is wrong for ALL. Female clitorectomy is wrong for ALL. Ceremonies and rituals can be multicultural. Cuisine can be multicultural. Calendar and holidays can be multicultural. Theological creed can be multicultural up to a point. But there must be one law for the faithful and for the stranger alike. Those are the ethical laws.

A Creator God such as the Deists hold is insufficient. The God of the Universe must also be an ethical God. That was part of the point of Benedict XVI’s Regensburg speech. God can’t be capricious and ethical at the same time. And humans were given a soul and a brain to study and question and use their reason to apprehend God’s ethical nature.

Is ceremony, calendar, creed, and calendar necessary? Yes. Without it the ability to hold to the humility and ethical imperatives will inevitably be diluted and disappear. Isn’t it easier to remember the lyrics when we remember the melody of a song? Religion is the melody of the ethical song.

And what do we get when we give up standards, reduce the transcendental, think of ourselves as the masters of our universe? Precisely what Wretchard wrote this post to address. Deconstructed meaning and multicultural ethics produce empty relativism. Into the void comes either fanatic religiosity (Islamic fundamentalism) or fanatic secularism.

Will the center hold? Will religious traditions that remain steadfast to standards (yes, some must be revised in part, but there must still be standards) and remain humble in recognizing that there are authorities higher than man and government, continue to occupy enough space in the hearts and minds to preserve what is best about our civilization?

Sadly, I think we are entering a new Dark Ages in which superstition will replace real science, totalitarianism (secular or religious) will replace freedom, conformity will replace individuality, and the middle will shrink while the bottom expands and the top luxuriates.

But that will not be the end of the story. The Israelites had to spend 400 years in slavery before they were led to the promised land. And once there they went to the brink of destruction many times, yet still remain. After Rome fell there were still remnants who kept the flame alive, mostly in monasteries of the Catholic Church and small academies of Jews.

The Judeo-Christian faiths will survive even if they are flickering lights for a long time. They are like life giving enzymes without which the world cannot continue.

And for all of you who line up at different places on the Judeo-Christian spectrum, and for those “agnostics” who believe they have not found their spot in that spectrum but who still appreciate its value, and for those of Eastern faith traditions whose ethical values and appreciation of human life and freedom overlap with that spectrum, I say we are all allies in this time of danger. We can’t afford to let our different creeds, calendars, ceremonies, and cuisine (the four main C’s that distinguish religions from each other) make for groundless arguments. If there is a center that has a chance to hold, we must all hold it together.

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