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Friday, July 16, 2010

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Bill,

Your response was fair, thorough, and well worth the wait. I'm afraid I'm not quite convinced, however. I think you are putting to much emphasis on my belief that religion is false, but it's not as though everything rests on this. I'd be willing to say that even if religion (loosely defined above) turns out to be true, it would nonetheless remain tragic and troubling that one single end is to be the ultimate end of all our efforts. Whatever this end is, it seems tyrranical.

Actually, I stumbled on this thought thinking about consequentialism. The idea that we have to slaughter everything upon the alter of maximized value... I find that as chilling as anything in moral philosophy, which is saying something. I think conservativism goes hand in hand with pluralism, something to the effect of "no one good is overriding" or "don't put all your axiological eggs in the same basket."

Well thanks again and I hope we can continue the discussion.


--Spencer

Bill argues: "If (i) this world and its finite goods is soon to pass away, and if (ii) one sincerely believes that there is a world to come the value of whose goods infinitely surpasses the values of the goods here below, and if (iii) whether or not one participates in this Higher Life or is excluded from it (either by being sent to the Other Place or by being simply annihilated at death) depends on how one lives in this world, then how can it be rational to pursue mortal goods beyond what is necessary for living in accordance with the precepts of one's religion?"

Is it possible to achieve some of the goods of the afterlife or eternal now, by pursuing and achieving (some) goods of this life? For example, a Transcendentalist might argue the enjoyment of nature provides a window on the eternal that should be pursued regardless of any thought of future spiritual rewards. The experience of the infinite is an end in itself and gives THIS life more meaning and dimension. While nature may be instrumental, it is not a means to reward in the afterlife on this view. There are other religious/aesthetic traditions that similarly reject asceticism, for example Tantric Yoga. The French Symbolists, and artists like Kandinsky ad Mondrian thought art was valuable because it wa a window on the infinite. Why can't we relentlessly pursue the sensual (Rimbaud, Baudeliare) - nature, art, sex, and be in touch with the eternal now? Religious asceticism seems to be a false dichotomy.

Bill and Spencer -
I think Bill is on the right track when he suggests that pursuit of this-worldly goods is permissible if it is instrumental in the pursuit of afterlife goods; but I think it would be better still to view the pursuit of this-worldly goods as permissible so long they are (weakly) compatible with afterlife goods. There's something unsavory about the faux saints who can't laugh when tickled.

Hi Bob,

You make a good distinction: even if x is not instrumental to achieving y, x might still be compatible with achieving y. The true believer could then counterargue that since the goal in the future or in the afterlife is of vastly more value than anything in the here and now, present noninstrumental goods impede one's progress toward the goal.

Spencer,

First I wish to thank you for your service and sacrifice in the armed forces. I hope you keep safe and return to pursue the sort of questions you have been pursuing with Bill on this post.

Now to the subject matter of afterlife.

In your e-mail to Bill you have raised several fundamental questions about the nature of the afterlife, its value, and its relationship to our worldly life. These and other questions belong to (what might be called) the *metaphysics of souls*. In this post I will address primarily a thesis which you state as follows:

“… no mortal goods, or accumulation of them, can be qualitatively better than the eternal goods to be found in the afterlife, even when we do not consider duration…”.

Bill reformulates the same theme

“…,the goods of this life are vanishing quantities axiologically speaking as compared to the goods of the afterlife as portrayed in sophisticated conceptions.”

The idea embodied in both formulations is that (i) the goods afforded in afterlife (whatever these may be) are discontinuous with the goods that we may pursue in this life, regardless of how valuable we may think the later are; and (ii) in some deep sense the former goods are qualitatively and quantitatively incommensurable in terms of their worth compared to the goods afforded in the worldly-life. Let us call this the *incommensurability thesis*. At least two paradoxical conclusions follow from the incommensurability thesis:

(a) regardless of how valuable we may think worldly goods are, it is irrational to pursue them because they cannot supersede afterlife goods in their worth; and

(b) even though pursuing certain worldly goods is a precondition for obtaining afterlife goods (on most reasonable theistic conceptions), the former are qualitatively and quantitatively inferior to the afterlife goods.

I think the incommensurability thesis is ultimately untenable even if we assume the soul-hypothesis; namely, that there is an afterlife; that there is a soul that is in some sense different than the body; and that the soul survives the death of the body and is capable of enjoying afterlife goods. The incommensurability thesis is part and parcel of a certain picture of the nature of life, the nature of afterlife, and the nature of the relationship between worldly life and the afterlife. This picture has been first clearly articulated by Plato and it has had a tremendous influence on subsequent theistic conceptions of the afterlife.

Some of the elements included in Plato’s picture are the following:

(P1) There are two worlds: one world is the transcendental world while the other is the physical world. There is a fundamental qualitative difference between the transcendental world and the physical world in terms of the nature of the things each contains and the principles that govern these things in each world. Things that belong to one world cannot belong in the same way to the other world, although there may be some sort of a relationship between them.

(P2) The physical world is inferior in value to the transcendental non-physical world. Therefore, the goods obtainable in the physical world must be inferior to the goods obtainable in the transcendental non-physical world.

(P3) The afterlife is part of the transcendental world. Since the soul is the vehicle which enables life after the death of the body, it also must be fundamentally a transcendental entity.

From (P1)-(P3) the following two important conclusions follow:

(C1) Goods contained in the afterlife and are made available to the soul upon entrance are qualitatively different and, hence, incommensurable to any goods the obtaining of which depend upon physical mechanisms such as food, sex, physical exercise, etc.

(C2) Goods obtained in afterlife are in principle superior in value than any goods obtainable in the physical world.

Now I have stated above that his Platonic picture is ultimately untenable. In order to illustrate the difficulties with this Platonic picture, I shall examine here only (C2). Consider this question: how can worldly goods be so inferior in value to the goods obtainable in the afterlife when the pursuit of the former is a precondition for obtaining the later? The proponent of the Platonic picture has a straightforward answer to this question: Worldly goods are inferior in the sense that they only have *instrumental value* in obtaining the transcendental goods, whereas only the later have *inherent value*.

But this answer will not do. If worldly goods have only instrumental value on account of being merely the means to the obtaining of transcendental goods, then pursuing them cannot be inherently valuable. For instance, cherishing one’s own life here and now and the life of others is valuable only as a means to obtaining the transcendental goods. But, surely, from this point of view suicide or murder expedite the obtaining of transcendental goods and as such have more instrumental value than the instrumental value afforded to cherishing and preserving life. (In this connection see my guest post “Soul and Murder” and the ensuing debate there). Yet most of the proponents of this Platonic picture fiercely maintain that cherishing and preserving one’s own life and particularly the life of others has inherent moral value. But if life has inherent moral value, then it has inherent value regardless of the world we consider it: i.e., it has inherent value in both this world as well as in the transcendental world. Whatever other merits Plato’s bifurcation of worlds might have, there is no merit in rendering the value of life as inferior or somehow merely instrumental compared to some lofty transcendental values. But if this worldly life is inherently valuable, then many pursuits in it are similarly inherently valuable.

But perhaps we went altogether on the wrong track in the last couple of paragraphs. Perhaps the proponent of the Platonic picture need not maintain that worldly goods have mere instrumental value in order to explain both their inferiority compared to transcendental goods and also their role as preconditions for obtaining transcendental goods. Perhaps they can instead hold that worldly goods are inherently valuable but their inherent value is somehow less worthy compared to the inherent value of the transcendental goods encountered in afterlife.

But this way of responding to our original question flouts one of the fundamental rationales for distinguishing instrumental value from inherent value. After all the whole point of this distinction is to reconcile the intuition that while in some cases value and worth can enter into the relation of ‘…more than…’, whereas in other cases values are an all-or-nothing matter. The former are instances of *instrumental value*, whereas the later are instances of inherent value.

Finally, the proponent of the Platonic picture might argue that the inherent status of values does not rule out ranking them on some scale so that some inherent values are higher on such a ranking than others. Even Plato thought that in the realm of forms, the forms of the Truth, the Good, and the Beauty are the highest and most noble forms. Similarly, one might argue that while both preserving life and telling the truth have inherent value, the former ranks higher than the later. So why not grant inherent value to worldly goods but maintain that they rank lower on some scale than the goods obtainable in the transcendental realm.

This latest move is a variation on the previous proposal. Nevertheless, I shall contest it in a slightly different manner. The trouble with this move is that such a ranking is either arbitrary or it relies upon some principle. If it is arbitrary, then alternative rankings are just as acceptable. If it is principled, then what is the nature of the principle which determines the ranking? If the principle is not moral in character, then it is difficult to see how it can non-arbitrarily rank values. If it is moral in character, then we enter an infinite regress.

I think that even if Plato’s bifurcation of worlds is a viable solution to the problem of the one-and-the-many by means of one form with potentially many instantiations, it is fundamentally mistaken when the same kind of bifurcation is adapted to the problem of life and afterlife and the relative value of each.

Fortunately there is an alternative picture, but I will explore that on another occasion. I have already said enough.

Dr. V, you wrote:

Now it seems to me that no intellectually honest person can claim to KNOW (using this word strictly) that there is an afterlife: the evidence from parapsychology, though abundant, is not conclusive. . .

I’m assuming that you’re including in parapsychology all so-called miracles. If so, how can you so confidently assert that there is no conclusive evidence for any of them? Have you investigated these events, or at least the most promising ones? My guess is that you haven’t.

Take, for example, the so-called apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima. I’ve studied many accounts of these events and have read many testimonies. To my mind, there is no doubt: that which is alleged to have happened has, in fact, happened. All alternative theses are patently untenable. Now if you yourself have studied these phenomena and think you can provide a natural explanation for them, I would be very interested to hear it. But I really don’t think you can.


Bill,

"But I do KNOW the pleasures of good food, and strong coffee, and fine cigars, and chess, and good conversation, and scribbling away as I am now doing, all of them activities which are not necessary for my salvation, and perhaps stand in the way of it."

You sound like G.K Chesterton, a great Catholic apologist and one of my heroes. You don't need to give up any of these things to be saved - unless, of course, they truly do stand in the way of your salvation, and that depends only on whether you pursue them in a disordered fashion. You can be Pope and enjoy a good beer, as does Benedict XVI. Heck, Christ's first miracle was to create an alcoholic beverage out of plain water when they ran out of it at a party. It's only when you start preferring Night Train to the Blood of Christ in the Mass that your salvation comes into question.

But, even in your terms, fine cigars and chess are at best secondary goods. You advocate a life of moderation, in good Aristotelian fashion, recognizing that goods are good only to the extent that they are taken in the appropriate quantity. This applies as much to worldly goods as it does to religious pursuits. Cigars aren't so good anymore when we smoke fifty a day. So cigars and chess can stand in the way of our "salvation" (i.e. a good life) even from a this-worldly perspective, if they are pursued immoderately. So I think you implicitly hold the virtues (or at least the virtue of moderation) to be a superior good to any of the worldly goods you listed. So the question isn't really about whether we must give up cigars or chess, but the status of the true goods - the virtues - with respect to the question of an afterlife.

And this is the question of whether the natural virtues - courage, temperance (moderation), justice and wisdom - are in conflict with the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Love. This is a deep question, of course, but I will add that the Catholic philosophical/theological tradition holds that they are not: "Grace fulfills nature."

George: "Take, for example, the so-called apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima. I’ve studied many accounts of these events and have read many testimonies. To my mind, there is no doubt: that which is alleged to have happened has, in fact, happened."

This does not prove an afterlife. How do we know a playful pagan wizard did not produce the phenomena (assuming there are no naturalistic explanations)? Ever read Hume's discussion on miracles?
I think by parapsychology, Bill meant the confirmation of personal spirits or souls or so-called after death experiences.

David T,

Thanks for that interesting response, but I wonder if you appreciate Spencer's concern. What people say they believe and what they believe are two different things. Genuine belief is revealed by action, by how one lives. So if one really believed the Catholic doctrine of the Last Things, for example, then one would expect that belief to show up in one's actions. Now suppose you have some corpulent fellow who eats and drinks in excess of what he needs for health, promotes himself, writes books when he could be praying and meditating and doing 'good works' that have no tendency to bring name and fame -- one might wonder whether whether such a person REALLY believes what he claims to believe. After all, the goods of this life are negligible as compared to the goods of the life to come, and so if he really believes what he claims to believe, then he should be bending every effort to achieving the eternal reward.

George and Tony,

Tony is right that I didn't have miracles in mind with my reference to parapsychology. On the topic of miracles, see the miracles category. http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/miracles/

People have out-of-body experiences. Suppose that it can be shown on the basis of such experiences that some people have veridical visual experiences which are not routed through their eyes. There would be nothing miraculous about that.

Peter L writes,

>>If worldly goods have only instrumental value on account of being merely the means to the obtaining of transcendental goods, then pursuing them cannot be inherently valuable. For instance, cherishing one’s own life here and now and the life of others is valuable only as a means to obtaining the transcendental goods. But, surely, from this point of view suicide or murder expedite the obtaining of transcendental goods and as such have more instrumental value than the instrumental value afforded to cherishing and preserving life.<<

That doesn't make any sense within the context of any religion that is worth discussing. In the Catholic tradition, for example, murder is accounted a mortal (as opposed to venial) sin: die in a state of mortal sin and you will not enter the divine milieu. So if one murders another or murders oneself, one will prevent one's attaining of the goods of the afterlife. So murder has no instrumental value.

And let's not forget that my post is concerned with the evaluation of Spencer's argument. Perhaps the argument can be summed up as follows:
1. Religions like Christianity maintain that the goods of this life are axiologically negligible in comparison to the goods of the life to come.
2. It is not rational to pursue negligible goods over goods of vastly greater value except insofar as the pursuit of the negligible goods is instrumentally useful in the attainment of the goods of greater value.
3. Someone who values the goods of this life only instrumentally is an extremist or a zealot in perjortaive senses of these terms.
Therefore
4. The 'logic' of a religion like Christianity is an extremist logic that leads to zealotry and away from the sort of moderation one would expect of a conservative.

Peter, you are missing the point by attacking, not (1), but (1) minus 'Religions like Christianity maintain that ____'

I accept (1) and (2) but question (3).
Spencer, you should tell me whether I have fairly summed up your argument.

Bill,

Yes, the corpulent fellow you describe could be a hypocrite: Merely professing a belief that he doesn't really hold and that is contradicted by his actions. But that isn't the only possibility. He might just be an ordinary sinner: Someone who sincerely believes in Christ but is so in the grip of vice that he finds himself in the situation Paul describes in Romans: "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." This is the essence of sin.

It sounds like you and Spencer side with Plato against Paul, and hold that sin is purely a matter of ignorance. If people really believed in the good they say they do, then they would invariably pursue it with perfect consistency. If Plato is right then, yes, I agree that the failure of any Catholic (for example) to not consistently follow the teachings of the Church is conclusive evidence that they don't really believe Catholicism. But, in that case, the Catholic faith is nonsensical anyway, since Christ allegedly came to cure sin, not merely ignorance; if there is only ignorance but not sin his mission was pointless.

My main point, in any case, was just that the opposition originally posited between so-called worldly goods (like chess and cigars) and other-worldly goods (like the glory to come in the next life) is a false one, at least as far as Catholicism is concerned. It's not either drink beer or pursue a life in the next world. As long as you get them in the right order, you can very well have both. Either that, or the Pope is going to hell for quaffing brau.

I would question premise #2 in Bill's summary. Lesser goods do not become annihilated in light of greater goods and can still be pursued as ends in themselves, even when one knows the surpassing value of the greater good. I don't see why I can't enjoy a beer and still follow Christ... especially when Christ Himself created wine from water so the party would continue. We shouldn't forget that Christ came to renew this world, not merely offer us goods in the next. That's why, in Catholicism, we won't spend eternity as disembodied souls in some other world, but as resurrected men and women in this world. Affirming the fundamental goodness of this world as a creative product of God is a spiritual act for a Catholic... and so far from seeing beer-drinking as in necessary opposition to religious ends, I see it as a spiritual and redemptive act if done in proper moderation. In this case, worldly and other-worldly ends are united in a single act.

Of course, this doesn't hold for religions or philosophy that deny the value of this world - e.g. Platonism. In that case, there is a necessary opposition between goods in this world and the next.

David says: "It's not either drink beer or pursue a life in the next world. As long as you get them in the right order, you can very well have both. Either that, or the Pope is going to hell for quaffing brau."

I think it has been established that quaffing beer is compatible with obtaining the goods of the afterlife, so it is not either or. The argument is why would you spend time doing it, if the afterlife goods are infinitely more valuable and there are things you could be doing to obtain them. Why would you risk missing opportunities to help secure eternal life for such a mundane worldly pleasure?
Wouldn't it be better to pray, meditate, do good works, at every single opportunity to maximize your chances for the great Reward?

Response to Bob Koepp:

I have no problem admitting that lots of mortal goods are compatible with eternal goods. There's no impossibility of my attaining both salvation and good beer. The problem is that decisions inevitably involve opportunity cost--I could always be praying instead of enjoying good beer, and if sincere prayer is likely to bring me a tiny bit closer to salvation in every instance of it, then I will always have an overriding reason to forgo the intrinsic good of the beer even if it is compatible with salvation.
Also, just how weakly compatible are we talking about? Lots of salacious pleasures are compatible with attaining salvation, provided I repent in time.

Response to Bill:

Your characterization of my argument seems spot on, except that as you have it above there's epistemic caveat, which might have some mitigating effect on the conclusion. I might add to premise 2 "Inasmuch as I believe religions like Christianity are likely to be true..."


Also in response to Bill,

You conclude: "So my tentative answer is that the rational course is to inquire ceaselessly into the matter in a critical, exploratory and tentative spirit; avoid being bamboozled by the dogmas of churches and sects which claim to have the Truth; enjoy the limited goods of this life in a measured way while realizing that, in and of themselves, they are of no ultimate value.

In short, be neither a worldling nor a monk. Be a philosopher! (Not to be confused with being a paid professor of it.)"

Well, I will never be found guilty of confusing a philosopher with a paid professor of it. But I wonder if your happy conclusion is well-founded. You are certainly no dogmatic believer but I don't think that your belief in God is quite so tentative as to get you off the hook of the radical practical conclusions--for that you'd have to be something like an agnostic or an atheist.

Even if you ascribe only 50.001 percent chance of Christianity's being true--a hair breadth away from agnosticism--it seems to commit you to a whole lot of radicalism in the practical arena. Hell, even an atheist like me--not totally certain but pretty sure--might need to go to a monestary as an insurance policy of sorts.


Peter Lupu,

Thank you for your gracious response. I think we may be getting too far afeild of the original limited scope of my argument for me to give an educated response. I do think this argument has implications for the conflicts between (and within) Platonic and Aristotelian worldviews. I'd like to know more about the positive view to which you alluded at the end your post.

Bill,

First some abbreviations: ‘WG’ stands for worldly-goods and ‘TG’ stands for transcendental or afterlife-goods.

Second, my post was intended to address Spencer’s argument (concerns) in its broader context. This broader context presupposes Plato’s scheme of separating the physical world from the transcendental world and viewing the former as inherently inferior to the later. Spencer’s argument presupposes this very scheme and applies it to the moral dimension so that WG are qualitatively inferior to TG. I challenge this assumption for two reasons: (i) I do not believe that Spencer’s conclusion can be effectively blocked without implicitly or explicitly challenging this assumption; and (ii) I think that the most interesting aspect of Spencer’s argument is that it highlights this assumption thereby inviting us to explore broader issues pertaining to the metaphysics of souls.

Third, you contend that I am “missing the point by attacking, not (1), but (1) minus 'Religions like Christianity maintain that ____'”, where (1) is
(1) Religions like Christianity maintain that the goods of this life are axiologically negligible in comparison to the goods of the life to come.

Now, which point exactly am I missing? A careful review of the excerpts of Spencer’s argument as presented in your original post suggests that his primary interest is not (1) but indeed (1) minus ‘Religions like Christianity maintain that___’ (Call this the ‘1-minus’ premise). I take it that Spencer wishes to show that anyone who accepts premises (2) and (3) together with the 1-minus premise is rationally committed to (4), which is a form of extremism that is “bad” (i.e., leads to zealotry, which I suppose is bad both in the moral sense as well as conflicts with a reasonable form of conservatism).

Quite apart from Spencer’s own intentions, there are logical reasons to prefer the 1-minus premise over your original (1). Unlike the 1-minus premise, (1) contains an opaque context (i.e., ‘maintain that___’) which seals the subsequent that-clause from substitutions and, thereby, prevents the argument from going through. In any case, the principal interest of the argument is not the fact of whether Christians believe that WGs are inferior from a moral point of view to TGs, but whether such a belief is true and consistent with other propositions that Christians also hold.

Forth, you challenge my claim that if one views WGs as inferior to TGs and as mere means to the goal of obtaining TGs, then alternative means that lead to the same end of obtaining TGs (e.g., murder) turn out to be morally justifiable. The grounds on which you challenge this claim is that most theistic religions hold that murder, for instance, is “a mortal (as opposed to venial) sin: die in a state of mortal sin and you will not enter the divine milieu. So if one murders another or murders oneself, one will prevent one's attaining of the goods of the afterlife. So murder has no instrumental value.” I grant that most theistic religions hold that, but the point of my argument is to explore whether this tenet is consistent with also holding that WGs are qualitatively inferior to TGs and, hence, have only instrumental value. The case in point is the WG of life. If the worth of life is merely instrumental in gaining access to the TGs of afterlife, then terminating such a life cannot be inherently wrong. It is only wrong insofar as it prevents one from gaining access to the TGs of afterlife. This is the logic of goods that are mere means and have only instrumental value relative to some ends that have inherent value. And this leads us to the debate pursuant to my “Murder & Souls” post, which was the point of the example in the first place.

Finally, you accept premises (1) (or 1-minus) and (2), but reject (3) in order to block the inference to (4). Whether this move is viable depends upon several considerations including the manner we choose to define an ‘extremist’ or a ‘zealot’ in the derogatory sense. Suppose we reformulate (3) as well as the conclusion (4) along the following lines:

(3*) Someone who values WGs only instrumentally is liable to become an extremist and a zealot in the sense that they are willing to sacrifice WGs (e.g., the life of others) in order to secure TGs (for themselves or those others).

I think that premises 1-minus, (2), and (3*) lead to a version of (4) that Spencer was seeking to prove; namely, that those who maintain these premises are committed to the view that WG’s such as life are merely instrumental and, therefore, it is morally justifiable to opt to sacrifice them for the purpose of securing TGs: i.e., are committed to extremism and zealotry.

The above analysis I think leads to the most fundamental question of Spencer’s argument: Is premise 1-minus true, acceptable, and consistent with other theistic tenets? And this ultimately leads to the question of whether Plato’s scheme is coherently applicable to values so that WGs are considered as qualitatively inferior to TGs. My original post aimed to explore this question.


Spencer,

Unfortunately (on second thought, fortunately!) the question your argument raises cannot be "limited" in a way you think it can. That was the point of my original reply to you and the most recent response to Bill. Regarding the alternative picture to which I alluded in that post, I will post something about it when time permits (i.e., hopefully, sooner than later).

Tony and Spencer,

I'm not sure you are following my point. It's more than just that worldly pleasures don't necessarily conflict with religious ends. It's that worldly pleasures can positively be a part of attaining religious ends. The supreme religious ceremony, for a Catholic, is a sanctified supper, after all. Eating bread and drinking wine become a holy act in the Mass, and through that mystery, all meals attain a measure of holiness.

The grand family dinner on Easter Sunday, celebrating the Resurrection of Christ, is not an event the Church grudgingly allows, as though it would prefer us to spend the day in prayer or fasting. No, not at all. In fact, that would be positively bad to spend Easter Sunday fasting. A Catholic who doesn't know how to express joy in a Feast replete with good food and wine doesn't understand his religion, and he's less religious for the fact, not more. That's the point I keep making about the miracle at Cana. How can the claim stand that the good Christian should spend all his time in fasting and prayer, when Christ Himself turned water into wine to keep a party going?

There are, indeed, many religions that demand a strict asceticism as the surest way to God. Catholicism isn't one of them. To the contrary, the Church has traditionally looked on strict asceticism with a good measure of skepticism.

Spencer responding to me writes,

>>You are certainly no dogmatic believer but I don't think that your belief in God is quite so tentative as to get you off the hook of the radical practical conclusions--for that you'd have to be something like an agnostic or an atheist.<< ... >>it seems to commit you to a whole lot of radicalism in the practical arena.<<

Well, it's obvious that genuine beliefs manifest themselves in action, in the practical arena, and that a person's failure to act upon a belief is evidence that his belief is not genuine but merely verbal.

Furthermore, some of these practical consequence will be 'radical' by some measure of radicality. When Tillman went off to Iraq he manifested his beliefs, among them, that the cause was just. Joining the army was a radical thing to do given his impressive talents and opportunities in civilian life. As you know, he was killed in a 'friendly fire' incident.

I think we should agree that all sorts of beliefs, not just religious beliefs, will have radical consequences if acted upon. But that is no argument against those beliefs. It is no argument against the belief in the sanctity of marital vows that they commit the man who takes them to not having sex with other women for possibly the rest of his life. Now that is one hell of a dramatic and radical consequence -- which is why one should not enter into marriage thoughtlessly.

So I guess I'm not appreciating your point. The non-hypocritical believer in God, the soul, the moral world order, etc. will act in ways that put him at odds with the behavior of perhaps the majority of the people in his society. But so what?

You can't be assuming that behavior that is not 'normal' -- using this term descriptively, not normatively -- is ipso facto objectionable. Or maybe you are assuming that.

Bill,

Tillman died in Afghanistan. Persumably he went in part because of his attachment to other earthly goods which he wished to preserve from evil like that of the Islamo-fascists we are fighting here. Religion requires an appeal to a new, completely overriding, set of goods from those that Tillman wanted to preserve. That's what troubles me.


David T.,

Easter dinner seems a very special case.

Bill,
I do not believe that one needs to be a monk to attain salvation or even a monk has a priori any more chance of attaining salvation than a householder.

You seem to be approaching the question from a legalistic angle viz. your notion of Reward.

I find the same legalistic viewpoint in your discussion of Miracles. You did not examine the notions of Matter and Nature in the required (and usual for you) subtlety.

Why are men born with different natures? These natured are created and created for a purpose. Now we need to realize this purpose, which is different for different natures. Each man shall glorify God differently.

Now a man that prays all the time for all the people in the world may be a part of the Plan but surely not all men. It simply does not fit the Divine style.

Spencer,

Here again is what I took to be your argument, slightly emended. You agreed that it was "spot on."

1. Religions like Christianity maintain that the goods of this life are axiologically negligible in comparison to the goods of the life to come.
2. It is not rational to pursue negligible goods over goods of vastly greater value except insofar as the pursuit of the negligible goods is instrumentally useful in the attainment of the goods of greater value.
3. Someone who values the goods of this life only instrumentally is an extremist or a zealot in pejorative senses of these terms.
Therefore
4. The 'logic' of a religion like Christianity is an extremist logic that leads to zealotry and away from the sort of moderation one would expect of a conservative.

We agree on (1). You wanted to qualify (2), but I see no need to. I think (2) ought to be acceptable to all, theist and atheist alike.

The weakness of your argument is due to (3). Why should the believer in an afterlife accept it? If his belief is true, then his behavior is quite rational. Only if his belief is false would his behavior be irrational. But if you assume the falsity of the afterlife belief, then you beg the question.

The point of the Tillman analogy was that whether he was a zealot, and extremist, a fool, a dupe, someone who threw his life away, depends on whether the beliefs that motivated him were true or false. Leftists would say they are false. Conservatives that they are true.

Similarly in the afterlife case.

I'll push the argument a little more.

David says: "Eating bread and drinking wine become a holy act in the Mass, and through that mystery, all meals attain a measure of holiness."

Let's assume enjoyable eating and drinking (feasting) are divine in some way, particulary if they are done according to certain rituals, etc. So these worldly pleasures have some intrinsic value.

Nevertherless feasting is obviously not sufficient for the after life goods which has infinite intrinsic value, otherwise a glutton gets eternal life. And feasting (enjoyable food, drink), is not necessary for life, and I doubt it is necessary for eternal life though I don't know what the doctrine is on that.

So all you are saying is that can have intrinsic value is compatible with eternal life. But, shouldn't a true believer be doing everything in his power and at every opporunity to do those things that are necessary to obtain *infinite* intrinsic value - the after life goods, and which together are sufficient? While you are partying and enjoying a finite holy or intrinsic good, you could be missing the opportunity to ensure doing what is necessary for the infinite intrinsic goods. Surely there are things more holy in God's eyes than mere consumption.

Sorry, the first sentence of my last paragraph should read:

"So all you are saying is that feasting can have intrinsic value and is compatible with eternal life.

There's something very odd about the notion that zealous pursuit of afterlife goods could "squeeze out" the pursuit of this-worldly goods. Is there never a moment when the former pursuit is likely to be futile? In fact, isn't there a long tradition which maintains that such pursuits must be futile, and evidence of a failure to understand the true nature of afterlife goods.

This is not to question the value of exploring the logic of the problem introduced by Spencer. But I wonder if the terms of the argument align with human realities.

Tony,

You understand the issue. Surely having an alcoholic beverage before dinner is compatible with being granted eternal life even though enjoying that beverage has no instrumental value when it comes to attaining eternal life (in the way that the healthy meal does have instrumental value).

The point, however, as you well understand, is that if the believer REALLY believes that he has an eternal soul and that its welfare hangs in the balance, and that the value and disvalue to be realized in the afterlife is 'infinite' as compared to the value of goods in this life, then wouldn't rationality demand of him that he give up the booze?

This is the 'logic' that leads one to asceticism in all its forms. There is a Goal of supreme value. It alone matters. Everything else is crap in comparison. So what am I doing spending the afternoon at the racetrack?

Or why did I waste an hour in idle talk with my neighbor? (The NT says that one day we will have to give an account of every idle word.) That hour could have been put to good use cultivating mindfulness, or praying the Jesus Prayer, etc.

Here is a this-worldy analog of the 'logic' of religious asceticism: the extreme preparations necessary to qualify for and survive the the Badwater ultramarathon (135 miles, Death Valley, In July!) If that's your tgoal, how rational would it be to eat to excess, drink booze, smoke cigarettes and slack off on the traininf runs -- even if doing the latter is compatible with finishing? You might be such a tough hombre, so favored by the goddess of running, that you could slack off and still finish.

The serious athlete is an ascetic, as is the serious revolutionary like Trotsky. He gave everything for his chimerical revolution including his children and he got an ice axe (not an ice pick!) in his head for his trouble.

Bob writes,

>>There's something very odd about the notion that zealous pursuit of afterlife goods could "squeeze out" the pursuit of this-worldly goods. Is there never a moment when the former pursuit is likely to be futile? In fact, isn't there a long tradition which maintains that such pursuits must be futile, and evidence of a failure to understand the true nature of afterlife goods.<<

Well, the former would certainly be futile if there is no afterlife.

If the goal were the Buddhist one of seeing through the illusion of the ego, then arguably striving to reach that goal might be exactly the wrong tack to take -- ecause it would strengthen the ego. But that belongs in a different thread. Spencer, I'm pretty sure, has Christianity in his sights. (Of course, there is a mystical tradition in Christianity as well -- but that's yet another thread.)

I must admit I'm baffled at the commentary. I've pointed out that the current Pope and, indeed, Jesus Christ have no compunction about spending significant time drinking and eating with friends. Christ did quite a bit of it; as I've pointed out several times to no effect, he even performed a miracle to keep a party going!

Yet everyone still insists that a good Christian should never spend any time drinking beer with his friends so he can spend all his time reciting the Jesus Prayer. The only thing I can conclude is that folks think they know better than the Pope how to be Catholic, and better than Jesus Christ how to be a Christian. When the logic says even Jesus Christ wasn't a good Christian, maybe it's time to rethink your premises?

We have a clue to the problem in Tony's comment: "Surely there are things more holy in God's eyes than mere consumption."

It's just the false distinction between ordinary, "mere" acts and "holy" acts that is the problem. Enjoying a good meal with your family can be just as holy as reciting the Jesus Prayer if it is done in a way consecrated to God. The great spiritual guides in the Catholic tradition teach that everything done in your "ordinary" life is a prayer, if it is done in a way pleasing to God. They also teach that a single-minded devotion to prayer - as in thinking you should be muttering the Jesus Prayer all the time - can in fact be a temptation, a form of selfishness. Perhaps this is why Jesus Christ did not set this example.

It seems to me important that we take care to mean by (1) what, say, Roman Catholics intend by it. If (1) simply means the Incommensurability thesis, as stated above by Peter Lupu, then I don't see why a Roman Catholic (of a Thomistic or Augustinian sort) would have to accept it.

As I understand him, Aquinas argues that something like (1) is false when discussing the Divine Names in ST I, q. 13. Very roughly, his argument goes something like this: (1) if there were no common value between things of the earth and things of heaven, then all talk of, say, God being good, would be meaningless, since no term said of God could non-equivocally refer both to a property in God and a property on earth; but (2) given God's transcendence and the nature of divine simplicity, it is the case that no term said of God can non-equivocally refer both to a property in God and a property on earth; therefore (3) all terms said of God (including value terms) must be said of God in a pros hen equivocal manner, with God as their primary referent. (E.g. a pill is called 'healthy' insofar as it is a cause of that 'health' which is primarily said of bodies; so too is a man called good insofar as human virtue is an effect or sign of that goodness which is primarily said of the God who created all men, etc.). Both Moses Maimonides and David Hume reject (3), but Maimonides does it in favor of mysticism (the via negativa) while Hume goes the way of of positivism. St. Thomas buys (3), and calls it the doctrine of analogy. The problem with not buying (3) is that, given (1) and (2), we're left with no way to make sense of such simple phrases as "God is good" or "Heaven is beautiful," and Spencer's argument never gets off the ground.

The upshot of a doctrine of analogy is that all being becomes sacramental (with a small s), the ratio cognosciendi to God whose value transcends but informs (as its ratio essendi) all being. Augustine voices just such thoughts, as I read him, in Confessions 9.10 in the garden with Monica just before her death: All being is in some sense sacramentally (and instrumentally) 'useful' to someone who is reflects on its sign-ness. Thus the assumption that 'no worldly good qua worldly good is intrinsically valuable in the sense that a heavenly good' is trivially true, since to understand worldly goods qua worldly goods is precisely to divest them of their value as signs of heavenly goods.

Or, as (1) puts it, while the Catholic can accept that things of this world qua things of this world are axiologically negligible compared to the goods of the life to come, the Catholic need not accept that the things of this world are properly understood as merely things of this world. Thus I don't see that (1), which begins "Religions like Christianity maintain ...," is true, simply because Christianity doesn't maintain (1) as stated so far as I can tell.

I prefer the following version of the argument. 'WG' stands for worldly-goods; 'TG' for afterlife-goods;:

The Premises:

1) WGs are qualitatively (and quantitatively) inferior to TGs (A belief common to theists);

2) It is rational to pursue qualitatively inferior goods only as means to the pursuit of superior goods (Principle of rationality);

3) Anyone who pursues WGs only as means to the pursuit of TGs is a zealot and extremist (Something like a definition).

4) Zealotry and extremism is morally bad (in the sense that it likely to lead to morally unacceptable behavior).

The argument:

5) Pursuing WGs only as means to the pursuit of TGs is rational; (from 1 and 2)

6) It is rational to be a zealot and extremist. (from 3 and 5)

Therefore,

7) It is rational to be morally bad.

Bill denies (3) whereas I deny (1).

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."

Or, as I suggested, lest anyone should think his own actions have been instrumental.

Peter,

Thank you for that uncommonly pithy (for you) argument. Actually, I don't deny (3), I deny (4). Zealotry and extremism (if we take these words without their usual pejorative connotations) are sometimes morally permissible, and maybe even morally obligatory. Training for the Badwater ultramarathon requires zealotry and extremism, but surely such training is morally permissible in some if not all cases.

But let me ask you about your (1). Do you reject it because there are no TGs? Suppose there are TGs roughly as Christians believe in them. Would you sill deny (1)? If so, why?

I seem to be talking past people, so I will give it one last try, then give it a rest:

"1) WGs are qualitatively (and quantitatively) inferior to TGs (A belief common to theists);"

There is only one good a Christian should be worried about: Union with God. How do we become united with God? By following Christ. When he follows Him, the Christian becomes united with Christ both in this world and the next; from this it follows that the distinction between WGs and TGs for the Christian is not really a temporal and/or material one. Everything is permissible to the Christian (Paul makes this point strongly in several of his Epistles, arguing that Gentiles did not need to follow Jewish laws regarding diet) so long as it is done in and for Christ. The distinction between WGs and TGs for the Christian is in how and why things are done, not so much what is done (excluding the morally illicit, of course.) Spending time in prayer is certainly part of following Christ. But spreading cheer drinking beer may very well be as well. Especially if one is witnessing to the fact that being a Christian doesn't require, or even encourage, a life of forced misery!

My father converted from being a nominal Southern Baptist to a genuine Roman Catholic in part because of his encounter with Catholics in the Navy in WWII. The Catholics had a great time drinking beer Saturday night, then were unfailingly up Sunday morning for Mass. Having been raised on the idea that being a Christian meant never having any fun, this experience was a revelation to him. Those Catholics were bearing witness to Christ in their beer drinking, even if they didn't know it. I submit that God preferred those sailors drinking beer, and witnessing to the joy of the Catholic life, to having them spend every waking hour in prayer. It misses the point to make a false distinction between WG's and TGs, and put beer-drinking on one side and prayer on the other. Christ did not make this distinction, why should we?

Bill,

Even if I were to accept that TGs exist, I would deny (1) for several reasons.

First, within theistic conceptions, (1) encourages good deeds for self serving purposes; namely, in order to secure TGs for oneself. I would rather encourage people to do good deeds, most of which involve WGs, not for self-serving reasons but for other-regarding reasons.

Second, I do not see how the pursuit of some WGs can be a precondition for obtaining TGs, yet be inferior to the later and merely instrumental in value. For instance, life in this world is a WG that is a precondition for obtaining TGs. How can it be merely a means to obtaining TGs and have only instrumental value? This seems to contradict some of the most fundamental tenets of morality.

Third, as I have noted previously, if WGs have merely instrumental value insofar as being the means to obtain TGs, then they do not have inherent value. Therefore, there is nothing intrinsically wrong in forgoing WGs or even violating them in order to obtain TGs. I think the inquisition can be justified precisely on such grounds. Surely deliberately causing physical pain in order for people to adopt beliefs which will bring them eternal salvation (all the TGs forever) is justified compared to the fate they will meet if they will not opt for the right beliefs. Hence, torture is a minor price to pay in this life given what is at stake.

Fourth, I am not certain I understand what is meant by the claim that TGs are qualitatively superior in value to WGs. Does this mean that TGs are fundamentally different in kind from WGs? But, then, how do we know what they are and whether they are desirable and worthwhile to have? Does it mean that while TGs are similar in kind to WGs, experiencing them in the afterlife somehow renders them more valuable than experiencing them here on earth? But why should *geography*, even this sort of geography, matter to the manner of experiencing the same kind of goods.

Fifth, most of morality is concerns precepts about how to engage ourselves in this world and pertains primarily to matters regarding WGs. If one thinks of WGs as somehow inferior to TGs and as merely instrumental in obtaining the later, then morality itself becomes merely of instrumental value and subservient to securing whatever goods seem desirable according to this or that ideology: TGs according to theism; a Utopian or Pure society according to some secular ideologies (e.g., communism, Nazism); the Fatherland, Motherland, Clan, etc.

In my opinion morality must be the first and foremost lens through which everything else is scrutinized and that includes religious canons, country, society, family, whatever. Since morality is primarily about WGs, the later cannot be inferior to any other goods, regardless of the origin and nature of these other goods.

These are some of my reasons for rejecting (1).

Joshua Schulz,

Your comment is excellent and adds something important to the discussion. You will have noticed that I distanced myself from Peter Lupu's talk of the incommensurability of the goods of earth and of heaven. ('Earth' in this context of course does not refer to the planet Earth any more than 'heaven' refers to what is physically beyond Earth.) Incommensurability would imply equivocity of terms like 'good' while univocity would do away with the divine transcendence. So it is relevant to bring up the analogia entis which may provide a way of mediating between this life and the next.

It is because I reject Peter's talk of incommensurability that I wrote:

1. Religions like Christianity maintain that the goods of this life are axiologically negligible in comparison to the goods of the life to come.

You seem not to accept (1), but I don't understand why not. (1) does not imply that, as you put it, "the things of this world are properly understood as merely things of this world." Obviously, no Christian could maintain that the things of this world are merely things of this world, and this for the simple reason that this world and everything in it has the source of its being and intelligibility and value in God, and this at every instant. It seems to me that you, as a Catholic, must accept (1).

What I'm saying is supported by that wonderful ch. 9 of bk. 10 of Augustine's Confessions, which I just now re-read for the umpteenth time. I am thinking of the contemptus mundi expressed in the last paragraph of that chapter.

So thank you for reminding me that Augustine's authority can be invoked for the truth of (1). Why then do you have any reservations about it?

Perhaps it is time to clarify what is meant by (1); i.e., what exactly is the relationship between WGs and TGs? Bill rejects my formulation in terms of 'incommensurability'. Fair enough. He seems to think that the phrase "axiologically negligible" suffices. I do not. Are WGs negligible in the sense that they are *trivial* compared to TGs? Are they negligible in the sense that they are *minute* in some quantitative sense compared to TGs? Are they negligible because they are different in kind or are qualitatively inferior in the moral sense?

I think that upon careful scrutiny (1) will prove to be untenable.

On a quick reading of the post and the comments what seems to be missing is the idea of "vocation" or "calling". In the final analysis, the question is not what the zealot ought to desire, the question is whether any particular person has a calling to the ascetic life. For most, God's purposes and the inculcation of humility in the soul might call for leading what to outward appearances is an "ordinary" life rather than a "heroically righteous" one.

What the zealot (so-called) should be seeking to do is to live out God's will and not cranking himself up into some sort of ascetic frenzy (except in the rare circumstance in which this is his calling).

Early in my own conversion I recall telling God that I was willing to cross deserts and suffer privation to be an apostle for him. The answer I got back at the time was incomparably more nightmarish: "Clean the bathtub".

Bill writes:

"Why should the believer in an afterlife accept it? If his belief is true, then his behavior is quite rational. Only if his belief is false would his behavior be irrational. But if you assume the falsity of the afterlife belief, then you beg the question."

But so then the communist revolutionary who is willing to do anything to further the revolution is not a zealot or an extremist in the pejorative sense? It seems to me that he is, and that this is quite consistent with his being rational, if by rational you simply means he's acting consistently with his beliefs.

What you seem to be saying is that zealotry isn't a problem. In that case, how can you call yourself a conservative?


David,

Jesus and to a certain extent the Pope, have a get out of jail free card, don't you think? Jesus does not have to worry about the attainment of the TG's like the rest of us. Also there have been profligate Popes who scripturally rationalized their vices. So the fact that a Pope thinks feasting is a holy use of time does not seem definitive. Further, you are insistent that Jesus thinks drinking wine is holy given the fact that he transmogrified water to wine to keep the party going. Now, sharing time with Jesus would seem to be one of the holiest things one could ever do, but I don't know how necessary drinking the wine was to the holiness of the party. If you went to a party and a dude could turn water into wine, wouldn't you stay just because the guy is performing miracles? Drinking the wine would seem to be trivial. I would stay at a party if someone transformed water to cod liver oil. Did Jesus perform the miracle to keep people in his presence, or to prove his divinity?

You further write:

"It's just the false distinction between ordinary, "mere" acts and "holy" acts that is the problem. Enjoying a good meal with your family can be just as holy as reciting the Jesus Prayer if it is done in a way consecrated to God."

Here is a question for you. Which action do you think is more holy and morally admirable?:

1)Enjoying a delicious feast in a way that is consecrated to God?

2)Passing on the feast to work on a project that helps other impoverished people (perhaps who are not eating enough) through no fault of their own, in a way that is consecrated to God?

Both acts are consecrated to God, so that cancels out.

If you say they are equally holy and morally admirable I think one could argue you are theologically misguided and morally blind. (Actually, with respect to being theologically misguided, that would only be half true, since I think there are conflicting lines of thought within the Catholic tradition, and you are espousing one line and Spencer the other).

If you say 2 is more holy, etc., then Spencer wins the day.

I just saw this in Spencer's last post:

[Bill writes:

"Why should the believer in an afterlife accept it? If his belief is true, then his behavior is quite rational. Only if his belief is false would his behavior be irrational. But if you assume the falsity of the afterlife belief, then you beg the question."]

The fact that a belief turns out to be true, does not make it rational, right? Isn't justification required? Isn't the problem with the zealot that his actions overstep the weight of his evidence regardless of whether his beliefs turn out to be true or false? True conservatives, on the other hand, to address the last comment made by Spencer, disdain any rash actions -actions taken without compelling justification.


DavidT says "There is only one good a Christian should be worried about: Union with God. How do we become united with God? By following Christ."

I have two questions:

First, who is the 'we' in DavidT's question? Christian or all of humanity? Or to put matters more directly: Does DavidT maintain that a necessary condition for "union with God" is following Christ? If so, then most of humanity prior to, during, and after Christ have no hope for this primary good presumably afforded in after life.

Second, what sort of good is the good of "union with God"? Does union here means complete absorption of the self unto another (God), perhaps analogous to the manner sugar is completely dissolves in water through a chemical process? But this sort of "union" obliterates the self into something else so that it no longer exists as a separate individual. Why should anyone desire this? Moreover, such a union also changes the thing doing the absorption, just like the chemical composition of water changes when sugar is dissolved in it. But this model contradicts the theistic conception of a deity that is already perfect and, hence, cannot and need not undergo change.

Or perhaps the said good of "union" means not complete absorption, but rather being in the presence of God and, perhaps, continuously enhanced by such a presence. The "presence" model is preferable to the absorption model it seems to me because it at least preserves the individuality of the self, but allows for the growth of the self due to such a presence. Moreover, the presence model only requires that our afterlife self changes, but not that the deity changes. But if so, then there is a continuity between the self in this world and the self in the other and there is growth of the self in both. Thus, we have another reason to reject the bifurcationism of goods stated by premise (1) of Bill's articulation of Spencer's argument.

Bill and all,

We've been assuming that there are some WG's that are compatible with but not instrumental to achieving TG's. But the analogia entis falsifies this to some extent, since it entails that while no being has absolute value independent of God (and thus no being is rationally pursued "beyond" what is required for the achievement of TG's, as an early post put it), it is also the case that all being is instrumentally valuable for the achievement of TG's - either because of its ontological value, pursued through the active life of charity, or because of its value for the contempletive life, as a rungs on Diotima's ladder or levels of Augustine's vision in the garden with Monica. The analogia entis thus gives a metaphysical ground for something like Augustine's distinction between use and enjoyment in De Doctrina Christiana, I.3-5, and 22.

My problem with the argument, then, is that while (1) makes a relative comparison between the value of WG's and TG's, we're interpreting this as entailing (via 2, that it's irrational to pursue lower goods in preference to higher goods, or something to that effect - a distinction that mirrors Augustine's use/enjoyment distinction) that some WG's are incapable of being pursued as a means to TG's. It's this supposedly ascetic implication of (1) that is leading to Spencer's worry about ascetic extremism. But that inference is invalid given the analogia entis.

Loved with an ordo amoris, all WG's are compatible with TG's. But that's just an overly ontological way of saying that actions that pursue and use WG's well are compatible with the achievement of TG's. If you're a hylomorphist like Aquinas, the only way for a human being to pursue TG's is through WG's (actively or contempletively). If you're a habitual sinner like myself, achieving ordo amoris is going to take some ascetic rigor, sure; but that's no denial of the goodness of creation. It's a denial of my ability to love it as I ought. That's only extreme to the many-headed beast (to borrow an image from the Republic), who has many mouths to feed.

Bill, amazing blog! Thanks, and keep up the good work!

Tony,

I'll leave the wedding at Cana with this final remark: Christ performed his miracles for multiple reasons, among which were to reveal His Divinity, as you mention. It doesn't follow that he couldn't also have performed the miracle for other reasons, for instance to show us that His Coming is a cause for feasting and celebration, not misery. I can't believe that if he actually thought that the only sure way to heaven was to abstain from wine and good food, that he would perform a miracle that encouraged people to keep on drinking. There are plenty of other ways he could (and did) reveal His Glory. The fact that he chose this way, I think, speaks something to his attitude about wine and drinking in general.

As for the alternative between your 1) and 2), I say that neither one of them is a priori holier than the other. It would depend on the person in question and the individual case. It may be that I'm theologically misguided and morally blind - in fact, I know I am, which is why I am a sinner in need of salvation. But that's beside the point, since I'm only reiterating the mainstream Catholic moral tradition, including the monastic tradition. (Despite popular caricatures to the contrary, the mainstream monastic tradition in the West has never been one of strict asceticism. Bill's advice to "...enjoy the limited goods of this life in a measured way while realizing that, in and of themselves, they are of no ultimate value" sounds like a pithy summary of the Rule of St. Benedict.)

I'll end by saying that the argument sounds suspiciously like a rationalization: If Christ really does universally demand a radical asceticism, then for those of us who will not accept such a life, it gives us an easy out to dismiss Him, right? But if he doesn't necessarily demand such life, then He's not so easy to wave away. Matthew 11:16-19:

"But whereunto shall I esteem this generation to be like? It is like to children sitting in the market place. Who crying to their companions say: We have piped to you, and you have not danced: we have lamented, and you have not mourned. For John came neither eating nor drinking; and they say: He has a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say: Behold a man that is a glutton and a wine drinker, a friend of publicans and sinners. And wisdom is justified by her children."

Thanks for the discussion, and bottoms up!

Hi Peter,

As to your first question, I think I can leave aside the question of who is or is not saved. I'm just arguing against the claim that a belief in the afterlife necessarily implies that one should embrace a life of radical asceticism. I think the question of Christian exclusivity is an independent question.

As to the second question, I would agree with your "presence" model. And I also firmly agree with a continuity of goods between this world and the next; and also a continuity between "worldly" goods and "divine" goods even in this world. God, as the Creator of all that is, is in all His Works as an artist is in his productions, according to St. Thomas. So when we enjoy a good wine, we are also, in a secondary but real sense, appreciating God as well. That's why Christ came "eating and drinking."

Final statement on this issue (addressed primarily to Bill)

It seems to me that you're bent on attacking the phantom premise of the argument--that Christianity is false. But I want to be clear I don't want the phantom premise to be carrying any weight in this argument. Christianity's being true is consistent with the argument I give. It just means that you're committed to zealotry--having absolutely every other good in life overriden for the pursuit of a single end (perhaps not necessary for zealotry but certainly sufficient.)

I'm not assuming that Christianity is false. I'm assuming Christianity and conservativism can't both be true.

David, how do you know the wedding at Cana is not analogous to a parent who gives his 16 year a beer on a special occasion, but certainly does not want him doing it on any regular basis and on his own.

With respect to actions 1 and 2, of course, the morality or holiness of an action depends on the circumstances, but you would need to specify the circumstances in which 1 would be holier than 2.
What circumstances could there be where your enjoyment of food and wine would be holier than, say, saving a couple kids in Rwanda from starvation? Since your soul and infinite goods are at stake, you better take the money you are spending on wine and send it to Oxfam. Sorry to be a party pooper!

Spencer, here again is your argument:

1. Religions like Christianity maintain that the goods of this life are axiologically negligible in comparison to the goods of the life to come.
2. It is not rational to pursue negligible goods over goods of vastly greater value except insofar as the pursuit of the negligible goods is instrumentally useful in the attainment of the goods of greater value.
3. Someone who values the goods of this life only instrumentally is an extremist or a zealot in pejorative senses of these terms.
Therefore
4. The 'logic' of a religion like Christianity is an extremist logic that leads to zealotry and away from the sort of moderation one would expect of a conservative.

You now say that your argument is consistent with Christianity's being true. But that is not the case. For if Christianity is true, then (1) gives way to

1* The goods of this life are axiologically negligible in comparison to the goods of the life to come.

But then it is all the more obvious that (3) is to be rejected. I fear you are equivocating on 'zealot.' As I pointed out, it carries a pejorative connotation in ordinary English; but it could also be used to denote someone who pursues with zeal some one overriding end, and subordinates all his other activities to the furtherance of that end. I wouldn't call such a person a zealot in the pejorative sense, but one whose existence has a focus.

Could a conservative be a Christian? It depends on what exactly you mean by 'conservative' -- which is a fascinating question unto itself. You seem to be assuming that a conservative cannot qua conservative have one single overriding purpose to his activities. (For then he would be a 'zealot' (bad sense) and not a conservative.)

If that is your assumption, then I reject it.

Tony,

I think we are talking past each other at this point.

Best,
David

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