Category Archives: Core philosophy

The Value of Conceptual Models of Satan

In Seriously Have we Been Captured by Satan?, I sketched out a conceptual model or philosophical theory on humanity being captured by Satan. What is the purpose of such a model? Most Catholics who hear about the temptations of Christ, demonic possessions or hell have no interest in such abstract discussions. We read the words of scripture and hear homilies. We accept the words and, more or less, heed the instructions not to take any images as portraying spiritual realities. We need not rely only on own own imaginations for imagery to set aside. We enjoy an immense artistic tradition illustrating Satan and his “works and pomps.” For instance, see Temptation of Christ by Vasily Surikov (1872) and Michelangelo’s Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel . What is the value of all of this imagery? Of course, much of it has artistic value although, for the most part, not by presenting what is beautiful.

It must be emphasized that the imagery of Satan et al. is to be ignored for purposes of representing what was the case in natural and supernatural reality. The religious value of the imagery is as a heuristic to lead us to take the words of scripture seriously. By catching our imaginations we pay attention to the words. It must also be emphasized that imagery is not be ignored. In so far as, the imagery helps appreciate and follow the words of scripture and doctrines developed from scripture, the imagery is valuable.

What is the value of the scripture and doctrines?

The scripture and doctrines tell of our relation to God and how we are to live our natural lives so that we can be happy with God in heaven. The scripture, doctrines and heuristic imagery of Christianity form a vast conceptual scheme. It is a way of speaking and living. Here the attention is on the speaking. As a twentieth century philosopher who wrote his Ph. D. dissertation* on Wittgenstein, I class the Catholic way of speaking as at least a language game . There is no need to digress into the literature on language games. Here the important point is about what is the right thing to say. The word “game” suggestion that what is right or wrong in the game is contained in the game’s rule, explicit or implicit. The language game specifies what is correct to assert and correct to deny. Reality beyond the game need not be consulted on how to play the game, viz., say the right thing. Call the right thing to say “warranted assertions.”

I write mostly of Catholicism. But what I write can be applied to other religions.

Catholic faith is trust that the warranted assertions of the Catholic teaching and practice, the Catholic language game, tell us what is the case with the natural and supernatural and how to live properly in it. Simple faith is trust that the warranted assertions tell the truth without any consideration of what it would be like for them to have truth conditions in reality – to represent what is the case.

It might be proposed that Catholic faith is trust that the warranted assertions of Catholicism tell us what is true, and not merely warranted, because they come from a language game developed from the reality of Jesus’s teaching, crucifixion and resurrection. However, there is a problem of understanding how the first century reality of Jesus’ teaching, death and resurrection justify, outside our Catholic language game, assertions in the twenty first century. This is a problem which calls for a philosophical model.

Faith seeking understanding is hope that we can have some understanding of what it is like for there to be truth conditions for the warranted assertions. In particular, the value of conceptual models of Satan is to sketch out how there can be truth conditions for talk of Satan.

However, the conceptual models will be ignored by most, unverifiable by any empirical tests and controversial amongst the few who pay attention? (There is always quarrelling about any philosophy.) The fact that there are philosophically minded Catholics who are trying to understand how assertions about the transcendent and supernatural can be true becomes part of the language game of Catholicism. This contribution to the Catholic outlook, the Catholic language game, is an antidote to non-cognitivism about religious belief and, in particular, in Catholic religious belief.

Roughly, the non-cognitivist interpretation of religious assertions is that they do not tell us the truth about a reality independent of the religious beliefs. The purpose of religious assertions is to guide conduct and lead us to having a purpose driven life. Truth and falsity are irrelevant. Explicit non-cognitivism held by a large number of the members of a religion will be the end of that religion.

Non-cognitivism requires another post to appreciate its appeals and perils. It suffices as a conclusion to this post to claim:
The value for Catholicism of there being some awareness of a few Catholics pondering how doctrinal claims can be true in addition to being orthodox, viz., warranted assertions, is protecting claims that truth is being taught from being mere rhetoric.

* An improved version of my dissertation examining Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Remarks on the Foundation of Mathematics is in my book: Strict Finitism, The Hague 1970

Overview of Posts Confrontating Nihilism

This is a review of posts directly confronting nihilism to assess what has been accomplished toward showing that an intelligent educated person need not and ought not fall into our cultural default outlook and attitude of nihilism. The review brings out that necessary conditions for intellectually setting nihilism aside are beliefs in theism and objective moral laws as divine commands. Two recent posts, referenced in items (14) and (15), point out how efforts presenting nihilism as true subtley presuppose that nihilism is not true.

Beliefs in theism and objective morality can be supported by philosophical theology. However, confronting nihilism requires continual attitudinal support as is indicated in The Problem of Evil as a Cornerstone of a Nihilistic World View . The attitudinal support is faith.

My assessment of confronting nihilism is that only Epicureanism provides the intellectual and attitudinal support for nihilism. The intellectual support is the metaphysical theory that basically there is nothing but atoms and the void. Only by chance do atoms form complexes which by chance come and go. The maxim “Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” However, there is a caution attached to the maxim. Try not to think of the “tomorrow we die” part. If thoughts of death thrust themselves upon you, then think of the metaphysics to realize that there cannot be any punishment after death. For at death your atoms scatter into the void. Confronting nihilism requires continual philosophical critique of atomistic metaphysics, which in various forms, is presupposed in our current age. It also requires the work of public intellectuals to uncover the misery of in accordance with”Eat, drink and be merry.” For an example of a public intellectual’s critique of current hedonism see my review of Christine Emba’s Re-thinking Sex.

1 In My Book and Nihilism on October 13 2013, I expressed some initial reflections on nihilism.
Nihilism is a combination of thought and sentiment. There is a thought that nothing matters and a melancholy mood that life has no significance. Both the thought and the sentiment are required for nihilism. An atheist may think that nothing matters but is not a nihilistic because, being blessed with an upbeat temperament, loves being alife. A believer in God many think that people ought to live to please their creator but feel that life has no significance. Despite nihilistic feelings such a theistic is not a nihilist He can use his belief in God to struggle to overcome his nihilistic feelings. Nihilistic feelings are a “dark night of the soul” for mystics and contemplatives.

2. In Progressive Progress to Nihilism on August 11, 2020, we see how people can be taught scientism without ever teaching the inconsistency that we know only science gives knowledge. Teach the merits of science and the demerits of religion and ideologies. When students convert to scientism, justify the conversion by explaining it as the natural response of a mind aware of the merits of science and the demerits of religion. I note that the education to cause a belief in scientism is also effective for causing belief in nihilism. Nonetheless, the major point is that scientism and its associated nihilism cannot be blocked by simply charging it with logical inconsistency. Causal factors leading to scientism need to be confronted.

3.In Confronting Scientism, Secular Naturalism and Nihilism on August 31, 2020, I argue that intellectually nihilism needs to be confronted by developing a metaphysical scheme superior to metaphysical schemes supporting scientism or secular naturalism.

4,In Confronting the Nihilistic Ontology of Secular Naturalism on September 10, 2020, I observe there is no well developed metaphysical scheme, or ontology, to support scientism or secular naturalism with its elimination of final causes. If metaphysical thinking is legitimate, there is reason for thinking that nihilism can be confronted and defeated on the theoretical level.

5.In Nihilistic Soteriology and Eschatology on September 20, 2020 I diagnosed the despair underlying acceptance of physian assisted sucide. I concluded with the following observation. In theological language the line of thought is as follows. Permissibility of suicide presupposes an eschatology of death as non-being. This eschatology leads to a soteriology as salvation is non-being. No morality is required for this salvation since “All men are mortal” entails that all are saved.

6.In Moral Deism is not an Antidote to Nihilism on March 23, 2022, Moral Deism was characterized as merely classifying our morality as Divine Commands. Unfortunately, moral deism undercuts the rationale for understanding morality as based on divine commands. Man is still the measure of all things. Whatever man measures is interpreted as what God commands. God is not cited in moral reasoning.

7. Very recently in Theism Compatible with Nihilism on December 15, 2022, I noted the following. God did not have to give a meaning to human life as we understand having a meaning for life. If our lives have meaning, it is because of the goodness of God.

8. In Nihilism as an Antidote to Nihilism , on December 17, 2021, an antidote to nihilism is characterized as: A complex of thoughts and intertwined sentiments which removes or alleviates the anxiety provoked by thinking and feeling life has no meaning . In this sense, the “eat, drink and be merry” maxim of nihilism can, for the fortune few, be a recipe for setting aside anxiety about the meaning of life. Epicureanism helps the fortunate few avoid thinking about nihilism.

9. In Gibt est kein Gott, nur die Pflict Steht gegen das Nichts on July 5, 2020, I summarize the theme of my book on sexual morality. I argue that living to make ourselves people who obey invariant moral laws is something indestructible in ourselves for which to live – that is duty die Pflicht. I go on to argue that we must find such laws governing our sexuality. Stoics overcome nihilism in their hearts and minds. But doubts about the reality of moral laws threatens our composure.

10. In Hell Saves Us From Nihilism on December 11, 2021, I elaborate on the syllogism:
If there is no hell, everything is permitted.
If everything is permitted, then nihilism is correct
—————————————————-
So, if there is no hell, nihilism is correct.
Hell is meaningless existence. An alternative to hell provides meaningful existence.

11.In Invoking God to Confront Nihilism on December 4, 2021, I answered my doubts, in (9) above about stoicism giving a satisfactory response to nihilism. I wrote ” Life in accord with eternal moral laws which we are commanded to follow needed to be characterized as more attractive than resolutely making ourselves into people who obey these laws despite any and all inclinations to do otherwise. I was led, then, to religious reflections on what it meant to obey the moral laws. So, through a long series of posts on obeying a moral authority, I realized that we had to interpret moral laws as commands of God. Hence,I confront nihilism by making a case for Divine Command Morality.” But later, as in (6) above a Divine Command morality must be more than Moral Deism. Recently, in Theism is compatible with nihilism on December 15, 2022 I realized that belief in theism needs to be accompanied by faith in the goodness of God to set aside nihilism.

11.In Does Death Prove Nihilism on December 8. 2021, I quote extensively from The Book of Wisdom to remind us what needs to be included in a strong philosophical antidote against nihilism. In addition to establishing the existence of a divine moral commander, there is a need to establish survival after biological death and the reality of postmortem reward and punishment. These thoughts led to those in (9) above about the reality of hell as part of a belief system overcoming nihilism.

12.In Jesus has saved us from nihilism being a correct account of the human condition on August 4,2017 I outline my unprofessional theological interpretation of the Paschal Mystery as Jesus carrying out accepting annihilation to save humans from having annihilation as our fate. The gist of my speculation is that human’s original sin is to set the moral obligation that humans’ fate is to be annihilated. We have chosen that human destiny ought to be no different than that of any other animal. But this obligation is incompatible with being like any other animal who have no obligations.

This incompatibility is resolved by the human nature of Jesus suffering annihilation and then being restored with a human nature that has fulfilled the obligation to be annihilated. Jesus suffered what we have required humanity to suffer. His death was not a sacrifice to God. His death was a fulfillment of the human moral demand for human annihilation so that human nature could be free from this moral imperative that nihilism be humans’ fate.

13.In The Transcendent vs Nothing on August 7, 2021, I model the creator as being in a struggle with non-being, the uncreated or nothing. Some creatures with free-will, choose not to be dependent beings. But for a creature not to be dependent is not to be. So, some creatures are choosing not to be or nothingness. The goodness of the creator thus faces oppostion to creation.

While writing this synopsis, I return to thoughts of There is a Satan in Oppostion to God. . The first creature of God, choose not to be dependent which is a choice for nothing – not to be. This first creature becomes Satan who wills that there be nothing at all if he cannot be the creator. Satan is evil for he chooses the absence of all good. Satan tries to carry out his choice for non-being by leading other creatures with free-will to choose not to be. Such creatures, viz., humans, choose not to be by not choosing their good. These theological speculations start to build a model on how God “solves” the problem of evil which philosophical thought showed at line 11 in The problem of evil is the corner stone of a Christian world view God would “solve.”

14. In Does Respect for Truth Require Nihilism On December 28, 2022, I dismiss a claim that we ought to be nihilists because respect for our rationality forbids believing any more than what natural science tells us. Authentic nihilists do not respect rationality as a source of moral obligations.

15. In I rage, therefore I am , on December 30, 2022, we see that raging against reality because it provides us only a nihilistic fate, presupposes that vainishing into atoms and the void is not our fate.

I Rage, Therefore I Am

Is Proud Defiance Acceptance of Nihilism? No, it is a philosophical rejection of nihilism

The first two stanzas of Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night” command defiance of not being – the dying of the light. For “wise men at their end know dark is right.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Explicitly professing nihilism to rage against it is not good psychological advice. Actually, as we shall see, it rejects nihilism by defying it. In my eighty eighth year, burning and raging about what I dread might be my fate seems foolish. Distracting oneself with pleasant memories is better advice.

I do not accept nihilism. I seek to understand and hold fast to Catholicism. In philosophical theology I find good reasons for Catholicism. However, the reasons are not totally conclusive “Because their words had forked no lightning.” Hence, I have a dread of total annihilation at death. Still, the Canticle of Simeon gives better psychological advice: “Now, Lord let your servant go in peace. For my eyes have seen the salvation . . .”

However, I do not interpret the poem as psychological advice on facing dying and death. Dylan Thomas offers inchoate philosophical instructions on how each and everyone of us can demonstrate that nihilism is not true. This raging against not being – against the dying of the light – is intense assertion of oneself as existing. At death, the raging self assertion enters eternity.

Right up to the instant at which for you there is no further coming into existence or passing out of existence – changelessness- your self is raging. Eternally, there is his raging self. That final instant raging self can no more come into existence or pass out of existence than the number 2.

This is not an effective demonstration that nihilism is wrong because we can make our self eternal. It depends upon an empirical assumption that people can be conscious up to the instant of brain death. Before brain death there is change in a person – coming into existence and passing out of existence. Furthermore, persisting as an abstract object such as the number 2 is a survival not worth wanting. The number 2 is for nothing; neither is an eternal raging self.

This raging is the desperate hope that if I cry loud enough to Being, She will pick me up.

Does Respect for Truth Require Nihilism?

The naturalistic evolutionary account of the development and origin of homo sapiens sapiens tells the truth. This true narrative tells of no more significance or purpose of homo sapiens sapiens than that of any other species. If that is the only true account of the origin and development of humanity, nihilism is correct.

Grant that the evidence for this evolutionary narrative is better than any supplementary account of the origin and development of humanity, an anthropology, which finds a special significance and purpose for human beings. This is not to grant that there is no evidence for the supplementary account.

Maintaining that one is not entitled to allow belief in any account with weaker evidence than that for evolution is incompatible with nihilism. It presupposes that there is a source of obligations on how to use our reason. It is presupposed that there is a way we ought to be with respect to our rationality. Accepting that there is a way we ought to be is to accept that there is a point to our living.

Holding fast to assertions of nihilism because that is what duty to truth requires is an instance of a stoic stance defying nihilism. If there is no God, still the truth and our duty to it stand against not being – nothingness.

The Problem of Evil as a Cornerstone of a Nihilistic World View

Undercutting any solutions for the problem of evil is the cornerstone of nihilism.

Of course, this post connects with The Problem of Evil as a Cornerstone of a Christian World View. In that post, I developed a line of argument in philosophical theology adapting a line of argument reaching back at least to Epicurus’ classical formulation of the problem of evil, around 300 BC. It culminated with:

10. If God has delegated creation of reality as we experience it to subsidiary creators, He had a good reason for delegating creative activity and has a good reason for correcting the experienced reality produced by susidiary creators.

11. So, ultimately there will be a correction of reality as we experience it although we cannot imagine experiencing it!

These lines (10) and (11) provide an intellectual rationale for developing a world view of some type of salvation history. Salvation histories are histories of reality as we experience it using language of ordinary history plus reference to religious beings, processes and events. The world view of Christianity is a salvation history. My paradigm salvation history is given in the Catholic Bible plus interpretations of the Christian Church Fathers and expressed in the Nicene Creed. At the risk of being cryptic: Salvation histories are solutions to the problem of evil. Salvation histories make sense of life – tell of a point and purpose for living despite the sin and suffering all experience by living.

Most likely, the intellectual rationale behind a salvation history comes, in fact, after the salvation histories have been told for generations. However, being a subsequent rationale for narrations of the salvation history does not reduce the rationalization to unimportant additions to a salvation history. A dimension of our being rational animals is being theological animals. Experienced sin and suffering drives us to seek understanding of our believed salvation history.

Good reasons have been given for theological theories behind Judeo-Christian salvation history. Unfortunately, despite being good reasons, none of the rationalizations are compelling. The theories of philosophical theology simply do not have mathematical certainty. There are no intellectually compelling solutions for the problem of evil. Logic allows hardening the heart and saying: No!

Hence, the problem of evil provides a foundation for nihilism. Nihilists find loop-holes for setting aside the theological rationalizations and let the experience of sin and suffering lead people to despair of there being any point or purpose to living. All history, secular and salvation, tell only “sound and fury signifying nothing.”

When I think of loss of the naive faith of a child or even of an adult, I think of a nursery rhymme about an egg named Humpty Dumpty.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All of the king’s and all of the king’s men.
Could not put Humpty together again.

Faith and rationalization are now needed to go on living with hope that the salvation history tells the truth about the point and purpose of living. Both faith and reason are needed in religion just as both are needed in science. This religious faith that sustains hope is not naïve fideism justifying believing because one wants to belief. Religious faith justifies nothing. It is a gift that comes and goes sustaining hope that ultimately “all manner of things will be well.”

Theism Is Compatible With Nihilism

A theistic metaphysics is compatible with nihilism. For it is possible for God to give no significance to human life. We readily think that God sets no enduring destiny for Woodticks. He could, then, allow humans to vanish into non-being which is the fate to which we consign ticks.

In attempts to understand Christianity, I occasionally speculate that God originally intended that humans never pass into non-being. Humans had a choice to share in God’s never ceasing to be. However, there was some original choice by humans not to share completely in God’s way of being by not always willing as God willed. So, humans chose to have their own way of being as do the other creatures of God. Other creatures have temporary being; they come into existence and pass away. For an elaboration of these speculations, see Jesus has saved us from nihilism being a correct account of the human condition.

However, God had set as the good for humans never ceasing to be. God loves his creatures which means God wills the good of his creatures. So, even after humans had chosen ceasing to be, God stilled willed that humans not cease to be. There is no necessity for God to will never ceasing to be for humans. For God did not need to create. God did not need to create beings with a good of everlasting being.

The point remains. God did not have to give a meaning to human life as we understand having a meaning for life.

If our lives have meaning, it is because of the goodness of God.

Collective Contrition

Collective Contrition

To build an authentic moral barrier to abortion we should cultivate a condition of collective perfect contrition for abortion.

I wondered why we, and I in particular, should care about almost unlimited access to abortion. We, and I in particular, are not threatened with any great harm. The extreme damage to unborn babies might well be outweighed by the social problems solved by their destruction. Some, but not many, might fear the wrath of God.

Yet, there is a deep sorrow that elective abortions are legally permitted and that millions of women have and will use that permission. Explicitly, or implicitly, those of us opposing abortion want having this sorrow about abortion become dominant in society. The goal is to have the dominant thinking be that abortion is immoral with the appropriate thoughts and sentiments that being immoral itself is what makes it horrible.

The effort to understand thoughts and sentiments connected with violating a moral law led to the concept of perfect contrition . Perfect contrition is primarily a religious notion of sorrow over offending God by violating moral laws which are His commands. This religious concept is readily generalized to be a candidate for the thoughts and sentiment, if any, about violation of a moral law over and above sorrow and fear of any consequences of the moral violation.

I write, “if any” to indicate the prospect that psychological analysis of any particular sorrow about violation of a moral law might indicate that it is in fact some fear or grief about the consequences of the violation to society or oneself.

The concept of perfect contrition is not meaningless even if no one came ever be certain that they really have it. The concept is meaningful even if we can never be absolutely certain that it has anything in its extension. The concept is necessary for moral thinking, but it is not necessary that it be exemplified in any individual.

For those who might still be interested in twentieth century concerns over cognitive meaningfulness, note that claims of perfect contrition are empirically falsifiable.

Indeed, there is no authentic moral thought without the thought of immorality being a reason for sorrow regardless of any physical or social harm. Perfect contrition is necessary for morality. Dogmatic claims of psychological egotism that people have only selfish concerns and can make only selfish choices are dogmatic denials of morality. Case by case analyses to raise suspicion about unselfish concerns, as alluded to above, are efforts to show that there is no morality.

As important as it is to be honest about motives etc., unceasing efforts to uncover selfishness are uninteresting. They seem to be based on the dogmatic assumption of psychological egotism that there is always some selfishness to be uncovered. Of course, we are selfish and hypocritical. What is interesting is to show what it is like for a person to be sincere and unselfish.

In any event, we can set aside the whole topic of tortuous psychological analyses of individual motives. Morality is primarily collective thinking. So, if morality requires perfect contrition, then perfect contrition is an element in collective thinking. I admit that contrition seems preeminently a condition of an individual. However, we learn to think from others. So, if we can have perfect contrition, we have acquired it from others.

Upcoming topics are exploration of what collective perfect contrition might be like and the possibility of vicarious contrition.

Ontology, theories about what is real, are inseparable from my pursuit of truth in moral theory. I close with an argument for the truth of one of my major ontological assumptions.

There is no doubt that I assume that there is collective thinking in what I have written. But of more significance for the reality of collective thinking my act of writing and the act of anyone writing in reaction to what I write assumes and presents the reality of collective thinking. More generally any discussion, written or verbal, of the reality of collective thinking exhibits the reality of collective thinking.

Philosophical Arguments as Guides to Reality

This is the correction about my understanding of philosophical arguments which I promised in Choosing not to Live .

This post explicitly rejects a suggestion of some of my posts that the main purpose of philosophical argument is to trace out logical connections between beliefs so that we can accuse others of logical inconsistency if they hold some beliefs while rejecting others. In particular, I want to set aside the claim in Choosing Not to Live vs Choosing to be Killed that necessarily there is a logical contradiction between holding beliefs justifying suicide but rejecting nihilism.

Justifiable suicide and nihilism cannot be conclusively defined to a point at which we can say “here is what the terms really mean.” Then, using terms with this final, or real, definition, reveals that it is inconsistent to say that suicide is justifiable without accepting nihilism. Rather, those who believe that justifiable suicide is compatible with believing life is meaningful hold, implicitly at least, that their definitions of the crucial terms misrepresent reality until there is no inconsistency. If they seek philosophical justification via philosophical arguments, they will work on avoiding contradictions.

Of course, people need not seek philosophical justification. They can simply stop trying to justify their policy beliefs and continue acting on their policies without justificatory statements which lead to contradictions. The strategy is to let reality justify their policy beliefs. For instance, a scientistic outlook that only the natural sciences provide knowledge encounters a contradiction when considering whether a statement of scientism is a scientific statement or is not a scientific statement. Believers in scientism can, explicitly or implicity, dismiss the so-called law of excluded middle and not answer. They believe that reality will convince all but those blinded by some other ideology that only statements of science are reliable. People are to be convinced of the belief in scientism without being able to articulate the belief. Here we have a case of faith seeking conviction.

Philosophical arguments drive us to seek real definitions. But in some areas there are no real definitions. Indeed, a mark of an area where philosophy is needed is one in which no final definitions are obtainable. In these philosophical areas we respond to reality as we believe it to be and seek for the proper concepts to describe it consistently. We as individuals have to continually seek to resolve the contradictions. There is no absolute mind at working resolving contradictions.

I am not objecting to the style of philosophical argumentation uncovering logical contradictions in specific sets of beliefs. Reductio ad absurdum is my favorite style. I shall continue to use it. However, detecting contradictions is only for generating philosphical problems or for refining beliefs. It is only a preliminary phase. The most significant part of philosophy is refining beliefs to remove contradictions.

What do I intend philosophical arguments to accomplish?

I apply to philosophy what Augustine and Anselm wrote about theology. Philosophical investigation is faith seeking understanding (Fides quaerens intellectum). Philosophy begins with wonder on how it can be the way I belive that it is where “it” refers to reality. Amongst many other things, I wonder how life can be meaningful while death is sometimes desirable. Also, I believe that we can know in ways different from those of the natural sciences. I wonder how such knowledge is possible. I seek to understand these beliefs via the unending task of continually refining concepts of realities involved to have a consistent way of articulating these beliefs. Philosophy is better than the “silence response “on philosophy because here we have a case of faith seeking understanding to support conviction.

Limits and Importance of the Law of Love

In Matthew 22:37-40, of the New International Version, we read the following.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

How does the moral law “hang on” these two commandments? For instance, can we use these two commandments to decide that premarital sex is immoral? No, but they do tell us that there is an objectively correct answer to the question and God has determined the objectively correct answer.

To love is to will the good of the other. We cannot choose that things good for God happen to God for nothing bad could happen to God So, to will good for God is to will, or always try to will, the good God wills. The good God wills for people is lives in accordance with the moral laws since lives in accordance with moral laws are good lives for humans. For God always wills what is good.

Next, to love our neighbors as ourselves is to will for them the same good life we will for ourselves when we correctly will what is good for ourselves. Hence, to love our neighbors as ourselves is to will, or try always to will, that all of us live in accordance with the moral laws God has laid out for human beings.

The limits of the two laws of love are that they do not tell us any definite moral rules. And, of immense significance, they do not tell us that any feelings of love are a guide to morally correct behavior. The importance of the laws of love are that they tell us that there are objectively true moral answers and getting and following these right answers lead to good human lives.

When Should We Talk of Immorality as Sinful

Grant that the moral laws are commands of God. When should we think and talk of morality as based on Divine commands? When we teach morality we should let our children know that our “does and don’ts” are not our arbitrary commands but come from God. God has gifted human beings with the cognitive and emotional capabilities to develop a concept of a moral authority to whom all their actions are transparent. Perhaps, God gave us this gift through evolutionary development. Regardless of how we received this gift of what Freudians label a superego, we should lead children to identify the moral authority with God. Yes, this leads children to develop a fear of God. And that is not a bad thing. Fear of the Lord is, indeed , the beginning of wisdom. In short, we should educate our children to have a sense of sin.

There are contexts in which it is legally or socially prohibited to talk of God. For instance, in secular public schools, talking of God, let alone teaching morality as coming from God is forbidden. I am uncertain whether these are policies are always good for public order. But in the home and in civil society at large, we should not hesitate to link morality with what God commands. When we associate with fellow citizens of “The City of God” we should maintain our sense of immorality as sinful, deliberate rejection of God’s will

Also, when tempted, it helps to think of we are acting in accordance with the will of God by suppressing unruly desires. It is helpful to think of God as the author of morality when we make moral judgments about others. When we do so, we can readily distinguish between the act we morally condemn and the inner state of the actor whose act we condemn. For the inner state is transparent to the moral authority, namely God, but not to us.

Morality comes into play in our lives most of the time when we teach, learn it, struggle with it and pass judgment on ourselves and our neighbors. In all of these contexts, there should be no hesitation to think feel and talk as morality being based on God’s commands.

But there is one context in which those who hold a divine command theory of morality should not assert any moral laws as God’s commands. This philosophical context is one in which they are making a case that, say masturbation violates a moral law. For making a case that masturbation is morally forbidden is making a case that it is a Divine command. It would be question begging to use as a premise “Masturbation is forbidden by God” when the aim is to prove exactly that.

But this eschewal of mentioning God in moral arguments is not reverting to moral deism. It is only secularizing a special context. For most people, philosophical thought is irrelevant. So to quarantine philosophical argument from assertions of God as commanding is not secularizing morality.

Of even more significance, for appreciating removing God from philosophical moral arguments is not necessarily secularizing moral reasoning are background assumptions of a Divine command moral theorist. For the reasoning will cite facts of nature as premises in a moral argument. The holder of a Divine command theory will regard nature as God’s creation. And God’s creation contains facts with normative significance. In a nature created by God there are purposes – the way things ought to be.