Monday, May 11, 2015

Natural Theology, Pluralism and You

A thoughtful reader has requested that I explain what, exactly, I meant when, in previous editorials, I wrote about "the propositions of natural theology." What are these and where can we find out more about them? There are several very good manuals of natural theology out there, and I plan to eventually publish a list of such manuals with links where they can be found, but for the time being, I'll just cut to the chase and present a list of the most important propositions, so as to give the various statements made in previous postings more tangibility. A basic list of propositions drawn from natural theology would include the following (in no particular order):

  • God exists.
  • God alone possesses aseity.
  • God is one.
  • God is infinite.
  • God is eternal.
  • God is immutable.
  • God is absolutely simple.
  • God is immense.
  • God is omnipresent.
  • God is omniscient.
  • God is omnibenevolent.
  • God is creator.
  • God is preserver.
  • God is provider, i.e. governs providentially.

The first thing to note here is that reasonable people of any religious background - whether we're talking about Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, ancient or modern pagans - agree on these propositions. This is because they are drawn from human reason, and can be known without recourse to divine revelation. Of course, there have been disagreements between rival schools of natural theology at various times in the long course of history, but these typically amount to squabbles of a highly abstract nature, and are usually of very little interest or consequence to the average person. Natural theologians are profoundly concordant in their views across the spectrum of religious traditions - which, again, demonstrates the reasonableness of the propositions themselves.

[NB: For my two perpetually angry atheist readers, please don't come at me with ancient polytheism as a counter-example unless you can point to a natural theology which is genuinely polytheistic. This is a nice way of saying don't bother, because a polytheistic natural theology doesn't exist. And no, Proclus doesn't count. So there.]

More to the point, however, is the following observation: These are not, strictly speaking, religious propositions. While they touch on matter germane to religion, they are not, in themselves, religious, and faith is not required to recognize them as true. This has several important consequences (all of which are equally applicable to natural law), viz.:

  • To expect the members of a secular society to recognize the above principles is perfectly justified. In fact, any person who either does not have the mental capacity to grasp them or rejects them because of the consequences which flow naturally from them is a potential threat to the integrity and prosperity of said society whenever he or she possess the power to influence public policy.
  • To expect a secular government to defend and promote the above principles is equally justified, for the same reasons. Doing so is not a violation of the secular shibboleth of separation of Church and State, for these are not tenets of faith drawn from a creed, but propositions arrived at through the light of reason. Besides, the separation of Church and State was never intended to mean the separation of God and State. That is to say, to defend the propositions of natural theology in the public square is not to promote a religion, but merely to defend common sense.
  • As these propositions do not require religious faith, they do not please God (Heb. 11:6), and they do not suffice for salvation (Rom. 3:22). For the attainment of those ends, faith in Our Lord, Jesus Christ (miserere nobis), is absolutely necessary. Because God is merciful, however, people who have never heard the Gospel might be able to claim invincible ignorance before the throne of God on Judgment Day in regards to tenets of faith drawn solely from Sacred Scripture. Nonetheless, because God is just, they will not be able to claim invincible ignorance regarding the propositions of natural theology, for one need not know Sacred Scripture to recognize them as true; all that is required is a sound mind and an upright heart intent on discovering the truth.

As I've mentioned in previous editorials (see here and here), such propositions are the very glue which have hitherto held modern western societies together. They represent, to use a limited analogy, the foundation upon which each man, by civil right, is free to place either sacred theology (resp. moral theology) as taught authoritatively by the Church's Magisterium, or as taught by some heretical sect of Christianity, or as taught by some apostate or pagan religious sect, or aberrations of his own imagination, or nothing at all. Under the aegis of religious rationalism, the tacit agreement between people of faith, secular government and pluralistic society is that, as long as the fundamental propositions of natural theology and natural law are upheld as constitutive of the common good, and the rights to profess the tenets of sacred theology and to live according to the dictates of moral theology are publicly defended, then the people forego the desire to have the state acknowledge their religious authority above all others.

Readers familiar with Church teaching on Christ the Sovereign King might want to consider whether this agreement is a morally acceptable one. Either way, however, it is becoming clearer by the day that this agreement is no longer being upheld on the part of the state. And why should it? Every non-Catholic state is essentially an ultimately futile exercise in keeping the hounds of totalitarianism at bay. It is the people's job to continually remind the state of its dutiful obligations. And we have failed miserably to do just that for more than half a century.

Scholastic philosophy was intentionally abandoned after Vatican II, and this was hugely detrimental, not merely to the life of the Catholic Church, but to the very survival of western civilization. However, while the Church is protected by Our Lord's promise, western civilization is not. If - and that's an open-ended 'if' - we want to preserve what remains of the "American Way of Life," then we must forcefully restate the obligation of all members of secular society to acknowledge the propositions of natural theology and the dictates of natural law as normative, and kindly remove from power all who would attempt to undermine the same.

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