The Poison of Subjectivism

C.S. Lewis eventually expanded the essay, “The Poison of Subjectivism ( from which I took the following excerpts) ,” into The Abolition of Man . With his usual elegance and composure, Lewis reminds us what it means to be men with chests:

At this point we must remind ourselves that Christian theology does
not believe God to be a person. It believes Him to be such that in Him
a trinity of persons is consistent with a unity of Deity. In that
sense it believes Him to be something very different from a person,
just as a cube, in which six squares are consistent with unity of the
body, is different from a square. (Flatlanders, attempting to imagine
a cube, would either imagine the six squares coinciding, and thus
destroy their distinctness, or else imagine them set out side by side,
and thus destroy the unity. Our difficulties about the Trinity are of
much the same kind.) It is therefore possible that the duality which
seems to force itself upon us when we think, first, of our Father in
Heaven, and, secondly, of the self-evident imperatives of the moral
law, is not a mere error but a real (though inadequate and creaturely)
perception of things that would necessarily be two in any mode of
being which enters our experience, but which are not so divided in the
absolute being of the superpersonal God. When we attempt to think of a
person and a law, we are compelled to think of this person either as
obeying the law or as making it. And when we think of Him as making it
we are compelled to think of Him either as making it in conformity to
some yet more ultimate pattern of goodness (in which case that
pattern, and not He, would be supreme) or else as making it
arbitrarily by a sic volo, sic jubeo (in which case He would be
neither good nor wise). But it is probably just here that our
categories betray us. It would be idle, with our merely mortal
resources, to attempt a positive correction of our categories –
ambulavi in mirabilibus supra me. But it might be permissible to lay
down two negations: that God neither obeys nor creates the moral law.
The good is uncreated; it never could have been otherwise; it has in
it no shadow of contingency; it lies, as Plato said, on the other side
of existence. It is the Rita of the Hindus by which the gods
themselves are divine, the Tao of the Chinese from which all realities
proceed. But we, favoured beyond the wisest pagans, know what lies
beyond existence, what admits no contingency, what lends divinity to
all else, what is the ground of all existence, is not simply a law but
also a begetting love, a love begotten, and the love which, being
these two, is also imminent in all those who are caught up to share
the unity of their self-caused life. God is not merely good, but
goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.

These may seem fine-spun speculations: yet I believe that nothing
short of this can save us. A Christianity which does not see moral and
religious experience converging to meet at infinity, not at a negative
infinity, but in the positive infinity of the living yet superpersonal
God, has nothing, in the long run, to divide it from devil worship;
and a philosophy which does not accept value as eternal and objective
can lead us only to ruin. Nor is the matter of merely speculative
importance. Many a popular “planner” on a democratic platform, many a
mild-eyed scientist in a democratic laboratory means, in the last
resort, just what the Fascist means. He believes that “good” means
whatever men are conditioned to approve. He believes that it is the
function of him and his kind to condition men; to create consciences
by eugenics, psychological manipulation of infants, state education
and mass propaganda. Because he is confused, he does not yet fully
realize that those who create conscience cannot be subject to
conscience themselves. But he must awake to the logic of his position
sooner or later; and when he does, what barrier remains between us and
the final division of the race into a few conditioners who stand
themselves outside morality and the many conditioned in whom such
morality as the experts choose is produced at the experts’ pleasure?
If “good” means only the local ideology, how can those who invent the
local ideology be guided by any idea of good themselves? The very idea
of freedom presupposes some objective moral law which overarches
rulers and ruled alike. Subjectivism about values is eternally
incompatible with democracy. We and our rulers are of one kind only so
long as we are subject to one law. But if there is no Law of Nature,
the ethos of any society is the creation of its rulers, educators and
conditioners; and every creator stands above and outside his creation.

Unless we return to the crude and nursery-like belief in objective
values, we perish. If we do, we may live, and such a return might have
one minor advantage. If we believed in the absolute reality of
elementary moral platitudes, we should value those who solicit our
votes by other standards than have recently been in fashion. While we
believe that good is something to be invented, we demand of our rulers
such qualities as “vision,” “dynamism,” “creativity,” and the like. If we returned to the objective view we should demand qualities much
rarer, and much more beneficial – virtue, knowledge, diligence and
skill. ‘Vision’ is for sale, or claims to be for sale, everywhere. But
give me a man who will do a day’s work for a day’s pay, who will
refuse bribes, who will not make up his facts, and who has learned his
Salvo readers, Lewis’ “Flatlanders” image is one that strikes me as memorable because it is so vivid; when I read it,  I can imagine that a Flatlander would indeed be flabbergasted in his effort to conceive of a cube, just as we are under- qualified ( as humans) to grasp the concept of a triune God. Do any other particularly powerful Lewis images come to mind as you recall favorite passages?

Slave Master

One of the most-read articles on the Salvo website is Slave Master: How Pornography Drugs & Changes Your Brain by Donald L. Hilton, Jr.. That article got a bit of a spike last week when it was linked to from The Huffington Post. Go figure. It’s pretty good, except she forgets to mention a few of the other reasons porn is harmful. Example: In a day and age where we can’t even show a horse being whipped on a TV show without having to put some sort of disclaimer in the credits, it’s odd that no one seems to care about the actors in these videos. Because, even if these women (and men) are getting paid and they are acting on their own free will, these real people are most definitely being harmed emotionally AND physically. Men and women thinking through the issue should remember that too. This is something that Shelley’s ministry faces every day. The Story of Shelley Lubben, Former Porn Star by Judith Reisman.

Teaser from the next issue of Salvo–Interview with Jennifer Roback Morse of the Ruth Institute

Ok, I may get in trouble for posting this early, but it’s really good and it also addresses something that is very much in the news these days (see previous post by Terrell Clemmons).

You’ve become a go-to person on the topic of same-sex marriage. People often argue that we should just let same-sex couples do what they want, since they’re not hurting anyone. What do you say to them?

We actually are allowing them to do whatever they want. What we’re not allowing them to do is redefine the institution of marriage to be a genderless institution. We’re not allowing them to take over the primary institution of society, which defines parenthood and defines the relationships between the generations.

Many arguments around this issue are confused between the personal, private purposes of marriage and the public purpose of the institution of marriage. The public purpose of marriage is to attach mothers and fathers to their children and to one another. It’s an issue of justice that everybody in society recognizes, that these two people are the parents of the child and nobody else is. Not grandma or the babysitter or a previous boyfriend, or all the people who might possibly show up wanting to be the parent. No. These two people are the parents of the child. That’s what marriage is designed to do: to attach to the biological mother the man who is the father of her child. And the marriage institution has social and legal norms of sexual exclusivity and permanence attached to it. Those are key features of marriage.

If you look at same-sex couples, both at what they say and their behavior, neither permanence nor sexual exclusivity plays the same significant role. In other words, if you’re in a union that’s intrinsically not procreative, sexual exclusivity is not as important. Once you start thinking like that, you’ll see that everything people offer as reasons why same-sex couples should be “allowed” to get married—all of the reasons are private purposes. Sometimes it’s nothing more than how it will make them feel. It’s not the business of law to make people feel a certain way. When you see that redefining marriage is going to, in fact, redefine the meaning of parenthood, removing biology as the basis for parenthood and replacing it with legal constructions—then you see that there is quite a lot at stake in getting the definition of marriage right.

Is this well thought out and logical answer actually hateful? Is it right that a business sharing this view will get bullied around by activist politicians? The answer is of course no. You should check out the Ruth Institute website too.

You should also subscribe to Salvo today so that you can read this entire interview! And check back often for more info on the next issue.

Four Holy Gospels

At the beginning of the summer, I was lucky enough to visit the White Stone Gallery, an art gallery in Manayunk near Philadelphia, for David Chang’s display Manuscripts. Chang combined various coloring techniques with calligraphy to create quiet reflections on snippets of Scripture. You can probably make out a few of the words from the visual at the right ( this piece outlines the fruits of the Spirit), but the picture obviously can’t compare to seeing Chang’s pieces up close.

While at WSG, I also saw my very first original Makato Fujimura painting; I tell

Fujimura’s Charis-Kairos (The Tears of Christ)

 you I don’t think I’ve ever seen such vibrant color! Fujimura uses a technique called Nihonga, an artistic tradition practiced for centuries in Japan that actually is a form of watercolor. Along with the paints themselves, rock pigments,  ground from natural minerals, shells,  and sometimes semiprecious stone,  are crushed into surfaces. Fujimura is also fond of using gold leaf in his paintings.

I’m sure you won’t be able to resist doing a little bit of online digging to find out more about Fujimura, but I wanted to direct you to one of his most exciting projects, the Four Gospels Project. You can access the website here.

In honor of the King James Version Bible’s 400th anniversary in 2011 ( read a Touchstone article commemorating the occasion here), Crossway commissioned Fujimura to illuminate a special leather-bound edition of the four gospels.  The project includes five major pieces and detailed “drop caps” which introduce many of the chapters. The website desribes this innovative project as follows:  “It is this unprecedented marriage of a modern, usually secular art form with ancient scripture that most interests Fujimura, who aims to depict ‘the greater reality that the Bible speaks of… for the pure sake of integrating faith and art in our current pluralistic, multicultural world.'”

Happy summer Salvo readers!


Yefemiya Goes to The Library

(Intern 2 points out the hopefully symbiotic relationship between public libraries and private discernment.)

Yesterday a Facebook Friend of mine posted a story about finding a library book that had undergone a little DIY expurgation. Someone who’d checked out the book previously had taped blank bits of paper over every description of a pretty girl character. The Friend posted one of the covered descriptions in its entirety. It said basically that the girl was slender and graceful, and mentioned the shades of her hair and skin. That was all.

Because this Friend is a homeschool grad who might have been in my church youth group had she not lived in another state, I’m going to go ahead and call her Yefemiya. And while I’ve known a number of Yefemiyas and McHaleys whose mothers or fathers might have censored their library books with blank pieces of paper (and not de-censored them upon return. No one, at least, seems to have been capable of breaking out a black Sharpie for this purpose), this Yefemiya and her parents found it hilarious. And silly.

I find this hilarious and silly, too. In fact, the thought of this story even now makes me break out into huge, heaving breaths of laughter that are the physical equivalent of sobs. In a moment Intern 1, who shares the office, is going to be looking at me strangely.

But there it is. Yefemiya found an innocuous book in the library that was censored by another library patron.

Maybe it is debatable that the taped-over passages in the book were innocuous, but it is not debatable that the book, a public resource, was censored by one person, by an individual.

To be fair, this individual may have simply forgotten to remove the papers before returning the book. But it is not impossible that the individual left them in deliberately for the benefit of other patrons.

It’s not impossible that the papers were left in deliberately, because the attitude behind such an action is very much a present and living thing.

This is the attitude that the public library, a resource operated for the benefit of every single person in the community, should remove from availability any materials an individual deems problematic. And this is not what the library is for.

I am not saying that some materials are not objectively problematic, or that all materials should be of unquestionable access to all patrons. In fact, I am highly in favor of “issue” picture books being given their own shelf, separate and apart from the rest of the children’s section, so that I can set my future children loose to choose books without worrying that they’ll come back with “Lacey’s Uncle Was An Aunt.” But it is not within the library’s proper authority, or sphere, if you will, to remove “Lacey’s Uncle Was An Aunt” from circulation entirely.

This is not what the library is for. The library is there to provide the materials that suit its capacity and the demands of the community as a whole. Staff cannot and do not prevent patrons from using the whole library system to obtain materials that their library does not stock.

The public library exists to freely provide information and resources to the public.

We, as the public, are then free to choose what we take and what we do not take. We are free to be discerning.

We, not the library, are responsible for overseeing what our children are exposed to. We are free to help them be discerning.

These are our rights and responsibilities as individual library patrons. Or as library non-patrons (it’s a beautiful thing, our liberty to abstain).

The library, not us, makes materials available either remotely or immediately available to everyone. The library is not the gatekeeper.

We can be the gatekeepers for ourselves and those for whom we are responsible. We cannot make the library be the gatekeeper for others. And we cannot be the gatekeeper for others themselves.

It is well within a parent’s right to censor the library book their child borrowed in a way that does not permanently deface or damage the book, which is after all Continue reading

Dignity Lost

This past weekend, some Salvo staff attended a conference hosted by
the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity at Trinity International
University titled “Reclaiming Human Dignity.” I’ve included some of my
thoughts below. But Salvo readers, you really should check out the
speakers from the past weekend ( see links at the bottom of this post) ; they all were powerful speakers with interesting things to say. Who knows ? Maybe if we’re lucky CBHD may even post some videos from this weekend’s conference online.

Freedom, equality, progress, choice, Women’s Health

Open any newspaper or online journal that has even the slightest of
political inclinations and you are guaranteed a conversation involving
some of the above buzz words. “Women’s Health” has been a hot topic in
our country since before President Obama’s HHS mandate; in fact the
articulation of policy specifically relevant to women is something
almost synonymous with the American story – think back to the women’s
suffrage movement and the Civil Rights movement. Thanks to public
discourse in pursuit of equality, women have the vote, access to fair
employment opportunities, compensation for maternity leave – the list
goes on and on.

Some current discussions of Women’s Health (the topic that dominates
campaign slogans and public policy alike) also claim equality as their
ultimate goal; unfortunately as Charmaine Yoest, President of
Americans United For Life, noted in her talk “ Women Alone: Feminism’s
False Promise and the Decline of Dignity,” from this weekend’s
Reclaiming Dignity conference at the Center for Bioethics and Human
Dignity, many 21st century Americans assume that true equality for
women (whether it be in political, marital, or occupational spheres)
can only be upheld through the defense of one freedom : the freedom to
choose – the freedom to have an abortion.

Ms. Yoest wanted to open her talk with a question Dorothy Sayers posed
when asked to speak on the validity of the women’s suffrage movement:
“Are women human?” Sayers meant her question (and book title) as a
witty response to a culture bent on denying women the vote; I suggest
broadening Sayer’s question and using it as a tool for a little
self-examination: Are women and men human? Can we claim humanity when
we are intent upon basing a woman’s value and public usefulness on our
ability to end another human life? Can we claim humanity when we
reduce women to a discussion of their biological functions?

When we continue to insist on the political necessity of a woman’s
right to choose, we not only fail to defend the lives of the unborn,
we deny the dignity of all human life. Insistence on the “freedom” of
choice only continues the commodification of both women and men. By
treating fertility, a natural process involving both men and women, as
a problem to be solved, what else do we do but continue the modern
trend of atomizing the individual?

Both private and public conversations about “Women’s Health,” cannot
be limited to discussions on abortion. Honest discourse about Women’s
Health should include that which is relevant to both sexes – life
itself. One cannot speak of Women’s Health and not speak of education,
unemployment rates, public safety, family structures, faith
communities, and the cost of living. One cannot speak of a real woman
without affirming her position in a local community, in which her
choices and relationships result in very real consequences for her and
for that community. Are our mothers, sisters, and neighbors faceless
abstractions whose sexuality can be separated from their souls and their bodies? Public discourse on “Women’s Health” that focuses only on abortion aims to give women equality; instead it has contributed to a loss of all human

Conference Speakers:

Read Paige Cunningham, Executive Director for the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity here on Salvo and here in the CBHDs archives.

Check out Charmaine Yoest’s article on Planned Parenthood from the National Review here.

Read this interview with Pia de Selenni on Christian Feminism from the Catholic Education Resource Center

Check out this article from the CBHD archives on infertility from C. Ben Mitchell.