Thursday, March 15, 2012

Reflections on Truth and the Current American Crisis

To say that what is is not, or that what is not is, is false; but to say that what is is, and what is not is not, is true; and therefore also he who says that a thing is or is not will say either what is true or what is false.

—Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1011b 25

One of the sad problems of America today is our tendency to reject that which is old on the grounds that it is old.  We are automatically interested in what is new.  Have a two week old computer?  Junk!  Have a 2012 car?  Trade it in!  Talk about Greeks living close to 2500 years ago – are you crazy?  The problem is, just because mechanical items become quickly replaceable and new science replaces older views of science as our abilities to observe become more precise, does not mean that what is true becomes obsolete.


In fact, if something is true, it is always true even if at some time it was not known by a culture.  Slavery, for example, was not "right" in the times of the Greeks and Romans and wrong after 1865.  It was always wrong even if some cultures did not recognize this.  It will be wrong in the future, even if a future civilization decides that all people with an IQ of less than 125 can be treated as an object.

Likewise, the Earth did not begin revolving around the Sun beginning with the Copernican system, but prior to that was stationary with the Sun revolving around it.  The Earth always revolved around the Sun, whether people were aware of it or not.

The point of stating the obvious is, despite what a person may say, it is either true or false depending on whether it accurately speaks of what is.

Truth and American Discourse

I think this is important when it comes to considering the political discourse in America, both public and private.  When a person says a thing is, he or she speaks truly if that is correct, but speaks falsely if it is not correct.

In terms of the current crisis, we have people who are saying that access to contraceptives and abortion in Health Care is a Choice, Choice is a right, and therefore everyone must pay for these services, even if they believe contraception and abortion are morally wrong.

The problem is, "Freedom of Choice" is a meaningless phrase if it is not defined.  So is the term "Rights."  During the Civil War (and even with some people I have met in real life) declared that the issue of the war was the issue of State's Rights and to say the war was about slavery was to oversimplify.  The question though is, The Right to do what?  Um, well… the right of the State to determine whether or not slavery should be permitted.  The problem however was that if Slavery was objectively wrong, no state had the right to permit it to begin with.

The Choice to Do What?

Likewise today, people like Pelosi champion the freedom of "Choice."  The problem is, we can ask the same question, The Choice to do what?  Whether or not we have that freedom, depends on what is.

In terms of abortion, the action being defended is the right of a woman to destroy the fetus in her body.  Whether or not one is free to do this depends on whether the fetus is a person or not.  We already recognize that one person may not have arbitrary control over another person's life.  If the state must end a person's life, it may only be because the crime is heinous and this is the only possible way to protect innocents from harm.  I don't have the right to shoot a neighbor because he plays the stereo too damn loud late at night.

So, if a woman has the freedom of "choice" regarding abortion, it assumes as proven that the fetus is not a person.  The fetus either is or is not a person.  If the fetus is a person, then whoever says the fetus is not a person does not speak truth.

History Shows the Horrors of Treating Persons as Non-Persons

This is not some academic philosophical issue.  The 20th century's worst regime declared that Jews and Slavs and Gypsies were not persons, and went out of their way to enslave and eventually destroy them.  We recognize that the Nazis did not speak the truth in declaring that the Jews were not persons and thus to treat the Jews as non humans was horrendously wrong.

I don't bring this up to say America is on the fast track to becoming the next Nazi Germany.  Instead I say this to bring home an important point – The government does NOT have the authority to determine who is and who is not a person.  Personhood is independent of what the government decrees.  If the government declares that a person is a non-person, then that government does horrific evil.

Partisanship Replaces Truth Today… But Catholic Moral Teaching Predates the Ideologies We are Accused of Embracing

The problem is, in popular thought, nobody even thinks of truth any more.  Nowadays, it is all partisanship… the ideology one likes is right and those who challenge that ideology are maliciously wrong, seeking to impose their views out of a lust for power and a hatred to whatever the ideologue invokes.

As a result, we see that the Catholic teachings of morality, which has existed far longer than the existence of the United States of America, is labeled as "Right Wing, Republican Propaganda."  The belief that the fetus is a person and the belief that sexual relations are only permissible between husband and wife were taught in the first century AD.

Our beliefs were taught long before there was a Republican Party in existence or a Right Wing vs. Left Wing conflict or even a United States.  We do not teach them because of a lust for power (we taught them when Christianity was hated by the Roman Empire) or a hatred of women (the Pagan Romans derided Christianity as a "religion for women").  We teach them because we believe this is how the God of All intended it to be when he created humanity – and that which goes against what God intended is harmful to persons whether they recognize the teaching of God or not.

Regardless of whether or not people today accept the Catholic moral teaching as true or not, this is what Catholics do believe.  Because all of us are called to follow what is true, and Catholics do believe their moral teaching is true, Catholics must do what they believe is true, regardless of whether the state agrees or not.

An Unjust Law is No Law at All

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, some 500 years before the United States came into being:

I answer that, As Augustine says (De Lib. Arb. i, 5) "that which is not just seems to be no law at all": wherefore the force of a law depends on the extent of its justice. Now in human affairs a thing is said to be just, from being right, according to the rule of reason. But the first rule of reason is the law of nature, as is clear from what has been stated above (91, 2, ad 2). Consequently every human law has just so much of the nature of law, as it is derived from the law of nature. But if in any point it deflects from the law of nature, it is no longer a law but a perversion of law.

But it must be noted that something may be derived from the natural law in two ways: first, as a conclusion from premises, secondly, by way of determination of certain generalities. The first way is like to that by which, in sciences, demonstrated conclusions are drawn from the principles: while the second mode is likened to that whereby, in the arts, general forms are particularized as to details: thus the craftsman needs to determine the general form of a house to some particular shape. Some things are therefore derived from the general principles of the natural law, by way of conclusions; e.g. that "one must not kill" may be derived as a conclusion from the principle that "one should do harm to no man": while some are derived therefrom by way of determination; e.g. the law of nature has it that the evil-doer should be punished; but that he be punished in this or that way, is a determination of the law of nature.

Summa Theologica (I-II. Q.95. A.2)

Because we believe that the current HHS mandate violates the law of nature, we believe the mandate is a perversion of law.  People may argue that what was written by a medieval theologian can be ignored, but that goes back to the original problem Americans have of rejecting something which is true because it is old.

Because we recognize the principle, "one should do harm to no man," and we recognize that the current law does harm to man, Catholics are not unreasonable in opposing this law, because it is no law at all and has no force outside of the state using coercion to force compliance.  Since the First Amendment forbids the government from laws concerning the establishment of religion and the free exercise of religion, we can say that even under the Constitution we are governed by, this mandate is no law at all, but an act of coercion and tyranny.

Thus, even if one disagrees with what the Catholic Church teaches, one must reasonably oppose this mandate as being nothing more than tyranny imposed.

Conclusion: Truth and Law

These considerations are important and not merely theoretical.  If the government is to create a good law, a just law, then it must be a law grounded in what is true.  The government cannot make truth however.  The government can only follow truth.  If a government follows truth and grounds the law in truth, it is a good government. 

Some may argue that the Catholic position is not true and not grounded in truth.  So you disagree with me.  But disagreement with me is not proving your position to be true.  The Catholic Church certainly has written vast amounts on why she holds what she believes.  Those who disagree with her in this current crisis don't even bother to prove what they believe.  "Choice" is repeated as a mantra, and people are not allowed to choose as to whether America should embrace "Choice."

Ultimately, many believers are being forced to accept something they believe is a bad and unjust law, not grounded in truth, but in the embrace of vice.  Such a mandate is no just law and those who recognize this as wrong are not bound to obey it.  The government may coerce and exact penalties, but this is nothing more than the use of force to make people comply.

We used to recognize that was tyranny.  Now, nobody seems to recognize what we have lost because we have forgotten long held truths.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

—From the Declaration of Independence

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