Eric Voegelin on Romans 13

The following “Theoretical Inquiry into Romans 13” has been taken from Eric Voegelin, Hitler and the Germans, translated and edited by Detlev Clemens and Brendan Purcell, University of Missouri Press, 2003, 178-183. This is from a lecture Voegelin gave at the University of Munich in the summer of 1964. I have taken the liberty of breaking up long paragraphs. I’ll share another contrarian interpretation of Romans 13 next week.—Anthony G. Flood

Image result for Eric Voegelin, Hitler and the GermansAnd now, in concluding this investigation on the Evangelical side, a theoretical inquiry into Romans 13 for the Evangelical part, and then for the Catholic part an inquiry into the theological idea of the corpus mysticum Christi, so that the decadence I have repeatedly spoken of will come to light.

In all the documents, Evangelical and Catholic, with which those belonging to the communities were enjoined to obey Hitler, there are two texts from the Bible invoked by the clergy in order to command obedience to the authorities. Among the two, on the Catholic side, in the documents I will present to you next time, the fourth commandment is preferred. That commandment is “Honor your father and your mother.” This father and mother is now interpretatively expanded as “Honor the state, carry out its laws, obey the authorities!”

Please note that. Not a word of all that is in the fourth commandment—for the good historical reason that precisely in the covenant of Sinai, within which the Decalogue was announced, the people existed under God and not under authorities. There was no occasion for speaking about having to obey any kind of authorities at all. So it is unhistoric and anachronistic, and if such an alteration of an interpretative kind were made to a text in a secular context by a scholar, one would say: Absolutely barefaced falsification of the text!  When theologians do it, then it is the church.

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Do atheists have an excuse?

In a short post few months ago, Bill Vallicella argued that “If God exists, and one is an atheist, then one is ignorant of God, but it does not follow that one is culpably ignorant.” (Italics added.)

Bill takes his definition of “culpable ignorance” from a Catholic dictionary: ignorance is blameworthy if the ignorant one could have “cleared up” his ignorance, but chose not to. “One is said to be simply (but culpably) ignorant,” the dictionary says, “if one fails to make enough effort to learn what should be known.”

Bill applies this to the atheist this way:

I hold that there is vincible ignorance on various matters. But I deny that atheists are vincibly ignorant. Some might be, but not qua atheists. Whether or not God exists, one is not morally culpable for denying the existence of God. Nor do I think one is morally culpable if one doubts the existence of God.

Bill acknowledges that his exculpation of the professing atheist “puts me at odds with St. Paul, at least on one interpretation of what he is saying at Romans 1: 18-20.”

I’ll say! As Bill wrote in the post he linked to: “There are sincere and decent atheists, and they have plenty of excuse for their unbelief. The best of them, if wrong in the end, are excusably wrong.”

Continue reading “Do atheists have an excuse?”

God has spoken. “So what?,” you might ask.

Forty years ago an atheist drew a sound inference:

Working from the premise that an omniscient, infallible being exists and that this being has revealed a proposition to man, it is a short, logical—and uncontroversial—step to conclude that this proposition is worthy of belief. . . . If the proposition comes from an infallible, nondeceitful God, it cannot be false; therefore, it must be true. George Smith, Atheism: the Case against God, Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books 1979, 172. New edition with a foreword by Lawrence M. Krauss 2016

Atheism - The Case Against God.jpgSince the ultimate ground for drawing inferences (including Smith’s) is the existence of the God of the Bible, I take every proposition I find in the Bible to be God-communicated and therefore worthy of belief. To the best of my ability I regiment my thinking in accordance with the information they convey from God’s mind to mine.

So I agree with Smith, not on his authority but on Jesus’:

Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Matthew 4:4 (ESV)

That’s how it will be when God governs the Earth. (Jesus said “shall,” not merely “ought to.”) As Isaiah prophesied:

And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. Isaiah 30:21 (ESV)

Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven! Matthew 6:10 (ESV)

Going forward, I’ll be exploring what that regimentation means. My conclusions won’t please all visitors, even the friends among them. But since I’m morally certain that there are more grains in the bottom of my hour glass than the top, people-pleasing cannot be my priority. Ephesians 6:6. Love the truth, I say, and let the chips fall where they may.

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George H. Smith

As for what Smith (and others) thought he achieved in that book: his metaphysics of “natural necessity,” epistemology of “reason,” and ethics of “life” (or “happiness”) jointly constituted the philosophy he adduced in support of what he called “critical atheism.” By its internal incoherence it disqualified itself from being a reasonable basis for affirming or denying anything. I exposed that incoherence thirty years ago. The curious among you may read that exposé on my old site.

“Your word is truth,” the Word said.

Jesus prayed those words to His Father a few hours before His crucifixion. (John 17:17; see also Psalm 119:160: “The sum of your words is truth”). He probably meant all the thoughts the Father had ever communicated to His created image-bearers. He asked the Father to sanctify His disciples (set them apart) in the truth (ἀλήθεια, aletheia).

But He had also said, “I am the way (ὁδός, hodos), the truth, and the life (ζωή, zoe).” (John 14:6) So when He prayed “Your word (λόγος, logos) is truth,” Jesus could as easily also have meant Himself, for He is also the Word of God. (John 1:1) Not figuratively, or poetically, but actually. When Pilate asked Him, “What is truth?,” He denied him the privilege of hearing what Thomas heard: “I am [identical with] the truth and life.”

The Truth of God the Father is expressed in the Word. An excellent translation of the Greek λόγος (logos ) is “expression.” Jesus expresses or “projects” the Father perfectly to us. He’s the invisible God’s εἰκών (eikon) or express image (Colossians 1:15). Jesus, the Son of God, is the “exact imprint (χαρακτήρ, charakter) of God’s nature (hypostaseos, ὑποστάσεως, person, substance). That’s why “If you had known me you would have known my Father also.” (John 14: 7) He’s the perfect expression of the Father, His Character, His Truth.

Jesus’ life is the light (phos) of men (anthropos, not andros). (John 1:3) King David, whose son He was, was divinely inspired to express this insight into the organic link between illuminating Light and Life: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” (Psalm 36:9)

If we love wisdom, the wisdom of God (the only wisdom worth seeking), then Jesus is our philosophical (wisdom-loving) GPS.

Jesus declared that “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7) But as great as that joy is, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth,” wrote the Apostle John under divine inspiration. (3 John 1:4)

How often do our lives occasion this joy in God?

“We were the first fascists”: from Garvey to Farrakhan

On August 13, 1920 Marcus Garvey presided at the convention of the United Negro Improvement Association held at Madison Square Garden in New York City. There he promulgated the Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World. Its 54 points comprise the farthest thing from a fascist manifesto.

And yet, as my friend Hugh Murray noted a quarter-century ago, Garvey “admired . . . leading anti-communists, such as Mussolini. Indeed, in 1937 Garvey proudly proclaimed of his Universal Negro Improvement Association, ‘We were the first fascists.’[1]

Here’s the full quote:

We were the first Fascists, when we had 100,000 disciplined men, and were training children, Mussolini was still an unknown. Mussolini copied our Fascism.[2]

He said this in 1937, after Mussolini consolidated his rape of Ethiopia.

While many liberals [Murray continues] are the first to hurl the word “fascist” at those with whom they disagree, they usually ignore the fascism of blacks, even when publicly advocated.[3]

A few years after Hugh wrote those words, King’s College Professor of American and English Literature Paul Gilroy came out with “Black Fascism” (Transition, Indiana UPress, 2000, 70-91), a scholarly monograph on Garvey’s boast, the first instance of Black public advocacy of fascism. I recommend it to students of this overlooked chapter of Black American history.

George Lincoln Rockwell, center

On June 25, 1961 American Nazi Party Commander George Lincoln Rockwell sat in the Uline Arena, Washington, DC (where the Beatles would give their first US concert a few years later). He was there at the invitation of Nation of Islam (NOI) leader Elijah Muhammad. Thousands were in attendance. During the collection, Rockwell shouted:

George Lincoln Rockwell gives $20!

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“The Godless Delusion”: my truth-in-advertising concern

Image result for Patrick Madrid and Kenneth HensleyA Catholic Challenge to Modern Atheism is the subtitle of Patrick Madrid and Kenneth Hensley‘s 2010 The Godless DelusionI applaud their popular presentation of the presuppositional approach to Christian apologetics in the course of taking down contemporary atheists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and many others. They rack these naturalistic bowling pins and knock them down, with strike after strike. Readers can cull a rich bibliography from the reference notes.

But what is distinctively Catholic about their challenge to atheism?

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Patrick Madrid

Granted, Madrid and Hensley are Catholics. So are some (but not all) of the authors they cite in illustration of their arguments. Paragraphs of The Catechism of the Catholic Church are cited on many of the book’s pages. But, unlike virtually every other book by Madrid, it’s not a primer of Catholic apologetics, that is, a case for joining the Roman Catholic communion.

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Kenneth Hensley

They argue that the Christian worldview alone makes sense of our sense-making. But that approach to apologetics has been a Protestant, largely Reformed (Calvinist), enterprise for more than a century. Madrid and Hensley do not make that clear. Continue reading ““The Godless Delusion”: my truth-in-advertising concern”

Christ, our philosophical GPS

Image result for christ the wisdom of godThe Apostle Paul speaks of “gnosis falsely so called” (1 Timothy 6:20). Why not also “philosophy falsely so called”? How would that differ from philosophy according to the elements of this world? (Colossians 2:8)

And what should stop a Christian who accepts Paul’s line of reasoning from suggesting “misosophy” as le mot juste for the false gnosis, the foolishness, the vain babblings?

Taking Christ’s words seriously, we conclude that neutrality toward Him and his claims is not possible. It is a self-deceptive feint. “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters” (Matthew 12:30). One is either in Christ or at enmity with Him (Ephesians 2:16), a hostility only He can overcome.

Therefore, a discourse rooted in the fatal conceit, namely, that the term “unaided reason” has real reference, is not open to the claims of Christ. Its proponent hates Christ and does so “without reason” (John 15:25, alluding to Psalm 35:19).

The fatal conceit of “unaided reason” is incapable of taking Christ’s self-identification seriously. It not only bakes no bread, but it is a vine that bears no edible or press-worthy grapes. Continue reading “Christ, our philosophical GPS”

Brand Blanshard: rationalism’s “working hypothesis” and the Van Tilian verdict

Image result for brand blanshardIn the discourse we call philosophy, noncognitive interests are in play, interests that compete with, threaten to interfere with if not overwhelm the interest in knowing the truth.  Brand Blanshard—the one member of my pantheon of former philosophical heroes whom I could have met, but now regret never having exerted myself to do so—acknowledged their efficacy:

What our intelligence wants is, of course, the truth.  What the rest of our nature asks from our intelligence is not what is true but what will satisfy. By that we mean what will appease our impulsive and emotional nature, our longing to be liked, our desire to see our future secure, our character respected, our faith vindicated, our party shown to be the party of sober sense, or nation triumphant. When one considers how hidden and barricaded the truth commonly is, how definite it is, allowing no alternative, how feeble is our passion for it, and how overwhelming the tendencies in us to look for it through distorting prisms, the wonder is not that most of us are irrational but that some of us are as rational as we are.[1]

He denied, however, that non-cognitive interests smothered the interest in truth. He thought it worthwhile to cultivate the latter to see (almost experimentally, ironically enough) how far one could go if one gave reason its head.

Unlike Blanshard’s empiricist and pragmatist critics, however, I affirm an irreducibly distinct love of truth. But that’s because I presuppose that the One who is Truth (John 14:6) created the context within which human truth-seeking takes place and makes sense.  Continue reading “Brand Blanshard: rationalism’s “working hypothesis” and the Van Tilian verdict”

Philosophy: its descent from loving wisdom to studying problems

The fifth footnote to the Wikipedia article on “Philosophy” cites an introductory textbook as follows:

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Philosophy is a study of problems which are ultimate, abstract and very general. These problems are concerned with the nature of existence, knowledge, morality, reason and human purpose.[1]

What is the relationship between the study of problems and the love of wisdom? Has the former been finally detached from the latter, assuming the one arose out of the practice of the other?

If the progressive, historical untethering of the study from the love is a fact, is it worthwhile to evaluate it, or need we only adjust to it? May we ask about it critically or would it be unfruitful, even unwise (in the sense of imprudent, impractical, or pointless) to do so?  Did not Pythagoras, who coined the term, intend for the love to guide the study? Did he not assume that the study flowed out of and expressed the love?

Since the very beginning of the discourse called “philosophical,” its practitioners have held one conceit, namely, that reason is autonomous and therefore can identify, study, and perhaps solve general and fundamental problems.

Image result for rescher the strife of systemsEven if self-identifying “philosophers” disagree about proffered solutions, they would all agree (if asked) that such diversity, what Nicholas Rescher called the “strife of systems,” can in no way discredit the conceit. I say “would,” for taking that conceit for granted is so ingrained that it takes considerable research to find its self-conscious articulation and defense.

Consequently there’s rarely been an occasion for philosophical rivals to express such solidarity. They hold that conceit implicitly, but absolutely. For them it is non-negotiable—ethically, metaphysically, and epistemologically—and, as such, invulnerable to discrediting.

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Bill Vallicella on Cornelius Van Til: An open mind and heart

Image result for bill vallicellaBill Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher, is currently reading Cornelius Van Til’s The Defense of the Faith, and that delights me no end. Bill was the first philosopher to welcome my old site (now 15 years old) and greet the launching of this one (which occasioned his republishing a generous and stimulating critique of one of my efforts).

I thank Dave Lull (the “Omnipresent Wisconsin Librarian,” now retired) for alerting me not only to Bill’s “Van Til and Romans 1:18-20,” but also to “God, the Cosmos, Other Minds: In the Same Epistemological Boat? The latter is Bill’s response to my “God: “behind the scenes” (or “under the floorboards”) of every argument.” (I’m grateful to Dave for many other unsolicited yet invaluable leads he has sent my way over the years.)Image result for dave lull

After reading the second post, though, I wonder whether after a few chapters Bill’s thrown Defense against the wall in exasperation—one of my reactions, decades ago—figuratively speaking, of course.

In a blog post I can address only some of the issues Bill raise. That is, what follows does not answer Bill point for point. I’ll only suggest the lines of a fuller response.

Bill is ambivalent about Van Til: his “presuppositionalism is intriguing even if in places preposterous.” Bill doesn’t specify what merits that assessment. In any case Van Til’s distinctive charge was that all non-Christian thought—including much that is professedly Christian but infected with non-Christian presuppositions—is preposterous at its roots.

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