Beyond Politics: A Paradox



Reading a memoir of Vaclav Havel, this written in 1986:

“I think the reasons for the crisis in which the world now finds itself are lodged in something deeper than a particular way of organizing the economy or a particular political system.  The West and the East, though different in so many ways, are going through a single, common crisis.  Reflecting on that crisis should be the starting point for every attempt to think through a better alternative.  Where does the cause of this crisis lie?  Vaclav Belohradsky puts it very nicely when he writes about this late period as one of conflict between an impersonal, anonymous, irresponsible, and uncontrollable juggernaut of power (the power of “mega machinery”), and the elemental and original interests of man as a concrete individual.

    I too feel that somewhere here there is a basic tension out of which the present global crisis has grown.  At the same time, I’m persuaded that this conflict–and the increasingly hypertrophic impersonal power itself–is directly related to the spiritual condition of modern civilization.  This condition is characterized by loss: the loss of metaphysical certainties, of an experience of the transcendental, of any super personal moral authority, and of any kind of higher  horizon.  It is strange but ultimately quite logical: as soon as man began considering himself the source of the highest meaning in the world, and the measure of everything, the world began to lose its human dimension, and man began to lose control of it.

    We are going through a great departure from God which has no parallel in history.  As far as I know, we are living in the middle of the first atheistic civilization.  This departure has its own complex intellectual and cultural causes: it is related to the development of science, technology, and human knowledge, and to the whole modern upsurge of interest in the human intellect and the human spirit.  I feel that this arrogant anthropocentrism of modern man, who is convinced he can know everything and bring everything under his control, is somewhere in the background of the present crisis.  It seems to me that if the world is to change for the better it must start with a change in human consciousness, in the very humanness of modern man.

    Man must in some way come to his senses……He must discover again, within himself, a deeper sensSe of responsibility toward the world, which means responsibility toward something higher than himself.  Modern science has realized this (though not the proprietors of “the scientific world view”), but it cannot find a remedy.  The power to awaken this new responsibility is beyond its reach; such a thing can be resolved neither scientifically nor technically.  It may seem like a paradox, but one I think will prove true, that only through directing ourselves toward the moral and the spiritual, based on respect for some “extramundane” authority–for the order of nature or the universe, for a moral order and its super personal origin, for the absolute–can we arrive at a state in which life on this earth is no longer threatened by some form of “megasuicide” and becomes bearable, has, in other words, a genuinely human dimension.

Continue reading Beyond Politics: A Paradox

Mixing Church and Politics

From a 2009 address by John Lennox, in answer to a question about what he thought about mixing church and politics:

“I would ask you to think about what history shows us and what it actually involves following Christ.  Because there is a sense here…where thoughtful Christians have come to different opinions… It seems to me that one of the tragedies is, well there are two tragedies, and they are related.  One of them is getting it into our heads that there somehow is an ideal form of political government that we have reached. (You need to read the book of Daniel, chapter 2 to understand that political systems have different values.)  Some are better than others, but to make one of absolute value and deem it Christian can be a very dangerous thing.  It’s a bit like denominationalism, isn’t it?  And my concern is for the gospel.  And so the question I would ask back at this whole kind of context, just in my own situation, is this: “Is what I am doing and the action I am taking making clear what the gospel is, or is it muddying it?”

A Plague is Not Just a Medical Event

Eight months into this pandemic, we sometimes seem to be no nearer to knowing what’s going on than we were at the beginning.

Lockdowns vs. no lockdowns; masks vs. no masks; hydroxychloroquine vs. remdesivir; opening schools vs. closing schools, etc., etc. Every day, top-level experts express significantly divergent viewpoints on each of these questions. One study published one day concludes one thing; another study published the next concludes the opposite, and critics attack both. One newspaper analyzes the latest data and claims that things are getting better; another newspaper, looking at the same data, laments they have never been worse. Meanwhile, fundamental and simple questions, such as how this virus is transmitted, or where it originated, are still the subject of ongoing research and intense debate.

All of which is to say, science is operating exactly as it always has.

…Most people seem to agree that the pandemic is a scientific problem that needs a scientific solution. This is true, but only partially. To view the plague as purely a scientific problem is reductive. As Andrew Sullivan noted in a recent essay, a plague is not just a medical event. It is also a “social and cultural and political” event. Plagues “insinuate themselves into every nook and cranny of our lives and psyches—from sex to shopping, from work to religion, from politics to journalism—and thereby alter them.”

…We may not know everything we would like to know about this virus, but we do know much more than we did before, and certainly more than the human race has ever known when facing a similar crisis. We have to move, and in order to move, we must select a starting point. We must make decisions based on the limited information we have, and then execute those decisions with conviction, hoping that they turn out as planned.

On the other hand, we should be aware of the sorts of errors that may cloud our judgment.

Read it all here:

Science in Politics

Today I read this excerpt from a letter C.S. Lewis wrote:

Facism and Communism, like all other evils, are potent because of the good they contain or imitate….And of course their occasion is the failure of those who left humanity starved of that particular good.  This does not for me alter the conviction that they are very bad indeed.  One of the things we must guard against is the penetration of both into Christianity—availing themselves of that very truth you have suggested and I have admitted.  Mark my words: you will presently see both a Leftist and a Rightist pseudo-theology developing— the abomination will stand where it ought not….

Unfortunately I do not have access to the complete text, because I wanted to see how Lewis expanded on what he said. But I did find an interesting, somewhat related essay on-line. From that:

Fascism and communism were the two most obvious manifestations of tyranny about which Lewis wrote, but they were far from the only kinds of tyranny about which he was concerned.8 Tyranny comes in many forms, most of which are more subtle than Stalin’s gulag or Hitler’s death camps. Lewis knew this, and his most compelling writings on tyranny for us today focus on these more subtle forms of oppression. In particular, Lewis was concerned about the tyranny that could result from the union of modern science and the modern state.
To understand the dangers of a scientific state, one must first understand something about modern science.

…Modern science is premised on the notion that all things are determined by material causes. It proposes strict laws that explain natural phenomena in terms of physical, environmental or hereditary necessities–e.g., the ball falls when dropped because of the law of gravity; the dog salivates at the sound of the bell because of environmental conditioning; the mosquito generates other mosquitoes because of its genetic code. Now no matter how necessary such materialistic determinism may be in the study of the natural world, it cannot be applied indiscriminately to humans without destroying the very possibility of knowledge and virtue. Such determinism destroys the possibility of knowledge, according to Lewis, because it undermines the validity of human reasoning;9 it destroys the possibility of virtue because it denies the free choice upon which all virtue depends.

If modern science is correct that human thought and conduct are functions of non–rational causes, then the nature of politics changes fundamentally. Under the old order, politics involved serious reflection about justice and the common good. But the more man thinks he is determined by non–rational causes, the less important serious reflection becomes. Under the new order, all that matters is achieving the end result. The only deliberation is among social science bureaucrats, and the only question is not “What is just?” but “What works?” Moreover, since the new order has dispensed with the notion of man as a moral agent, “what works” will almost inevitably be intrusive. 

…Lewis does not dispute that scientists have plenty of knowledge; the problem is that most of it is irrelevant. Political problems are preeminently moral problems, and scientists are not equipped to function as moralists. Said Lewis: “I dread specialists in power because they are specialists speaking outside their special subjects. Let scientists tell us about sciences. But government involves questions about the good for man, and justice, and what things are worth having at what price; and on these a scientific training gives a man’s opinion no added value.”17

The cardinal danger of depending on science for political solutions, then, is that science is divorced from those permanent principles of morality upon which all just political solutions depend. Indeed, words like “justice,” “virtue,” “mercy” and “duty,” are terms without meaning within the scientific framework. And so while science is not necessarily tyrannical, it can easily become a tool for tyrants because it has no firm grounding in morality. The same goes for politics: Without a firm grounding in a firm morality, politics easily slides into tyranny.

And all this got me to thinking about the irony of materialists, agnostics and atheists demanding “justice.”  What does justice even mean in that worldview?

Read it all


Utterly Fundamental

I watched a BBC production of Christ Church Choir today which included a brief interview with Dr. Allan Chapman, a science historian,  of Wadham College.  At one point he was asked “What would you say is the value of faith through your general life?”  His answer, “Utterly fundamental.”

Immediately my mind remembered C. S. Lewis’s comment, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

I Wish to be Like Jesus

A children’s prayer song:

I wish to be like Jesus,
So humble and so kind.
His words were always tender,
His voice always divine.
But no, I’m not like Jesus,
As anyone can see.
O Savior come and help me
And make me just like thee.

                                                                              Author unknown

“Indeed, I assure you that the man who does not accept the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  Mark 10:15, J.B. Phillips



Beauty, and grace, and wit are rare;
     And even intelligence:
But lovelier than hawthorn seen in May,
Or mistletoe berries on Innocent’s Day
The face that, open as heaven, doth wear —
With kindness for its sunshine there —
     Good nature and good sense.
Walter de la Mare, Inward Companion: Poems (Faber and Faber 1950).

A Few Realities about Abortion in the United States

David French:

Decades of data and decades of legal, political, and cultural developments have combined to teach us a few, simple realities about abortion in the United States:

1. Presidents have been irrelevant to the abortion rate;

2. Judges have been forces of stability, not change, in abortion law;

3. State legislatures have had more influence on abortion than Congress;

4. Even if Roe is overturned, abortion will be mostly unchanged in the U.S.; and

5. The pro-life movement has an enormous cultural advantage.

If the points above don’t seem to make sense to you, then you’re likely unfamiliar with the way that decisive numbers of Americans think about abortion—not in crystal-clear terms of life versus choice (or “baby” versus “clump of cells”), but through much hazier and subjective reasoning. This means that absolutists are consistently frustrated with the political process. Unless Americans change, that process will not yield the results they seek.

Do Pro-Lifers Who Reject Trump Have ‘Blood on their Hands’?

Science and Unwishful Thinking

A startling investigation into how a cheap, well-known drug became a political football in the midst of a pandemic

Early in the coronavirus pandemic, a survey of the world’s frontline physicians showed hydroxychloroquine to be the drug they considered the most effective at treating COVID-19 patients. That was in early April, shortly after a French study showed it was safe and effective in lowering the virus count, at times in combination with azithromycin. Next we were told hydroxychloroquine was likely ineffective, and also dangerous, and that that French study was flawed and the scientist behind it worthy of mockery. More studies followed, with contradictory results, and then out came what was hailed by some as a definitive study of 96,000 patients showing the drug was most certainly dangerous and ineffective, and indeed that it killed 30% more people than those who didn’t take it. Within days, that study was retracted, with the editor of one of the two most respected medical journals in the Western world conceding it was “a monumental fraud.” And on it went.

Not only are lay people confused; professionals are. All that seems certain is that there is something disturbing going on in our science, and that if and when the “perfect study” were to ever come along, many won’t know what to believe.

We live in a culture that has uncritically accepted that every domain of life is political, and that even things we think are not political are so, that all human enterprises are merely power struggles, that even the idea of “truth” is a fantasy, and really a matter of imposing one’s view on others. For a while, some held out hope that science remained an exception to this. That scientists would not bring their personal political biases into their science, and they would not be mobbed if what they said was unwelcome to one faction or another. But the sordid 2020 drama of hydroxychloroquine—which saw scientists routinely attacked for critically evaluating evidence and coming to politically inconvenient conclusions—has, for many, killed those hopes.

…..What is unique about the hydroxychloroquine discussion is that it is a story of “unwishful thinking”—to coin a term for the perverse hope that some good outcome that most sane people would earnestly desire, will never come to pass. It’s about how, in the midst of a pandemic, thousands started earnestly hoping—before the science was really in—that a drug, one that might save lives at a comparatively low cost, would not (emphasis mine) actually do so. Reasonably good studies were depicted as sloppy work, fatally flawed. Many have excelled in making counterfeit bills that look real, but few have excelled at making real bills look counterfeit.

Read it.

Hydroxychloroquine: A Morality Tale