Pat was a very deep thinker and read extensively. She read Jacque Ellul (Anarchy and Christianity); Tom Harper (Life after Death); Arthur Schafer (The Death of Public Morality; a Civilization in Decline); Eric Kierans (Corporations Over All); David Brin (The Postman); etc. She was most influenced by two Canadians, George Grant and Northrop Frye. She kept extensive note in her writing journal. Her comments on quotes from these writers are a window into her mind and belief system. Pat is coming from an Anglican tradition and nothing here contradicts her Anglicanism as preserved in the 39 Articles of Religion in Canadian Book of Common Prayer [https://www.anglican.ca/about/beliefs/39-articles/]
1. Ellul distinguish between true Christianity – the revealed Word of God – and religion, which he describes as man’s fumbling efforts to linkup with “the sacred.” He also points out that religion and morality are different. Religion may take many forms, often brutish and horrible. The “new demons” of today are the new religions – technology, sex, the state, etc. – in their political, economic and cultural manifestations. The machine view of man, the triumph of consumption, promiscuity, anti-democratic trends, etc., etc., are all aspects of these new religions. Much of Christianity as embodied in the traditional Church and in less formal sects is also part of religion, i.e. the misguided, because basically man-directed, attempt to capture “the sacred.” He shows that far from being a secular period, the modern era is dominated by religion. This he finds, deplorable, because religion has little to do with God…. Ellul says man is lonely for the only true “other,” the God he has lost,
2. Ellul sees three routes for the Church: the first to become rational and man-directed, dedicated to social and political reform, etc., in the mistaken belief that the modern world is actually secular and rational. The second is to recover its traditional rites and festivals, in keeping with the actual religious character of the modern world. The first approach will break the church down, the second will gain many converts. Both approaches will be equally wrong and anti-Christian. The third route is the only correct one: to rediscover and embrace the three revealed Word and reject the modern religions of the world and of the church. i.e. he sees us as being in exactly the same positions as the first century Christians.
3. With reference to Ellul’s theory of the modern sacreds: when large companies and institutions demand total human commitment (i.e. the soul) from their employees, is this because they believe in the institution as sacred ethic? Or because the whole human individual (soul) is less valued now than in past generations? It makes sense if these institutions put themselves in the place of the Church, which formerly could legitimately demand the submission of souls, since the Church was the mouthpiece of God – or thought it was.)
4. Grant shows socialism to be essentially conservative, in imposing restraints on individual freedom for the common good.
5. Grant’s description of the gradual deterioration of British conservatism seems to correspond to Ellul’s description of the gradual adulteration of Christianity. Grant’s liberal 20th century corresponds to Ellul’s century of secular religions.
6. If full humanity is the ability and intention to be responsible for one’s own actions, then modern man is being robbed of his humanity by large entities – political, social, economic – which limit his decision-making ability. This may be linked to a decreased sense of right and wrong, since taking responsibility implies the need to make moral choices. i.e., if we rely on the government to make all decisions via legislation, and do not attempt to participate, we become less human.
7. Since the U.S. is more capitalist than Canada, Americanization means further moral erosion. Schafer repeats Grant’s thesis from a socialist view point.
8. Grant gives example of a supreme court decision on abortion as raising the question of personhood in law. If fetuses are not persons, who else may be excluded? This raises fundamental questions: “ What is it, if anything, about human beings that makes the rights of equal justice their due? … What is it about any of us that makes our just due fuller than that of stones or flies or chickens or bears?”
9. That modern liberalism is a form of secularized Christianity is at the heart of the contradiction. Nietzsche pointed out that the Christian part of the relation was a vestige of the dead past, as far as intellectuals were concerned. Judeo-Christianity supplied the content of our justice – i.e., the values. Once it is recognized that these values are outmoded, what will limit human will? i.e., questions of right and wrong will no longer arise.
10. Grant concludes by saying that the task of reconciling modern science with eternal morality will take a lot of rigorous thought, a genuine philosophy. But we have neglected philosophy, and if anyone accomplishes the task, it will not be the English-speaking people.
11. Grant says that some mistakenly think our “modern western will to be the masters of the earth” is the same will animating earlier civilizations, which merely lacked our scientific development. This idea is wrong; the ancient Greeks, the Chinese, did not have the same attitude to the world as we do.
12. Technological man is subject, with all the world as object. His will is the only factor to be considered. By extension, other humans are also objects. In the traditional view, God is subject, and we exist in a special (non-object) relationship to Him – a relationship which involves absolute obligations. Since all other selves are also children of God, and since all the world is His creation, we also have obligations to other people and the world at large. We are part of them, not set apart and above.
13. Any criticism of the application of technology is difficult if not impossible, because such criticism cannot be made using the terms provided to us by our technological culture. The concepts we are used to by now do not admit the opposing concepts in their ontology (language).
14. One reads of scientists coming to believe in God despite all their training in rational objectivity, because in their study of the world they have discovered its beauty and fallen in love with it: i.e., had a vision of the world as authentic other.
15. Just finished reading Tom Harper’s Life after Death – interesting and providing food for thought, especially on the question of the resurrection of the body. Off and on I’ve thought about aging and dying, and I really don’t think I’ll enjoy it. Harper’s book contains some comforting conclusions. According to him, there is some evidence that death is not a fearful experience, but instead a transition to something wonderful. I’d better keep that in mind.
16. Primitive societies were full of taboos to hedge about the sacredness of the various forces in their lives. The modern view is that human freedom must not be restricted, so the sacredness has been denied, and reverence portrayed as superstition and needless fear.
17. Grant repeats his definition of justice as rendering to anything its due. The idea was Socratic but also is present in the Jewish idea of charity as an obligation. Christianity merely emphasized and extended the idea explicitly: and linked justice with mercy (charity) when Christ forgave his torturers. We are called to be like Christ in this, but Grant admits such perfection is impossible for all but saints.
18. Justice is the recognition of authentic otherness, equal to oneself. If the other (whatever it is) is equal, its due is equal. This restates the Golden Rule. – Since in modern thought there is no valid other, then the self reigns supreme and justice becomes merely a set of rules on mutual restrictions for our convenience.
19. Grant’s discussion of Darwin and the human mastery of the environment suggests the often-unstated underpinnings of the views of conservationists who deplore the death of species, lake, etc. What they often do not state is that these endangered species have their own goodness, their own right to exist, their own “due”. i.e. conservation = justice. It is unjust for us to destroy species and to pollute. It is just for us to use our power to conserve. The Gaia concept is basically in agreement with Grant.
20. Classic terms – true = good = beautiful. Modern terms – true = factual; beautiful = giving pleasure; good = ????
21. Grant does not finally answer the question, how to live in terms of the truth (that the world proceeds from love) in the midst of the modern paradigm of knowledge.
22. Grant also makes the point that charity cannot and should not be divorced from the satisfaction of some need in the giver. The giver’s need to give is not only his need to feel good about himself but his need to satisfy his drive towards justice. i.e. if I feel I ought to give to those less fortunate, and I do so and then feel good about it, this does not invalidate the act as an act of love. It merely is a natural reaction to the fulfillment of my own need to see justice done, and it confirms that the act has been one of justice and goodness. Those who say that satisfaction in doing good invalidates the “moral value” of the act, miss the truth that human beings have a need to see justice done, and that the need is implanted by God, and the satisfaction is both inevitable and right.
23. Grant notes that for both Platonism and Christianity, goodness (God) is finally beyond understanding. Without this humble agnosticism, Christianity can and does tend to triumphalism, i.e. to say that all is done for God’s purpose, which ends in the blasphemy that even the evil in the world is good.
24. You can’t beat midnight for those inspirations that make you think you’ve got the key to the universe, or a solution to all mankind’s ills. Here is the latest brainstorm: It is impossible to believe in absolute freedom of the will or freedom of action. Because there is no moral vacuum for human beings. However, there is a way to a kind of freedom, which not only doesn’t set aside morality, but is dependent on it. Key words are Thought, Action, Positive and Negative. First, thought, to clear away the mental rubbish and make visible the primary moral principles on which our lives must be based. Second, action — to put those principles into effect in one’s own life. In short, once you know a thing is right, it’s a sin of omission not to do it. Action is impossible without freedom to act. This means being able at any moment to give up everything, even life. “Freedom is another word for Nothing left to lose.” Problem, History has many examples of tragedies and cruelties caused by men and women who acted on their principles. Sometimes inaction would seem to be the best and safest course. However, inaction, especially that based on non-thought, leads to stagnation, and eventually nothingness. Action leads to something. Christian folklore has it that there are two places of extreme character good — positive and the bad -positive, but only one limbo for the negative: people not good enough for heaven, nor bad enough for hell. Still, is it worth it? What about thoughtful passivity? Eric had his own brainstorm recently, also concerned with freedom of the will. His view is that we are like ships on the ocean. We can’t control the external circumstances of our lives — the currents, the storms, the calms and winds. But we can make use of our sails and rudders to control the way we meet these circumstances, and we can plot our course as well as possible. This is at least a partial answer to those who wonder why God lets “bad things” happen to innocent people — floods, hurricanes, famine, accidents, etc. The way I see it, God has sent us on a journey, and while we are on that journey, He will not interfere with us. We are on our own. But I do believe we’ll end the journey someday, so this is not as heartless as it sounds.