Walking in Space on Inauguration Day

Could a person in good conscience believe logically contradictory things?

The answer is no, and I will admit no reservations. Faith and reason are one to me, and the only way to make this proposition “subjective” is to betray “logic,” and “conscience” both.

One might try to “redefine” the terms – it is often tried – but these words cannot be redefined honestly, or consistently. Each represents something that is real; that is demonstrably real, absolute, unalterable, inviolable. The truth is the truth.

Justice, too, is real; “discovered” and not “created” by men. Mercy cannot be opposed to justice.

It does not follow that we perfectly interpret these things, in the jumble of life before us; but neither does it follow that they are beyond us. We can reason through to what the just position must be, if we are chaste and thus neglect our own imagined interests.

Note I am writing here of what is just, not what is “fair.” Christ in his parables made short work of “fairness.” It is used to perform sleights of hand: to intrude on what is just by arbitrary human formulations. It is a term of power: what is fair to one man is necessarily unfair to another.

Fairness is something imposed by power. In a democracy it is considered legitimate if it is imposed by voting, so that the majority impose on the minority what they consider to be “fair.” The minority in their turn can only appeal to justice, which may or may not be rendered by some court.

Confusing the issue further, the courts have largely embraced the idea of a justice that “evolves.” Whereas, what can “evolve” cannot be justice.

Whether a judge may be corrupted with money or favors is beside the point, when his mind is more fundamentally corrupted by the ideological notions that swim in our intellectual gutters. He looks on law as a means to some desirable end: an end desirable to him and to his friends.

On this presidential inauguration day in the United States – I am looking on from the illusory safety of Canada – these matters should come to the fore. But so distorted is the contemporary imagination that we are, in the mass, thinking mostly about political advantage. It is an “us-versus-them,” being unsuccessfully resolved in an act of public pageantry.

The Coronation of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David, 1808 [Louvre, Paris]

Something like half of America is pleased, and half is displeased, by the spectacle. This, as surely any scholastic could explain, is the inevitable result of a political order in which questions finally of faith and reason are settled by voting.

In pre-democratic ages past, the pageantry of a Coronation was different in kind. For many more centuries than there has been public voting, we had agreement in principle that a king or other ruler was providential. Whoever he was, he was above party, because answerable to God. His job was not to change, but to preserve a universal order.

So well has the “democratic ideal” been implanted that the duty of obedience to “lawful authority” has become controversial. If we don’t like the authority, we can replace it. If we can’t immediately replace it, we can riot.

And yet there is a fact of life that has not changed: that worldly power is something to be endured. As Mao said, it “grows out of the barrel of a gun,” and in principle, hardly anyone today disagrees with him. It makes no difference if by voting or by some other means one gets one’s hands on the gun. Once one has it, one has it.

Christian realists never pretended that this was not unfortunately so. But against this hard fact of life, they opposed the facts of faith and reason. The moral order is unalterable, must be seen to be unalterable, must be reinforced alike in rulers and in ruled, by the mind of religion. This stood in opposition, throughout Christendom, to arbitrary political power.

It is the right and duty of the Catholic Church to stand God’s ground. She was created for that purpose, in the cause of our salvation, “that men should know the truth.” By a moral, theological, and aesthetic order, founded upon eternal verities, politics could be tamed. Right and wrong could be known, well enough to avoid destructive disputation.

For saying this, I may of course be accused of cultural imperialism. The Catholic Church and the West she created were committed from the beginning to that “law of non-contradiction” which differentiates her and it from all other cultural traditions. In Islam, Allah can change his mind. In the religions of the farther Orient, it is possible to relax in the face of “mere appearance.”

In the religion that mingles Greek and Hebrew traditions, transformed by the manifestation of Christ, there are no such escapes. We may be wrong – we may discover that we were wrong on some point of contention. But only by demonstration and proof. Truth was not politically negotiable, as among the pagans.

What now distresses me most – far away from the Potomac, on the Tiber – is not heretical teaching, per se. That can be promptly corrected. It is rather the surrender to politics of the Church herself: the giving to Caesar what is not Caesar’s.

All those who feel “at peace with God” are invited to receive Communion. It would not matter what the issue were: the principle of “if it feels good, do it” is slipping into all Church teaching, from the top; while logic and conscience are slipping away. Such unavoidable questions as those raised in the “dubia” are being intentionally avoided.

Not only Catholics, but so many others who oppose our universal enemy – moral nihilism and irrationality – are betrayed when the Church abandons the front line. Once she has conceded that the truth itself may fluctuate, we find ourselves walking in a humpty-dumpty space where anything can mean anything at all.


David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: davidwarrenonline.com.