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June/July 2003


Ideas and Consequences

THE EDITOR

A couple of months ago, over a few drinks in a local pub, I found myself discussing theology and philosophy with an affable young man who worked for a national Catholic Welfare Commission. An economist by profession, he had lately undertaken theological studies at a Catholic University and was lauding the likes of Kahl Rahner and Teilhard de Chardin. I informed him that the former certainly preached heresy, the latter was a pantheist officially censured by Rome and that both, having lost the Catholic faith, had done immeasurable harm to the Church. Amazed and rather put out by this information, which was all news to him, he hesitated momentarily when I finally asked him if he had ever studied Thomistic philosophy. As if recalling a formulaic response, he replied sheepishly: "I think that Thomism and Aristotelian metaphysics are irrelevant today." Given that he had never studied the sublime teachings of the Angelic Doctor, he was unable to say why - merely claiming that certain "experts" supported his view.

And so, at a time in history when the knowledge and application of Thomistic philosophy has never been more urgent, we find a layman sufficiently clueless about the teachings of Aquinas to boldly label them irrelevant to the modern world - while steeped, conversely, in the neo-Modernism of renowned heretics - advising a national episcopate on social justice issues. The blind leading the blind par excellence.

I do not blame this postconciliar archetype in any way for his hapless state. "The young," wrote St. Pius X in his scintillating 1907 encyclical Pascendi, "excited and confused by all this praise and abuse, some of them afraid of being branded as ignorant, others ambitious to rank among the learned, and both classes goaded internally by curiosity and pride, not infrequently surrender and give themselves up to Modernism." He never stood a chance. The ‘Catholic’ tertiary institution that taught him to revere Rahner (who both rejected the theology of Transubstantiation and the philosophy of natural law underlying Humanae Vitae as obsolete and irrelevant), was simply filling the intellectual and spiritual vacuum created by primary and secondary ‘Catholic’ schools which failed him in the first place.

Yet it is cold comfort that neither he nor his lost generation are responsible for their abject ignorance and erroneous views. Because however and wherever they may by cultivated, false ideas have disastrous consequences. Right down the line. Whether in human life and bio-ethical issues or civil liberties or jurisprudence or socio-political questions, we see all about us the catastrophic fallout from false philosophies. These have been given free rein to wreak their havoc by postconciliar shepherds who have largely deprived their flocks, and thus the world, of the natural law commonsense systematised with cast iron logic by Aquinas. And yet his Summa is the objective Catholic ‘reality check’ so desperately needed by a society penetrated and overcome by all the deadly illusions which subjectivism has provoked and laid down as the basis of our materialist consumer culture – the final fruit of Rene Descartes’ 17th century philosophical revolution, which has flowed down through his subjectivist disciples like Spinoza, Locke, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Husserl, Scheler and countless others to our day.

This crying need for Thomistic (or Natural) realism - as opposed to ‘critical realism’ or the ‘Transcendental Thomism’ of Rahner and Lonergan and many other corruptions of St. Thomas - was indicated in a recent article in the secular press by Angela Shanahan, in which she analysed the contradictions and inconsistencies in the thought of Australian philosopher Peter Singer, one of the leading proponents of our Western culture of death. Singer, said the writer, "argues irrefutably from his premises: that the quality of a living being's consciousness is what gives its life value. The life of an active piglet or orangutan is more valuable than the life of a severely retarded child, all other things being equal." But, she goes on, "one doesn't read words such as beauty, love, joy, let alone concepts such as mercy and gratitude and particularly hope in Singer's articles. These things exist in all of our lives, but they can't be differentiated in Singer's severe calculus. What use is logic if it can't describe reality? And what kind of moral paradigm do we want to address that reality? One circumscribed by utilitarianism or the one that many of us still aspire to within the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount?"

Shanahan continues with the sort of elementary philosophical lesson which should give my young friend pause both to reconsider his peremptory dismissal of Aquinas and the true nature and worth of his supposed ‘Catholic’ university studies:

Let's try to apply Singerite utilitarianism with one of the mental tests so popular in philosophy textbooks. After all, it is the seeming ability of Singer's pragmatism to answer single ethical dilemmas that make his approach attractive and newsworthy.

Let's say that the coalition forces discover that Saddam Hussein's bolthole is underneath a hospital for 500 mentally retarded infants with no quality of life? A single bunker buster will knock Saddam for six - and kill all 500 children. According to the coalition's bean-counters, this will save the lives of 501 American troops who might otherwise die in a battle to smoke him out without killing the children.

How would Professor Singer solve this moral dilemma?

Singer's pragmatic logic can't really answer this because, ironically, it isn't realistic. The practical ethics approach, sheer rationalism without metaphysics, only accounts for a small proportion of human experience - The Problem - but it ignores the messy bits, all the bits encapsulated by love, hope, joy and all those other very real facts of life."

And the consequences of Singer's false and often bizarre ideas? They are manifest everywhere, some of which Shanahan notes: "Singer’s logical positions would not matter much without the fruits being evident from disciples such as Julian Savelescu, now perched on a new chair of ethics at Oxford University. Formerly a bioethicist at the Murdoch Institute in Melbourne, he dispensed gung-ho pronouncements on everything from stem cell research to late abortion. Just as worrying is Singer's influence on the Greens, even dabbling in Green politics - and politicians, as we know, like people who want to solve The Problem." ["Why Peter Singer's views on the value of life do not add up," The Age, 10/4/03]

The Thomistic realist’s argument, of course, goes much deeper than Shanahan’s brief commentary allowed, to the very nature of being itself. The contemporary war waged by our institutionally atheistic culture against being and the reality of God, acted out in the relentless attack on religion in general and the Holy Catholic Church in particular, is the root cause of all the societal dysfunction and countless associated horrors we endure today. In particular, it precedes, precipitates, confirms and advances the abortion holocaust by blinding hearts and minds to the very idea of God and thus man made in His image and likeness.

Before Vatican II, as James Larson explains in the course of his three part essay commencing in this edition, the Church well understood that the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas safeguard the true nature of being against Singer and his dangerous ilk like no other. If you seriously desire to understand the source of the problems besetting the contemporary Church and world, and where the very basic solution lies in the pivotal realm of ideas, then I strongly commend the Larson article to you. Written by a layman for laymen, it explains fundamental philosophical matters with commendable clarity and practicality, providing a great resource for future reference. I, for one, will be passing it to the aforementioned episcopal advisor, along with the rest of this edition, at the earliest opportunity.

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