Lessons in Moral Epistemology for Philosophers (Interlude I)

Rev. Steve Schlissel - May 16, 2008

There are limits to everything.

Aren’t there? Well, there used to be. Or so it seemed. But I can’t tell if there are any still in place. And, I wonder, if there are limits, what they might be?

Every sunrise brings new reasons to believe Leonard Cohen was in an inspired, prophetic estate when he wrote his magnus opus, The Future. Looking at the prospects of Western and world civilization, the Canadian Jewish poet/alt-cocker-rocker wrote:

Things are going to slide, slide in all directions;

Won’t be nothing

Nothing you can measure anymore

The blizzard, the blizzard of the world

Has crossed the threshold and it has overturned

The order of the soul

One could say Cohen’s is an expansion and application of Dostoyevsky’s great truism: “If God does not exist, then everything is permitted.” Whence limits in an unregulated world of total possibility?—where phantasmal global warming and ill-coursed meteors are the only potential spoilers permitted consideration. Speak not of judgment to come! But Mankind’s real worry ought to be about “moral warming,” the state of affairs that replaces the bishop’s chair when the pleasure of our corporate “Amen-ing” of each of God’s Words has gone missing with Him.

And His absence was very much by man’s design. For the LORD God was given an eviction notice 150, even 200 years ago. He was informed that any reality He seeks to invade must be limited to men’s closets. The Public Spaces—by which was meant every sphere of life except the realm where personal opinions or private delusions grow, so long as these are judged to have no affect on one’s neighbors—all activity in the Public Spaces would henceforth and forever be regulated by man’s own sense of fairness and the common good. The Public Square would be under the strict regulatory powers of man qua Man. Any legislation perceived to have its origin in the mind of God, is, for that very reason, deemed unfit to become public policy. All discussions must begin and end with statistics gleaned from instruments subject entirely to man’s control. “Thus saith the Lord,” is thereby made equivalent to, “Thus saith the exiled monarch,” the one we tried to do away with entirely when He appeared to be within our reach two thousand years ago. We remember it well. We number the years of the Common Era from that noble effort to make Barabbas king. Well, it might be so that we couldn’t keep that Jesus dead, but at least we can keep Him off His throne (we think).

Moral warming becomes inevitable when God is declared not to exist. Because such a declaration is too provocative as long as cathedrals stand, a more polite way of saying the same thing was sought. The winner was, “God may or may not exist, but the wheels of government, time, life and Microsoft cannot be expected to sit idly by while that existence is debated.” Thus God was granted provisional existence, so long as He did not interfere with progress. He was permitted to mind His business as long as that posed no restraints on us in the conduct of ours. And everything we thought, said or did was our business, not His.

When such a state of affairs is believed to actually be, moral absolutes are gutted. The sharp gives way to the round, the sure to the perhaps, condemnation to approbation. Anything goes. Cole Porter didn’t tell the half of it. We have come to the place where the solid, deep and stable truths, which provide both framework and shape, support and hope, for life—the kind of life lived by Creatures—these truths are liquidated. In the meantime, the fluorocarbons of evolutionism and egalitarianism deplete the ozone of our consciences. People in the proverb business will be offering many revocalizations of Dostoyevsky’s truth in the coming days, as that proposition born of a seer’s contemplation is incarnated. When it is beheld by all, then it will be described as a result of observation, not speculation. Then it will be assessed in the light of the “is” as opposed to the likely, or the could-be. Poets and artists will wrap the phenomenon with descriptions as mothers wrap their babies with clothes before venturing out on a chilly day.

Nevertheless, to the gleg, each day brings vast amounts of instruction. That’s why I periodically cancel my subscription to the New York Times. Information overload. File cabinets stuffed. Take your data elsewhere.

You know, of course, that the data I refer to is not the pleasant 17% of The Times’ text which delights, informs, broadens, engages, enhances and/or enlightens. The overload occurs with the 83% which appears as self-conscious political propaganda, the so-called “news” that is, in fact and effect, a guidebook directing disparate anti-American and anti-Christian troops where they should apply the next wave of pressure if they are to effectively destroy yet another limit.

And to the immoral and wicked, each day brings into clearer relief the relationship between ethics and epistemology. Wanna talk some more about this? Prove it.

Questions or comments?
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