Politics, Virtue, and the Intellect: When Rulers Fail to Rule Themselves

Allegorical frescos (Political virtues) from the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena scene Justicia

Allegorical frescos (Political virtues) from the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena scene Justicia

From Crisis Magazine
by Rev. James V. Schall, S.J.

“There is nothing more profound in the life of the intellect than our eagerness to know, without tepidity and without fear, under conditions of a certitude totally determined by the power of truth.”
—Yves Simon, A General Theory of Authority

“The truth of the biblical revelation…is modern liberal democracy, whose hallmark—freedom of thought, speech, and religion—is as much a religious obligation as it is a demand of reason. In simple terms, modern liberalism is nothing but a secularized variation of biblical morality, or so Spinoza, the pro-typical secularizer of the early modern period, would have us believe.”
—Ernest Fortin, “Augustine, Spinoza, and the Hermeneutical Problem”

In contemporary political systems, every citizen can vote no matter what his level of intelligence or relation to virtue. Some of the worst political systems have high turnouts on elections days. The worst rulers also want to be popular. We are, to that extent, anti-elitist. We think any man’s vote is as good as any other man’s, no matter what the result. But we do try to modify this apparent lowering of the value of virtue and intelligence. Senates were historically designed to add wisdom and prudence to the public order. Courts were expected to be run by those who knew and applied the law which sought to embody justice.

Corruption, however widespread or successful, is never admitted to be itself a qualification for rule. But even corruption is not called what it is. It is presented as virtue, as practicality, as help for the people. Most people would admit that it is better to be governed by wise and prudent leaders that the electoral system is supposed to ferret out. In short, both intellect and politics have their place. Intelligence is not to be seen as intrinsically hostile to politics nor, in spite of Socrates, is politics alien to intelligence.

Each person is to rule himself reasonably, especially, if we could find them, rulers over themselves. Few individuals cause more damage than rulers who do not or will not rule themselves. This preference for good leaders is true of organizations of several or all civic institutions. Members can appeal to standards, to norms, in order to judge qualification and performance of officials. Some ways are readily recognized as improper. Tyrants and ideologues, however clever, are to be identified and, if possible, avoided or, if in power, deposed.

The purpose of intellect, for its part, is to know what is, to know the truth of things. This purpose does not change in a culture or philosophical atmosphere that denies that truth can be known, where it is even dangerous to propose the truth because this preference leads, it is said, to hostility, hatred, and war. So, we are told, since no truth exists, we must lower our sights. We must not seek the truth. In public, we must discuss only relatively unimportant things. It is too dangerous to bring up important ones. Truth is dangerous. It is better to make tolerance “the truth,” better to deny that truth is either desirable or possible.

Rather we must never challenge what is claimed to be true, whoever says it. The most dangerous public crime must be the claim that truth exists and can be known. Indeed, the very claim that something is true should be a civil delict, a crime, in fact. It is bigotry or hate-language to maintain that something is wrong or incoherent or dangerous, whatever it is. Of course, this latter claim, that it is true that there is no truth, is itself incoherent. How can it possibly be true that nothing is true?

Living together in tolerance, however, cannot mean that we abandon the purpose of mind. It can mean that we agree to pursue the truth by persuasion, respect, and argument. It can also mean that we rightly prevent or punish those who use coercive means to prevent any meaningful discussion of the truths of the theoretic and practical orders, of religion, metaphysics, morals, history, or politics.

“Political philosophers generally start with the consideration,” Yves Simon put it, “that human life and property have to be protected by force against bad men with whom the methods of persuasion do not work.” Simply because something claims to be true does not make it true. It does not make it false either. Traditionally, institutions of higher learning, universities, were designed as places in which the more controverted and difficult truths were weighed and judged. We would be hard pressed to maintain that this purpose still remains the actual mode of procedure of such institutions.

To describe accurately the nature of the political regime under which we live is often a disconcerting, if not dangerous, enterprise. We all want to be patriotic, to think that we live under the best regime, or at least the best regime possible. We all call ourselves “democrats.” We would like to say that we live in a democracy, with human “rights,” toleration, free markets, just civil law, and no corruption on the side of our politicians, police, and bureaucrats.

We tend to think that everyone else should also live under such conditions, with the same principles, as we do. We need to make over all regimes to look like this “democratic” one. Thus, only one “good” regime is possible. This is the regime of “tolerance,” of relativism. The claim that truth exists is an enemy of this sole “legitimate” regime. Its source of legitimacy is not God but we.

We talk of religious freedom as the first “right.” It is even listed first in our constitutional amendment. But tolerance has become a doctrine higher than truth. Classical and Christian social thought was based on the need and practice of virtue. Virtue could not automatically be imposed on citizens. They had themselves to choose to practice it. Many did not so choose. Most actual regimes were, in fact, much less than the best. The practical result of this fact of citizens who were not virtuous was that there were naturally different regimes based on the different kinds of virtues and vices that manifested themselves in various regimes through the activities of their citizens.

Modern political thought arose out of impatience with the difficulty of virtue’s attainment. Both Aristotle and revelation knew of this difficulty. Modern thinkers from Rousseau wanted to make citizens virtuous whether they chose to be so or not. Goodness and virtue could be engineered with the right political forms and ideas. Men would be “made” to be good apart from their own wills. With this deft step, the state became more important than the action and character of the citizens, the exact opposite of the classical and Christian position.

At first sight, it seems strange to suggest that the modern liberal state, with its desire for civic perfection, arose initially, as Father Ernest Fortin wrote, from biblical criticism. We can easily acknowledge that the disunity of Christians is responsible for many evil things in the public order of various eras and regimes. Eric Voegelin observed that the lack of faith of Christians in the transcendent order was the initial step that elevated politics in this world to a primacy over faith. Politics then sought to subject religion to political ends.

At times, Nietzsche himself seemed to tell us that it was the failure of Christians to follow the example of Christ that scandalized him. He thought evidently that Christ came not to save sinners but to make them in the same perfection as found in the sinless Christ. He began to look for another criterion of human greatness, namely our own self-defined power, to replace a belief that did not inspire its followers to believe or to practice it.

As Fortin pointed out, Spinoza started out with the notion that the Bible was not a coherent whole. It had no single source. Its multiple authorship had no common inspiration or origin. This position was the very opposite of that of Augustine and other Christian thinkers for whom the plan of revelation was unified and coherent from beginning to end. If the Bible was not a unified whole, then it was just a series of individual books that could be examined by scientific methods alone. These books could not reveal anything but what occurred in the time and place in which they were written. Yet, all were leading to and beyond the great event of Christ’s coming which was being prepared in God’s creative and redemptive plan for human beings. Ultimately, God was not defeated by our sins.

With no divine plan present in the world, with no revelation but only human wisdom, it became necessary for the political order to adjudicate the religious and philosophic differences and passions. It had to define what scripture meant. Probably the first step, after Machiavelli rid us of Plato, was taken by Hobbes, who was much concerned with ecclesiastical polity. Relying on the power of the Leviathan, the state, the new law-giver, could put into effect whatever the sovereign willed. What motivated each man, Hobbes thought, was the fear of violent death. If that were true, the state’s power to threaten violent death could be used to reduce ideas and doctrines to order, that is, to ineffectiveness. No longer would there be a separate place for religion in the public order except in the terms of what the state allowed. Religion was subjective and wholly private.

Civil peace, it was argued, would result when truth became a matter of indifference or a purely interior sentiment. Peace would thus not be that “tranquility of order” that Augustine had postulated wherein the individual persons saw and understood the truth of things and agreed to live accordingly. Peace would now be built on the supposition that no truth existed or could exist. Supposed conflicts in the bible mandated this basis. Truth questions were themselves inimical to political order. To ask them in public—such questions as “Why is there something rather than nothing?” or “What is the purpose of human life?” or “What is reason?”— was to threaten civil concord, which became the highest good.

We live in a time in which intelligence is being assumed into politics. Politics, in turn, with its complicit separation from reason finds itself unable to distinguish the human good from any other good. Ecology replaces politics, or, perhaps better, finds itself explaining man’s diminished status as himself subject to nature. The primacy of man to nature that was the foundation of the Genesis command is now reversed. Man is subject to our idea of what nature can “carry.” We do not think in terms of “subduing” nature to serve us, but of restricting man so that nature can go on as if human beings did not exist on the planet.

The fact is, however, that man is himself as natural as anything in the universe. He did not put himself in the universe. Indeed, the universe was made for him, not vice versa. It is his mind and craft capacity that enable him to love on and improve the world as a fit and beautiful place. It now seems increasingly accepted that the only purpose of the world is to keep it going as long as possible. Individual deaths mean nothing in themselves. They are all making the world in the future to be better. They themselves have no lasting purpose other than their instrumentality for something they will never see or enjoy.

Christianity does not think man was created for the world. Rather the world was created for man. And each individual person within the scope of history is created for himself while at the same time being a social animal. This fact means that each of us has more than an inner-worldly meaning. The life record of each person is itself to be judged and the possibility of reaching his final end is open to each person. It cannot be just given to anyone apart from his own free will.

Politics is thus the arena where in the rational being works out his eternal life while being in the period of time in which he lives. Intelligence does not deny the purpose or validity of politics. Rather it puts it in its right place. Whenever politics is not in its rightful place, the ability of men to reach their eternal purpose is impaired. There is an intelligence to politics, and a political openness to what is beyond politics. If the purpose of politics is that we be virtuous, if the purpose of virtue is that we might know the truth, and if the truth makes us free, we need to understand the relation of politics to intelligence and of intelligence to politics.
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By Rev. James V. Schall, S.J.

Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., teaches political science at Georgetown University. His latest book, The Mind That Is Catholic, is published by Catholic University of America Press.

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67 Responses to Politics, Virtue, and the Intellect: When Rulers Fail to Rule Themselves

  1. toadspittle says:

    .

    (Man) did not put himself in the universe. Indeed, the universe was made for him, not vice versa.

    A collossal piece of arrogance and patently untrue.

    Stars so far away that the light takes millennia to get here, were made for us?

    But, nevertheless, a very thought-provoking essay, and much else to agree with. (Well, some.)

  2. toadspittle says:

    .
    “To ask ….such questions as “Why is there something rather than nothing?” or “What is the purpose of human life?” or “What is reason?”— was to threaten civil concord, which became the highest good.”

    This, it seems to me is where the good Jesuit has got it round his neck. It is only reasonable to ask such questions. The trouble comes when we get a multiplicity of contradicting answers, from Muslims, Christians, Atheists and God knows who all else, resulting in certain people being beheaded, roasted on bonfires, or simply shot. Shouldn’t happen, of course. But it does.

  3. Richard Bastien says:

    A word to Toadspitlle: Your comment reflects an ignorance of modern history that is a distinguishing feature of modern secularism. Have you never heard of all those horrific atrocities committed in the name of “scientific materialism” or “social darwinism” in the past 100 years? Your time would be better spent studying history than commenting on other people’s work.

  4. JabbaPapa says:

    A colossal piece of arrogance and patently untrue.

    hmmmmm, actually it’s a perfectly philosophical valid meditation on the nature of our presence in the universe.

    One should take note that it has some sort of resonance with Mark 2:27 : And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.

    … but it does seem to stretch the intended meaning of Christ rather broadly. Not necessarily wrongfully — but certainly quite generously in terms of scope.

    Taken generously, I would guess it as being an attempt to remind us that those “stars so far away that the light takes millennia to get here” only have a meaning because we are here to provide them with one. Which prevents nothing in the terms of which meaning we give to them, whether astrological, or scientific, or philosophical, or religious, or simply some private meaning within the confines of a loving relationship in a young couple, or between a parent and a young child.

    To harshly insist that only the singular scientific interpretation can be valid, and that mankind could somehow be removed from this equation, is in my opinion an awful mistake…

  5. toadspittle says:

    .
    “hmmmmm, actually it’s a perfectly philosophical valid meditation on the nature of our presence in the universe.”
    Says Jabba, and he’s right, as usual that it is a perfectly valid, etc. etc.
    Although I still maintain that it is also a collossal piece of arrogance, and patently untrue. To me, at least. However I will gladly agree it is infinitely more important as a topic of discussion than whether a couple of “gays” can wed or not.
    (Perhaps that would be acceptable if one of them dressed up as a woman?)

  6. JabbaPapa says:

    Well yes, dear toad — but my point was that your own interpretation of what is and what isn’t untrue, patently or generically, is directly commanded by the specifics of the very place inside reality that you currently occupy as a human being !!

    Really though — what is being discussed here is Humanism — Catholic Humanism versus some other varieties.

    Catholic Humanism places mankind, including Christ the Man, at the center of its interpretations of Science, Christianity, Philosophy, Literature, Theology, The Benny Hill Show, Doctor Who, Who shot first Han or Greedo?, this morning’s local paper, and whatever rantings whoever may decide to post at Daily Telegraph blogs today in whichever pique of obsessive boredom.

    All of these things are interpreted by mankind, for mankind, in the Light of God and His divine Revelation. In Catholic Humanism.

    Clumsily, that is what the author of that otherwise rather dense, pompous, and superciliously turgid article is saying.

    YES one would have preferred something a lot less like a promising undergraduate’s mid-term paper for the expression of these things — particularly given that SO many of our contemporaries are SO confused about them — but I still can’t help feeling that dismissing the very point of his argument (well spotted BTW) as being “patently untrue”, rather than say “poorly expressed” or somesuch, is to do a disservice to the man’s obvious sincerity and, furthermore, to the intellectual validity of his argument as a whole.

  7. toadspittle says:

    .
    Well put, Jabba. I didn’t doubt the man’s sincerity, any more than I do yours.
    My own is occasionally somewhat fragile, I must admit.
    I keep coming back to the hoary old cliche, “Takes all sorts…” If anything in the universe is miraculous, it’s how so many people can interpret the same facts and events in such various ways. Or so I think.
    “…those “stars so far away that the light takes millennia to get here” only have a meaning because we are here to provide them with one. “
    Bit of Existentialism, rather than Humanism there? Bit of both really, It is not impossible that stars have some meaning of which we currently know nothing, and maybe never will.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/poetry/outloud/auden.shtml

    (Gay, but Cristian.)

  8. toadspittle says:

    .

    Realised I sent the “wrong” one. Sort of.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=7474255

  9. Mimi says:

    There’s no question about it. Han shot first. ;)

  10. Elisabeth says:

    Toadspittle: I would respectfully disagree with you about your assertion of “colossal arrogance”. Without thinking about it too terribly deeply, my personal experience of human arrogance (which, like most people’s, is considerable) has shown it to be mostly and most hideously manifested in arrogance towards other human beings other than ourselves. The Catholic belief that the universe was created for us comes first of all from our understanding of Scripture, and, further, from the belief in the dignity of each individual human being…every one of which we believe was created in the image of God, with an immortal spiritual soul, and of more value than the entire universe put together. This is our belief….though you may not accept it for yourself, it’s been my experience (also considerable) that people who really believe this way about the dignity of every other human being (besides themselves) generally treat them with, rather than more, a great deal less arrogance….

  11. toadspittle says:

    .
    Elizabeth, it seems to me that what the stars think of us has no bearing on how we should treat one another. It merely strikes me as arrogance to state (and believe) that the entire, limitless, universe was assembled for our benefit, and ours alone.
    If, as Auden muses at 16.29 yesterday, there were no stars, we would still be obliged to treat the next man (or woman) with dignity, and certainly not with arrogance.
    (Unless, apparently, the next man happens to be “gay.”)

    Anyway, if we turn the telescope around, and look down it the right way, we might just find that God has created us for the benefit of the stars.

    To give them something to laugh at while we pigmy humans wallow about in our own folly and ignorance during our nasty, short, and brutal lives. Who knows?

    It has also struck me that maybe God created humans to look after dogs while they pass their time in this vale of Tears before going on to their well-deserved reward in Dog Heaven.

    It has also struck me that none of the above might be true. Difficult, isn’t it?

  12. Elisabeth Decima says:

    Friend Toadspittle: It is difficult. It is true that a Catholic believes that we should treat others with respect regardless of the stars. The stars, I believe, do not think of us at all. Actually…or think at all: they are masses of reacting elements, whereas a human person is that as well, but also an immortal spiritual soul, capable of reason, willing, and…for the same reason, sinning. In dogs and stars, though I love them dearly and probably more than I should, I myself have never seen either reason or sin. And that is why for a Catholic a human person is more than a star. It may or may not be an arrogant view for any individual person…I do not think it is for me. But my arrogance would not prove it false.

  13. toadspittle says:

    .
    “But my arrogance would not prove it false.”
    No, indeed. Elizabeth, as nothing can be proved, bar some mathematics and formal logic.
    So we agree on that.

    “And that is why for a Catholic a human person is more than a star. “ This is where we differ. Human beings are not more than stars, or dogs, but different.
    They both are superior to us in many respects. Stars, for example, are bigger, and brighter, and live longer, and never go to Mel Gibson Movies.
    Dogs are better at smelling, and rat-catching, and only go to Mel Gibson movies when they have no choice.

  14. Elizabeth says:

    Dear Toadspittle,
    Why do you say we differ on that? Do you not agree that is what a Catholic would say? (I am speaking about the official line, of course). I only made a statement on that, not what you think or what every single person among 7 billion on the planet thinks, not to mention the millions and billions who have come before us. That would be confusing, at least a little bit, don’t you think? You may firmly assert that a human being is not more than a dog, is not in some way superior, but I doubt seriously that you live that in your actions. I have never met anybody who does! And even if you did, making you a singular person in my life experience, it would not do your belief any harm to acknowledge that Catholics do not, and never have, felt the same.

  15. toadspittle says:

    .
    “You may firmly assert that a human being is not more than a dog, is not in some way superior,”

    Yes, Elizabeth, I could – but I do not.
    In many ways humans are superior both to dogs and stars.
    Human beings (some, not all) are capable of appreciating Mel Gibson movies. Dogs and stars do not seem to be. But who knows?

    My point is that everything has its individual merits. Humans are surely capable of far greater achievements than dogs – and also far more horrible ones.

    Who’s to say which of us is the superior being? You, naturally. OK, we’d better leave it at that.

    Unless you can tell me whether Neanderthal Man was made in God’s image or not.

  16. Elisabeth says:

    Well, friend, all I am pointing out is that this idea about human beings is nothing new and not something that I or the author of this blog suddenly came up with. My Irish and Bohemian ancestors have been believing it for well over a thousand years. I never thought of them as being arrogant.

    As for Neanderthal Man, I’ll answer your question if you will tell me whether he had an immortal spiritual soul, free will, and the capacity for wonder, adoration and praise.

  17. toadspittle says:

    “…this idea about human beings is nothing new and not something that I or the author of this blog suddenly came up with. “ Let me reassure you Elizabeth, the last thing that anyone on CP&S expects to read is a new idea . We’d never get over it all day!

    “As for Neanderthal Man, I’ll answer your question if you will tell me whether he had an immortal spiritual soul, free will, and the capacity for wonder, adoration and praise.”

    That is exactly why I asked the you question, Elizabeth. Very perceptive of you to see it. I suspect he didn’t have an immortal, spiritual, soul, and neither do we, but who knows?
    The fact that we both agree he existed is promising.

    And, as we are both in the dark, perhaps someone else can provide an answer? The implications are interesting. Or so I think.

  18. kathleen says:

    Man has always known himself to be the culmination of God’s creation. “And God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)
    Through God’s amazing gift to mankind, that of free will, he is the only living creature capable of knowing ( albeit with our obvious human limitations) and loving God, and therefore of serving Him….. or not! We are placed in this world to make this choice as to our future destiny. God wants us to be happy – He loves us more than we could ever fully realise – He has “prepared great things for those that serve Him“, and God has given us the tools necessary to make the right choices. No one however will be forced; we are not robots, or beings solely behaving through instincts (like animals) but in Chesterton’s words, we are “everlasting man“.

    This beautiful Psalm 8 sums it up:
    O Lord our Lord, how admirable is thy name in the whole earth! For thy magnificence is elevated above the heavens.
    Out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings thou hast perfected praise, because of thy enemies, that thou mayst destroy the enemy and the avenger.
    For I will behold thy heavens, the works of thy fingers: the moon and the stars which thou hast founded. What is man that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that thou visitest him?
    Thou hast made him a little less than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honour: And hast set him over the works of thy hands.
    Thou hast subjected all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen: moreover the beasts also of the fields.
    The birds of the air, and the fishes of the sea, that pass through the paths of the sea.
    O Lord our Lord, how admirable is thy name in all the earth!”

  19. JabbaPapa says:

    Unless you can tell me whether Neanderthal Man was made in God’s image or not.

    A comment from one homo sapiens sapiens/homo sapiens neanderthalis hybrid to another ?

    FWIW the Christ too was a homo sapiens sapiens/homo sapiens neanderthalis hybrid in the Flesh…

    Ipso facto, the answer to your query is yes.

  20. toadspittle says:

    .
    “Man has always known himself to be the culmination of God’s creation. “And God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)”

    Excellent! Kathleen has cottoned onto the idea quick as a sardine!

    Now all we have to figure out is, was Neanderthal Man made in God’s own image as well?

    If so, then “A,” if not, then “B.” If you get my drift.

    “Man has always known himself to be the culmination of God’s creation.”
    This man hasn’t. Who can say?
    And if we humans really are as good as it’s going to get, what a depressing prospect.

  21. kathleen says:

    Poor old Toad. He groans and moans: “And if we humans really are as good as it’s going to get, what a depressing prospect.”
    Speak for yourself Toad :-).

  22. toadspittle says:

    .
    Jabba has filed simultaneously, in the affirmative! Excellent, again! So, God made Neanderthal Man, indeed Jesus was one himself says Jab, which comes as a surprise even to Toad.
    Made him in His own image naturally, then made His own image become extinct?

    Why? What’s up with that? (As they say in the ‘Burgh.)

  23. toadspittle says:

    .
    Kathleen, can you really look at the world around you and feel a warm glow of satisfaction at the way we behave, and the way things are going? If you can, what’s the point of CP&S?

  24. kathleen says:

    Toad, you are the man desperate for a drink – or should I say ‘the Toad?’ ;-) – who looks at a glass only half filled with water and moans “it’s half empty!”.
    Sure, there are terrible, appalling things happening in the world around us; there is a lot of wickedness, suffering, poverty, sickness, misery etc., etc., and many times a very grim outlook for the future. This is a ‘vale of tears’, no doubt about it.
    But there is also Hope! Man has a purpose for his existence, and we have been created to find it through our pilgrimage here on Earth. (That’s the point of CP&S….. and every other apostolate, word, deed or action!) Everyone is important, because we have all been ‘chosen’ by God. This is not our final destiny, but whilst we are here there is work to be done.

  25. toadspittle says:

    .
    Let me reassure you, Kathleen, Toad has not interest in glasses of water, regardless of the level therein.
    He religiously abstains from the stuff, in which, as the great W.C.Fields pointed out, fish fornicate.

  26. Elisabeth says:

    But toadspittle is right. The world’s behavior is horrible. I don’t exclude myself! I have nothing to be proud of. But that was the other part of what I would have asked if I’d thought of it before I hit ‘send’, about Neanderthal man: did he lie and cheat and deceive? Was he capable of sin? But that of course I can ask because I believe I can sin. I don’t believe animals can sin, and having been around them all my life, from the time my parents gave me my first baby goat to raise, I still do not believe I’ve ever seen an animal sin. I wonder if you think human beings also don’t sin. If so, baby goats and neanderthal man and modern man are all of a piece. But then why are you not happy with our behavior and the way the world is going? I never complained about my goats, even when they got into something they shouldn’t. They were just being goats.

  27. toadspittle says:

    .
    True Elizabeth. Animals don’t sin. That why we are “superior” to them. That and being, and looking, Godlike.

    Though, when my dogs do something “bad,” they often look distinctly guilty.

  28. JabbaPapa says:

    Sin is pain and death toad — but the pain and death of the animals is not held against them, indeed it cannot be !! This may help you understand how Original Sin is not held against us either, no more than it is against the lily in the field, if we but accept Christ’s great gift to us all.

    Our particular trouble is that we are capable of both moral and immoral action, and capable of changing the nature of the reality that we must live in.

    It is this very relationship between Self and Reality that defines the nature of Religion. That — and Divine Revelation providing the necessary conditions of that Relationship as provided to us by God and by the Christ.

  29. The Raven says:

    Actually, Toad, Jabba is only repeating the news that modern Homo Sapiens appear to have genes in common with H Neanderthalis. Jabba is, I am afraid, stretching things a bit to describe us all as hybrids (the science is rather less committal than the reports in the papers make out).

    I am afraid that we really know very little about Neanderthals: we know that they made tools; we think that we are able to interpret some sites as indicating funerary rites; we believe that we have found stone beads that they made.

    That aside, we have a vanishingly small number of skeletal remains and a lot of speculation.

    In short, I don’t think we can know whether Neanderthals were men as we know mankind.

  30. Diane says:

    Toadspittle, dogs do indeed get a very guilty look. And so do cats. We have debates about this at home; my friends insist the cat knows she is being bad. But I don’t see the cat that way.

  31. Elizabeth says:

    Toadspittle, dogs do indeed get a very guilty look. And so do cats. We have debates about this at home; my friends insist the cat knows she is being bad. But I don’t see the cat that way. PS My name is really Elizabeth!!! ;-)

  32. toadspittle says:

    .
    An honest answer from Raven. Naturally.
    I agree that speculation on the implications of this potentially fascinating topic is probably futile.
    On several others as well, no doubt. I seem to recall reading that we share 98% of our DNA wirh our near relatives the Chimps, but that’s doubtless beside the point here.

    It’s a question of Revelation says Jabba. Who also says..

    “Original Sin is not held against us either, no more than it is against the lily in the field, if we but accept Christ’s great gift to us all.”

    The operative, (or “weasel”) word here being, as usual, “if.”

  33. Elizabeth says:

    Even so, Raven, what can biological genetic studies tell us about the human soul? Nothing. Even less than the ears can tell us about color.

  34. toadspittle says:

    .
    “PS My name is really Elizabeth!!! ” If you say so. Nothing to reproach yourself for there.
    Is there, some apparent dispute?

  35. Elizabeth says:

    too funny…it’s that at first I signed …um…another name… but they were good and didn’t post it. You probably never do that since your name is really Toadspittle?

  36. Elizabeth says:

    Toadspittle, that’s roughly true (the 98%). While we do have amazing physical similarity to chimps, the behavioral and cultural differences between us and them put us in a completely different realm. Even the most interesting chimp behavior cannot be compared to the behavior of human beings such as a Ghandi or a Stalin, or even, I think, to my own. How can it be that the chimps, being so astonishingly close to us body and genetics, do not come even remotely close to us in either tenderness or terror?

    As a biologist myself, I find no explanation for this in any of the physical sciences.

  37. toadspittle says:

    .
    “How can it be that the chimps, being so astonishingly close to us body and genetics, do not come even remotely close to us in either tenderness or terror?”
    Why, indeed “Elizabeth.”
    My best guess is that chimps are just plain lucky.

    As to Toad’s “name” we must fall back yet agin on Alice, (in a manner of speaking.)
    The White Knight can easily explain:

    “…the name of the song is called ‘Haddock’s Eyes.’.”
    “Oh, that’s the name of the song is, it?” said Alice, trying to feel interested.
    “No, you don’t understand,” the Knight said, looking a little vexed. “That’s what the name is called. “The name really is ‘The Aged Aged Man’.”
    Then I ought to have said that’s what the song is called?” Alice corrected herself.
    “No you oughtn’t, that’s quite another thing! The song is called ‘Ways and Means’ : but that’s only what it’s called, you know!
    “Well, what is the song, then?” said Alice, who was by this time completely bewildered.
    “I was coming to that,” the Knight said. “The song really is ‘A-sitting On A Gate.’

    So, Toad’s name is, the equivalent of ‘The Aged Aged Man.’ Which he is. Simple as that.

  38. Jerry says:

    As a biologist myself, I find no explanation for this in any of the physical sciences

    And what does that imply to you? Homo Sapiens are capable of much more than Chimpanzees. And Chimps do rather better than cows, who out-class star-fish.

  39. Elisabeth says:

    Jerry, what can you say about chimps? Do they do a little more than cows do? A bit more, but it’s miniscule compared to the difference between chimps and human beings. Human behavior is way off the animal continuum. There is no way to explain this from biology. If people want to claim, as Toadspittle and many people today do, that the human being is entirely matter and there is no such thing as a human soul, they certainly can’t claim this from science, because science doesn’t support it.

    And you, Toadspittle, you can joke about chimps being lucky, but would you prefer to have been born one?

  40. toadspittle says:

    .
    “And you, Toadspittle, you can joke about chimps being lucky, but would you prefer to have been born one?”

    What an extraordinary question, Elizabeth! I’m, reasonably happy as a human, but had I been born a Chimp I doubt if I’d be burning with envy to be a human.
    However, one never know, do one – and…..

    Unfair to mules and pigs, though. Mules are still regarded as “Noble” (pronounced No-blay) round here in Northern Spain. Pigs are also highly prized.
    Churchill said, “A dog looks up to you and a cat looks down on you – but a pig treats you like an equal.” Wise man.

  41. toadspittle says:

    .
    Double fault. WordPress/Youtube, 40 – Toad love.
    Match abandoned due to flooding.

  42. Elisabeth says:

    Dear Toad,

    I don’t suppose it’s such an extraordinary question. You are the one who said they are the lucky ones. You ought to be more serious when you are challenged; you get away by making jokes. Another thing that animals never do.

  43. toadspittle says:

    .

    “You ought to be more serious when you are challenged; you get away by making jokes. “
    Elizabeth scolds Toad. Unarguable, I fear. But I’m too old a “dog” (if you will pardon the expression)to learn new tricks now.
    Kathleen will gladly confirm this.
    Still, there is a point to it all, obscure though it may be.

    As to animals never making jokes, they don’t have to
    They can leave it to their silly “owners.”

    Montaigne wrote that when he thought he was playing with his cat, he had a suspicion that the cat was really playing with him.

  44. kathleen says:

    Well Toad, Kathleen has been having her own little chuckle at the turn this ongoing discussion has taken :lol:.

    Quite right Elizabeth: the difference between animals (and believe me, I am a great animal lover) and humans is truly vast. Our bodies might well share 98% of our genes with chimps, but our minds have no comparison. We are indeed body and soul. Man is the only creature who can have a ‘relationship’ with God and the only being (apart from the angels) who has free will. Animals don’t sin….. even if Toad’s dogs do chew up his favourite slippers and look ‘guilty’ afterwards ;-).
    Man, OTOH is capable of the most sublime……… and sadly, also of the most detestable.
    It is no wonder God needed a whole new day to create us!

  45. Elisabeth says:

    Well, the very nice thing I have noticed about Toadspittle is that he seems to be the type not easily provoked to anger- a trait I admire considerably in anyone.

    It would like to add one thing: the very baddest animal of my acquaintance is the goat for sure; goats almost never behave. But as much as I wrack my memory and think very hard, I can’t remember ever having seen a guilty-looking goat.

    Was it V. Hugo who said that animals are the forms of our virtues and vices, the ‘visible phantoms of our souls’?

  46. toadspittle says:

    .

    Well, Toad got a bit miffed this a.m., re Abortion Man. But he grudgingly apologised.

    And now, in his dotage as a pensioned and slippered pantaloon, he has finally come to believe that everything on earth is absurd, and that it is our bounden duty (well, his at least) to draw attention to this fact and derive as much entertainment from it as we can.
    Calmly and amusingly, if we can. A kind of vocation.
    (Too much Schopenhauer!)

  47. JabbaPapa says:

    Your notion of universal absurdity is *quite* absurd, toad !!

    Quite mediaeval too — though I mean that as a compliment !! :o)

  48. toadspittle says:

    .
    I was going to answer Jabba by saying, “To the absurd, all things are absurd.” But then I realised that sounded absurd.

    So I won’t say it.

    (The more often one writes “absurd,” the more odd and misspelled it begins to look. Funny, that.)

  49. Elisabeth says:

    (The more often one writes “absurd,” the more odd and misspelled it begins to look. Funny, that.)

    Fitting, that. The more you claim absurdity, the more you contradict yourself, because the only way you can think something is ‘absurd’ or ‘laughable’ is if you recognize that somewhere, even if only in someone’s imagination, there are such things as ‘sense’, ‘reason’ and ‘meaning’. Nobody who believes ‘everything is absurd’ could ever get miffed at anything, even a little bit. Getting miffed proves you have some expectations…. and you can’t find something laughable if everything is laughable.

    If everything were truly absurd, nothing would be funny, Toad.

  50. toadspittle says:

    .
    Very good points, Elizabeth. Perhaps nothing really is funny, or perhaps not everything is. And you are right to pull me up for gross exaggeration. The idea that say, “life” is absurd must, as you say, be measured against some notion of percieved non-absurdity.

    So, mathematics for example, and formal logic, are not absurd. A promising start.

  51. Elisabeth says:

    And yet you would not be hanging around a blog like this if you did not share the very human restlessness to see if there is something not-absurd about something more elusive and significant to human life than math and formal logic.

    When I professed myself an agnostic in college, my father, who is a physicist specializing in atom smashers, told me that I would “come back” one day. He said that the fact that man has this hunger inside of him (her) self is proof enough that God exists. At the time I wished I could believe him, but I thought it absurd.

  52. toadspittle says:

    .
    I wouldn’t deny your first paragraph at all, Elizabeth, though it is somewhat more complex than that.
    I do understand that, say, music and poetry is elusive and significant, as is art. These are hungers most of us have – personally I can’t see any connection with God. But, you never know.

    “(My father) said that the fact that man has this hunger inside of him (her) self is proof enough that God exists. “
    Well, it might have been proof enough for him but it’s no such thing to me. All it says is that we have hungers in us, which is indisputable.
    But then I’m not a physicist, and it’s not worth arguing about, I think.

    Why are you hanging about this blog, anyway?

  53. Elisabeth says:

    Just wanted to say hello! ;-)

  54. Elisabeth says:

    I think the thing about my father was that he believed the universe did make sense. He saw that things had reasons and questions had answers. Otherwise his entire profession would have been a waste of time. The fact that we have hungers begs the question: why? In the bodily realm, we have hungers because we need food. Intellectually, we have hungers- curiosity- because we need to learn. We are thirsty for water, we suffer when we can’t breathe. We have hungers for real things, things that really exist. My father sensed he had a hunger inside of himself that wasn’t explainable in the physical realm. He believed if he had a hunger for God, for something beyond this world, then there must needs exist the thing he was hungry for.

    You may think this simplistic reasoning, but according to your reasoning, which I don’t really grasp anyway, we would always be hungry with the worst kind of hunger- spiritual hunger- and never be filled. Life really would be meaningless. Maybe if you don’t feel that hunger, that longing, you don’t understand, but what can be said to one who does? The universe would be not only meaningless, but horrifically cruel.

    I guess I hang around blogs like this because my dad was right about me.

  55. Mimi says:

    Elisabeth, your dad rocks!

  56. toadspittle says:

    .

    “He believed if he had a hunger for God, for something beyond this world, then there must needs exist the thing he was hungry for.”

    That is, if you will excuse me, Elizabeth, obviously thoroughly faulty reasoning.
    I may well have a hunger to be younger, better looking, more intelligent, and healthier. But just wanting it clearly ain’t gonna make it happen.
    As the old, but true, cliche points out: “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”

    Still, your Dad does sound refreshingly unscientific.

  57. Elisabeth says:

    No, Toad, that I will not excuse. Because what you describe was not my father’s reasoning, nor is it mine. Unfortunately, you’ve failed to understand it altogether.

  58. toadspittle says:

    .
    Try explaining again Elizabeth, not that, to be honest, I care wether you excuse it or not.
    It seems perfect lucid to me.
    What do others think?

  59. toadspittle says:

    perfectly lucid. (make that “reasonably” lucid.)

  60. Mimi says:

    Toad says: ‘What do others think?’

    I think that Elisabeth is quite right: you have indeed failed to understand it altogether.
    You seem to have taken the most shallow and superficial meaning out of a most beautiful and profound argument. ;)

  61. Elisabeth says:

    No, sir, because I find it hard to believe you do not know better what I am trying to say and it is quite offensive when someone deliberately tries to misrepresent what you say in order to make it look foolish.

    I do not think you believe in absurdity, I believe you make discussions absurd by changing the rules as it suits you. Your are diverted from seeking truth by your interest in making yourself clever at other people’s expense.

  62. kathleen says:

    Elizabeth,
    There was a lot of deep insight in your comment of 23:10 yesterday, re your father’s analysis on why there is that deep hunger in man/woman. It is as Mimi says, a ‘beautiful and profound argument’. Certainly there is that mysterious constant seeking in all of us that nothing in this world can fully satisfy.
    I’m reminded of St. Augustine’s words: “Our hearts are restless O God, until they rest in You”.

  63. toadspittle says:

    .
    “Certainly there is that mysterious constant seeking in all of us that nothing in this world can fully satisfy.”
    This is undoubtedly true. I believe it is because we realise we are finite creatures in an infinite (as far as we know) universe. So we are bound to be restlessly searching – for cures for God’s little blessings like malaria and typhus and such, and seeking ways to avoid being killed in earthquakes and so on.
    This is a good, and not a bad thing. Restlessness drives us to be better.
    Not to be restless is to be torpid. Or so I think. When we know everything, we will stop being restless. Which will be never,

  64. JabbaPapa says:

    Your sleep seems to have been somewhat restless in any case, given your apparent grumpiness this morning.

  65. toadspittle says:

    .
    Wife in Paris and a houseful of pilgrims. Testing times for a Toad.

  66. JabbaPapa says:

    ah !! lots of snoring, smelly feet, and people waking you up with their noise at 4:30 AM after having kept you up til 1 ?

    You have my sympathies, all hospitaleros of all kinds are deserving of our most profound thanks and gratitude !!! :)

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