Thursday, November 02, 2006

Thunder and Lightening

The purpose of a Christian Democracy is to make it easier for people to lead good lives and achieve eternal salvation. Since virtue is the fulfillment of nature what we mean by this is to make it easier for people to lead truly human lives, to be more like what we are meant to be.

This is hardly a grim prospect. Even the most glancing look at Christian doctrine suggests that a people trying to live the teachings of Christ would belikely to treat each other quite decently, even pleasantly.

Nor is there any reason to presume that the first resort, or perhaps even the last resort of a program of “making virtue easier” would be to punish vice. A Christian government certainly might, oh, crack down on internet pornography if this seemed a prudent course of action; but it might just as well think it prudent to legalize prostitution (as St. Thomas Aquinas famously suggested).

The last couple quotes of the day have been from Josef Pieper’s short book. Pieper, no liberal to be sure, eloquently denounced the casuistic moral theology that “becomes a science of sins instead of…a theory of the Christian idea of man….If such a casuistic doctrine of sin is combined with the moralism of isolated “observances” and “abstentions”…there arises that phenomenon (which was, after all, not completely invented by Nietzsche) of a rather vindictive and insubstantial nay-saying which serves at best to prey upon the consciences of the immature…”

No says Pieper, the orthodox Christian understanding of virtue, or even of the benefit of individual good acts, is rather focused on becoming something than doing something. “The ethical deeds of man are not more or less fixed manual techniques, whose end is the shaping of some work, but steps toward self-realization.”

The proper goal of a Christian democracy is not to pillory the man who rejects virtue but to ease the path of the man who aspires to it; not to compound the misery of men in the grip of their vices, but to build a society in which it is a bit harder for the vices to breed in the first place.

The urgent work of the Christian Democrat is to announce not denounce; to say what we are after--not who we are after.

But if we thus propose restraint compared to the usual habits of the state, this is not from timid moderation or merely passive tolerance. It is not indifference, it is not dullness, it is not the meaningless of saying 'we all really mean the same thing.' What we announce is thunder and lightening. It’s just that our thunder and lightening is Good News.


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