Monday, August 20, 2007

The Rationale

aving gotten this blog up and running, and having generated some traffic, I'd like to try to make clear its rationale.

The driving force of civis is theological. Catholic theology hinges on two central doctrines, the Creation and the Incarnation. So first, God made the world. Things are the way they are not by chance, but by the direct decision of God. And God, who is the Word, the logos, intelligibility-itself, creates in wisdom. That means that things not only exist, but exist with reason, with intelligibility.

In short, corollary to Creation is the philosophical doctrine of nature. Aristotle defines nature as "an interior principle of motion" -- in other words, created things have their own interior dynamism: they work in a certain way, independently of how we want them to work. For the Catholic, this is significant in two ways. Practically, it means that we can only succeed -- at anything -- by according with the way things are. If you pour water in your car engine, it won't go; if you pour gas on your plants, they won't grow -- and "casual" sex, which does not accord with the nature of sex, can only lead to human disaster; government policies that don't respect the nature of, say, economics, or cities, or families will not work. All the good will in the world doesn't make an ounce of difference if you do not understand the interior dynamism of things, because the world does not depend on our will. God made it in a certain way, and we can only hope to "succeed" at anything by working with his plan and not against it.

The doctrine of nature has a contemplative corollary, too. According with nature, with the interior dynamism of things, the way God made them, is not only necessary to success -- it is also necessary to seeing God. If we don't respect the order he has implanted in things, we kid ourselves to think we respect the Creator. Again, it's not just a matter of good will, of wanting things to turn out right. Loving God means receptivity, means allowing God to be God, means seeing things as they are, and not trying to mold them into something they're not.

This doesn't, of course, mean passivity. There's nothing passive about putting gas in the car, nothing passive about caring for a child, nothing passive about family life, nothing passive about government policies that concord with the nature of families, cities, economics.

he second foundational doctrine is the Incarnation. God came to restore nature. And how did he do it? By entering in. The Incarnation, the two natures of Christ, says something profound about the world. Because it means God's presence does not negate nature. Christ is not less human -- he's not differently human. He is fully human. He has our nature in all its integrity, with no diminishment of his godhead. Which means, on the one hand, that God's presence is not contrary to things as they are -- a corollary of Creation, but one that we see more clearly in Christ. In other words, being a Christian doesn't mean being less human, or less natural, or human in a different way. It means being fully human. In other words, it means being natural, according with nature, with the natural order that God made.

On the other hand, Christ comes to restore nature. Because sin is not natural. Sin means living in a deformed way -- for example, treating another person as not a person, treating the procreative act as not the procreative act, treating an economic transaction, a kind of equity, as not equity, but a way of stealing. (Those are the fifth, sixth, and seventh commandments, by the way.) Sin is being less natural, and Christ comes to make us more natural. And that doesn't mean just being unnatural in a new way; it doesn't mean now we're lifted up out of the natural order, and no longer care about these things. It means we care about them more.

nd that's the point of this blog. Civis is an effort to correct certain tendencies that mitigate the Christian truths of the Creation and the Incarnation. Much of civis is about politics. I believe that conservatism -- at least the paleo-conservatism for which I shall here argue -- means according with nature. It means, for example, that the government can't provide for people in ways that undermine the economy. The economy has a nature, based on the price mechanism, which regulates supply and demand, and the free exchange of goods. Liberalism is un-"Christian" (please don't misunderstand me) to the extent that it replaces nature with will: if we just try harder, force things a little more, then we'll have justice. Christianity, as I am arguing for it, means our will is good only as it accords with nature. The conservative "movement," at its best, means fighting -- and it is a fight, an act of will -- for government to do what it should, to support the market, not to counteract it. It means an act of will for nature, not against it.

The same goes for cities and families. In my post below on "local politics," my point is that you don't keep a neighborhood safe with big acts of will -- impregnable fences and brash displays of wealth -- but by letting it be a neighborhood, where people talk, and watch out for each other, and make wise decisions. That takes real work -- but not just work, not just will. It also takes understanding of what a neighborhood is.

Let me not be misunderstood. What I am arguing, in a sense, is that human action is most Christian when it is . . . least Christian. That is, it is most Christian when we're not looking for specifically Christian solutions, but when we are looking for natural solutions. That is part of my endorsement, below, of Giuliani: Christianity means reason, means treating things as they are. And that may be better served by one who is not Christian, one who cares for the real world and not for an imagined Gospel. Because ultimately the Christian Gospel means that the world is real.

This is a fine line, and I will surely stumble over it at times: to be truly Christian, we must be careful not to be too "Christian." We may sometimes criticize those who are too specifically "Christian" for not being Christian enough. We must be careful to be so radically committed to our faith that we can argue that our positions are radically Christian without making our positions matters of faith. In fine, we must believe in reason, with passionate faith. Where reason fails, we must be patient, and correct it rationally; but where this quest of reason is abandoned, we must criticize a lack of faith -- without confusing our reasoned positions with faith itself.