Friday, December 12, 2003


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I found this article on the shortcomings of Islam via Brian Ulrich. Like others, I find it wanting.


Feser is, to the best of my knowledge, a libertarian philosopher (as one might guess the author of a book entitled On Nizick might be). He falls into the common libertarian mode of thinking, that social institutions (be they corporations, nations, or, in this case, religions) necessarily follow the same evolutionary tracks in some sort of maxi-social Darwinistic theory. Thus, he sees Islam as stuck in an evolutionary rut, stuck if it does not pass the "Reformation and Enlightenment" stage that Christianity went through.


Feser (who, as a professor at Loyola Marymount in LA, might also be a Catholic, just like me) also has a vision of Catholicism as a Church founded on the rock of reason, the Thomist school which adopts Plato, Socrates, and especially Aristotle as pagan saints. This Church is unchanging, keeping with the typical libertarian desire of a categorical imperative, of Truth with a capital "T" on which to base all other things.


This need for a rock other than St. Peter leads Feser to obsess over the "rule of law" as if it should nestle snugly somewhere amid the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection of the dead.


I can't begin to describe how much I disagree with all of this. Oh, wait, yes I can; that's why I have a blog.


I think I've already said that Feser paints Islam as a Neanderthal doomed to fail unless it takes the evolutionary step of an authoritarian figure and that this is merely the social Darwinist argument writ large. As for his view of the Catholic church. . . .


Large institutions tend to have multiple layers, with official and unofficial components. The Catholic Church has this complexity. (I'm sure Islam has similar divisions.) There's the official church, the one that encompasses the official hierarchy and all those who give their allegiance to that. There's also the unofficial church. Here and there, you see groups and individuals who still self-identify as Catholic, but who have affiliations not sanctioned by the official church. You might know of a group of charismatic Catholics who gather outside of Sunday Mass. Two divorced Catholics marry outside the church and wait patiently (or not so patiently) to be accepted back. Catholic communities perservered in China and Japan even after any contact with Rome was severed by the ending of all ties to foreigners.


The great mystics of the church often existed in the unofficial church. Many religious orders went years before they were given papal mandate to exist.


Feser deeply wishes to make the Catholic Church fit in with the idea of rule of law as categorical imperative. For that to occur, Feser must profess belief in an unchanging, eternal church.


"This is a Tradition that the Church herself does not create but merely preserves and passes on -- emendations to that Tradition occurring only very infrequently, deliberately, gradually, and minimally, and always in a way which merely draws out the implications of what was there already rather than introducing some novel or foreign element."


Feser grudgingly admits some change, but then claims that they were, for the most part, cosmetic changes that didn't affect the substance of the Church. For him, a malleable Catholic church is no better than the Protestant rabble. This is the argument of conservative strains of Catholicism who perhaps do not oppose Vatican II outright, but do oppose its implications of a new way of doing God's business.


Such movements seek to eliminate the unofficial Church (ironically, sometimes by forming unofficial groups that agitate for non-change). They seek the creation of monoculture within the Church that reminds me of political groups insisting that all government activity has to occur in very public settings or of groups that seek not just tolerance but acceptance codified in law of possibly deviant behavior.


Feser also plays hard and fast with facts. He points to the Taliban dynamiting Buddhist works of art and Protestants defacing Catholic churchs. He forgets to mention "Il Braghettone," who defaced Michelangelo's nudes by order of the papacy. He forgets to mention how many Greco-Roman works of art were destroyed by the Church as pagan artifacts. (One equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius survived only because it was thought to be Emperor Constantine.)


In summation, Feser is a libertarian obsessed with the rule of law who appears to hold the Medieval Church, that strong brew of authoritarianism and Aristotelianism, in the highest regard. And I have just disagreed with him in a long-winded and circuitous stream-of-consciousness manner without much editing.

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