Christian and post-Christian ethics

On the “Demographic math” thread, Jehu, RV, and I, despite other disagreements, are agreeing that Christian ethics make no sense without the Christian God. You can characterize progressive attitudes as “Christianity without Christ”, and the result of a society adopting these attitudes is self-destruction for various reasons. But this raises two political questions.

First, is a genuinely Christian society possible? Suppose you have a country which is both ethnically and culturally homogenous and strongly Christian with a single established Church. If the people wanted to incorporate Christian ethics into their laws and political structure, how could they do so? If they can’t, what has changed that makes this no longer possible even assuming homogeneity of faith, ethnicity, and culture?

Second, if a fully Christian society is not possible because most people are not strongly Christian, or are Christian but of different denominations, what does Christianity say about what kind of society Christians should prudently work towards? Prudence is key, I do NOT want unrealistic suggestions, I want to know how to choose from among the realistic suggestions based on Christian principles.

The answer is probably different in different countries, but one part of the answer ought to involve enforcing ethical standards that are good for both Christians and non-Christians. Christians have a standard of private charity for example, but need not to require or support a welfare state. And Christians have a duty to help their neighbors, but the duty is greater towards their kin, so it is not inconsistent for Christians to pursue policies which give relative advantage to their own ethnic group. But a line has to be drawn somewhere: it seems obviously anti-Christian to kill people who have committed no crime, and there must be other policies which a Christian could not in good conscience support even in a non-Christian society.

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19 Responses to Christian and post-Christian ethics

  1. PA says:

    I’m still working on articulating this thought but for now I like to say that Christian ethics are like a “loving mother” in that they give comfort and keep us from turning into animals. Christian ethics, as far as I’m seeing it, curtail the worst and most unnecessary abuses: child buggery, mutilation and degradation of the weaker or of one’s enemies, and a host of other things that pre/non Christian societies have done.

    This “loving mother” of course, needs a male partner, because as we all know, single mothers make a mess of everything. Thus a “stern father,” which is ethics of peoplehood, survival, and war is needed as the other half of a society’s ethical and moral system.

    A recent example of where the two work is, in my personal observation, the past 60 or so years in Poland, where Mary-worship and Catholicism have been a powerful and sincere force, but side-by-side with nationalism.

  2. PA says:

    Whoa! serious typos and incomplete edits in the above comment. Hopefuly it’s still readable.

  3. PA says:

    Other obvious historic examples of harmonious marriage of Christianity and peoplehood have been repulsions of Muslim invaders, be it by Charles Martel, Jan Sobieski, or (to the extent I know of hic Christian identity) Vlad Tepes. They all defended Europe under the sign of the cross.

    The crucifix in the left hand and the sword in the right sounds good to me.

  4. When I got back to my desk I cleaned your comment up. Does WordPress have a feature that lets bloggers allow commenters to preview their comments so they can fix typos and so on?

  5. Jehu says:

    The magistrate is not supposed to bear the sword in vain. A centurian was one of the first gentile followers of Christ–note that he wasn’t told to cease to be a soldier, just to do his duty faithfully and be content in his wages (i.e., don’t shake down the non-elite population). I’d say that whether a Christian society is possible is a matter of how one defines it. Obviously the only truly Christian society will come when Jesus returns, but that’s not what most people mean when they talk about such. What they mean is the circumstances, say, pre-1960 where Christianity enjoyed what one would call ethical hegemony in the nation. Sure, the nation didn’t always act in a Christian fashion, but most of the people identified with such and grossly contrary measures had strong headwinds in the culture. Presently nobody really has ethical hegemony in the country. I’m less concerned with ethical hegemony than demographic hegemony though, because my coreligionists will insure the former if given the latter.

  6. “Ethical hegemony”, huh? Once you’ve lost it its hard to get it back.

    I want a secular politics, and I think there is no incompatibility between my political views and my Christianity. My question is more subtle than that. It is what kind of political axioms could be accepted both by a Christian like you or me, and an atheist like RV, given that she rejects Christian ethics. Any policy I want, I can argue for to non-Christians on grounds that do not depend on Christian ethics, but is this always true, or are there some policies that Christians should try to get a non-Christian polity to implement, whose justification depends on Christian ethics?

    The specific example I am thinking of is laws against abortion. It is easy for me, as a Catholic, to oppose abortion. I can also make arguments that do NOT depend on Christianity or Christian ethics, but on more generally accepted moral and social principles, against abortion. However, those arguments, in my view, cannot justify prohibiting abortion in the case of rape, even though as a Christian I think abortion in that case would still be wrong. Therefore I would support a rape exception in a law prohibiting abortion, in a society that was not explicitly Christian, because I could argue for a law with such an exception to everyone, without needing to invoke Christian principles.

  7. PA, Vlad Tepes being considered Christian is hilarious considering he killed thieves and adultresses, he impaled civilian people for being Muslim and a myriad of other things like this. Vlad Tepes is quite the bad Christian – just like most of the European rulers. But this just shows that a Christian country with a Christian people can work only under the rule of someone who doesn’t lead as a Christian. The cross was just a rallying banner to diferentiate from the enemy. When we slaughtered the Hunagarians, for instance, we didn’t use the banner of the cross, but we had no problem with doing it anyway.

    Actually, the only difference in between Hitler and Vlad Tepes is that you don’t have tons of movies of the latter impaling tens of thousands of Muslim civilians. Tepes impaled 45,000 Muslims only in the dawn of the Night Attack, let alone throughout his reign.

    A Christian society works only under a non-Christian ruler. You’d have a people with a slave morality ruled by someone with a master morality, which works.

  8. I forgot to add, Christianity, or any group mythology works only if it is enforced by the state. When you don’t have a state religion, you inevitably end where we are now. And for Christianity to recover, you’d need to stop seeing Jews and Muslims as going to the Christian heaven, just like all people who aren’t practicing your faith. So Christianity needs to recover from the Vatican 2, the idea that it shouldn’t influence politics, the Protestant reformation and so on. Good luck with that.

  9. See my latest post on a related topic, something that happened today that made me embarrassed to be Catholic.

  10. Ha, well, convert to Orthodoxism. Here we don’t do the fix the world insanity. By helping each other we don’t understand helping Somalis, we understand helping people in our neighbourhood and congregation. In the same time, we understand helping your fellow as your fellow Romanian. In this sense, charity is good.

    And here comes my morality. Charity to other people is immoral since it means taking charity that would go to your own people and giving the money to others. 😀 Sadly, as I said here, Catholicism acts like a third world agent. Instead of strengthening a group, it weakens it.

  11. FortitudineVincimus says:

    RV’s first comment makes no sense.

    The incredible thing about early Christianity is how it, despite suppression, spread throughout the Roman Empire. Not like the Muslim conquests, but rather from household to household. Now THAT is impressive.

    So, first let us be clear – while there are similiarities to other religions, Christianity is quite different from anything we’ve seen before. It has spread mostly by peaceful means (the Saxons one notable exception), and continues to spread inspite of the best efforts to stop it. Unfortunately, it is spreading on the outside, but dying from within.

    On this world, rights are arbitrary definitions UNLESS you acknowledge universal morality, a concept hard to follow to its logical conclusion without believing in a benign creator. Most people understand universal morality is key to our society, so we can leave it at that, because that is all we need for our “Christian society”.

    The Bill of Rights is not possible without universal morality, and from this universal morality concept we can derive our ethical standards for the rest of society. Now, when for instance we consider the punishment of criminals, let us take the example for C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”: witches used to burned at the stake. A horrible practice by today’s standards. But not horrible because of the burning. Horrible because it was disproportionately painful. We know today witches of the kind that were burnt were probably innocent. They certainly didn’t eat children and such stuff. If they did, burning would be an appropriate punishment.

    In other words, Christiany morality does a very good job standing on its own, but ignorance in worldly matters, especially scientific ignorance, makes possible religious hysteria.

    Scientific enlightment married with Christian morality is unbeatable.

  12. RebelliousVanilla says:

    FV, and the reason why we are screwed is what you are describing. lol

  13. FV, you have not been following the discussions about universal morality in other posts. You correctly note that universal morality leads back to a benign Creator: but that means that it makes no sense politically to those who do not accept a universalizing religion like Christianity or Islam. Furthermore, even Christian and Islamic states have been universal only in the sense that anyone could join the religion, and non-adherents did not have political equality. That is indeed a workable arrangement, but it is not what I am asking about. My question is, in a secular politics, how much of Christian ethics can survive, and how to implement this.

    The right answer, if you are to avoid all sorts of recent problems, is to have a polity which is explicitly dominated by a group cohesive enough that social factors ensure the workability of a code which, while privileging that group, maximizes freedom and individual rights within the group. In the absence of a creed like Christianity or Islam as the basis for membership in this group, the normal criterion to use is ethnicity, because of the natural loyalty people feel to their ethnic group. The problem with this is that unlike religion, people can’t change their ethnicity, so minority groups create problems if they are too large.

    Americans don’t like this, and have chosen the alternative of having a propositional nation, where professed loyalty to a particular political structure is a secular creed that attempts to do the job of group-forming instead of a religion or ethnicity.

    Given the presence in America of people originating from four distinct European colonial powers (England, France, Spain, and Holland) as well as African slaves and indigenous natives, of diverse religious professions, this is an attractive alternative theoretically. But it resulted in a misleading myth being created. America did in fact cohere as a nation for a long time, but not because of its propositionality. Rather, the various European ethnicities melted together to form an American one, because they were close enough to each other ethnically, religiously, and culturally to freely intermarry, while the Africans and natives had no political power.

    It was assumed, because of this myth, that propositionality would work as a basis for America even when it was ethnically more diverse. It DID work for new immigrants from Europe, because they bought into it as a condition of becoming naturalized as citizens, and because the social mores permitted free intermarriage and assimilation.

    However, African-Americans and natives felt no obligation to buy in to the propositional nationhood concept as a price of admission: they were already here. Mestizos also feel a sense of entitlement to be here, because of partly native ancestry and because Spanish America was settled first and because much of the American West used to belong to Mexico. Furthermore, their greater ethnic distance from European-Americans means that they do not naturally assimilate through intermarriage.

    Things were still OK until 1965 or so when white liberals began egging on blacks and Hispanics to define themselves more explicitly as political groups in opposition to whites (of course they did this naturally already but until then that group identity politics was considered un-American and failed because whites wouldn’t politically support it), while at the same time throwing open the borders to unassimilable non-Europeans and denigrating the importance of citizenship and loyalty, taking advantage of the myth that propositionality was a sufficient basis for national cohesion (it may have been sufficient for clever cosmopolitans like them but not for ordinary people).

    It’s still fine to have a Bill of Rights and so on which originate in a universal morality but such a political structure does NOT by itself create the group cohesion necessary to avoid the identity politics and group contention that we see today, and as long as white Americans continue to deny this they will continue to be taken advantage of (except for the white liberals who get to manage the handing out of goodies to the minorities who function as their clients). Many other problems America has developed in the last five decades can be traced to this. Whites identifying themselves as an interest group is a first step to fixing things.

  14. FV, to address your final point — scientific enlightenment and Christian morality worked well in 19th-century Britain which had an established Christian religion. A religious state ought to be scientifically enlightened, as the contrast between Israel and its backward neighbors shows. But that doesn’t address the question of what kind of secular basis a state can be founded on, or how much of Christian morality can properly be incorporated into a secular state.

  15. RebelliousVanilla says:

    Ugh, well, the whites were stupid for buying into the prop nonsense instead of acting like a group with diverging interests from nonwhites.

    http://irishsavant.blogspot.com/2010/11/puzzles-and-some-solutions.html
    Here’s something funny.

  16. That’s a good link and I agree with your comment at the end of it. But I was expecting you to say more about that long comment of mine, since it reflects your influence quite a bit.

  17. rebelliousvanilla says:

    I’m not going to write long comments anymore. I’m in the process of stopping being interested in politics or about things connected to it altogether. People still aren’t ready to move out of the Kantian realm.

  18. Well in that case it’s a good thing I write about other things than politics as well. What would you like to read about?

  19. RebelliousVanilla says:

    I don’t know, things unrelated to how much the world sucks right now. I can feed my misanthropy by myself. 🙂

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