Friday, June 18, 2010

Follow-up thoughts

I was watching a Blogging Heads TV segment with Ann Althouse and Eve Tushnet and was struck by an exchange they had. I will not try to repeat it here verbatim since that would be tedious. I will try to be reasonably accurate, though I should note that my purpose here is not to criticize-rather they got me thinking of ways the topic could be almost endlessly expanded.

Althouse was talking about how some of God’s commands don’t have to make sense to the faithful. They obey them because they want to be obedient to God’s will. Tushnet had a different (though not mutually exclusive) take on it. She was attracted to the Roman Catholic church in part because it was the sort of religion that was willing to make demands. That is, a church that tells her she is great just the way she is, is not the sort of organization which will be capable of helping her. Churches that make no demands are implying that they don’t actually believe in anything—there is no absolute truth. If you are perfect now, then why join a church? I am not suggesting that you have to consider yourself a fallen sinner (though that would be fine), just that you are not all you could be—in a spiritual sense, as a bare minimum requirement to joining a church. Again, my purpose here is not criticism and so I am open to suggestions that I have read into or misapprehended what was spoken. What I want to get to is a discussion of reasons for following God’s rules.

1. The Enlightened School.

If I was religious, this would certainly be the view which would be most attractive to me. The idea here is that we may not understand why God makes the rules that he makes, but he is good. As a good God, he makes rules that help us in life. If we follow his laws, the result will be a happy, full and decent life.

2. The “It Is Totally Arbitrary” School.

In this version the rules are arbitrary; they won’t hurt us, but they have no benefit of their own. There are a couple of ways of thinking about this. In George Orwell’s 1984, there is a part where Winston is told that illogical rules are needed: The goal of the state is power, so if the people are told to do reasonable things, how will the rulers tell the difference between obedience and people just doing what they would have done anyway? If this is God’s motivation then, other than prudence, I don’t see any moral reason for obedience. But there is another perspective as well: I don’t think that the following is true, but there is a kind of logic to it which illustrates this point further. My dad was a career Air Force pilot and he had a theory about the regulation haircut. He thought it was arbitrary in that it didn’t need to be as short as the regulations required it to be.* The real reason, he thought, was that they (I guess the Air Force as an organization) want to know who is willing to follow orders. This makes some degree of sense. For the military to function in warfare, there needs to be confidence that lawful orders will be carried-out.

*Later, I was enlisted in the Marine Corps and our regulations were even more strict than what I remember my father having to do. We jarheads felt less-than-squared-away if more than a week elapsed between haircuts. In the Marines, having a good haircut was more peer-pressure based than top-down. You just didn’t feel like you could lead your men with authority if your uniform and grooming were not sharp. It was a show of rigor.

3. The “It May Be Arbitrary, But It Is Still Good For You” School

What if the act of submission is the point? When you let go of your own ego and follow God’s law, that this discipline helps you to grow spiritually or in your faith?


Trooper York said...

I just know that if I didn't go to church Sister Assunta would bean me off the head with a metal ruler.

That was motivation enough.

Trooper York said...

I find Mass on Sunday as one of the highlights of my week. I get to hear the old stories that make more sense to me every year.