Ken Masugi continues his series of Advent interviews with political theorist James V. Schall, S.J. The conversation begins with considerations of natural disasters, Tolkien, and the study of theology, and then proceeds to discuss his new book, hell, Pope Benedict XVI, natural law, the Iraq war, and several other topics. In December of 2002 and 2003 Masugi interviewed Schall about the vast universe of subjects he has written about and taught. Their 2003 discussion reflected on his teaching experiences and ranged from reason and revelation to justice and friendship and was published in the Summer 2004 issue of Perspectives on Political Science, as an introduction to his book Roman Catholic Political Philosophy. Their two-part 2002 interview covered, among other topics, natural law, natural rights, Thucydides, Islam, and the scandals in the Catholic Church.
Professor Schall is the author of 26 books on theology and political theory. His bibliography and numerous articles are available on his website. Among the subjects of this year's interview is his 27th book, The Sum Total of Human Happiness. This two-part interview began in late November and was concluded via e-mail in mid-December.
Masugi: Natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and the Asian tsunami raise both theological and political questions. Do you have a way of relating these two questions to the natural disasters we faced this past year?
Schall: Natural disasters from Vesuvius to the Black Plague to Krakatoa to the recent Southern hurricanes and floods, followed by a much more lethal earthquake in Pakistan, in themselves are relatively regular events in human history. No generation of mankind has altogether escaped blizzards, tidal waves, lightning strikes, volcanoes blowing up, droughts, floods, tornados, and other "natural" disasters like plagues and bugs. The word "natural" means that the disaster is not and, except by some weird stretch of the imagination, cannot be caused by human agency. It is perhaps the most outlandish of modern temptations to conceive natural disasters to be results of human irresponsibility so that we can "blame" someone for them. This tendency may be an indirect but logical result of understanding nature solely in human terms, as if we cannot allow an agency outside of ourselves. In a broader sense, it is a human claim that it itself is the divinity.
As a race of beings on this planet, we are simply subject to these devastating happenings on a more or less recurrent and often anticipated basis. The annual number of hurricanes occurring in the Caribbean over the past couple of centuries, for instance, is relatively stable. If a hurricane, like a meteor, hits a populated area, we hear about it. If it does not, we do not. One of the reasons recent hurricanes cause more damage than earlier ones is that we insist on our "right" to build on the same shores and beaches, which, when earlier hurricanes struck, were relatively empty.
This recurrence of natural disasters is the nature of the planet on which we live. To wish such things out of existence is simply blind. Like forest fires, these disasters normally serve their own purposes so that without them, other natural things go wrong. So long as our race exists on this Earth, such things will happen. We might be able to "predict" them within a limited range of probability or fortify ourselves against them with, say, earthquake fortified buildings. But a great percentage of them will happen where or when we do not expect. And if government or insurance pays us to rebuild in hurricane alley, the subsequent disaster will indeed be less than natural.
Masugi: Yes, but what do they say about theological issues?
Schall: What particularly calls our attention to such disasters, as I mentioned, is their happening in populated areas, where they cause much damage and death. In the New Testament, an incident is reported in which a wall fell on some people killing them. The witnesses did not ask "whose fault was it that that badly constructed wall fell?" But they did ask Christ whose fault, parents or ancestors, this accident was that it killed these particular people? Why were these particular people killed and not others? The plot of Wilder's novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey, incidentally, falls into this broad area of consideration, with the added notion that such things may happen at a time in our lives when we are most ready for them.
Christ answered this question about whose fault it was. He said that it was not either the fault of the ones who were killed nor of their parents. That is, no moral or religious conclusion can be drawn from a natural or accidental disaster, though a providential one may be. Someone, no doubt, will write a novel about the Swedes killed in the Asian tidal wave after the manner of The Bridge of San Luis Rey. No accident falls outside the range of providence. The fact that some people die as a result of natural disasters is only an aspect of the fact that all men die. The total number of people who die each year from cancer or heart failure or auto accidents is as much a natural disaster as a hurricane's death toll.
We live currently in an age in which we like to think that natural disasters are both predictable and avoidable. In addition, we think that the damage they cause should be repaired immediately, and at the cost of the rest of the society, by the government or insurance companies. If you give most governments an excuse to think they are divine providence, they will accept it. But great damage is done when we seek to assign human causes for natural disasters. Natural disasters are not humanly culpable, though some aspects of them might have been foreseen, provided for, or repaired sooner. I find something frightening about a mentality that insists that all natural disasters are reducible to human disasters.
These past years in which we have had so many natural disasters of various kinds have reminded many of the apocalyptic descriptions in Scripture about the end times and the catastrophes said to be endemic to this time. Obviously, I am most reluctant to suggest that these natural disasters we have recently witnessed are a sign of God's anger at the way we live. God may be angry at the way we live and still not send floods and earthquakes. Or, He, as we read in Job, may be delighted with the way we live and still bring on tornados and volcano eruptions. Both the guilty and the innocent suffer. The rain falls on the just and the unjust.
Josef Pieper, however, has remarked that in the end, Scripture seems definitely to hold that certain natural disasters, indicated therein for the end of mankind, are not mere events of chance but are connected with the moral condition of humanity. Pieper wrote: "It will be we ourselves who bring about the end of history, that the catastrophe will not be visited upon us from outside, but will arise out of the historical process itself" (Josef Pieper: An Anthology, 229).
It is evident that natural disasters, even being chance events, do serve to bring forth the general character of the people who suffer them, as well as the character of those who do or do not help them in their needs. A headline in the Washington Times (Dec. 2) reported that the actual victims of the Southern floods thought that the churches offered the best practical assistance to those in need during this period. This would seem to suggest that something more than politics is needed in natural disasters where separation of church and state seems positively unseemly, especially when the city and the state perform so poorly.
Masugi: "What do these events, whether we take them as part of a created, contingent, or random universe, tell us about our character as a people and the nature of the universe?"
Schall: Several years ago, I heard of a hurricane in Florida, one that caused considerable damage. After the hurricane, frequent looting and disorder took place in the area. The National Guard had to be called out. Meanwhile, during that same period, there were widespread floods along the Missouri/Mississippi River. In the latter area, evidently, there was little if any looting. It seems quite clear that the character of the people formed before the crisis was of crucial importance. We note that after 9/11, the heros, in retrospect, were the New York Fire and Police Departments, with the governor and mayor showing considerable courage and leadership, as a result of which many lives were saved or cared for.
In New Orleans, it was evidently these key institutions in their human representatives that failed. It reinforces the old Platonic principle, that the City writ large is the individual citizen writ Small; that is, the virtue of the people needs to be in place before the disaster strikes. An un-virtuous city lives at its own peril. The military in the Southern disaster actually performed very well, even though this was not the mission it was trained for. The reason seems to be that our military still has a sense of discipline and service that can operate in an effective way in any sort of disaster.
What do these events tell us about "the character of our people" and "about the nature of the universe?" The fact is that wherever and whenever a natural disaster has happened anywhere in the world, it is generally the case that the Americans have been in the forefront of providing aid, material, and help. During the tidal waves in South Asia, there was considerable discussion about why Muslim nations with all their oil riches were not the first to offer aid and help. At least part of the answer was theological and the other part practical, the one having to do with responsibility and other with know-how. We are a society in which more than government is capable of acting. Much of the aid and help in the South arose from individuals and communities acting in a generous and charitable manner. The governments of nearby states, especially Texas, were also effective.
In the beginning, there was a certain fame in providing help. Though other nations offered some help, it is clear that not everyone thinks it incumbent on them to provide help to others in need. The notion that they do, I suspect, is largely a theological idea, now often secularized. Nothing defines the character of a people better than how they, both individually and as governments, deal with natural disasters. One could make a case for the fact that most important thing revealed in the New Orleans disaster was the character of both the people and especially the rulers. Other Southern States fared far better under similar conditions. When a people goes to vote, one of the things that they might more carefully wonder about is how their elected leaders might act in a similar disaster. Indeed, they might ask how they themselves might act.
The scenes of looting, helplessness, and failure to act, of blaming others and individual opportunism, were more mindful of scenes in Thucydides' description of the plague and the civil way on Corcyra than anything else. One of the reasons we read such books is precisely to see what is in human nature and what we might expect of it in certain circumstances. In any case, I am under the impression that, in the end, the federal government acted in a far more effective and efficient manner than we are willing to give it credit for. Its problems were themselves conditioned on the question of the moral virtues and judgment, or lack thereof, of those who were immediately on the scene.
Masugi: This analysis recalls the current debate between Intelligent Design and Darwinism.
Schall: As I recall, a famous earthquake occurred on All Souls' Day, 1755, in Lisbon. It destroyed some thirty thousand lives in a few minutes, far more, be it noted, than any of the current disasters. Voltaire used this event to question the then recent philosophic theories (Leibniz) that this is "the best of all possible worlds." He mockingly wondered about the justice of it all when the palace of the Inquisition was left standing, while the lives of thousands were snuffed out.
"This is indeed a cruel piece of natural philosophy," Voltaire wrote to a gentleman in Lyons. "We shall find it difficult to discover how the laws of movement operate in such fearful disasters in the best of all possible worlds, where a hundred thousand ants, our neighbors, are crushed in a second on our ant-heaps, half dying undoubtedly in inexpressible agonies, beneath debris from which it was impossible to extricate them, families all over Europe reduced to beggary, and the fortunes of a hundred merchants swallowed up in the ruins of Lisbon. What a game of chance human life is!" No doubt there is an element of chance in it, but of providence too.
Voltaire evidently was shocked that the Lord did not design the universe so that the palaces of evil institution were systematically destroyed by natural disasters much to the benefit of the righteous, like himself. On the other hand, he was under no illusion about whether this was the "best possible world" as it seemed that such quakes should not happen in such a world.. We might remark that if earthquakes and other disasters followed the principle that only corrupt things are destroyed, we would have a more vivid idea of which things were corrupt. I believe certain Muslim theologians have made this connection, that earthquakes or floods in the West prove that Allah is chastising the high livers among "the Crusaders."
But is human life merely "a game of chance?" If the world is merely a game of chance, of course, there should be no design in it. But if there is design in it, there still could be chance in it as itself part of its design. Catholic philosophy, for instance, would hold both that each person is specifically willed by God, but that the meeting of its parents is quite by chance, even when it is the result of an arranged marriage. Thus, chance and order must exist in the universe in a non-contradictory relationship, a topic generally discussed, in a much more nuanced way than is usually recognized, under the rubric of providence and predestination. Knowledge, including God's knowledge, of free acts includes a knowledge of their freedom. Knowledge of chance acts includes the realization of their fortuitousness.
One Darwinian view of New Orleans or other disasters would be that only the fittest did survive, presumably even those who did not perform very well during the emergency. Chesterton quipped that the "survival of the fittest" as a theory means only that whoever did in fact survive is the fittest. A Nietzschean variant on this thesis would be that government and Christian compassion should not interfere to assist the weak, who obviously should not survive in a world where the strongest should will and rule. The noble view, exemplified by the Titanic principle, "women and children first," seems to be based on quite another theory, one that implies an order and a design about our priorities. It also implies a freedom to be cowardly and to be unwilling to help others.
The virtues of courage and charity were present. Not a few died in these disasters in serving and saving others. This realization means that the bravest and the best often die serving others who are weaker. Thucydides noted this occurrence also. It also implies that cowards stay alive by shirking their duties and responsibilities to others. This conclusion means, as Aristotle said, that when the brave die young, it is a noble thing when it upholds the principle of the good.
Masugi: As we were discussing before, you noted that Tolkien placed first, by far, in polls of the most popular English-language book of the past century. What accounts for this extraordinary popularity of Tolkien?
Schall: The best and most profound explanation of this popularity is found in Peter Kreeft's new book, The Philosophy of Tolkien (Ignatius, 2005). Chesterton has long held that the common man was, at bottom, something of a philosopher. John Paul II said it explicitly in Fides et Ratio. This normal man is not a professional philosopher who is too often a sophist. But the common man is someone who has a sense of the truth of things when they are presented to him in a way that he can easily understand, or perhaps in a way that he delightfully understands.
Almost every ultimate, and not a few non-ultimate, issues are found in one form or another in Tolkien. As Schumacher remarked in his great A Guide for the Perplexed, many important issues are almost never talked about in our universities or even clearly in our culture. There is considerable controversy that both the Hobbit Cycle and the Narnia Cycle have something to do with Christianity. If so, evidently, for that reason, there is supposedly something wrong with them. This context, of course, is what is right about them, for it is precisely this view of reality, the whole of reality, that we almost never hear, even in our Churches. The idea that somehow Tolkien or Lewis should not write their tales if they had any Christian context is simply bigotry. The stories could not be what they are outside this Christian context.
Masugi: Please introduce Tolkien to those who don't know him or know him only through somewhat confusing movies.
Schall: The issues are clear: Is there an order of things? Are insignificant people important? Does evil always win? Indeed, is there a distinction between good and evil? Why does evil have such power? Are our wars also against principalities and powers, as St. Paul said? Is there a right order of soul and polity? Is joy at the heart of things? If we need not exist, why are we at all?
The Lord of the Rings is first a great story. Indeed, it claims to be a second creation, an account of another order of being, yet one that also falls within the same world that is. We do not live alone in either time or space.
Tolkien's books are in many ways the most "counter-cultural" books that we could imagine. They stand for life, for honor, for dignity, for wonder, but within a world in which real enemies exist, in which it is possible that things go wrong, very wrong, in which, indeed, it is possible to lose our souls by our own choices. Bilbo and Frodo set out on "adventures." Something really happens in the world that makes a difference, an ultimate difference. The great and the small are all involved and our definitions of who is great and who small may not correspond with the reality of who really is great and who small.
All of us sense this meaningfulness about our own lives but we are seldom clear about why. We are free and yet we are within a drama that includes what we do, for better or worse. We can choose against the light. Many evidently do. It is not clear that evil will not triumph, just as it is clear that it often does. We finish The Lord of the Rings with two parallel "endings," the one of Sam who returns home to the Shire, finally to settle into his home with Rosie and his children and his land. But we know this too is temporary, however happy, after long and heroic journeys.
Then there is the higher ending of Frodo to which we are all directed, however happy or sad our life here has been. Again, no one tells us these things, partly because we are very hesitant to know the truth, partly because there are those who do not want us to hear it. The Lord of the Rings is read by millions and millions. Few put it down without wondering about their own home, fewer still put it down without realizing that the final meaning of the world is what Tolkien called eucatastrophe, a happy ending, in spite of it all, yet an ending that does not save anyone but those who choose to be saved by rules of honor and good that they know they do not make.
Masugi: How is theology a liberal art? What is its proper place in a liberal education?
Schall: This question, as you recall, has already been broached and answered by Newman in The Idea of a University. Several years ago, I wrote a small booklet for ISI Books called A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning. This booklet spawned I do not know how many other "guides" to philosophy, history, political philosophy, literature, and I do not know what all. But I do not think there is yet A Students' Guide to Theological Learning. If they ask me, I would be glad to write one! Lord knows what I would say!—and of course, theological learning is, ultimately, about what the Lord knows and has communicated to us.
You ask the right question, namely, "how is theology a liberal art?" The most common word associated with theology today seems to be "fanaticism," as if any thought about God somehow leads to the suicide bombers, about which no one knows what to do, except sometimes to praise them for their "sincerity." But such facile extremes happen because we do not want to admit that there is a place for theology within the very heart of our intellectual life. The current spate of seeing religious "fanaticism" everywhere is an offshoot of a liberal mind that sees truth itself as the origin of this phenomenon. I sometimes think that today the most fanatical book ever written, by these standards, is Aristotle's Ethics, perhaps the calmest book ever produced, next perhaps to Aquinas.
Traditionally, in those universities that founded the modern universities, the medieval universities at Paris, Oxford, Salamanca, and Bologna, theology was considered to be the first discipline, the queen of the sciences. It had its own faculty and its own curriculum, its own methods and its own order. Yet it also was directly related to all the other disciplines and they to it. No scientist or philosopher was educated who did not know theology; no theologian was educated who did not know the classics in other fields. Theology concerned everyone, faculty and student, even the townspeople, no matter what else they were interested in. This centrality should still be the case, if we would understand a "university" in terms of its own very name, something that addresses itself to all knowledge, no matter from what source it might arise, even a divine one.
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Part II of Ken Masugi's interview with political theorist James V. Schall, S.J. takes up the themes of his most recent book, Hell, Pope Benedict XVI, natural law, and war. Part I dealt with natural disasters and politics and theology; chance and purpose in human life; Tolkien; and theology and the liberal arts.
Masugi: How does your most recent book respond to this theme of theology and higher education? How does theology relate to happiness?
Schall: I wish you would ask me difficult questions! The title of my newest book, and the origin of your question, leaves nothing to be desired: The Sum Total of Human Happiness. The title actually has origins in Samuel Johnson and Chesterton too. There are two ways to look at human happiness: 1) God and nothing else, and 2) God and everything else. Both ways, of course, are true. There is here that thirst for things that Chesterton spoke of in relation to Aquinas together with Johnson's recognition that there is a delight in all things.
There are those, I know, who would define happiness as 1) Not God but Everything Else or 2) Not God and Nothing Else Either, except maybe me. Needless to say, I do not belong to either of these latter schools.
Moreover, no professional theologian, if there be such, would ever call Schall a "theologian." It is a very tight guild and a very noble word. Both theology and philosophy seek to know the whole of things, including divine and human things. Their paths may be different, but they cross here and there. Just because they have two different methods and starting points, they do not deal with two different worlds. Rather there is one world and all that is in it, a world that need not exist at all. This latter implies a cause of existence that need not create the world from some necessity in Himself.
One of the useful things about considering theology as a "liberal art" is that it implies that everyone is free to say something about it, provided it is free to say what it knows about what is. No one has a monopoly in speaking on this subject—which literally means the "science or study of God." But neither does anyone have a right to speak of the subject as if there is no tradition about it, no orderly intellectual approach to it, no guides or norms to which it is bound in directing us to its subject matter.
John Paul II, in Fides et Ratio, even seemed to chastise modern theologians for not knowing much philosophy, which indicated, he implied, that they could not be very good theologians without it. It has long been clear that universities cannot be universities if they exclude from their consideration that revelation and reflection on it that also seeks to know and explain what is. Likewise, a study of theology that has no sense that it also must account for all other sources of knowledge cannot know the full meaning of that truth that will make us free, and that freedom that will lead us to the truth. Such is the delicate importance of theology that perhaps, in the context of modern intellectual institutions, theology exists largely outside the schools. This may be one reason why we have precisely a Church, so that the freedom to state this whole is preserved in the world.
How does theology relate to happiness? Happiness is, of course, the very first question or issue in the first book of Aristotle's Ethics, the acquisition of which in all its fullness is what our lives and minds are about. I had a term paper this past semester that began this way: "When I entered college two years ago, a philosophy professor asked me a peculiar question. He said, 'If you could have anything in the world, what would it be?' My initial thoughts were wealth, honor, or power, but when I began to contemplate these preliminary feelings, I came to the realization that none of those alternatives could bring me exactly what I wanted in life, true happiness. Therefore I told the professor that happiness would be the one thing I would want if I could have anything in the world." I wrote on the student's paper, "congratulation, you have just reinvented Aristotle!" And of course, it is, as John Paul II implied, quite possible for ordinary people to make this discovery in one way or another over and over again in any time or place.
But to the specific question about happiness and theology, Aquinas explained that the first reason why there might be such a thing as revelation, and hence theology, is that we might have a clearer notion of what the Godhead might be like, something we could not figure out except in general terms by our own powers. Thus, I think, one of the reasons that theology is a "liberal art" is precisely that there be in play, in normal existential thinking about our happiness, about what we are, an explication to be set over and beside all the other proposals that are presented in historical, intellectual, religious, and political considerations about what might be the content of this happiness. After we give wealth, honor, pleasure, and even contemplation their due, we still want to know both "is this all there is?" and "what is the object of its activity?
A careful consideration of the internal life of God, creation, redemption, and eschatology provide at least one explanation of what is that has a curious internal consistency to it as an insight into the whole and of our personal relation to it. Since in theology this explanation will itself require a free acceptance of its coherence, the place of theology in liberal arts can be looked on as an ultimate assurance that everything is at least there to be considered. Anything less would be a narrowing of what it means to be "liberal," that is, "free" to consider what is.
Masugi: What about the absence of hell from serious theology?
Schall: A theology that neglects hell is not particularly serious. However, we should not forget that the subject of final punishment is not primarily or only a question that arises in theology or revelation. It is found in all its glory in the last book of The Republic, in which the question of rewards and punishments is again considered.
Over the years, in fact, I have written a number of things on hell. It is a topic I find rather intellectually fruitful. There is obviously a chapter on hell in my The Politics of Heaven and Hell, another in At the Limits of Political Philosophy, and another in The Sum Total of Human Happiness. A friend even invited me not too long ago to give a lecture entitled "The Hell, It Is," at one of those "theology-on-tap" evenings at a pub in Stamford, Connecticut, an enjoyable evening. We had a good time talking about hell over a beer! I have always held that more theology is probably discussed in pubs than most any place else anyhow, certainly more than in universities. Whether more of what hell actually is can be found in the former (universities) than the latter (pubs), however, is certainly open to question.
In any case, if a subject is good enough to be discussed by Socrates and by Christ, I figure it is worth a look. Basically, I think, hell has to do with the seriousness of our lives, I who have written a book entitled, following Plato, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs. If there is no hell in any sense, it is difficult to see what difference our lives can make. If whatever I do, good, bad, or indifferent makes no qualitative difference whatsoever, so that I am ultimately saved in spite of any deeds or affirmations, then my life as a responsible being means nothing really. The existence of hell means that at any moment of any day of any human existence, a person can do something ultimately worthy of damnation. There may or may not be a structure of forgiveness in the world, but if so, this merely reinforces the point.
The same doctrine, of course, also means that I can do something of transcendent importance at any moment. But eliminate both possibilities by some philosophic or moral theory, and nothing is really of much significance. This has always been the problem with determinism anyhow. In no polity or culture are all the good deeds that occur in them properly rewarded or evil deeds properly punished. This means logically either there is a transcendent locus of rewards and punishments, or our lives are in any ultimate sense meaningless.
Now, I am aware that there are already a number of philosophic positions that tell us, explicitly or implicitly, that our lives are meaningless, that the world is really made in vain. The reason we have theology as a liberal art is at least to suggest that an alternate picture of the universe exists and does address itself to that question we are most concerned about, namely, in what does our happiness consist and can we refuse to accept it, and if so, with what consequences?
Masugi: Consider Benedict XVI's remarks on hell from his "Theology, Friendship, and Hell," from his Introduction to Christianity :
The depths we call hell man can only give to himself. Indeed, we must put it more pointedly: hell consists in man's being unwilling to receive anything, in his desire to be self-sufficient. It is the expression of enclosure in ones's being along. These depths accordingly consist by nature of just this: that man will not accept, will not take anything, but wants to stand entirely on his own feet, to be sufficient unto himself. If this becomes utterly radical, then man has become the untouchable, the solitary, the rejector. Hell is wanting-only-to-be-oneself.... Conversely, it is the nature of that upper end of the scale which we have called heaven that it can only be received, just as one can only give hell to oneself. (239).
Schall: This is a good passage. We should not think of hell so much in terms of fire and brimstone, but as a consequence of our free choice to give ourselves our own rules—this was after all the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden. When we do this, hell can be something very close to us, especially if we be philosophers. We often think of hell as a place to which God condemns us, but it is not so. It is a place or status that we choose freely for ourselves. It is a place, in the ultimate sense, in which we refuse all gifts, particularly the gift of what we are and that to which we are originally ordained in our individual creation. Hell is where we have no friends because we only want our own rules which have no other justification but that we made them. Augustine was right to think of hell in terms of pride, the ultimate vice that we use to direct all reality to ourselves as the cause of things.
Masugi: With the papacy of Benedict XVI, we have two profound thinkers in a row as heads of the Catholic Church. What might this mean for the future of not only the Church but for theology in general?
Schall: Initially, one must say that after the death of Aristotle in 322 B. C., he was little heard of again till the time of Aquinas in the 13th Century, whereas after the death of Aquinas, he too was not given too much play for several centuries. One of the problems with having brilliant or holy men at the helm is that it often takes the brilliant and the holy to recognize them. Indeed, ex bono, sequitur et bonum et malum. It is quite possible in human events that a brilliant man will be rejected by other brilliant men precisely because he is brilliant. It is called "envy," probably the most devastating of the spiritual vices. Holiness likewise can be seen as wickedness. Many instances in the New Testament show this interpretation of Christ's deeds.
Indeed, most of the popes in modern times have been men of superior intellectual and moral stature. Leo XIII was brilliant, neither Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII, nor John XXIII was a slouch by any means. The ultimate reason why the popes are or are not accepted is not a function of their respective IQ's. The phenomenon of John Paul II is probably exceptional by any standard. And I would doubt if there is a public figure in the world today with more genuine academic credentials than Benedict XVI.
Benedict is quite clear that theology is itself a consequence of revelation so that it can only be authentic if the theologian first believes or holds what is found in revelation. It is from this source that all the insight of theology derives. Of course, it must be concerned with its whole tradition as well as with philosophy itself. If it is true that both theology and philosophy seek a knowledge of the same whole, as they do, then it is very important that both remain loyal to their origins. It is only in this way that they can have some legitimate relation to each other within actual human minds.
I have always held that we do not know the meaning or importance of theology if we do not first ask questions and consider answers that are given by philosophy. Otherwise, without the previous philosophical questions, we would not know whether theology or revelation was intended for anything. Once it is realized that theology can and does present at least plausible answers to philosophical questions and light on philosophical answers, we can be in a position to wonder about the coherence of all things. This is the importance of Aquinas' principle that grace builds on nature, that faith and reason cannot contradict each other. But we can put it in an opposite way, namely, that grace seeks nature. A view of philosophy that is not open to all that is, from whatever source, is already something that betrays philosophy.
Masugi: Specifically, consider the place of reason and natural law in theology.
Schall: By the very fact that natural law is natural, its source is not "theological," unless there are places, as in Deuteronomy 4 or Romans 2, wherein documents of revelation refer to or imply philosophical doctrines. Aquinas says that natural law is the eternal law, that is, the order of things outside God but as known with in the divinity, looked on from within the creature. Maritain calls it the "normalcy of functioning" of a thing. Aquinas says it is simply what is reasonable.
Basically, reason and natural law, if they are actively present in our consideration of what is, are present in theology as the instruments we use to reflect on what revelation might mean. Revelation is directed to intellect and has its own intellectual content. It is intended to cause us to think, among other things, to think correctly, in fact. It is not an accident that it provokes the mind to be more mind. This is its purpose. We are intended to understand things, including the things found in revelation. If we cannot understand everything fully, it does not mean that they are necessarily unintelligible. It may mean that our minds are not capable of grasping everything, particularly the origin of something from both nothing and the divine creative act. That we have minds is clear. That our minds are not divine minds is also clear. We know things through our effort first to know what is not ourselves.
The famous Delphic admonition to "know thyself" is not intended to mean that the first thing we know is ourselves. It is often the last thing we know, and then not well. What we know first is not ourselves. We know ourselves when we know what is not ourselves. Since we are quite aware that we did not cause our own existence, we know we are related to, dependent on, that origin of what is. The place of reason and natural law in theology is where theological explications meet philosophic questionings and searchings for answers to questions that arise in every time and place about the reality before us, including us.
The natural law, at bottom, means that revelation was intended to include the "going forth and including or teaching all nations" because the same issues arise in all nations. Positive or man-made laws may seek to limit or prevent such questions or to prevent revelational answers to be posed to them. When it does this preventing in whatever country, it is a form of tyranny. But in principle, theology makes sense only if it is not the sole discipline. And human reason is usually quite aware of its own limitations. When it claims to know everything by its own methods or because it "made" everything, it is a rationalism no longer open to all that is.
Masugi: "You wrote in Policy Review (December, 2004) that wars are sometimes "necessary." Nobody but you holds this, right? (Laughter) How does this relate to Iraq?
Schall: Well, even if nobody else held it, I think it is a valid position. I could make an historical argument, I think, to the effect that failure to fight wars in time or appropriately has caused as much chaos, degradation of the human spirit, and slaughter as wars that were in fact fought. Wars are a question of justice. When justice is an obvious and paramount question, it is not a virtue to avoid them. It is the mistake of always framing the issue in terms of peace and not in terms of justice. Logically, the former cannot be had without the latter. Peace without justice is the definition of extreme tyranny. And it is not just a question of justice, but of generosity and self-sacrifice. If there are no causes worth fighting and dying for, we might as well give up pretending that we are civilized.
I am still leery of calling the war in Iraq and elsewhere "a war against terrorism." We use that word because it is not politically correct to name the enemy. What we are trying to do geopolitically, I think, is to separate Islam from its own recurring tradition of military expansion by whatever means that has been associated with its expansion and control of conquered areas. We are literally trying to change a religion, though what we claim we are doing is to find within Islam sources and forces that would enforce this change while still claiming that nothing is wrong with the religion. It is a noble and difficult project.
In thinking about this war, I like to begin with suicide bombers. One thing is striking, namely, how quickly we have gotten used to them, even too often apologetic for them. How little horror we really show towards them. The suicide bomber is, and claims to be, a martyr. He claims to be working in a noble cause, a religious cause, in the name of Allah, for the good of Islam. He claims that everyone else's good is that they too belong to Islam. We are often prone to laugh at such claims, but they are taken in a deadly serious way by those who hold them.
Moreover, we have within Islam, many reputable sources which specifically recommend this view that suicide bombing of innocent people is legitimate. For those in the Socratic and Christian traditions, suicide, especially a suicide that arbitrarily kills innocent others, violates that basic principle of civilization, "that it is never right to do wrong." Some sources in Islam condemn this action, often at personal peril. But the majority seem to tolerate or approve it or are afraid to say anything. It is very difficult to condemn this method if we think that it is noble, or in self-defense, or retaliatory, so that it is all right to kill just anyone if our cause is just. There should be a specific UN resolution stating that "suicide bombing is always wrong" and expelling any nation that refuses to enforce it. It will never happen, I know. But it is to this proposition that we have dedicated this war in lieu of getting at the root of the problem that brings it about.
The plan of the President and Mr. Blair is one step at a time. Set up a government in Iraq that is not in the hands of those subject to their own or to fanatic Muslim leaders. Show to Islam itself that another way is possible than the constant round of quasi military dictatorships that leave the cultural control to the religion. The current elections in Iraq are surprisingly encouraging by these standards. Not a few want to see such initiatives fail.
What needs to be done at some level is to ask of the truth of Islam itself. We live in a liberal age of tolerance that does not want to ask these questions. Indeed, it does not think they are ask-able. As Barry Cooper pointed out in his book on terrorism, it is in fact very dangerous, physically dangerous, for a scholar to test the historical validity of the Koran as a text or the philosophical presuppositions that go to constitute what is Allah. Yet, I suspect, the real problem is here. What do the critical exegetical methods used of the Jewish and Christian scriptures reveal of the Koran about its real literary origins? What is the historic record of expansion of Islam by military means? What is the degree of suppression of freedom within all existing Muslim states? There is a literature that exists on these subjects, of course, but it is not well known and by no means complete. It is in the interest of Islam itself to ask such questions of itself.
Above all, from my point of view, I think that theology itself needs to ask this question as a part of its own inner coherence. Currently, there are schools of theology who want to assure the salvation of Islam not by conversion or radical change of inner principle, but by finding any adherence to another religion to be sufficient as a sign of the workings of the Holy Spirit and therefore as salvific. This results in an attitude that it is wrong to worry about what Islam teaches for it too, as such, is a way of salvation even in the Christian sense. We have centers of "dialogue" but we really do not have centers of serious analysis of the truth of this religion. That, after all, is one of the primary purposes of speculative intellect. It is something, as I understand it, that St. Thomas was doing when he wrote the Summa Contra Gentiles. The irony is, however, that even the proposition that such things should be pursued is itself a question of certain kinds of philosophy and theology, as well as certain kinds of political orders that flow from them in which such things can be pursued.
Masugi: What virtue does our military require?
Schall: I want to say a word about distributive justice and this war. Roughly, distributive justice means the proper distribution of burdens and goods of a common good to those within the citizenry of that polity that produces or enjoys them. Plato spoke of military guardians in The Republic. Obviously, a society that fails to understand the need and importance of its military is in a very dangerous position, both from alienating those who sacrifice for the country and from those who cannot conceive how their liberty is dependent on someone else. We have decided that we cannot ask our young men to serve when we need them out of obligation, say a draft in which everyone is held responsible to be trained and participate in the war. So we rely on volunteers. These volunteers hold, for the most part, that what they do is a necessary and worthy cause not only for this country but for the people in Iraq and for civilization itself.
This experience of volunteer troops, I think, causes a clear rift in the culture between those who do serve and those who claim this service is not worthy, not successful, or not legitimate. There were many who did not fight in the Civil War but paid someone else to take their place. We do not quite have the same system, but in effect it is not too far away. In any case, I think it is a question of honor. The withholding of honor is perhaps the most debilitating and resent-causing political act that we can perform. But this follows from not understanding that we are in a war, still pretty much accurately defined in its immediate dimensions by the President after 9/11. This is a war that has to be won both on the almost invisible front and in the understanding of what Islam is.
Masugi: Any final remarks?
Schall: Three. The first is a sentence in Peter Kreeft's book on Tolkien: "A generation gap destroys a community more surely than a war" (135). If we do not know what we were, we already are something else. I suppose we could go the other way with this principle also. Some communities are changed by war, like Byzantium the day after its conquest in the fifteenth century. Others are changed "more surely" by movements of the heart or soul about what they consider to be good or true. Plato was still right. Changes in regime begin in the depths of the hearts of the intellectual guardians. The Christian gloss on this is that momentous things can happen in an out of the way place like Nazareth, things utterly unnoticed in the international press.
The second is the first sentence in Henry James' novel, The Golden Bowl: "The Prince had always liked his London, when it had come to him; he was one of the modern Romans who find by the Thames a more convincing image of the truth of the ancient state than any they have left by the Tiber." I presume today that the Roman prince would probably have to travel to the Potomac to find the same "convincing image of the truth of the ancient state." Once there, he would find rulers who genuinely wanted other people to rule themselves but by standards that are not simply arbitrary. He would also find other competitors for political power who wanted to attend to local problems, floods, blizzards, and such things.
The third is from "Peanuts," December 11, 1994 (United Features). Sally is on her front porch, looking up at a very few snowflakes falling, probably the lightest snowstorm in history. She quickly walks indoors. She knows what she really wants and a reason for getting it. She pounces determinedly on a large chair, with Charlie Brown, her brother, with his hat on, looking at her puzzled.
Sally says to Charlie, "No school today. It's snowing." Charlie turns skeptically to look out the window for verification. She continues, "It's a regular blizzard. Everything is closed. Busses aren't running...." She turns on her side a bit, while Charlie disappears. "Power lines are down all over the city. It's the worst blizzard since 1806."
Charlie is seen outside looking at the same very few snowflakes Sally is hopefully calling the "worst blizzard since 1806." He simply returns with her lunch pail. "Here is your lunch, let's go," he commands. Defeated, she is seen reluctantly leading Charlie toward the bus stop. Charlie tries to console her, "Mom said you could have stayed home in 1806." And Sally replies, refusing to give up, "I can't see where I am going."
In any case, perhaps I too cannot see where I am going. The Blizzard of 1806 was no doubt a natural disaster. I wonder if they had to call out the National Guard. I keep fearing that this generation will forget "Peanuts." The very nature of history is that we "cannot see where we are going." And the essence of our civilization is, to recall Socrates, that "it is never right to do wrong."
Masugi: Thank you, Fr. Schall, and Merry Christmas