Fateful Choices, Bitter Outcomes

All Shall Love Me and Despair

In 1872 Benjamin Disraeli gave a speech at the Crystal Palace.  It was a call for England to decide upon its place in the world.

England will have to decide between national and cosmopolitan principles.  The issue is not a mean one.  It is whether you will be content to be a comfortable England . . . or whether you will be a great country–an imperial country–[and] command the respect of the world.  [Quoted by Robert Tombs, in The English and Their History (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2015), p.419.]

There are many complaints these days, particularly amongst faithful Christians, against what has come to be called American Manifest Destiny.  This pagan doctrine is actually a recrudescence of the spirit of the pagan Roman Empire.  The doctrine of American Manifest Destiny has got murky though, because it also represents a deliberate attempt to “plagiarize” the manifest destiny and glory of the Kingdom of God upon earth.  The tap root of American Manifest Destiny is the belief that the United States has a god-given role and duty to save the world from itself.

If we consider Disraeli’s speech in 1872, we can see that this doctrine of over weening arrogance had modern precursors.
  Disraeli’s choice for England was whether she would be a faithful, humble nation, focused upon its God-given national responsibilities, or whether it would become an Imperial Empire.  Clearly, England made the wrong choice.  It came to glory in being an empire upon which the sun never set.

Daniel Webster famously expressed a similar idea in 1834: “A power which has dotted over the surface of the whole globe with her possessions and military posts, whose morning drumbeat, following the sun and keeping company with the hours, circles the earth with one continuous and unbroken strain of the martial airs of England.”  In 1839, Sir Henry Ward said in the House of Commons, “Look at the British Colonial empire — the most magnificent empire that the world ever saw. The old Spanish boast that the sun never set in their dominions, has been more truly realised amongst ourselves.”  By 1861, Lord Salisbury complained that the £1.5 million spent on colonial defence by Britain merely enabled the nation “to furnish an agreeable variety of stations to our soldiers, and to indulge in the sentiment that the sun never sets on our Empire”.  [Wikipedia]

The United States fast followed.  But did Disraeli adequately capture the alternative to imperialism in the choice he set before the English people?  In fact, in his speech he hinted at the alternative, albeit only to damn it with faint praise: he called it a “national, comfortable England”.   But the calling of a truly great nation is to focus upon its duties and responsibilities under God toward those over whom it governs.  What this means is that first and foremost, the focus of a great nation is parochial.  Its duties and obligations are to its own people.

Its calling is of God and from God.  Its focus is to be upon human souls: to protect individuals and families, their property and possessions, administering true justice in all its responsibilities and duties.  This does not represent nationalism.  Far from it.  On the contrary, this view of England’s future would have the government a servant and a shepherd of its own people.  Its glory would reside in doing these (few) things faithfully and well.  Its calling is not to become an imperial power over other peoples, nations, states, or territories, or the world.

Disraeli was completely wrong.  An imperial state does not “command the respect of the world”, but disgust and hatred.  It is an inevitable product of imperialism.  The United States has been a fast-follower of England’s foolishness.  Sadly, its government still yearns, and fails,  to “command the respect of the world” through its imperial ambitions.  These are pagan notions.  They are not Christian.

Galadriel had it right when she was offered “the One Ring to rule them all”:

For many long years I had pondered what I might do, should the Great Ring come into my hands . . . . And now at last it comes.  You will give me the Ring freely!  In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen.  And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night!  Fair as the Seas and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain!  Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning!  Stronger than the foundations of the earth.  All shall love me and despair!  [J R R Tolkien, The Lord of The Rings]

Disraeli and his colleagues would have wanted England to be the world’s Morning and Night, as beautiful as the Seas and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain.  Instead, the British Empire became a vaunting, brutal nightmare causing despair in many places.  The imperialism of the United States is also well known.  These are all pagan fruits out of a pagan garden.  They command respect.  They compel respect.  But anger, bitterness, and despair follows.

Far better to have remained “a comfortable England” and to have served it faithfully and well. 
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A Has-Been Cause

Another Blow to the Palestinians 

Trump Threatens To Cut Off Aid

By cutting off hundreds of millions in American aid to the Palestinian Authority, the president could radically alter the Middle East.

By Victor Davis Hanson
National Review Online

President Trump set off another Twitter firestorm last week when he hinted that he may be considering cutting off hundreds of millions of dollars in annual U.S. aid to the Palestinians. Trump was angered over Palestinian unwillingness to engage in peace talks with Israel after the Trump administration announced the move of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Given that the U.S. channels its Palestinian aid through third-party United Nations organizations, it’s unclear how much money Trump is talking about it. But in total it may exceed $700 million per year, according to reports.

A decade ago, the U.S. row with the Palestinian Authority would have been major news. But not now.  Why?

The entire Middle East has radically changed — and along with it the role and image of the Palestinians.

First, the U.S. is now one of the largest producers of fossil-fuel energy in the world. America is immune from the sort of Arab oil embargo that in 1973–74 paralyzed the U.S. economy as punishment for American support of Israel. Even Israel, thanks to new offshore oil and natural-gas discoveries, is self-sufficient in energy and immune from Arab cutoffs.

Second, the Middle East is split into all sorts of factions. Iran seeks to spread radical Shiite theocracy throughout Iraq and Syria and into the Persian Gulf states — and is the greatest supporter of Palestinian armed resistance. The so-called “moderate” Sunni autocracies despise Iran. Understandably, most Arab countries fear the specter of a nuclear Iran far more than they do the reality of a democratic and nuclear Israel.

A third player — radical Islamic terrorism — has turned against the Arab status quo as well as the West. Because Palestinian organizations such as Hamas had flirted with Iran and its appendages (such as the terrorists of Hezbollah), they have become less useful to the Arab establishment. The terrorist bloodlettings perpetrated by groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda have discredited terror as a legitimate means to an end in the eyes of the Arab world, despite previous support for Palestinian terrorists.

Third, the world itself may have passed the Palestinian issue by.

Israel was founded in 1948. Palestinian rhetoric that they would push the Jews into the sea is by now stale. There have been seven decades of failed intifadas and suicide-bombing campaigns, along with full-scale Arab–Israeli wars.

Equally futile were endless “peace processes,” “peace initiatives,” “road maps,” and “multiparty talks,” plus Middle East “conferences,” “summits,” and “memoranda” all over the world, from Madrid and Oslo to Camp David.

In the meantime, most other “refugees” the world over have long ago moved on. Around the time Israel was created, some 13 million German speakers were ethnically cleansed from East Prussia and Eastern Europe. The word “Prussia” no longer exists as a geographical or national label. Seven decades later, the grandchildren of refugees do not replay World War II. “Prussians” do not talk about reclaiming their ancestral homelands in present-day Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. German-speaking youth do not demand a “right of return” to their grandparents’ homes to the east.

Fourth, the Palestinians have never been able to craft a successful, transparent, consensual government. After 30 years of waiting, the world has mostly given up on their rhetoric of self-government and reform on the West Bank.

Since the Palestinian proclamation of independence in 1988, there have been only two “presidents”: Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas. Neither has allowed open and transparent elections. A Palestinian president gets power by seizing it. He loses it only by dying in office. Over the same period, Israel has elected seven different prime ministers from a variety of political parties.

The Palestinian political party Fatah is engaged in a deadly rivalry with the terrorist-inspired Hamas organization that has run Gaza for over a decade. The beef is not over democracy, but over which faction will bury the other.

The Palestinians’ inability to rule the West Bank in constitutional fashion is why hundreds of thousands of expatriate Palestinians voice their solidarity from a safe distance while living in North America or Europe. More than a million Palestinians prefer to stay put in Israel. They are convinced that they will have more security, freedom, and prosperity in a democratic state than under dictatorial Palestinian rule a few miles away.

Trump may be rash and unfamiliar with the stagnant Middle East peace process, but his political instincts are probably correct. Polls show that less than 20 percent of Americans support the Palestinian cause. Many U.S. citizens are tired of subsidizing those who claim that they do not like their benefactors in the United States.

It finally may be time for the Palestinian factions to fund their own causes and go their own ways.

— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author of the recently released The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won. © 2018 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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The Cosmological Argument

It is said that all philosophy begins in wonder; and Leibniz was surely right in insisting that the most fundamental thing to wonder at is why anything exists at all. “Why,” he asked, “is there something rather than nothing? This is the first question which should rightly be asked.” Even if it turns out to be unanswerable, the question is certainly reasonable. Everything that exists (from protozoa and poets to planets and parrots) has an explanation of its existence. It would be very strange indeed if, meanwhile, there were no ultimate explanation for the totality of things that comprise the universe.

However, in seeking ultimate explanations a philosophical riddle emerges—even if we constrain our focus to the ultimate explanation for the existence of a single thing. For we observe that all things owe their existence to some prior thing and we know that the series of causally interrelated things is either infinite or finite. But if the series is infinite, then there is no beginning to or explanation for it; and if the series is finite, then it must come to a stop at some first self-existent thing which, strangely, will not owe its existence to any prior thing. A number of different philosophers and thinkers in a number of different times and places have pondered this riddle and concluded to the necessity of an originating cause of everything in God. [1]

On superficial inspection, one might be tempted to object to the above line of reasoning as follows: If everything that exists needs an explanation, then God needs an explanation; and if God doesn’t need an explanation, then why does the universe need an explanation? The Cosmological Argument seems to come to grief on the child’s question, “Who created God?” 

Leibniz attends to this issue by pointing out that all existent things can be classified into two broad types: contingent things and necessary things. 

A “contingent thing” is the most familiar of the two: a thing whose existence is explained by, or contingent on, something external to itself and which could, in principle, have failed to exist. All manmade objects are like this. They owe their existence to whoever created them and it is conceivable that whoever created them could have failed to do so or chosen not to do so. We can easily conceive of a world in which Rembrandt did not paint The Night Watch or a world in which a particular teacup in your kitchen cupboard was not manufactured.  You and I, likewise, are contingent: Our parents might never have met or might have chosen not to have children. And things in the natural world, too, such as starlings, sapphires and stars, seem to fall into the same category: It is plausible to think that the universe, having developed differently, could get along without them.

A “necessary thing,” by contrast, is a thing which exists by a necessity of its own nature in every possible world. Many philosophers think abstract objects (such as numbers, sets and propositions) exist in this way. The number 5, for example, is not brought into existence at a discrete moment in time by something external to itself: an integer between 4 and 6 just exists by logical necessity. Likewise “2 + 2” make “4” in every possible world. Unlike poets and paintings and planets, there is no possible world in which the truths of mathematics and logic do not obtain and so each contains within itself the reason for its own existence: It exists because its nonexistence is logically incoherent.

Leibniz formalised all this into his famous Principle of Sufficient Reason: Everything that exists has a sufficient reason for its existence, either in an external cause, or in the necessity of its own nature. This principle is widely recognized as powerful and intuitive. And is, moreover, the way every rational person already thinks—even in the most extraordinary of cases. Suppose that you saw an adult horse materialise out of thin air. You would first seek a physical cause (“It is the work of an illusionist”) or, failing that, a psychological cause, (“I am hallucinating”) or, failing that, a supernatural cause (“It is an act of God”). As a last resort, you might simply give up and admit that you don’t know the cause, whatever it is, but what you would never do is conclude that, “There is no cause.”

Unless it can be demonstrated that the Principle of Sufficient Reason is less plausible than its negation (unless it can be demonstrated that it is more plausible to believe that things can exist without a sufficient reason for their existence) we are rationally obligated to postulate a sufficient reason for the existence of the universe. The question arises whether, like an abstract object, the universe exists by a necessity of its own nature or whether, like a blackbird or a black hole, the reason for its existence is to be found in an external cause. 

But very obviously the nonexistence of the universe is not logically impossible. One can coherently imagine our universe being reduced to the size of a full stop and there is no known metaphysical precept or rule of inference preventing us from subtracting from reality that remaining atom of space, matter and energy. The universe is contingent.

Here a skeptic, conceding the point, might be tempted to appeal to the eternality of the universe. For if the chain of causation recedes into the infinite past, then one might argue with Hume that for each and every state of the universe q there is a prior state p which caused it, and so on, ad infinitum, with no state being left without explanation. However, multiplying the number of contingent things, even to infinity, fails to solve the problem.

Leibniz himself anticipates this objection and, in response to it, asks us to imagine a book on geometry that was copied from an earlier book, which was copied from a still earlier book, and so on, to eternity past. “It is obvious,” he says, “that although we can explain a present copy of the book from the previous book from which it was copied, this will never lead us to a complete explanation, no matter how many books back we go.”  Even given an infinite series of copies, we will always be left wondering why the contents of the geometry book duplicated in each copy exist to be copied; that is, we will still be left without a sufficient reason for the existence of the book. 

Or imagine a man who has never seen a train before and arrives at a crossing as a long freight train is filing slowly past. Intrigued, he asks what is causing the train to move and is told that the boxcar before him is being pulled by the boxcar in front of it, which is being pulled by the boxcar in front of it, and so on, down the length of the train. It is obvious that we have not given the man a sufficient reason for the movement of the train and that his question will remain unanswered even if we tell him that the boxcars are connected together in a circle. Or that the whole universe is cluttered with slow-moving boxcars all intricately interconnected. Or even that there are infinitely many boxcars. 

This analogy frames the problem in terms of a causal series but it can also be framed in terms of a simultaneity of causes. The rotation of meshing cogwheels in a watch cannot be explained without reference to a spring, even if there are infinitely many rotating cogwheels. 

In The Coherence of Theism, Oxford professor of philosophy Richard Swinburne finds and precisely articulates the problem under discussion: A series of causes and effects sufficiently explains itself if and only if none of the causes is itself a member of the collection of effects.  So: If the cause of a lamp lighting up is its being connected to a battery, and the cause of a second lamp lighting up is its being connected to a second battery, then the cause of the two lamps lighting up is accounted for—a principle that would hold even given infinite lamps and batteries.  But this principle cannot account for cases where each event is both the effect of a preceding cause and the cause of a succeeding effect. For if A causes B which causes C which causes D, then, strictly speaking, the cause of D is not C but A. In short: An infinite series of causally concatenated events is like infinite number of glowing lamps all wired together in a vast network in which a battery is nowhere to be found.  Appealing to an infinite regress of explanations and causes is finally no better than suggesting that, when it comes to the universe, there is no cause or explanation. Both responses violate the Principle of Sufficient Reason. 

Schopenhauer aptly dubbed such reasoning a commission of, “the taxicab fallacy.” The Principle of Sufficient Reason is a lynchpin of rational thought for atheist and theist alike and all a proponent of the Cosmological Argument is doing is inviting us to follow it out to its ultimate logical consequence. An atheist, seeing where the Cosmological Argument is leading, cannot simply dismiss the Principle of Sufficient Reason like a hired hack because it has already taken him as far as he is willing to go.

We have seen that denying that there is an ultimate cause and explanation of the universe (either simpliciter, or by appealing to an infinite regress of causes and explanations) violates the Principle of Sufficient Reason. It follows that we are obligated, on pain of irrationality, to postulate a terminus to the series of causes and explanations.  But why think that the terminus implicated is God or something like God? 

Just as it is possible to make inferences about a writer or painter from his or her artistic output, so it is possible to make inferences about a cause from its effect. And what can we infer about the cause of the universe from its effect? We begin to answer this question by asking another: What is the universe?  The universe is all existing space, time, matter and energy. And it follows by inferential necessity that the cause of the universe is an immaterial entity that lies beyond space and time. [2] Only two things fit this description: An abstract object and God. And abstract objects (the number 14, the set of all right triangles, etc.) are causally inert and so cannot possibly be capable of creating all of physical reality.  The entity implicated by the Cosmological Argument is therefore God, or something like God: a Necessary Being that transcends physical reality and is of unimaginable intelligence and creative power. 


[1] Ancient Greek philosophers developed the cosmological argument into clear form. Christian, Jewish, and Islamic traditions all know it. And it can be found in African, Buddhist and Hindu thought as well. It is, moreover, studied and defended by contemporary philosophers and remains influential—in some cases, surprisingly so. Alasdair MacIntyre, for example, is recognized as one of the most important Anglophone philosophers of the 20th century. He claims that he converted to Catholicism, “as a result of being convinced of Thomism while attempting to disabuse his students of its authenticity.” (Thomism being the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas of which three versions of the cosmological argument are an integral feature). And the philosopher Edward Feser tells a similar story.

[2]  The Cosmological Argument is reducible to the proposition, If a contingent being exists, then a Necessary Being exists. Copleston argued that this is a logically necessary proposition but not, strictly speaking, an analytic proposition. And this is because it is logically necessary only given that there exists a contingent being, which has to be discovered by experience, and the proposition, A contingent being exists is not analytic. “Though once you know that there is a contingent being,” he emphasised, “it follows of necessity that there is a Necessary Being.”

[*] This is a shortened version of a longer discussion of the argument given here.

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Daily Meditation

Addicted to Prayer

But I give myself unto prayer. Psalm 109:4

Charles H. Spurgeon

Lying tongues were busy against the reputation of David, but he did not defend himself; he moved the case into a higher court, and pleaded before the great King himself.

Prayer is the safest method of replying to words of hatred. The Psalmist prayed in no cold-hearted manner, he gave himself to the exercise–threw his whole soul and heart into it–straining every sinew and muscle, as Jacob did when wrestling with the angel. Thus, and thus only, shall any of us speed at the throne of grace. As a shadow has no power because there is no substance in it, even so that supplication, in which a man’s proper self is not thoroughly present in agonizing earnestness and vehement desire, is utterly ineffectual, for it lacks that which would give it force. “Fervent prayer,” says an old divine, “like a cannon planted at the gates of heaven, makes them fly open.”

The common fault with the most of us is our readiness to yield to distractions. Our thoughts go roving hither and thither, and we make little progress towards our desired end. Like quicksilver our mind will not hold together, but rolls off this way and that. How great an evil this is! It injures us, and what is worse, it insults our God. What should we think of a petitioner, if, while having an audience with a prince, he should be playing with a feather or catching a fly?

Continuance and perseverance are intended in the expression of our text. David did not cry once, and then relapse into silence; his holy clamour was continued till it brought down the blessing. Prayer must not be our chance work, but our daily business, our habit and vocation. As artists give themselves to their models, and poets to their classical pursuits, so must we addict ourselves to prayer.

We must be immersed in prayer as in our element, and so pray without ceasing. Lord, teach us so to pray that we may be more and more prevalent in supplication.
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Divine Command Theory and Utilitarianism forgotten bedfellows? Paley’s Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy (part two)

In my last post, I explained the position of Theological Utilitarianism as expounded in William Paley’s The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy. I pointed out The Principles was first published in 1785, four years before Jeremy Bentham published An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. In this post, I want to look at the influence Theological Utilitarianism had in the 18th and 19th centuries. Was Paley expounding some novel idiosyncratic position? Or was he simply repeating a fairly mainstream position on the relationship between Gods law and happiness which had been around for decades?

  1. The influence of Theological Utilitarianism in the 18thand 19th centuries

Theological Utilitarianism sounds novel to contemporary ears. But it wasn’t an innovative position in the late eighteenth century. Paley notes in the preface that he is a “compiler” of earlier writers of moral theory. Schneewind, states that the theory he proposed was in fact “an assemblage of ideas developed by others and is presented to be learned by students rather than debated by colleagues. “[1] Some trace theological utilitarianism back to the divine command theory of John Locke[2]  However, the earliest clear exponent of this position appears to be George Berkeley’s sermons in 1712.[3]

It is worth looking at Berkeley in some detail.  According to Berkeley, things are “denominated good or evil” as “they are fitted to augment or impair our own Happiness” Good or Evil. On the other hand, “Moral Goodness” consists in a “Conformity to the Laws of God.” Berkley articulates the relationship between moral and non-moral goodness as follows:

For Laws being Rules directive of our Actions to the end intended by the Legislator, in order to attain the paleyKnowledge of God’s Laws, we ought first to enquire what that end is, which he designs should be carried on by human Actions. God is a Being of Infinite Goodness. it is plain the end he proposes is Good. But God enjoying in himself all possible Perfection, it follows that it is not his own Good, but that of his Creatures. Again, the Moral Actions of Men are entirely terminated within themselves, so as to have no influence on the other orders of Intelligences or reasonable Creatures: The end therefore to be procured by them, can be no other than the good of Men. But as nothing in a natural State can entitle one Man more than another to the favour of God, except only Moral Goodness, which consisting in a Conformity to the Laws of God, doth presuppose the being of such Laws, and Law ever supposing an end, to which it guides our Actions, it follows that Antecedent to the end proposed by God, no distinction can be conceived between Men; that end therefore itself or general design of Providence is not determined or limited by any Respect of Persons: It is not therefore the private Good of this or that Man, Nation or Age, but the general well-being of all Men, of all Nations, of all Ages of the World, which God designs should be procured by the concurring Actions of each individual. Having thus discover’d the great end, to which all Moral Obligations are Subordinate; it remains, that we enquire what Methods are necessary for the obtaining that End.[4]

When Berkeley says God is  infinitely good, he like Samuel Clarke seems to mean that God  has “an unalterable disposition to do and to communicate good or happiness.”[5] [6] God’s goal in issuing the commands he does is the happiness, impartially considered of all human beings.

Berkeley proceeds to note two ways that God could promote this happiness. One would be “without the injunction of any certain universal Rules of Morality, to to oblige “every one upon each particular Occasion, to consult the publick Good, and always to do that, which to him shall seem in the present time and circumstances, most to conduce to it.”  The second is  “by enjoining the Observation of some determinate, established Laws, which, if Universally practised, have from the Nature of things an Essential fitness to procure the well-being of Mankind” Berkeley argues that “”there lie several strong Objections.” Berkeley then anticipates the “self-effacing” objection to act utilitarianism arguing that anyone committed to promoting the happiness of others wouldn’t promulgate act utilitarianism as a decision procedure. Public endorsement and acceptance of the rule “do whatever maximises utility” would probably not maximise utility. Consequently, Berkeley concludes that God has followed the second method.

Stephen Darwall suggests that the best way to interpret Berkeley is to distinguish between his meta-ethical theory and normative theory. His meta-ethical theory attempts “to answer metaphysical questions of what goodness and rightness themselves, respectively, are.” On the other hand, his normative theory “concerns what actions or things are good and right.” However, meta-ethically Berkeley is a divine command theorist “moral goodness consists” consists in a “Conformity to the Laws of God”. However, Berkeley’s normative theory was rule-utilitarian, God commands “Laws, which, if Universally practised, have from the Nature of things an Essential fitness to procure the well-being of Mankind”.[7]

A position very similar to Berkeley is hinted at in Butler’s writings[8] but is expounded more clearly in the writings of, John Gay [9] John Brown, and Abraham Tucker.   It’s clear that Paley clearly draws upon this earlier tradition.  In the preface to The Principles Paley acknowledges that he is attempting to compile and articulate the positions of John Gay, and Abraham Tucker. Book II chapter 1 of The Principles proposes a line of argument that closely resembles the argument of John Gay “Concerning the Fundamental Principle of Virtue or Morality”.

Similarly, Paley’s emphasis on rules is, as we saw, found in Berkeley’s Passive obedience and performs the same function. Berkeley’s initial advancement of this distinction and advocacy of rule utilitarianism was part of a broader argument to argue against violent resistance to the state during the Jacobin agitation in Ireland. He was concerned that people were advocating the violation of certain negative rules of the law of nature such as: “do not commit adultery”, “do not steal”, “don’t rebel against the government”, whenever they perceived doing so would further the public good. Paley uses the distinction for similar purposes, to respond to the objection that utilitarianism allows people to break with impunity moral rules against theft and murder whenever they perceive it will make people happy.

In fact, the proximate source for Paley’s stress on rules appears to be Abraham Tucker. Tucker. Wrote

  As we cannot upon every occasion see to the end of our proceedings, he [the moralist] will establish certain rules to serve as landmarks for guiding us on the way.  These rules, when he has leisure and opportunity for mature consideration, he will build on one another, erecting the whole fabric upon the basis of the summum bonum before described.  (Original emphasis)[10]

 Similarly, Paley’s argument that God wills the happiness of his creatures and so the commands God issues must be coextensive with promoting the happiness is ubiquitous in the tradition that preceded him. This argument is s found in Berkeley, Gay, and Brown Louden also documents the same argument occurs in Adam Smith and Joseph Butler [11]

Finally, Paley’s exposition of this tradition was very influential. The principles became required text at Cambridge university Schneewind points out “utilitarianism first became widely known in England through the work of William Paley.[12] Paley, not Bentham being its most well-known exponent.  Similarly, Smith points out that Paley’s writings were once as well known in American colleges as were the readers and spellers of William McGuffey and Noah Webster in the elementary schools.[13]

In fact, Paley’s influence is still seen clearly in John Austin’s work on Jurisprudence, in the early and late nineteenth century.  Mill himself appeals to the tradition:

We not uncommonly hear the doctrine of utility inveighed against as a godless doctrine. If it be necessary to say anything at all against so mere an assumption, we may say that the question depends upon what idea we have formed of the moral character of the Deity. If it be a true belief that God desires, above all things, the happiness of his creatures, and that this was his purpose in their creation, utility is not only not a godless doctrine, but more profoundly religious than any other. If it be meant that utilitarianism does not recognise the revealed will of God as the supreme law of morals, I answer, that a utilitarian who believes in the perfect goodness and wisdom of God, necessarily believes that whatever God has thought fit to reveal on the subject of morals, must fulfil the requirements of utility in a supreme degree. …Whether this opinion is correct or not, it is superfluous here to discuss; since whatever aid religion, either natural or revealed, can afford to ethical investigation, is as open to the utilitarian moralist as to any other. He can use it as the testimony of God to the usefulness or hurtfulness of any given course of action.[14]

Mill here explicitly rejects the idea that Utilitarianism does not recognize the revealed will as the supreme law of morals, and uses a line of argument very similar to Paley, whose writings Mill was aware of, to argue the contrary.

Consequently, Utilitarianism then wasn’t a new or novel theory of ethics proposed by secular thinkers such as Hume and Bentham in the late 18th century. Nor did it develop in response to or in opposition to a conception of morality based divine commands or divine laws. Divine command theorists, in fact, had been advocating Theological Utilitarianism for decades before Bentham, and the popularity of utilitarianism in Anglo-American thought had a good deal to do with the popularity of theological utilitarianism.

[1]J B Schneewind Moral Philosophy from Montaigne to Kant. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2002) 446.  Paley was, therefore, summarising an already existing, popular, school of thought.

[2] See for example A. P. Brogan “John Locke and Utilitarianism” Ethics 69: 2 (1959), 79-93.

[3] See Berkeley’s A Discourse on Passive Obedience (1712) and dialogues I-III of the   Alciphron (1732). Berkeley had included a systematic treatise on moral theory in the draft of A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710), but the manuscript was lost, leaving historians to piece together his theories from his occasional writings.

[4] Passive obedience: or, the Christian doctrine of not resisting the supreme power, proved and vindicated … In a discourse deliver’d at the College-chapel. By George Berkeley, M.A. Fellow of Trinity-College, Dublin. Available at https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/ecco/004899015.0001.000/1:3?rgn=div1;view=fulltext

[5] Clarke, Demonstration, Prop. XII; in Works, vol. II, p. 572.

[6] Robert Louden notes this conception of God’s goodness was common in the 18th century and similar arguments can be seen in Smith and Butler see Robert Louden “Butler’s Divine Utilitarianism,” History of Philosophy Quarterly, 12:3 (1995):265–280

[7] See Stephen Darwall “Berkeley’s Moral and Political Philosophy,” in, The Cambridge Companion to Berkeley, Kenneth Winkler, ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006)

[8] Robert Louden “Butler’s Divine Utilitarianism,” History of Philosophy Quarterly, 12:3 (1995):265–280

[9] John Gay “Concerning the Fundamental Principle of Virtue or Morality” in Lewis Amherst Selby-Bigge, British Moralists, being Selections from Writers principally of the Eighteenth Century, vol. 2 [1897] available at http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/bigge-british-moralists-vol-2 accessed 26 Aug 2016

[11] Robert Louden “Butler’s Divine Utilitarianism,” History of Philosophy Quarterly, 12:3 (1995):265–280.

 [12] Schneewind, Moral Philosophy from Montaigne to Kant 446.

[13] Wilson Smith “William Paley’s Theological Utilitarianism in America” The William and Mary Quarterly Third Series, 11:3 (1954) 402–424

[14] John Stuart Mill “What is Utilitarianism” available at https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/mill/john_stuart/m645u/chapter2.htm

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Those Hating Wisdom, Love Death

Prothanasia Arguments Cannot Be Limited To One Class of People
A euthanasia debate is now underway in New Zealand.  Parliament is now considering a bill which would make the practice lawful.  

In writing about “euthanasia” we can’t help but feel the lily has already been gilded.  The word is derived from Greek.  “Thanatos” means death; “eu” is an adverb meaning “good”.  Thus, euthanasia means, literally “good death”.  Since we believe that there is nothing good about the deliberate killing of another human being, we propose a new word would serve us much better.  Instead of “euthanasia” we will refer to “prothanasia”, which literally means “for death”, or “in favour of death”.

Philip Matthews summarises what the new Bill intends:

The details may change but the bill presently would allow for a New Zealand citizen or resident over 18, who is suffering from a terminal illness that is expected to end their life within 6 months or has a grievous and untreatable medical condition, to opt for an assisted death. There are safeguards of informed consent and assessment by two doctors.  The pro-euthanasia camps argue that civilised countries like ours at this point in history should allow for death without suffering, a painless option. You hear a lot about the dignity of the dying.  [Stuff]

One of the strong advocates for the prothanasia is Maryanne Street.  She quickly exposes the Achilles heel of the position:

 She believes that two things underpin both the assisted dying bill and disability charters, and they are maximum autonomy and dignity. Just as disability rights activists want to enshrine those qualities, so too does the pro-euthanasia camp.

The case for prothanasia rests upon human dignity and autonomy.  People have rights.  Allowing people to make their own choices is inextricably bound in with their dignity as human beings.  That is why prothanasia can never stop at the wilful death of terminally ill patients.  If maximum autonomy and dignity is to mean terminally ill patients can choose to die, so too, with equal moral and ethical force must non-terminally ill human beings be accorded the same autonomy and dignity.  If not, the prothanasia argument is inextricably riddled with hypocrisy, inconsistency, special pleading, and injustice.  It must advocate human rights for some, and not for others.

It is thus understandable that prothanasia regimes such as the Netherlands and Belgium have steadily expanded the application of the right to die, well beyond the terminally ill.  In those countries it is now applicable to anyone who believes they have “had enough” of living.

The slippery slope argument is harder to combat, though. What happens if we keep normalising the right to die or keep expanding the parameters? How far does liberalism take us? Australian ethicist Xavier Symons made this point recently when euthanasia was debated and made legal in the state of Victoria. In the Netherlands, Symons noted, euthanasia deaths have trebled since 2002, and are now more than 4 per cent of all deaths, with increasing requests from people who are not terminally ill but simply “tired of life”.  There is something very sad about this trend: boredom, illness and loneliness in the most prosperous societies in history, where some would rather be dead and no longer a burden.

How about the right of children to die? That would seem grotesque to many of us. But the Netherlands allows assisted dying for those over 12 and Belgium has had no age limit since 2014.  The first Belgian minor to be legally euthanised was a terminally ill 17 year old in 2016.

When confronted with this grim reality, the New Zealand prothanasia advocates deny that is what they are seeking.  But this is either a “head-in-the-sand” response, or it is deliberately deceptive and misleading.  If the prothanasia argument is to be granted credence in the first place, it must be applied  to all human beings.  If it cannot be so applied–for whatever reason or argument–it is equally inapplicable and irrelevant to terminally ill old folk.

In the end, we are all terminally ill.  If a twenty-five year old does not have a human right to be helped to die (despite the depths of his depression or grief), nor does a fifty year old–nor does a how-ever-many-years-old human being.
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redeemed and renewed

marmsky January 2018 (17)devotional post # 2264

Numbers 3:39-43

Num 3:39 All those mustered among the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron mustered at the command of Yahveh, by clans, all the males from a month old and upward, were 22,000.
Num 3:40 And Yahveh said to Moses, “Muster all the firstborn males of the sons of Israel, from a month old and upward, taking the number of their names.
Num 3:41 And you will take the Levites for me– I am Yahveh– instead of all the firstborn among the sons of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the cattle of the sons of Israel.”
Num 3:42 So Moses mustered all the firstborn among the sons of Israel, as Yahveh commanded him.
Num 3:43 And all the firstborn males, according to the number of names, from a month old and upward as mustered were 22,273.

redeemed and renewed

The firstborn sons who would have died at the hands of the death angel in Egypt were redeemed and replaced by Levites. Redemption was bought by grace, and purchased afterward by service and worship. But even that service and worship had to come from those specifically sanctified for the task. A shadow of Christ’s saving work is the Levites.

LORD, now that you have saved us by your death on the cross, we trust your Holy Spirit to make us anew, so that we qualify to serve and worship you.


False Debt Scams

Scam Alert
False debt scamming is on the rise, we are told.  Drawing on the plethora of information which is available on-line, false debts are created, which are then often sold to criminal gangs at a fraction of the alleged outstanding debt, and the gangs then go to work.  Often the “tools” used to get people to pay up on the bogus demand include intimidation and threats.  

Here is an article/case-study of one “target” in the United States who fought back. 

On the morning a debt collector threatened to rape his wife, Andrew Therrien was working from home, in a house with green shutters on a cul-de-sac in a small Rhode Island town. Tall and stocky, with a buzz cut and a square, friendly face, Therrien was a salesman for a promotions company. He’d always had an easy rapport with people over the phone, and on that day, in February 2015, he was calling food vendors to talk about grocery store giveaways.

Therrien was interrupted mid-pitch by a call from his wife. She’d gotten a voicemail from an authoritative-sounding man saying Therrien was in some kind of trouble. “I need to verify an address to present you with your formal claim,” the man had said. “Andrew Therrien, you are officially notified.”

A few minutes later, Therrien’s phone buzzed. It was the same guy. He gave his name as Charles Cartwright and said Therrien owed $700 on a payday loan. But Therrien knew he didn’t owe anyone anything. Suspecting a scam, he told Cartwright just what he thought of his scare tactics.  Cartwright hung up, then called back, mad. He said he wanted to meet face-to-face to teach Therrien a lesson.

“Come on by, asshole,” Therrien says he replied.  “I will,” Cartwright said, “and I hope your wife is at home.”  That’s when he made the rape threat.  Therrien got so angry he couldn’t think clearly. He wasn’t going to just let someone menace and disrespect his wife like that. He had to know who this Cartwright guy was, and his employer, too. Therrien wanted to make them pay.  At the same time, he worried that the call might not be a swindle. What if some misinformed loan shark really was coming for them? But Therrien didn’t have any real information he could take to the police.

Then he remembered Cartwright had left a number with his wife.  He dialled.  Somewhere—at the top of a ladder of dirty debt collectors that Therrien would spend the next two years relentlessly climbing—a man named Joel Tucker had no idea what was coming.

Earlier this year, I met Therrien, 33, at a Panera Bread restaurant in central Providence. He had reluctantly agreed to be interviewed, on the condition that we not reveal his hometown or his wife’s name.  Therrien had been caught up in a fraud known as phantom debt, where millions of Americans are hassled to pay back money they don’t owe. The concept is centuries old: Inmates of a New York debtors’ prison joked about it as early as 1800, in a newspaper they published called Forlorn Hope.

But systematic schemes to collect on fake debts started only about five years ago. It begins when someone scoops up troves of personal information that are available cheaply online—old loan applications, long-expired obligations, data from hacked accounts—and reformats it to look like a list of debts. Then they make deals with unscrupulous collectors who will demand repayment of the fictitious bills. Their targets are often poor and likely to already be getting confusing calls about other loans. The harassment usually doesn’t work, but some marks are convinced that because the collectors know so much, the debt must be real.

The problem is as simple as it is intractable. In 2012, a call centre in India was busted for making 8 million calls in eight months to collect made-up bills. The Federal Trade Commission has since broken up at least 13 similar scams. In most cases, regulators weren’t able to identify the original perpetrators because the data files had been sold and repackaged so many times. Victims have essentially no recourse to do anything but take the abuse.  [NZ Herald]

The story goes on to describe the lengths this particular victim went to in order to extract utu.

In New Zealand, if you get that “out-of-the-blue” call or approach alleging that you owe money and demanding that you pay up, here is some advice from a legit debt collection business.


Warnings are being issued to consumers to watch for persistent scammers who attempt to collect debts that don’t even exist.  When an unfamiliar voice on the phone informs you that you owe hundreds of dollars on an unpaid debt, a debt you don’t even recall having, what do you do? How do you know if the call is legitimate?

Anyone can fall victim to calls from fake debt collectors because the scammers are often very convincing. If you haven’t been doing a good job of keeping track of your debts, you could become easy prey.  Here are some tips on how you can protect yourself.

Know Your Rights

Whatever they tell you, tell them you’ll wait for the letter – but don’t give them your address. Debt collection agencies must send a written letter outlining the details of the debt and if they’re legitimate they’ll have your address on file.  You should also know that debt collectors are not permitted to use abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices when attempting to collect your debt.

Ask Questions

If someone calls you claiming to be from a debt collection agency, ask them for the name, address, and phone number of the company they’re calling from, or the contact details of the debtor they’re trying to reach.  A legitimate debt collector will be happy to provide you with this information whereas phony collectors may avoid giving an answer.

Keep Track of Your Debts

If you receive written notice of a debt, order your own credit report so that you can see whether the debt appears on your file. If you don’t recognise the debt, you must respond in a letter stating that you are not the owner of the debt. [iCollect]

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Daily Meditation

An Especially Reserved Portion

There is laid up for me a crown of righteousness. 2 Timothy 4:8

Charles H. Spurgeon

Doubting one! thou hast often said, “I fear I shall never enter heaven.” Fear not! all the people of God shall enter there. I love the quaint saying of a dying man, who exclaimed, “I have no fear of going home; I have sent all before me; God’s finger is on the latch of my door, and I am ready for him to enter.” “But,” said one, “are you not afraid lest you should miss your inheritance?” “Nay,” said he, “nay; there is one crown in heaven which the angel Gabriel could not wear, it will fit no head but mine. There is one throne in heaven which Paul the apostle could not fill; it was made for me, and I shall have it.” O Christian, what a joyous thought! thy portion is secure; “there remaineth a rest.” “But cannot I forfeit it?” No, it is entailed.

If I be a child of God I shall not lose it. It is mine as securely as if I were there. Come with me, believer, and let us sit upon the top of Nebo, and view the goodly land, even Canaan. Seest thou that little river of death glistening in the sunlight, and across it dost thou see the pinnacles of the eternal city? Dost thou mark the pleasant country, and all its joyous inhabitants? Know, then, that if thou couldst fly across thou wouldst see written upon one of its many mansions, “This remaineth for such a one; preserved for him only. He shall be caught up to dwell forever with God.”

Poor doubting one, see the fair inheritance; it is thine. If thou believest in the Lord Jesus, if thou hast repented of sin, if thou hast been renewed in heart, thou art one of the Lord’s people, and there is a place reserved for thee, a crown laid up for thee, a harp specially provided for thee. No one else shall have thy portion, it is reserved in heaven for thee, and thou shalt have it ere long, for there shall be no vacant thrones in glory when all the chosen are gathered in.
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Smart Money

There is Coin on the Table
Climate change is not a scientific proposition.  The reason is straightforward.  For any scientific discipline or inquiry, propositions must be falsifiable.  

Climate change, we are told, is universal.  It happens all the time.  A climatic event, such as recent snow storms in the United States or heat waves in Australia, are said to be “outside the norm”, above average, even extreme events.  But, then the archives and databases are searched and we are told the recent heat wave in Australia produced temperatures that had not been recorded for over eighty years.  In other words, eighty years ago similar temperatures were experienced.

So far, so good.  Now, however, overlay another paradigm: global warming.  The reigning belief amongst politicians, world leaders, some scientists, and the media is that the globe is warming.  For most of us this means we are to expect temperatures to rise.  The cause is put down to humanity releasing ever growing amounts of carbon based gases into the atmosphere.  This creates a “greenhouse” effect.  Or so the scientific proposition has it.  But if that theory is truly scientific, it must be testable, and subject to data or experimentation that would make it is untrue or false.

At this point the card sharp joins the game.  He blithely tells us that global warming is so universal that any climatic event , whether hot or cold, flood or drought, storm or calm, manifests global warming.  Climate change means global warming.  Suddenly a false, marked card has been slipped into the deck.

So the “scientific” proposition has now morphed.  Global warming actually is the same as climate change.  Release of carbon dioxide causes climate change which is the same as global warming.  So, absolutely freezing temperatures in the United States represents climate change (things have changed from a few weeks ago when temperatures in Detroit were warmer).  And climate change is the same as global warming.  Therefore, freezing cold temperatures are in fact an evidence of  global warming!

We kid you not.
  This is the actual ratiocination which controls the mind of most politicians, bureaucrats, talking heads, and media.  It is profoundly unscientific.  It has not one shred of scientific credibility about it, because no evidence, no condition, will ever falsify the proposition.  The most cold temperatures imaginable are said to provide evidence for universal global warming.  Why?  Because any change in the climate is an evidence for global warming.

When this sort of irrational group-think overtakes investment markets, huge fortunes are waiting to be made if you invest in the opposite proposition.  Some will protest vigorously at the immorality of such a proposal. But we are not proposing that one would profit from actual climate change or global warming, but from the near universal belief in climate change and global warming.  And, that, is a very different thing.  When a consensus becomes overwhelmingly believed without proper foundation, money can be made.

Here is but one example.  Because of global warming, we are told, sea waters will rise.  Coastal properties (of which there are a fair few in New Zealand)  will be subject to flooding and erosion.  Therefore, coastal properties will drop in price: fewer people will want to buy them because of the calamities to come.  Here is an example of the alleged doom that awaits:

The climate change debate has hogged headlines recently but its influence on humanity is undeniable. In the first of a six-part series called Living on the Edge, reporter Deena Coster takes a deeper look at what it means for Taranaki.

The rough and rugged Taranaki coastline will be unrecognisable in 100 years’ time.  Houses once dotted along the coast will be lost, as coastal erosion and rising sea levels steal away the very land they rest on.  Rising sea levels are a symptom of climate change and are slowing eating away at the edges of the place we call home.

Living on the beachfront has always been highly prized in Kiwi culture but for residents of coastal communities around New Zealand feeling the pinch of climate change, it is becoming more like an albatross around their neck.  Described by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as the “nuclear-free moment” of her generation, the world’s changing climate can no longer be ignored.  It’s a threat not lost on people like Ray and Edith Tito, as it literally laps near the back door of their East Beach home in Waitara, North Taranaki.

From a comfy seat in her lounge, Edith can chart the changes to her coastal backdrop on a daily basis.  It feels unstoppable and attempts to talk the New Plymouth District Council (NPDC) into doing something about it have so far been unsuccessful.  “It’s been two years now since we’ve tried to pressure them but they’ve not moved. They don’t want to know,” she says.

It’s a similar sentiment 13 kilometres north where Onaero residents have renewed their calls for NPDC to complete a rockwall at the beach settlement.   In 2015, the council spent $150,000 on emergency repairs to the wall but further work has stalled.  A report commissioned in 2013 found that within 50 years, six homes in Onaero would be at risk of succumbing to the sea, and within a century, 14 homes would be lost, with another 10 at risk of going the same way.  [NZ Herald; emphasis, ours]

If one does effective research, and is patient, and the hype over global warming continues to grow, the price of coastal residences will start to fall.  The more doom and gloom, the bigger the bargain to be had.

And when you have a Prime Minister who compares global warming to the threat of nuclear war you have all the rhetorical hype needed to devalue coastal residential properties.  Short the Prime Minister’s hype and savvy investors who do their research and are patient can make fortunes.  As the saying goes, buy at bargain prices, and sell when global warming (er, climate change) has become a distant collective memory or part of a once mad, mad, mad world.  All that is required is a sufficiently long term investment horizon to wait for the global warming canard to vaporise and for coastal properties to become, once again, a close thing to paradise. 

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