The West Worships Three False Gods

By John Zmirak Published on March 25, 2015

The ever-interesting Samuel Gregg of the Acton Institute explains the moral chaos that prevails in Western societies, and our conflict with Islam, by noting three quite different but equally false visions of God that compete for adherents today against the real God of Abraham and Jesus. Gregg outlines these three false gods as follows:

One is “God-As-Will,” but untethered to reason. This is a God who acts arbitrarily, one whom we must simply obey. Freedom is thus found in unquestioning submission, no matter how irrational the divine command.

Another is “God-As-Love,” but without reasonableness. This is a being who, like an irresponsible parent, simply affirms his child’s choices, no matter how foolish or evil such decisions might be.

A third possibility is “God-Beyond-Reason.” This produces a narrowed understanding of human reason itself: one that confines our rationality to the verifiable scientific method, and thereby declines to permit it to ponder the bigger questions opened by the intriguing possibility that Divine Reason exists.

If any of these conceptions of God prevails in a culture, we can hardly be surprised that attempts to answer why we make particular choices — moral, political, legal, and economic — become reduced to strongly felt feelings, utilitarian calculations, or, more recently, what the philosopher Tyler Burge calls “neurobabble.” Instead of seeking rational resolution of problems, we increasingly defer to reigning majority opinion, panels of experts, consequentialist rationalizations devised to legitimize all sorts of evil, or some type of force — whether expressed though democratically elected temporary majorities or outright coercion.

Notions of natural law and right reason also become harder to comprehend in these circumstances. After all, if the God who created man is an irrational entity or just another sentimental humanitarian, why should we expect humans to be reasonable? In such conditions, it’s entirely predictable that we find people such as the late Karl Rahner SJ, when pondering the ethics of genetic manipulation, appealing in volume nine of his Theological Investigations to a type of will that he calls a “faith instinct” — one that apparently works outside reason — to resolve moral dilemmas.

The fact that instinct plays a role in human decision-making isn’t exactly a new insight. What makes humans different from animals — and opens up the very possibility of civilization in the first place—is our capacity for natural reason and free choice. These enable us to resist our baser predispositions, to know the good, and then to choose it. Yet it is very challenging for a culture to sustain this specific vision of reason and choice if it conceptualizes God as a Cosmic Will capable of contradicting Himself, a Celestial Teddy Bear whose prime responsibility is to cuddle us, or a Supreme Watchmaker who allows us to discover the mechanics of how things work but doesn’t regard us as worthy of knowing his deeper reasons for creating the world.

Read the whole fascinating essay at The Public Discourse.

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