philosophy

Truth and Happiness

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pascals pensees

“We desire truth and find in ourselves nothing but uncertainty. We seek happiness and find  only wretchedness and death. We are incapable of not desiring and happiness and incapable of either certainty or happiness.”   -Pascal

A friend of mine recommended the book Christianity for Modern Pagans, a book on Pascal’s Pensées, out lined and explained by Peter Kreeft. This friend, a pastor, has said he has read it over twenty times and could not stop saying how good it was. I bought the book, but was thinking it couldn’t be that good. Forty-five pages in, I think it is that good. Pascal, a contemporary of Descartes, is considered the first apologist to the modern world, sitting on top of the Christian Middle Ages as the Enlightenment took root in Europe. The wisdom of this book is striking and compelling. Today, I am going to just share some excerpts from the book.

“[Concerning the above quote], these are the four fundamental truths, the data, about the human condition always and everywhere. No philosophy that ignores them is worth a first glance; no philosophy that has no explanation for them is worth a second. Ultimately, no philosophy except Christianity is worth a third glance and our belief, because only Christianity has a satisfactory explanation for these four facts. This is another way of summarizing Pascal’s fundamental overall argument in the Pensées.

Truth (our head’s food) and happiness (our heart’s food) are the two things everyone wants, and not in crumbs but in great loaves; not in raindrops but in waves. Yet these are the two things no one gets except in little crumbs and droplets.

…Since no one can change human nature, no one can make us stop desiring truth and happiness; and no mere human being can give us truth or happiness. We may mediate these two things, but we cannot create them; we are aqueducts, not fountains.

…Science and technology shield modern man from a clear knowledge of these four fundamental truths of Pascal, for science (or rather scientism) offers us the illusion that we now know the Truth when in fact we only know some truths, and technology has given us comforts but not contentment. “

Utopian Soft Tyranny

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Ameritopia mark levinThis is just a note prior to my review of Ameritopia by Mark Levin, which I would like to share. The more I think of this book and the Utopian philosophy that is growing and blooming in Liberalism (I think especially the atheism blatantly exposed at the Democratic National Convention when Jerusalem and God language  was reinstated into their platform), I cannot help but think that Utopian idealism serves as one source of “salvation” for humanity and will be at least one root of the coming persecution of Christians. As Peter Kreeft writes,

“Every orthodox Christian apologetic, from Paul…to Augustine…to Aquinas…to Pascal…to Kierkegaard to Chesterton to C.S. Lewis, has always circled around these two foci, rotated around these two poles: sin and salvation… In the past, the difficulty in accepting Christianity was in its second point, salvation. Everyone in premodern societies knew sin was real, but many doubted salvation. Today it is the exact opposite: everybody is saved, but there is no sin to be saved from. Thus what originally came into the world as “good news” strikes the modern mind as bad news, as guilt-ridden, moralistic and “judgmental”. For the modern mind is no longer “convinced of sin, of righteousness and of judgment” (Jn 16:8).”

Sin is personal to each of us, something that we must deal with personally. While there are environmental factors that can influence our lives, that can never negate our own free will to choose good or evil. I think the more the government becomes the solution to social problems and crime, for to the modern mind crime is only acting out against social injustice (and implies moral innocence), the more Christianity will be a stench, this bad news. Instead of Christ, there is faith in Utopian government.

Ameritopia, by Mark Levin

In Ameritopia, Levin presents his argument that the U.S. is in a post-constitutional period and heading toward the soft tyranny of the Utopian vision. For me, it has put a name and philosophy behind progressive Liberalism. As Kierkegaard wrote in The Point of View, “an illusion can never be destroyed directly, and only by indirect means can it be radically removed… A direct attack only strengthens a person in his illusion and, at the same time, embitters him.” This book is excellent in that it comes up from behind the illusion that government can perfect humanity, exposing this philosophy and its advance into our modern government.

In the first section, the Utopian visions of Plato, More, Hobbes and Marx are discussed and shown to clearly advocate despotic governing bodies to achieve their ends of human perfection. I really did not understand the nature of utopianism, and was shocked by the control and uniformity proposed by these philosophers. The utopian dream relies heavily on the benevolence of one man, or a small group of men, to rule selflessly for the benefit of all people….and pure dream that is. As Lord Acton wrote in 1887, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” And as Montesquieu observed, “in a popular state there must be an additional spring, which is Virtue.” That only comes from within the citizen.

Locke’s and Montesquieu’s influence on the centralized government is explored, in regard to liberty, form of government and the separation of powers. The observations of Alexis de Tocqueville in the U.S. are explored as well, as to the virtues of the people and the almost hidden and unobtrusive quality of the government. He also addressed the form of despotism that most endangers a free society, one that creeps into “soft tyranny”. “It is the gradual imposition of and acquiescence to radical egalitarianism, which is disguised as democratic and administrative utilitarianism. It is the belief in the infinite ability and capacity of elected officials to perfect life and in a vast, neutral administrative state to ensure its proper regulation.”

Levin explores the writings of Woodrow Wilson, unveiling his vision of the governments as “living things and operate as organic wholes” and “have their natural evolution and are one thing in one age, another in another.” In his writings, Wilson exchanged our inalienable rights for privilege granted by government. He argued that federal courts are not bound to the Constitution. Levin reveals in Roosevelt’s writings contempt of the constitution’s limits on federal power, and his proposed “Second Bill of Rights” as mere disguised tyranny.

The last chapter is a tour de force revelation of the extent of the tentacles of the government, which totaled 81,405 pages of federal rules in 2010, amounting to $1.752 trillion (in 2008) in private sector regulatory costs. With regard to entitlements and “social insurance”, Levin traces this concept to Henry Seager, who believed “individualism” was the greatest obstacle to social reform and the entrusting of all our needs to the common government. Yet, Social Security and Medicare are proving unsustainable, as will be centralized control of healthcare, which “must, must redistribute wealth from richer” and “establishes more than 150 new bureaucracies, agencies, boards, commissions and programs”. Of the soft tyranny of utopianism, De Tocqueville writes, “such a power…compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people who are reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”