These Things I Believe
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Topic: These Things I Believe
Everyone must have their own set of core beliefs. Why? To lack a set of principles to guide oneself in today's chaotic world is to flirt with disaster. You see, there are many harmful ideas and beliefs that are promulgated in contemporary culture - many of which will surely lead to corruption if one is not forever on guard against them. As the best defense is often a good offense, the most successful course of action is to draft your own set of guiding values as a handy compass in times of stormy cultural weather.
Now, this does not mean you need to reinvent the wheel; indeed, to engage in some ‘creatio ex nihilo' is to invite disaster. Why? The average human only enjoys a meager few years of life - not nearly enough time to develop the deep wisdom necessary to craft a set of values that can faithfully serve as moral bedrock. As such, when formulating your own set of values, I highly recommend taping in the "wisdom of the ages."
With that in mind, here is my (ever expanding) list of core values/beliefs (as they occur to me):
1) Tremendous wisdom can be found in antiquity: I am often shocked at how many historians are scornful of those who lived during the ancient and medieval eras! To listen to these ignorant pundits of higher learning, denizens of antiquity were mere superstitious savages who wiled away their time waging war and warding off evil spirits (this is a particularly popular view of the medieval era). Nothing is farther from the truth! Some of the greatest minds that ever lived existed long before the so-called "modern" era. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, Cicero, Marcus Aurelius, Saint Augustine, and Saint Thomas Aquinas to name just an obvious few. Government, science, theology, sociology, even the study of history were all tremendously influenced by these individuals. Indeed, you could easily argue that the world as we know it would not exist if it were not for the intellectual bedrock established by these great minds! To ignore the distant past is to ignore a treasure-trove of learning - learning of a superior nature to that found in the modern era.
2) The Ancients were correct - actors are fools: One specific bit of ancient wisdom is the idea that the profession of acting is a mere step above that of prostitution. Indeed, Aristotle considered it quite likely that successful actors were insane individuals. This inferior position of the thespian class continued well into the medieval ages where actors were routinely labeled as unreliable vagabonds or social outcasts. It is only a relatively recent phenomenon (by the 17th Century) whereby actors and actresses were accorded a respected position within society.
Why do I bring this up? Because of modern Holly-weird. I am often amused by the exasperation of right-thinking Americans at the antics of the contemporary acting class. Adultery, drugs, murder, intellectual idiocy and general moral degeneracy...none of this surprises me. Indeed, if one places any value in the wisdom of the ancients, it is to be expected. The historical record is clear: don't look to thespians for wisdom and morality.
3) It is "gender" not "sex" and there are two of them: "Gender" denotes the characteristics of the male or female member of the species, while "sex" specifies the act of reproduction. Get it straight, the terms are not interchangeable. Likewise, there are only two genders and it is not a crime to recognize that distinction (despite MS Word constantly nudging me to replace "mankind" with "humankind" and "actress" with "actor"). Quite simple, if you are not prepared to address every woman you meet as "Mister," then don't try to neuter the English language!
4) The United States of America is a "Republic" and not a "Democracy": If I hear one more political pundit describe America as a democracy, I will smash my television! We are NOT a democracy, we are a republic! Indeed, the Founding Fathers had nothing but contempt for the mob-politics of democracies (an idea stretching all the way back to the ancient world). If people would take the time to read the US constitution, they would see that the term "democracy" is never once mentioned, but "republic" is mentioned numerous times.
Why not democracy? As Plato demonstrated in The Republic, democracy is one step above anarchy. When you give the masses the reigns of government, it is only a matter of time before the people start treating the government as little more than Santa Claus, an institution primarily charged with providing people with "bread and circuses." A republic, on the other hand, established a firebreak of sorts between the appetites of the people and the legitimate duties of a government via an elected body of representatives (that is the theory anyway; Plato was skeptical about the long-term viability of republics due to corruption via popular pandering). It was with this in mind that the Founding Fathers established our American republic, one based heavily upon the structure of the Roman republic.
So the next time you hear someone refer to America as a "democracy," feel free to slap them for their ignorance!
5) It is about Liberty and not Freedom: Similar to the confusion between democracies and republics is the confusion concerning liberty and freedom. If man existed in a "state of nature" (as Hobbs' termed it), where life was "nasty, brutal and short," then we would be enjoying a state of freedom. However, since ours is a society based upon a written code of laws that govern our behavior (positive law), we enjoy a state of liberty. As you can see, there is an important distinction. Freedom is action without responsibility, while liberty is action governed by responsibility. That is why the Declaration of Independence states that men are “endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” (which is borrowed from John Locke).
Animals are fit for freedom, man is fit for liberty!
6) Natural Law governs all: Did you notice that Jefferson mentioned that all men are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights (see above)? That is a declaration of Natural Law or "God-given law," a code that is eternal, immutable, and "written on the hearts of all men" (St. Thomas Aquinas). In short, Natural Law puts the lie to moral relativism, the idea that there is no absolute code of moral conduct. For the vast majority of history, some form of Natural Law has governed human society (particularly Western society). It is only in the foolish "modern era" that such a basic and obvious fact of existence has been called into question...with disastrous results. Some wonder why the 20th Century was so epically bloody. The answer is clear. It was during the last century that political movements divorced from Natural Law (i.e., Marxism, National Socialism, Maoism, and etcetera) rose to powerful prominence. After all, what restraint is there on human action when Natural Law (and, by extension, God) is removed from the equation? The results were predictable: human life became devalued and mass-murder and human subjugation became the order of the day.
You reject Natural Law at your own peril.
7) The West is superior to the East: I have become increasingly concerned about the infiltration of Eastern cultural motifs into Western life. The television is filled with samurai flicks, and Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam are making inroads into the Judeo-Christian spiritual life of the West. Some of this can be dismissed as a passing fancy with Eastern exoticism. Nonetheless, I am concerned that the grand culture and history of the West will soon be hopelessly lost in an Oriental flood.
Again, I turn to the Ancients. Throughout antiquity, the East represented an inscrutable realm of unceasing menace. Such a bias is quite understandable when one examines the numerous Eastern barbarian invasions that have threatened to overwhelm the West: Persians, Goths, Huns, Mongols and the rampaging armies of Islam, to name but a few. The East, with its penchant for tyrannical regimes fueled by esoteric and arbitrary religiosity, will forever be associated with looming doom and destruction...and rightly so.
Can we honestly say things are different today? It is startling to observe that the East still represents a grave danger to the West. Plundering Islamic armies march on, China is as unpredictable and inscrutable as ever, Iran (Persia) seeks nuclear weapons and sponsors terrorism, and North Korea is the ultimate "Hermit State." And was it not Japan that so recently ran amok and slaughtered millions during World War II?
But there are other reasons that the West is manifestly superior to the East. Have you ever noticed how the great centers of learning are always located in the West? How the most remarkable advances in science and medicine spring from Western universities and research centers? Likewise, when was the last time you heard of widely accepted cultural phenomenon that originated in the East? For example, can you name any world-class Middle Eastern artists on par with Monet? Any Asian composers on the same level as a Bach or Beethoven?
Of course not.
The reason why the West has produced such intellectual excellence is largely due to a heritage that places a premium upon the application of Reason. From Aristotle to Aquinas, the West has always believed that the universe is inherently rationale, and, as such, understandable. Not so for the East as, in those far off lands, the world is often viewed as inscrutable and, therefore, not worthy of investigation (at least not beyond the purposes of idle amusement). This is why the West has always had such a tremendous advantage when it came to the disciplines of learning and their practical applications.
Likewise, it is the Judeo-Christianity of the West that motivated the culture of Western man to tremendous heights. For much of the West's culture has been driven by the Christian concepts of a God manifested as absolute Beauty and Truth. No such tradition existed in the East, largely due to that realm's contempt for the material world and its embrace of philosophical relativism. As such, the West has always thrived while the East has intellectually and culturally lurched with distressing randomness, a record that continues unabated to this day.
8) War is not an absolute evil: I defer to the wisdom of John Stuart Mill:
"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. A man who has nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety is a miserable creature who has no chance at being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."
Some where along the line, the great warriors of antiquity, from Achilles to Richard the Lionhearted, have been reduced to senseless warmongers. Are we to assume that these men were mad butchers? That they were indifferent to the horrors of war? Or that these men of were driven to war because they were incapable of assuming some other occupation? Of course not! War was just as horrible in ages past as it is now (in fact, I would argue that modern warfare is far more humane). The reason why many of these men (but not all, to be certain!) led men in battle and risked life and limb was due to an adherence of a principle greater than themselves, be it nationalism or religious doctrine. This is not a sin! As Mill himself pointed out, sometimes you need to defend what you hold dear, be it your home or your honor. To shrink from such a duty, to retreat from such a fight, is the greater crime. That is why those brave warriors of times past are so honored to this very day. Despite the requisite denunciation of armed conflict, somewhere deep within our souls we recognize the necessity and, dare I say it, glory of those men who fought and died for a principle greater than themselves. Don't believe me? Take a tour of Gettysburg and try to tell me that those many marvelous monuments are mere testaments to human bloodlust and not to the tremendous self-sacrifice of those who died to set other men free. Men fight because they want to affirm sacred truths, not denounce their humanity.
Evil is on the prowl in this fallen world, and to not confront it, to not risk life and limb to make the world a better place, would be to surrender, and not champion, our morality. War, while not pleasant, is a necessary tool.
This is just a partial list of what I believe. How would yours compare? It can be both instructive and amusing to discover just what beliefs matter to you when you try to set them to paper. Try it today (and feel free to post them here).
Posted by Wargamer Scott
at 10:02 PM EST
Updated: Thursday, 8 February 2007 10:05 PM EST