Doing Good for Goodness Sake? An Atheist's Game of Scrabble
It is the result of blind and dumb forces or the result of the "bloom, festal" of design. It is a "vain jest" or a "holy feast." And whether it is on one side or the other depends upon the existence of a Mind, what the Plato and Greek recognized as Nous, which is to say God.
To see why this is so in the order of being, we might refer to an illustration courtesy of Francis Beckwith. In his book Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft, Beckwith explains why "if moral norms have no mind behind them, then there is no justification to obey them." There can be no moral law without Mind, without Nous, without God.
Imagine that while playing Scrabble, the letters randomly spell out "Go to Baltimore." Is this random event sufficient to compel me to go to Baltimore? The answer is obviously no. This seeming "command" is not a command at all. It is the product of chance, not of dance. For there to be a command, a law, there must be mind on both sides of the law: the mind of the Legislator and the mind of the subject of the law. A command, a law-even if it is the fundamental law "do good for goodness' sake"-if built upon something other than Mind, i.e., God, it is no command at all, no law at all.
Law, St. Thomas Aquinas says, is an ordinance of reason, a command of reason from the mind of the legislator to the mind of the subject. If the first principle of natural law-"do good for goodness' sake"-is to be law at all, there must be mind on both sides of it. There must be Mind, and there must be the mind of my atheist reader.
In the order of knowledge my atheist reader denies the existence of Mind, of God. In the order of being it cannot be denied. I would suggest to him that this law he finds in his heart-"do good for goodness' sake"-is the hound of heaven, and it beckons him to the Mind beyond it. With the voice of law, this self-evident principle "do good for goodness' sake" tells him, in the words of Francis Thompson's poem "Laus Legis."
Back to God's stretched hand I fly
To perch there for eternity.
The natural law--"do good for goodness' sake"--perches in eternity. It is a participation in the Eternal Law, and the Eternal Law is, nothing other than God. For, as the Mirror of the Saxons put it, Gott is selber recht, God himself is Law. In the order of being, there can be no moral law without God.
The existence of God adds an entirely new dimension to the moral law "do good for goodness' sake." For the "good" includes the worship of God, and if God is "goodness" itself, the law my atheist reader acknowledges exists compels him, if he but look to the order of being, to worship God for God's sake.
And one more thing. If "do good for goodness' sake" is a law, what is an atheist to do in the event of its breach? How is the evil to be dealt with? How is conscience to be assuaged? To whom shall sacrifice be made? The need for forgiveness, for conscience to be assuaged, for wrong to be righted is itself is another call to the Mind behind the law breached, and this a call for forgiveness.
As J. Budziszewski put it in his excellent book on the natural law, What We Can't Not Know:
"It may seem that the possibility of forgiveness matters only on the assumption that there is, in fact, a God--that without the lawgiver, there would be no law, and therefore nothing to be forgiven. The actual state of affairs is more dreadful, for the Furies of conscience do not wait upon our assumptions. One who acknowledges the Furies but denies the God who appointed them--who supposes that there can be a law without a lawgiver--must suppose that forgiveness is both necessary and impossible. That which is not personal cannot forgive; morality 'by itself' has a heart of rock. And so although grace would be unthinkable [via Reason], the ache for it would keen on, like a cry in a deserted street."
But the cry is not a cry on a deserted street. Our cry is returned by another cry. This one from the Cross. "Father, forgive them!" (Luke 23:34)
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Natural law, moral law, social teaching, social justice, Atheism, Thomas Aquinas, knowing, being, philosophy, Andrew Greenmell, Esq.
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