Moral martial muddle

You know what happens to a compass placed next to a metal bar? It goes haywire, pointing this way and that – anyone who then uses it as a navigational aid will go nowhere fast.

The same goes for the moral compass placed next to the secular modern ethos. People can no longer orient themselves in a kaleidoscopically changing landscape, especially when the landscape becomes a battlefield.

This brings me to TV Rain (Dozhd’), the independent Russian channel thrown out of Russia and now licensed to broadcast out of Latvia. (And there I was, thinking that all those former Soviet republics suppress everything Russian, including the language. Wasn’t that the point, Vlad?)

The channel’s current mission is to exonerate the Russian people from the crimes committed by the Russian government. Dozhd’ founder, Natalia Sindeyeva put it in a nutshell: “Putin isn’t Russia, Russian people aren’t Putin. And it’s not the Russian people who are bombing the Ukraine.” Well, it’s certainly not Bolivians.

I could write a plump tome on that subject, but in this abbreviated format I’d rather draw your attention to another statement by Miss Sindeyeva, one that has created a maelstrom of comments in the émigré press. She expressed empathy for “our poor mobilised boys, freezing in the woods, having nowhere to live, no food, no proper clothes…”

Liberal Russian journalists, most of them now in exile, have joined forces to accuse Miss Sindeyeva of every mortal sin. Prime among them is “universal humanism”, a term they use in the sense of indiscriminate empathy. The Russo-German columnist Igor Eidman has thus summed up the prevailing attitude:

“I am on the Ukraine’s side, wish her victory and look at the situation from the Ukrainian perspective. That’s why I can’t pity Russian soldiers, feel empathy for them. One can pity POWs, but not armed invaders. Even if they are hungry, cold and went to war not of their own accord.”

I unequivocally agree with the first sentence and just as unequivocally disagree with the subsequent ones. But in order to make a cogent argument, I have to remove the moral compass from any proximity to the iron bar of the modern ethos.

The lump of metal in question goes by the name of ‘humanism’. The word has been forced to do so many jobs that its real meaning has fallen by the wayside. For most people, including those Russian journalists, the word has got to mean love of man. Yet the full stop is premature there.

I’d suggest that the true, historical meaning of humanism is professed love of man as a way of cocking a snook at God. Humanism yanked morality out of heaven and tossed it to the ground, where it shattered into an infinite number of fragments.

Human beings, now empowered by their cognate ism, were each freed to pick up whichever fragment they fancied and use it as their moral guide. Except that a closer look revealed that newly acquired wasn’t so much freedom as anarchy. The demise of collective morality left people to their own devices – and vices.

As humanism gathered pace, it predictably proved to be rather inhuman. The 20th century, the first humanist one from start to finish, produced more violent deaths than the previous five millennia of recorded history combined.

People were being taught a lesson: morality can’t conquer on earth unless it comes from heaven. But they didn’t heed the lesson – they could no longer think in those terms.

Trained to believe that every man is his own judge, they failed to detect the incongruity of being both player and referee in the game of morality. They didn’t notice that the arrow of their moral compass was spinning around faster than the second hand of a stopwatch.

Hence the muddle in which those Russian commentators found themselves: their sights were set wrongly. Attacking Miss Sindeyeva’s “indiscriminate humanism”, they targeted the adjective instead of the real culprit, the noun.

In pre-humanist times, the argument wouldn’t have arisen. It would have been nipped in the bud by this imperative sentence: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you…”

This commandment is often misinterpreted as a statement of pacifism. So it would be, if expressed by someone like Tolstoy, his disciple Gandhi or any of their current followers. When expressed by Christ, it was a statement of higher, divine morality reflecting the new understanding of man vouchsafed to an uncomprehending world.

Men were told to love one another not because they were all equally lovable, but because God loved them all equally. And He loved all human beings not because they were angelic but because they were indeed human, creatures made in the image of God and endowed with life everlasting.

That kind of love didn’t mean awarding identical marks to every deed men commit during their earthly life, far from it. But it did mean a promise of salvation in eternity, which is an act of love at its most sublime.

That’s what loving one’s enemy means: a hope for his eternal salvation. Each person, including our mortal enemy, is entitled to this core love based on the respect for his humanity, as created by God.

Feeling for his earthly suffering is corollary to that. This shouldn’t stop a soldier from shooting an evil invader point-blank or eviscerating him with a bayonet. That type of violence is just when it stops or deters violence that’s unjust. But it doesn’t preclude love – and even empathy.

I support the Ukraine’s resistance to Russian fascism as strongly as Mr Eidman does. And I’m not even as ready as Miss Sindeyeva is to exculpate the Russian people in general from the evil war they are fighting against the Ukraine.

I too hope the Ukrainians will drive the Russian invaders out, which has to mean wishing they kill more thousands of the soldiers Miss Sindeyeva describes as “our boys”. And yet that bloodlust doesn’t prevent me from feeling empathy for those youngsters, freezing and starving in the icy, brick-hard Ukrainian mud.

You decide whether this makes me a moral relativist or a moral absolutist. I’m sure it’s the latter, but those ‘liberal’ journalists might disagree.

P.S. Early this morning, Ukrainian drones hit the Engels base of Russian Tu-95 strategic bombers near Saratov on the Volga. Two of the bombers used for terrorist missile attacks on the Ukraine were destroyed.

Apparently, the new drones, designed and manufactured by the Ukraine herself, carry a 75 kg payload to a range of up to 1,000 km. Since Moscow is but 500 k from the Ukrainian border, this gives Putin yet another headache. Well done, Ukraine!

27 thoughts on “Moral martial muddle”

  1. “P.S. Early this morning, Ukrainian drones hit the Engels base of Russian Tu-95 strategic bombers near Saratov on the Volga. ”

    That IS a long way inside Russia. But it was a one way mission.

  2. This post, it seems to me, is important. But I must disagree with it on very fundamental grounds. Nothing tangible and no independently verifiable fact substantiates the image of God or any, even the meanest, of the concepts of all religions. While such immaterial ideas may, in some cases, be wholesome and beneficial, they have no real force or existence and there is no inherent reason to give them value.

    You will not accept this, of course, which is the difference between those who believe in gods and those who do not so believe. There may perhaps be more to this than meets the eye because if religious ideas were not accorded so much power evil manipulators like Putin might not have the ability they do have to get people to do their will.

    Yes, Christianity is a double-edged sword!

    1. I think you’ll agree that, much as we hate Putin (who is, by the way, no more religious than you are), the combined efforts of communism and Nazism, both militantly atheist, did much more harm. You may also agree that Christians commit their crimes in spite of their doctrine, whereas secular monsters do so because of theirs. As to Christianity and reason, I’m afraid this issue needs to be explored at greater depth than you are prepared to delve. I can destroy any atheist in a formal debate, using nothing but ratiocination. (I specify a formal debate, because in informal ones even some extremely intelligent atheists start spouting bilge, logically speaking.)

      1. There are also Christians who commit crimes, not in spite of their doctrine, but because they misunderstand the implications of their doctrine. It would be charitable to put Patriarch Kyrill in this group.

        As for atheists, in my experience they’re better people than Christians. I’ve certainly known many atheists who were better people than I am. It’s the better kind of people who don’t feel a need for a Saviour.

        1. For me, the mere existence of atheists puts the validity of any form of religion in grave doubt. Why would millions (billions?) of people made in the image of God be unable to believe in Him? It’s not a matter of ‘free will’ because we cannot choose to believe (we can, however, choose to behave as if we believe)

          I mean really, where in the Gospels does it state that an integral part of the Christian experience will be to spend hours, every day, suspecting that the entire creed is nothing but the ramblings of sun-mad goatherds? Just look at the harm it did to Pascal!

          1. Indeed it’s not a matter of free will: it’s a matter of the Fall, and the tendency to sin (including the sin of unbelief) that the Fall caused.

            But obviously we can choose to believe or not to believe, because obviously we do choose, just as we choose to commit or not to commit adultery or theft or murder.

            You choose not to believe, but your ability to choose demonstrates the wonderfully paradoxical glory of God. St Augustine of Hippo would say that you were damned for it, but St Gregory of Nyssa would say that nobody is ever finally damned. I prefer the kindly opinion of St Gregory, and so I look forward to continuing the debate with you in the Kingdom of Heaven, if not sooner!

          2. “For me, the mere existence of atheists puts the validity of any form of religion in grave doubt. Why would millions (billions?) of people made in the image of God be unable to believe in Him?”-IT

            Perhaps because the existence of millions of atheists proves that God has the free will, and therefore chooses to conceal Himself from millions of his potential children. “Atheism” means being “without God”. How many people in our proud, self-satisfied modern world really have two-way relationships with God? I am astounded that there are not more atheists. Maybe not goatherds, but it is obvious that God has a soft spot for shepherds. Yet somehow God transcends all that and most Christians do not spend all their days doubting their creed.

      2. But you would accept that the version of atheism espoused by, say, Richard Dawkins, has very little to do with the paganism of Nazi Germany or the Messianic devices of Karl Marx?

        If I recall correctly, the final chapter of the elder Hitchens’ ‘god Is Not Great’ described such equivocation as a last ditch attempt on the part of theists to vindicate their beliefs by claiming that secularism will always and everywhere lead to guillotine, gulag and gas chamber. Which subsequent history has shown not to be the case. Even if it were, such an unhappy fact would hardly suggest the existence of an all loving God.

        1. I would accept nothing of the sort. And neither does history support any musings by either Hitchens. What history (and observation) does show is that individual atheists can be nice and even good people. But an atheist society is at the mercy of clever and charismatic demagogues. Some can preach nothing more pernicious than the welfare state, although that’s bad enough. Others will preach downright evil doctrines — and people en masse don’t have much to fall back on in the way of a defensive position. If you doubt that, talk to the 300 million (conservatively estimated) victims killed by such doctrines in one century alone, the 20th. Christopher Hitchens proves my point: when even clever atheists take on God, they sound like blithering idiots (and Dawkins isn’t even a particularly clever one).

          1. “But an atheist society is at the mercy of clever and charismatic demagogues.”

            So is a Christian society. Savonarola and Cromwell both lived in Christian societies. And there were plenty of Christians in Russia and Germany when Lenin and Hitler came to power.

            In a Christian society, babies tend to receive the benefit of the sacrament of Baptism, and adults tend not to be eaten very much. But there has never been a Christian society on Earth that much resembles the Kingdom of God – not even in that most Christian of all societies, Holy Russia!

    2. Bernie, “there is no inherent reason”…here are just a couple,
      Mutation (the approximately rate is 60–100 per person per generation), is seen as the ‘engine’ of evolution, i.e. that they can generate the sort of ‘uphill’ transformations necessary to validate the microbes-to-man idea. However, in all cases mutations do the opposite and lead to disorder and destruction rather than higher forms of life.
      DNA similarity with apes, chickens and trees points to a common designer and is not any proof of evolution.
      The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics (that the entropy of the universe tends towards a maximum, or in simple terms, entropy is a measure of disorder), shows that the universe cannot form all the details of an earth with its abundant life, spinning in a clockwork system. The 2nd Law proves that usable energy is running out, that information tends to get scrambled, and order tends towards disorder, so, a random jumble won’t organize itself. Even in an isolated system, as is our case, this Law applies. An isolated system exchanges neither matter nor energy with its surroundings. The total entropy of an isolated system never decreases. The universe is an isolated system, so is running down rather than evolving to a higher form.

      1. Absolutely. Darwin’s book should have been called The Disappearance of Species — more than 99 per cent of those that have ever existed are no longer with us. Darwin’s Theory would have been dead and buried a century ago but for its political impact. Even Watson and Crick, both atheists, ruefully admitted that advances in science, inlcuding their own, invalidated Darwin.

      2. Some numbers to demonstrate the ridiculousness of the idea that our universe just “happened”. Physicists estimate that if the gravitational force were just 1 in 10^60 stronger (that’s 10 to the 60th power), then the universe would have just collapsed in on itself after the big bang; and if it had been just 1 in 10^60 weaker, matter would have expanded too quickly for stars and planets to form. But, you say, after failing to form a universe, another event happened to start it over again. If such a start happened every second, it would still take 3 times 10^52 years to exhaust the possibilities. Given the estimate that our universe is nearly 14 billion years old (that’s 14 times 10^9), that length of time is 10^43 times longer than the 14 billion years our universe has been in exsitence.

        The numbers are even worse for the cosmological constant. If it was off by 1 in 10^90 then no planets would have formed. Given the estimate that there are an estimated 10^82 molecules in the universe, getting that 1 in 10^90 just right is linke sending a person out into 100,000,000 universes to randomly pick out a single molecule. Long odds, I would say.

        There are similar numbers (in the range of 10^77) for the formation of a functioning protein in a random process given the base of 20 amino acids. Estimates for the number of living oprganisms in the entire history of the Earth are 10^44. If every organism tried to build a new protein, the odds of it being functional are only 1 in 10^33. Yet we are to believe that random mutations built the brain of man?

  3. Another excellent article. I particularly like the description of the “shattering” of morality and “the incongruity of being both player and referee”. I will steal that, thank you.

  4. My assessment is that atheism has won this bout on points, at least, perhaps by a technical knockout. But then I would think that, wouldn’t I?

    1. When I debated Creation v Evolution with Richard Dawkins at the Oxford Union circa 1985, he won the debate, but by a much smaller margin than expected, and I was told that my speech and my interventions in his speech were what reduced the margin. “You were the only one who really debated,” somebody said, which was fair enough, because my fellow Creationists all mumbled their prepared speeches and then shut up.

      Perhaps my contributions to this current debate have also reduced the margin of victory.

      But I have to tell you that I’ve come to admire Richard Dawkins immensely. He’s a hopeless idiot in theology and philosophy, but nobody describes the behaviour of wasps and genes better. He’s a reliable expert in his field of study, and I think he’s a good man. I’m a hopeless idiot in biochemistry, and I’m not as good a man as he is. Why don’t we pray for him instead of reviling him?

      1. It’s possible both to revile his outpurings and pray for the salvation of his soul at the same time. Not having had the pleasure of meeting him, I can’t judge his moral character. So if you say he is a good a man, I can’t argue with you. And if you say he is good on wasps, I have to admit I am out of my depth. Yet his whole theory of the passing of genes as the purpose of life is worse, much worse than idiootic. It’s vulgar. And his bestselling (and hence successful) propaganda of vulgarity is wicked — even if he himself isn’t.

        On your other point, of course there has never been a society that resembles the Kingdom of God. By definition that can only arrive at the end of time, which is to say at the end of life on earth. Nor is faith a guarantee of virtue, and pious men like those two you mentioned can be rather unpleasant. Yet a man who knows he’ll have to account for his earthly deeds in eternity at least has to stop and think about his rotten acts, perhaps to repent him. A society where such men are dominant can still be wicked (original sin and all that). But, as history shows, there will be limits to its wickedness, something a society of atheists demonstrably lacks.

        On the sibject of Holy Russia, I hope you are joking. Read what great Russian religious thinkers had to say on tha subject: Rozanov, Solovyov, Merezhkovsky et al. Russian folk Christianity wasn’t — and isn’t — so much faith as superstition, paganism by other means. And its church Christianity was destroyed in the 17th century and thenceforth steadily degenerated to a point where it became the extension of the secret service it is today. Its Patriarch, along with all the major hierarchs, is a career KGB agent, codenamed Agent Mikhailov (See The Mitrochin Archives).

        1. Yes, Mr. Dawkins has stated that the sole purpose of every living thing is to pass on its genes. Having fathered just one child, a daughter, he appears to have been quite remiss at this “sole purpose”.

        2. Is Dawkins vulgar? Have you read his books? He prefers Bach to mindless noise as much as you and I do, and he quotes Virgil often, rappers never. I sympathise with Dawkins in much the same way as I sympathise with the Emperor Julian. Julian regarded Christianity as vulgar, and the kind of modern Christianity Dawkins argues against is vulgar too. But his books often hint at a yearning for the lost faith of his childhood. Perhaps Dawkins was ruined by the ruin of the Church of England.

          My romantic idea of Holy Russia comes mostly from Dostoevsky, moderated by Vladimir Lossky. It’s inevitable that the most Christian of all worldly empires is also the most wicked of all worldly empires. Moscow is simultaneously the old Babylon and the new Jerusalem – and so were Constantinople and Rome. Russia is holy because it’s the place most subject to the attacks of Satan, a malicious spirit who vaguely remembers Constantinople and Rome as venues for former minor victories but is dancing in delight today, having surpassed all his previous efforts.

          Therefore I pray daily for Holy Russia.

          1. I consider Dawkins vulgar because of his thinking, not his musical tastes. In my experience, even atheists much cleverer and better educated than Dawkins sound like blithering and, well, vulgar idiots when they try to turn their atheism into an argument. Off the top: he once wrote that Darwin explained the origin of life on Earth. Choose your own adjective: idiotic? ignorant? Yes, they’ll work. But then so will ‘vulgar’.

            My point is that Russia isn’t “the most Christian” of all empires, and that it’s hardly Christian at all. Lossky’s father, Nikolai, who was one of the few Russian academic philosophers known internationally, analysed Russian Christianity more deeply than his son (whose work on iconography I nonetheless admire). As for Dostoyevsky and other Slavophiles, I wouldn’t treat their views as factual: too much ideological afflatus. They created a glorified image of the Russian peasant that had nothing whatsoever to do with reality. I don’t know if you’ve read Chekhov’s novella Muzhiks, but you won’t find much holiness in his protagonists.

      2. PJR, below is a link to an interesting question that Dawkins does not actually answer. You can find other longer clips from this question, and Dawkins eventually responds and goes off on a tangent without answering the question directly.

  5. Re: “Moscow is but 500 k from the Ukrainian border, this gives Putin yet another headache. Well done, Ukraine!” Retailiation for blowing up the Crimea bridge was Russian bombing of cities across Ukraine. So, what would be the retaliation for a Ukrainian drone strike on Moscow? Nuke Ukraine’s western cities?

    1. That was a throw-away remark — I’m not advocating a strike on Moscow, God forbid. But many legitimate military targets in Russia are now within range. It’s amazing that the Ukrainians have managed to design and produce this weapon practically under fire.

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