Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wesley on Hume (and Chesterfield).

Did that right honourable wretch...know the heart of man - he that so earnestly advised his own son "never to speak the truth, to lie or dissemble as often as he speaks, to wear a mask continually - that earnestly counselled him "not to debauch single women" - because some inconvenience might follow - "but always married women". Would one imagine this grovelling animal ever had a wife or married daughter of his own? O rare Lord Chesterfield! Did ever man so well deserve, though he was a peer of the realm, to die by the side of Newgate?
Did Mr David Hume, lower, if possible, than he, know the heart of man? No more than a worm or beetle does. After `playing so idly with the darts of death', do you now find it a laughing matter? What think you now of Charon? Has he ferried you over Styx? At length he has taught you to know a little of your own heart! At length you know, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!

And what shall you say to Charon....Wesley and Methodism intrigues me slightly. Compared to the usual churchman or theologian, Wesley seems fairly authentic (I am not thereby proclaiming Methodism or Christianity to be True, however). Wesley and his methodists devoted themselves to assisting the poor of England, to prisoners, and to ending slavery. His support of abolition was legitimate, unlike say Jefferson or Madison's few hypocritical words in favor of abolition. He visited Georgia in the 1730s, and seems to have been quite nauseated by the yankee slave trade (assisted by the Brits at that time).

Wesley's writing and sermonizing may be sentimental at times, yet he had read the classics, knew latin, and was acquainted with the "new sciences", Newton, Locke and the experimentalists. Lockean empiricism itself influenced Wesley's thought.
While not quite a Godwin or Shelley, Wesley did consistently protest Tory and royalist excesses (as evidenced in his remarks on Chesterfield and Hume). He stands for something nearly respectable --and rare--in the history of judeo-christianity. ST Coleridge admired Wesley to some extent. Reading one of Wesley's sermons, Coleridge uttered, "I venture to avow it as my conviction, that either Christian faith is what Wesley here describes, or there is no proper meaning in the word" .

Wesley also spoke against Calvin (and Calvinist orthodoxy) and preferred the theological school know as Arminianism (wiki 'er!). The two schools are not in principle significantly different--both hold to a version of predestination, as monotheism itself implies (perhaps absurdly). Jacobus Arminius however did not think Scripture supported orthodox calvinism, which in effect holds that since God knows all a priori by definition (doesn't He?), your spiritual fate was known before you were born--so much for freedom, accountability, even sin. Arminius argued that Calvinist determinism in effect makes God the author of evil-- (some precedent existed for Arminian views in the doctrine of "Pelagianism"--not well-received by that early catholic henchman, St Augustine). Arminius grants a certain freedom to human decision-making that Calvin does not, and he's not adamant on total Depravity as were the Calvinist moralists. Liberty still exists for the Arminian--though calvinists considered that a bit too close to catholicism--of some sort--and thereby beheaded a few Arminian Remonstrants.

Wesley's comments on Chesterfield could be read as expressing the Arminian code. Why shouldn't a determinist, even a christian one, follow Lord Chesterfield's advice to the young esquire to "Never to speak the truth, to lie or dissemble as often as he speaks, to wear a mask continually"? You are either saved and "Elect"
or not per Calvinist orthodoxy. Only by insisting on some type of duty (say, truth-telling) does the message of the New Testament seem justified. Arminianism indeed seems slightly related to Kant's thinking on ethics; the Categorical Imperative depends on a view of human liberty. We act and make decisions and are not merely automatons (whether programmed by God, or Nature). Acts thus should be considered in light of all the consequences (including possibly spiritual ones).


J said...

From "Joel" in the queue:

"""Regarding your point, I'm guardedly optimistic that Obama means what he says when he claims to support a public option (which Baucus' plan does not include). That said, Obama has shown a little more acceptance of status quo than I'm comfortable with. In the end, though, he doesn't get to write the bill. He has to sign it or not, and I fear he'll end up having to sign a piece of crap for political reasons. """

Perhaps you could provide a cite or link which would substantiate your claim that Obama supports
a public option. My reading suggests otherwise. He may have at one point, but has not over the last few months. I addressed this a few weeks ago:


And contrary to the lies and misrepresenation of your crony BubbaRon, I have always supported public option or some type of govt.-sponsored medical care (ala UK or EU) for working class, and poor folks--not middle or upperclass yuppies who want to save a bundle by not having to pay for health care. That's not what Obama or most of the pelosicrats (including Baucus) want, however. A few Demos might discuss the "public option," but they are beholden to insurance and medical corps, just a bit nicer than the Repugs.


Unknown said...

He said it to the nation last Wednesday and again to the union dudes yesterday.

J said...

Even a few hacks at HuffPo, that bastion of corporate liberalism, say Obama does not want the public option.

"""To assume that Obama wants the public option based only on rhetoric is the height of idiocy. """

The Baucus bill appears to be the default demo bill. The Kossack- types who worship St Barack will rant about Baucus the traitor 24/7, but few have said anything about BO's support for private h-c (Digby has, I believe. However ditzy, she seems quite progressive, say 25% of the time, unlike the usual TammanyCrats).

That said, I think it's an important issue, but with a great deal of hype. Most workers have health care. Poor or semi-employed people may not, but they do have county services--not great (in LA, miserable)--but even the poor have some type of medical care. The govt. could easily upgrade/improve many of these county services--say via tax raises on corporations and small businesses--and help out many, without all the insurance bureaucracy.

The Subluxanator wouldn't care for it, of course. Like many small-bidnesspersons, he puts on the liberal act for "public option" because he wants the govt. ie taxpayers to foot the bill, so he won't have to pay the employees' premiums. Many greedy rich execs think the same.

Our Founding Truth said...

I'm fairly certain Arminius adhered to Calvinism, except for free will.

J said...

Perhaps--I am not a theologian and not entirely aware of all the subtle distinctions, the four and five point Calvinists, etc.

Arminius questioned Calvin's insistence on foreknowledge, however. In other words, a God who supposedly knows all and commands all does not really leave room for Freedom--and would be the Author of all evil, would He not. So the Arminians suggest He does not actually know what humans will do with their freedom--a challenge to the orthodox, who insist on omnipotence and omniscience. And Wesley also seems aware of that issue, and objects to Calvinism.

I'm not thereby saying I am an Arminian or Wesleyan, but suggesting Wesley's views uphold Liberty of a sort, and seem more "christian" than Calvinism. Yet I doubt Wesley would care for the evangelical methodists common to modern America. Wesley was more like a Milton than Billy Graham or something.

Our Founding Truth said...

In other words, a God who supposedly knows all and commands all does not really leave room for Freedom--and would be the Author of all evil, would He not.>

This is not what Arminius said. I have his writings, and he never questioned God's sovereign omnipotence. He only questioned salvation was up to man's free will, along with God's grace, which appears logical.

God is not the author of sin, He allowed sin.

I have some of Wesley's writings too, and he never questions God's omnipotence.

From Calvin's theories come freedom and Republicanism, just ask the Presbyterians. Even parliament said the presbyterians were the ones that started the revolution. However, I disagree with Calvin's interpretation of predestination.

J said...

He only questioned salvation was up to man's free will, along with God's grace, which appears logical.

Arminius at least implied (as did some traditional catholics) that works and virtue count, not just faith, grace, or being part of the Elect; Wesley suggested that as well, though I think Wesley's evangelical aspects obscured his points on virtue (or maybe calls them gifts, I am not sure).

Calvin may have wanted moralism, but via foreknowledge, Gott has already set the parameters, like some mad programmer--He would know the outcome of, like, everything, a priori. That seems to enhance His guilt, if he actually knows Hitler and Stalins, natural disasters will be part of His plan. Bertrand Russell also suggested as much. If one allows a sort of process,-- Gott may not be able to change something he started, or HE doesn't know what humans will do--then He's not quite as culpable (or its manichaeism, pantheism---or nadaism).

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