Divine Priority and Humanistic Optimism: On the Future of Eros and of the Republic

[This was written in response to a Facebook comment about how we must assume that the vast majority of people, because of the Fall, are not capable of spiritual grandeur when it comes to relations between the sexes, based on an article that more or less asserted that since men bond with men only over coarse things, if a man is "friends" with a woman, he must only be aiming at one thing, etc.] 

I detest elitism, in my very bones. I am a small-d democrat in politics, while also expecting that every human being is meant for high culture (believing completely in the "educability" of all, a la Mortimer Adler). I am viscerally committed to the deeper basis for the universal call to holiness (which as an ecclesiological doctrine obviously means that the members of all three states of life are called to sanctity) in the fact that God's universal salvific will is a will that every single human being become holy. This is the great synthesis of democracy and aristocracy in the spiritual order.

Therefore, I refuse to believe that this unfortunate essay has an audience--that there are troglodyte men for whom it is appropriate to aim so low.

I think to believe so guts the burning missionary core of Christianity.

In politics, the analogue has to do with rejecting any anthropology that assumes we are not all capable of virtue. Here, of course, we have the great debate in political liberalism about what government should assume about the intractability of human selfishness. Famously, Kant in Towards Perpetual Peace writes, "But now nature comes to the aid of the general will grounded in reason, revered but impotent in practice, and does so precisely through those self-seeking inclinations, so that it is a matter only of a good organization of a state (which is certainly within the capacity of human beings), of arranging those forces of nature in opposition to one another in such a way that one checks the destructive effect of the other or cancels it, so that the result for reason turns out as if neither of them existed at all and the human being is constrained to become a good citizen even if not a morally good human being. The problem of establishing a state, no matter how hard it may sound, is soluble even for a nation of devils..." Again we see how good a Lutheran Kant remained.

Then we hear it argued that in Federalist 10, Madison is arguing the same thing. But, not exactly. That the constitutional machinery is meant to neutralize the problem of faction, which is indeed treated as a political factum, is not the same as to make faction and selfishness the motor of the machine, a la Adam Smith, or to believe that one can be a good citizen while being a bad human, a la Kant. The Founding Fathers, though "realist" in knowing they had to deal with faction as a matter of political art, still knew that political liberalism does not work without the pursuit of virtue. So, we are back to what I will never cease to hold: we must assume each one of us capable of sanctity, and act with that real Trinitarian vocation of each human being at least as much in mind as our fallen tendency to individual and group bias. This would, at the very least, humble the superbia of the biopolitical elite.

That said, I have come to know that indeed there seem to be some persons who show no signs of being able to change, including my father lost to alcohol. But that bitter fact, and mystery, is not something we start with when approaching any given human being. It's something we suffer through until no other conclusion is possible.

There is a theological grammar governing citation of the Fall, from Scripture and tradition. Two rules come to mind: 1) any time the Fall is mentioned, one must pair it with the asymmetrically, and infinitely, greater event of the Redemption (Romans 5 being paradigmatic; v. 15, for example: "But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many!"); 2) no quarter must be given to a Calvinist notion of total depravity. That latter notion violates the former rule, which in turn is there to preserve clarity about what history/the history of salvation is all about: the primacy of the divine initiative (the Father's plan of loving goodness), which intends one thing only--the sanctification of each human being.

In the apocalyptic contest that has gone on from the beginning, and goes on in each human heart, providential grace always has the upper hand over the forces of sin and lovelessness. That is not a thing we see. It is a thing we must know, by faith: "And by this we will know that we belong to the truth, and will assure our hearts in His presence. If our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts, and He knows all things" (I John 3:19-20).