J. Budziszewski tells What We Can’t Not Know

Interview of J. Budziszewski by Dick Staub

Well, good afternoon everybody. This is your friendly guide. You know, today’s news carried the story of an Australian, who spent $6,500 to develop a patented euthanasia machine that you can make yourself in the convenience of your own home for only $32. USA Today reported that it is now “in to be out,” referring to Hollywood’s embracing of the gay theme in mainstream today. And today a new Gallup poll indicated that 61 percent of Americans believe abortion should be illegal in all, or legal, in only a few circumstances.
Q. Well, what all these issues have in common is that they seem to be separated
in the reporting of them from moral discourse and analysis. They’re treated as news stories. Well, our next guest says we’re living in extraordinary times and these issues and the way they are treated kind of proves his point. He is Dr. J. Budziszewski. He is the author of a new book, What We Can’t Not Know, published by Spence Publishing. He is Professor of Government and Philosophy at University of Texas, and if you stay with us you’re going to hear a very interesting conversation and you’re also going to learn how you can get his book at half price off if you call in the next 48 hours. But J., great to have you with us today.
A. I’m glad to be with you, too.
Q. You start your-your book very much up front. You say every writer has a
point of view, mine is Christian. And I would kind of like to start – just so people get a little bit of sense of who you are and what your own pilgrimage has been – to talk a little bit about how that happened in your life. How was it that you came to embrace a Christian worldview?
A. Well, I haven’t always held one. I was-I was raised in a Christian home. I-I
walked the aisle, I was baptized at age 10. I knew what I was doing and I believed it. But when I was in my-in my early 20’s, when I went off to college, I lost my faith completely.
Q. Really.
A. And did a lot more than losing it, as a matter of fact.
Q. Where was that, by the way? Where did you go?
A. Well, I… For the first two years I was at the University of Chicago. I
dropped out then for a couple of years. I was a socialist in those days. I was waiting for the revolution, and decided that I didn’t need to be at what I was thinking of as a rich kid’s school –
Q. Yeah.
A. – I should be out with the proletariat. So I went out and learned a trade.
Q. Wow. So what trade did you practice?
A. Welding.
Q. Really.
A. Yeah. I ended up working at the Tampa shipyards for not a terribly long time,
but I did work there.
Q. Yes. So you are a rare man whose philosophical outlook actually led him into
the blue collar lifestyle for awhile.
A. It did lead me into the blue… And yeah, one of the things I discovered is that
the workers weren’t interested in revolution.
Q. Well, what was it that attracted you to socialism in the first place? I mean,
what was going on in your head at that time?
A. Well, I wanted to-I wanted to save the world. And it was… What led me into
socialism was-was very similar to what led me out of Christianity, because at that time I had my own ideas about how to save the world and they didn’t have very much to do with Jesus Christ.
Q. Yeah.
A. And you know, I tried to-I tried to make him over in the model of a cultural
revolutionary, you know {Allah Sheik Levara} or somebody like that, and that really didn’t work.
Q. Wow.
A. And I eventually realized that that was one of the problems. There were other
problems. I think-I think really deep down, I didn’t want God to be God, I wanted J. Budziszewski to be God.
Q. Yeah, absolutely.
A. So-so, you know, at first what began as a-as a wander, a drift from the faith,
ended up-ended up into a-into a complete retreat. And I’m one of these guys, Dick, who takes-who tends to take premises to their conclusions. And so when I abandoned belief in God, I also abandoned belief in God’s moral law. I thought that there was no real objective right or wrong, no-no objective good or evil, that we just made up these things for ourselves.
Q. Yeah. So your kind of-your kind of intellectual journey led you into kind of
moral lifestyle issues that-that were-were in keeping with that-that philosophical starting point.
A. Well yes, yeah, that’s right. I’m not… I didn’t go out and rob convenience
Stores, and-and-and sleep with everybody who I could find, and do a lot of drugs, my sins, I guess, were mostly of the mind.
Q. Yeah, okay.
A. I-I committed sort of treason against-against the obvious truth.
Q. So how is it that you-you moved from being somebody committed to the
socialist lifestyle so much that you went and-and started a welding job to somebody who became intellectually concerned about law and morality, finished your educational path that direction, and-and also made the commitment to follow Jesus?
A. Well, there’s-there’s-there’s a step missing there. You know, a socialist is, of
course, pretty moralistic too.
Q. Yeah.
A. But he has… So but-but I-I had abandoned so, you know, I threw out
socialism as well when I became an atheist and a nihilist. But when I came back, really what it was was – I didn’t know it at the time – but it’s what John’s gospel calls the conviction of sin. I didn’t recognize it, but I had an intuition. It came to me. It was overwhelmingly strong. I couldn’t really resist it that my own condition was objectively evil. Now, this is for a guy who doesn’t believe that there’s a difference between, an objective difference between good and evil. All right? And here I could not, I could no longer tell myself there was no such thing as evil because it was right behind my eyes. This-this hit me over the head as though… It was like a fellow walking out of the door one morning who had been telling himself that the sky is red, suddenly looking up and realizing not only that the sky is ,blue but that it had been blue all along.
Q. Wow. And there was no real rational explanation for what happened. It was
more of a mystical thing.
A. It was… Well, I don’t know if mystical is the right word for it or not, but I
certainly couldn’t explain it.
Q. Yeah.
A. But it was-it was so overpowering I had to accept that this was just truth, this
was not a feeling –
Q. Yeah.
A. – this was not-this was not a preference, it certainly wasn’t what I wanted to
believe, but I had to believe… I had to conclude that this was truth.
Q. Interesting.
A. Now, if there’s such a thing as evil, Dick, then there has to be such a thing as
good, because the only way to get an evil thing is to take a good thing and ruin it.
Q. Yeah.
A. So that meant that there was both good and evil, and that meant that I’d been
so wrong that almost anything could be true, including the faith that I’d given up.
Q. Wow. So-so how did you re-visit your faith in light of-of what certainly was a
kind of a different person, but a person who had probably properly identified some misconceptions of the faith as it had been delivered to you as a kid?
A. I can’t-I can’t claim the excuse that misconceptions of the faith –
Q. Really.
A. – were delivered to me. I-I-I abandoned it, I did the wrong thing with my eyes
open.
Q. Okay.
A. But when I came back, I came back with my eyes open, too. My mind… I
think I pretty well damaged my mind by that time. You know, you can’t tell yourself that obvious things, like the difference between right and wrong –
Q. Yes.
A. – are-are-are really not true –
Q. Yeah, yeah.
A. – without-without-without really playing some tricks on your mind. So when
I came back it took a couple of years basically for God to put me back together. And one of the things that-one of the preoccupations of my research ever since then has been –
Q. Yeah.
A. – how is it possible for people to tell themselves that they don’t know what
they really do.
Q. Yes, absolutely. Well, it’s a very interesting… Your journey is an interesting
one because it is essentially the journey that you’re describing in this book with so many of the people who have kind of turned their-their eyes away from the consequence of natural law and moral consequence. And one asks whether they can, in fact, be reasoned back into it when they have done damage to their mind by bending it into unnatural ways.
A. Yes. I-I-I was surprised to find that a lot more people were in conditions
something like what mine had been –
Q. Oh, yeah.
A. – than I-than I thought, that a lot of the… When a lot of the moral confusion
that’s out there is not because-is not… Let’s put it this way. There’s a difference between an honest mistake, or an honest ignorance, and a smokescreen.
Q. Yeah.
A. There’s a difference between not knowing something, on the one hand, and
telling yourself that you don’t know it even though-even though you do.
Q. Yeah.
A. Most of our moral confusion, I think, is that second kind. It isn’t that we don’t
really know what’s right and wrong.
Q. Yeah.
A. Where it… You know, we like to tell ourselves that. We say, we’re
stumbling around in the dark, everything is shades of gray, when in fact, the sun is shining and things are pretty clear.
Q. Yeah, totally.
We’re going to be back with more of J. Budziszewski and get into this book, What We Can’t Not Know. It is a fascinating, well-reasoned, very readable treatment of an important subject. We’ll be back to more of it right after this. It’s published by Spence Publishing. We’ll be right back. Don’t go away.
(Break.)
Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. We’re visiting with Dr. J. Budziszewski. His book is What We Can’t Not Know, published by Spence. Let me real quickly tell you that you can get this book at half price off if you call them at their toll free number, 888-773-6782, or go to their web site, www.spencepublishing.com, that’s one word, and mention the call letters of this station and you will, in fact, get a 50 percent discount if you order within the next 48 hours.
Q. You-you start by talking about, This is a book about the lost world of common
truths. And-and I’m fascinated by your own kind of intellectual journey because I find-I find that with a lot of the intellectuals that I talk to who are-are claiming to be on a serious journey and-and seeking truth, essentially when you get right down to it, there’s a lot of kind of willful, volitional decision to not accept the truth as it has been presented to them, both within their own conscience and within the faith tradition in which they were raised, simply because they don’t want to. I mean, as you said, you wanted to be God, and there is that whole volitional point that-that-that means, for a lot of people, they can actually see the truth, they just choose not to embrace it.
A. Yes, that’s right. That’s right. And it causes a certain problem. If a person
is… If a person is telling himself that he doesn’t know what he really does, if he’s telling himself that wrong is right and he really knows what right is, you can’t simply tell him, well, you’re in denial.
Q. Yeah.
A. Even though that’s-even though that’s the truth. You have to-you have to find
a-you have to find a way of talking to him that causes him to-to recognize it for himself. You have to be able to break through his smokescreen or burst his bubble –
Q. Yeah.
A. – so that his own evasion is exposed to him.
Q. So tell us what you mean by “the lost world of common truths.”
A. Well, the lost world is-is simply all of those things that we all really know
about right and wrong and that we used to all admit that we really knew. People the world over, as a matter of fact, still by and large will recognize that it’s wrong to deliberately take innocent human life, it’s wrong to steal for yourself what belongs to your neighbor, it’s wrong to sleep with your neighbor’s wife or husband. You know, we… These are not-these are not just mysterious secrets of only our own moral tradition. Yet we insist in the United States, in our time, in telling ourself that all these things are very, very difficult, that we all really disagree, and that-that there is no common ground that we can stand on.
Q. Yeah. You illustrate the problem by kind of building the case of the British
bioethicist Jonathan Glover and his conversations about replaceable babies, and so forth. Talk about who Glover is and how he illustrates your point.
A. Glover first came to my attention because-because he had written a book in
which he was… He said he was very upset about the moral catastrophies that had taken place in the 20th century, the Holocaust, and all the other various holocausts, large and small, that have taken place in different countries. And he wanted to know how-how morality could be defended. But as you read the book, it became pretty clear that he didn’t want to really defend morality, he wanted to reinvent it.
Q. Yeah.
A. He thought that-he thought that a good God wouldn’t allow these things to
happen, that the old moral law couldn’t be an objective law that comes to us from the outside, we had to invent a moral law for ourselves, and it had to be a moral law that we wouldn’t be so tempted to throw away.
Q. Yeah.
A. So I started reading some of his other books. I thought… Before I had been
asked to review this book… And I thought, well before reviewing it this is-there’s something strange going on here. Let me look at his-his other work. He was a… This is my field, but I hadn’t read his particular work before. And I found that many of the moral horrors of the 20th century – and as a matter of fact, he was for them himself – he-he favored euthanasia under some-under all sorts of circumstances, he thought that abortion was just fine even for the most trivial reasons like because the parents want to take a vacation and the child would be born at an inconvenient time. He thought that-that, you know, you can always just tell yourself, well, we can have a new baby because babies are replaceable.
Q. Yeah.
A. They didn’t have any identity for him.
Q. Yes.
A. He flatly denied that there was anything-anything sacred about life. And so I
thought, you know, this is very strange. But it’s typical of the kind of moral self-deception that we engage in.
Q. Yeah.
A. That you can say, you can wring your hands and say, What’s happened to
Morality? And yet you can be contributing to the very problem that you’re complaining about.
Q. And you talk about who is in a very extreme case is, well, Peter Singer, his
utilitarian view that argues that pleasure is the only thing with moral value. Seeking pleasure and avoiding pain is the only thing that matters. We could go on and on about kind of the philosophical academic realm, but the point that you’re making is this is not just contained in the philosophical realm. As a matter of fact, you quote Eric Harris, who-who was –
A. One of the Columbine shooters.
Q. – yeah, one of the Columbine. And-and this just staggering quote about his
belief. Do you recall what that was?
A. Yes. He basically said, he said, My belief is that what I say goes.
Q. Yeah.
A. I think didn’t he say, let’s see…
Q. He said, “My belief is that if I say something, it goes. I am the law. If you
don’t like it, you die.”
A. That’s right. The author ought to be able to remember his own quotations.
Q. Well, it’s a very dramatic one because what it shows is that, you know, we’ve
talked about trickle-down economics in this country, but what we also see –
A. Is trickle-down philosophy.
Q. – is trickle-down philosophy that has gotten into common usage. So much so
that you point out that people get angry when we assert that there is moral law.
A. Yes. And that’s a very interesting thing. You know, in most areas of life, if
you tell somebody, you know, you’re really ignorant, you don’t know anything, he’s going to be insulted. Naturally. Except when it comes to the moral law. Here, instead of saying, instead of wanting to tell you that they know something, what people want to tell you is, I don’t really know anything. Nobody knows anything. This is all so difficult. We’re all groping in the fog. And if you tell them, that’s not true, I think you really do know something about this, I think we all really do know what right and wrong is. You, too.
Q. Yeah.
A. Then they’ll become offended with you and say, What are you? Judgmental?
Intolerant?
Q. Yeah, exactly. Well, one wonders if you were talking with Jonathan Glover if
you said, well, you know, I happen to think you are a replaceable ethicist. You know, so I think we should take your life. I mean, there is an illogic when you carry their positions to the extreme that-that I don’t understand how intelligent reasonable people can hold these positions.
A. The illogic, as a matter of fact, is one of the best ways of detecting a
smokescreen. When people are honestly confused you don’t really, you don’t usually find intelligent people believing contradictory things at the same time.
Q. Yeah.
A. Tying their minds in knots like that. But-but-but-but when they do tie up their
minds in knots like that, it’s a pretty good clue that there must be something pretty obvious that they are trying to keep themselves from-from knowing or from thinking about.
Q. Now, when we start talking about moral law you point out that the idea of a
common moral law has a long history. Natural law was argued by Aristotle, St. Paul. Throughout history Aquinus talked about natural and moral law and believed that they came from the same lawmaker. And then you described the Decalogue, the ten commandments, as a classic enumeration. How so?
A. Well, the Decalogue is the ten commandments. Although we find this in the
Bible, the substance, the content of the ten commandments is really pretty well known to people the world over. I’m not the first person to have observed this, but I’ve-but I’ve-but I’ve explained it pretty carefully here. If you-if you look at what Muslims believe, if you look at what Hindus believe, if you look at what Buddhists believe, if you look at what people in-in China, in-in-in-in Africa, wherever you want to go, what they believe, you’re not going to find someone who doesn’t know that it is wrong to deliberately take innocent human life.
Q. Yeah.
A. You may find people trying to evade that –
Q. Yeah.
A. – trying to make excuses what innocent means, what human means, what life
means –
Q. Yeah.
A. – but you’re not going to find anybody who doesn’t know this. It’s the same
with you may find, likewise, you may find people disagreeing about the details of whether you can have one wife or four –
Q. Yeah.
A. – but you don’t find a culture that says, well, it doesn’t matter whether you
sleep with your own wife or somebody else’s wife.
We’re going to take a quick break here. We’ll be back with more of
Dr. J. Budziszewski and remind you how you can get a copy of the book. Don’t go away. We’ll be right back. The book is What We Can’t Not Know. Don’t go away.
(Break.)
Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. We’re visiting with Dr. J. Budziszewski. His book is What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide. He’s also the author of The Revenge of Conscience, and another book that I have recommended many times, How to Stay Christian in College: An Interactive Guide to Keeping the Faith.
Dr. Budziszewski operates in, I think, a really important arena in-in kind of walking through the intellectual lines that are planted in American soil and international soil, as well in-in helping us come to grips with them.
Q. As a matter of fact, when you-when you start this book you talk about to
whom you wrote this book and why. And maybe it would be a good time for you to just explain who you wrote to and why in this.
A. Yes. Well, I wrote… You might say I wrote for the-I wrote for those people
who are already persuaded that there’s a moral truth, for those who are half persuaded, and for those who want to be persuaded. I’m not really writing for people who are smack on the other side of the culture wars in this book. I’m not trying to convince them. Rather, what I’m trying to do is bolster the confidence of plain people in the rational foundations of their common moral sense.
Q. Yeah.
A. They-they, you know, they know some basic moral truths, they seem like they
must be true to them. And yet the world keeps wanting to tell them, No, that can’t be true. You’re really very unsophisticated to think that.
Q. Yeah.
A. And I’m trying to explain, No, you’re right. You do know something. And I
also want to present the explanation to them in such a way that all of the people who think and who write about the common truths can-can-can achieve a firmer alliance to defend them, because this is under attack.
Q. Yeah. You talk about the Decalogue, the ten commandments, as-as divided
into two parts, what we owe God and what we owe our neighbor.
A. Uh-huh.
Q. And then you ask the provocative question, could we get by knowing less?
Could we know what we owe our neighbor without knowing we owe anything to God? And you start with this question, What difference does naturally knowing God make?
A. I think it makes a lot of difference. There is a sort of an idea out there that
you could recognize all of your duties to your neighbor, the second tablet of the Decalogue, we sometimes call it, but not pay any attention to your duties to God and that you’ll be okay. You’ll be just fine. I can be good without God, that’s the idea.
Q. Yeah.
A. I can be good without knowing that there’s a God, without believing that
there’s a God. I think that that’s a mistake. Now, I want to make it real clear what kind of mistake it is. I’m not saying, for instance, that – after all, I’ve said these are things that we can’t not know, that everybody really knows –
Q. Yeah.
A. – that the atheist has a conscience, too. All right? And that conscience is
testifying to the same general principles that I’m talking about. He knows it’s wrong to sleep with his neighbor’s wife, to take-to take, deliberately take innocent human life, et cetera, but he holds a worldview which can’t make sense of that conscience.
Q. How so?
A. Well, if the… In the first… We can think of it several ways. Number one, if
there is no God –
Q. Yes.
A. – that means there’s no law giver.
Q. Yeah.
A. Well, if there’s no law giver, then the moral law can’t be a true law.
Q. Yeah.
A. The best that you can say is that this is some kind of feeling, it’s some kind of
instinct, it’s just something in your biology that’s left over from evolution, or something like that. Well now, in the second place, let’s think about that evolution. You’re not thinking of God here as a creator. All right? You’re forced to think that man is just the result of a meaningless and purposeless process –
Q. Yeah.
A — that did not have him in mind.
Q. Yeah.
A. Well that means that what we call our conscience is really something arbitrary. Instead of a source of moral knowledge, it’s just-it’s just stuff. We might have evolved differently, we might have been like the guppies who eat their young.
Q. Yeah.
A. And it means no more that we don’t than it does that they do.
Q. Now, you argue that two natural sources of moral knowledge are, in fact, our conscience and design. And you go right at the heart of the Darwinistic view. Talk about how conscience and design are, in fact, natural sources of moral knowledge.
A. Well, conscience is… We all sort of have an idea that conscience is a source of moral knowledge, but in our times we’ve usually been made uneasy about that because we-we were told by psychologists, Oh, don’t you know? Conscience is just something pumped in from outside. It’s just sort of a deposit left in the kid by what his parents told him and what the preacher is telling him and what his teachers tell him and what the policeman tells him. Well, it’s more than that. The outer fringes of conscience can be influenced by all of that teaching, but there is a core that is the same every place, even though what kids are taught isn’t the same every place. And this is… So I distinguish between what you might call deep knowledge or core knowledge and what you might call surface knowledge. Deep conscience is-is actually, is a reliable guide, although surface conscience can go wrong in a lot of ways.
Q. How does this relate to the issue of design?
A. This is related to the issue of design in several ways. First of all, if there is… When we recognize design in the universe, then if… That means that we have to recognize a designer. If there is a designer, then that-that supplements some of the other things that we know because we know that we’ve got obligations not just to our neighbor, but we’ve got obligations to God. It also means that you can trust conscience.
Q. Yeah.
A. Because there’s no reason to take it seriously unless conscience also was designed by-by a designer, who knew what he was doing, who designed it to tell you the truth.
Q. Now, you also argue that there are two additional natural sources of moral knowledge are the witness of our own design. And there you’re talking about interdependency, complimentarity, spontaneous order, subsidiarity, and then you go on to argue that-that the witness of natural consequences –
A. That’s right.
Q. – is-is a natural source of moral knowledge. Talk a bit about the witness of our design and the witness of natural consequences.
A. Yeah. I’ve already mentioned design.
Q. Yeah.
A. But there’s such the designedness of things in general as a moral witness. But what we’re talking about now is that on top of that, the details of how we’re designed are also a moral witness. Now again, if we just came out this way by accident, the details of how we’re put together would mean nothing. But if we are this way because of the action of a creator/a designer, then details like, for instance, the fact that men and women are so obviously complimentary to each other, this tells us a lot about how we should live. And it’s, you know, it is a pretty significant fact, isn’t it? Men and women are designed in such a way that each of them, by itself, is incomplete, there’s something missing in the make-up of a man that can only be provided by the woman. There’s something missing in the make-up of the woman that can only be provided by a man. And I’m not just talking about biology here, although that’s pretty plain. This is how we’re put together emotionally, this is how we’re put together intellectually. We really do depend on each other. This is one of the reasons… Since marriage is the-the basic reason for marriage is to-is to create families, this is one of the reasons why kids need a mom and a dad and why marriage is-is, by its very nature, something between a man and a woman. It’s a procreative partnership. Now, you also mentioned what I’m calling the fourth witness. You know, there’s these four witnesses.
Q. Yeah.
A. The witness of conscience, the witness of a designedness of things in general, the witness of the details of our design that we were just talking about, and the witness of natural consequences. Some people may know the witness of natural consequences by a different phrase. This is-this is from the Bible. It’s a-it’s an old-an old proverb for us, but as you reap, so you’ll also sow. In other words, you live a certain way and there are going to be certain results, there are going to be certain consequences. You live the wrong way and they’re going to be bad ones. Now, I think that you might call the natural consequences “the moral teacher of last resort.”
Q. Uh-huh.
A. Even if you’ve deafened your ears to conscience, even if you will not pay any attention to the obvious evidence that there’s a designer, or to the details of our own design, eventually the natural consequences of your deeds are going to knock you on the head.
Q. Yeah.
A. Now, it’s true sometimes that an individual can shove some of those consequences onto somebody else, or onto the next generation, but they can’t be-they can’t be just obliterated. And they accumulate. And eventually even the dumbest of us put two and two together.
Q. I’ll tell you what, we’ve got to take another quick break.
Folks, you can get your copy of What We Can’t Not Know at a bookstore or online. But if you call the toll free number and order in the next 48 hours, you can get this book half price. The number is 888-773-6782, or go to the web site at www.spencepublishing.com. And again, half price if you go there. This is Dick Staub. We’ll be back with J. Budziszewski. The book is What We Can’t Not Know. We’ll be right back.
(Break.)
Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. We’re visiting with Dr. J. Budziszewski. His book is What We Can’t Not Know. He’s a Professor of Government and Philosophy at University of Texas.
Q. When you look at the moral relativism around us in America and you look at
people who are quainted to actually believe in moral positions that are abject contradictions to the ten commandments, to what seems to us to make complete sense even if we were not a person of faith, you begin to put your finger on the problem that Dr. Budziszewski is addressing in a very, very rational way, compelling way, and practical way, and what has happened with this lost common truth that we once could embrace. And it’s a fascinating book. You’ve-you’ve kind of… We’ve given the highlights of some of your arguments. What are the common objections that-that people make? Pick a few of the most common objections that people are making about the idea that there is a moral law, that it is as fixed as the laws that science reveals to us.
A. Well, there are a lot of objections. For instance, one sort of objection, you
might call this the objection from anthropology. People will say, well, come on, you’re talking about universal/moral law. But don’t you know that everybody, every place in the world believes something completely different about right and wrong?
Q. Yeah.
A. And that’s just not true really, as we were discussing earlier. The
disagreements are mostly about the details. The disagreements are not about the fundamentals. As C.S. Lewis once pointed out, you’re not going to… “You can look over the whole world and you’re not going to find a culture in which people think that it’s abnormal to cheat the people who have been kindest to you or to run away in battle.” You’re not going to find a culture, in other words, where ingratitude and cowardice are regarded as virtues and gratitude and courage are regarded as vices.
Q. Yeah.
A. It doesn’t work that way. So this says this anthropology is not really true,
we’ve been sold a bill of goods. And this has been beginning to occur to some anthropologists, as a matter of fact. Some claims of absolute cultural relativism have been exposed as-as farcical. Margaret Mead’s reports on what it was like in Samoa, that’s been pretty well exploded. Collin Turnbull’s stories about the {Ik} in South Africa, people who supposedly didn’t have any conscience, that’s been shown to be-to be a huge mistake. And so I think that we can shoot that one down pretty easily.
Q. When you-when you examine how common moral law was lost, you say that
it’s a combination of denial and eclipse.
A. Yes. By denial I’m talking about something that a person does to himself
where… Let’s think about it this way, Dick. When we… If you’re talking to somebody, for instance, who says, Well, you know, I don’t know these supposed moral laws you’re talking about. You say, for instance, abortion is wrong. I don’t know that that’s wrong. I don’t think that this is, The problem here is that people don’t know anything about right and wrong, the problem is that they play games with the knowledge that they do have.
Q. Uh-huh.
A. As to abortion, for instance, you can’t not know that it’s wrong to deliberately
take innocent human life.
Q. Yeah.
A. But with each of those ideas you can play games. You can say, well, this isn’t
deliberate, the doctors are doing it. Or you can say, this isn’t human, it’s just a blood clot. You could say, this life isn’t innocent, the baby is a trespasser in my womb.
Q. Yeah.
A. Sometime it’s even, compare the baby to a rapist. A burglar in the woman’s
womb. Do you see what I mean?
Q. Yeah.
A. Now, even that evasion, even that rationalization depends… The only way
you can even make it up is because you do know that it is wrong to deliberately take innocent human life. So I talk a lot about the way that this evasion and this denial works and the fact that it doesn’t succeed for a person, you can’t wipe out your conscience. This knowledge that you’re pushing down keeps popping up. And it’s like when you push down a wildcat, you know, he doesn’t just lie down and be still, he reaches up with his paws and he scratches you. Conscience is like that, too.
Q. You’ve got this wonderful G.K. Chesterton quote, “The modern world is
insane, not so much because it admits the abnormal, as because it cannot recover the normal.” And-and you lead into an interesting conversation about the public relations of the moral wrong and the public relations of the moral right. And it seems like this is, when you use the phrase “culture war,” I mean this is where a lot of the battle is taking place in the way we are approaching the public with our position. Talk about what you’ve observed in the moral wrong side and the moral right side.
A. All right. Yes, I talk about this a lot because I want this to be a practical book.
This isn’t just an armchair exercise. I think that there are a number of things that happen. Conscience can be cannibalized, for instance. What you do is you pick and choose little bits of the moral law and you isolate them from everything else and you blow them up. You distort them and use them as a club to beat down the rest of the moral law.
Q. Uh-huh.
A. Now, that’s a way of turning conscience against itself. Or there’s a kind of a
seduction of the emotions that goes on. There are certain emotions, I call them para-conscience because they help the conscience, like our feelings of compassion, our feelings of indignation, various kinds of feelings like that. You know, if we’re in good moral shape those feelings are going to help conscience along. But unfortunately, those feelings can be seduced so that you have compassion for the wrongdoer instead of the victim.
Q. Yeah.
A. You’re indignant about the wrong things. This isn’t too difficult to do. So all
of these things are exploited in what I call – and some other methods – are exploited in what I call the public relations of moral wrong.
Q. Yeah. What do we need to learn for those who are arguing for the moral
right? Some of those stakes we need to avoid.
A. Well, I think that one very important thing is that we’ve got to stop being so-
we’ve got to stop being so-so gentle in our language. I don’t mean that we should be harsh, but what I mean is that we should be honest. The abortion movement is not about choice it’s about death. The radical feminist movement is not for mothers, it’s against them. The homosexual movement isn’t gay, that used to mean happy, it’s whistling in the graveyard. This is a deadly way of life. The brave new world of cloning and fetal tissue research isn’t about healing, it’s about playing God and changing the design of human beings, changing human nature. There’s not virtue in giving offense, but there’s a difference between avoidable and unavoidable offense and I think that we need to-we need to just tell the truth. There were some other things that it’s helpful to know. There are, for instance, some prominent advantages that evil has. And there’s some prominent advantages that good has. And if you know, just like a soldier going into a battle, if he knows what his own armament is, and if he knows what the weapons of the enemy are, then he’s in a better shape for the battle. We can, you know, so I talk about the details of this in the book.
Q. Yeah.
A. And by the way, Dick, if I can mention one thing. Since a lot of people
misunderstand if somebody uses language like war, I’m not saying that you know, we should hate people. On the contrary, we should love our enemies. But it’s not wrong to call it a war when you are under attack.
Q. Yeah, yeah. Absolutely.
Well, folks, you can spend more time with Dr. J. Budziszewski. We have,
believe me, we have just been skimming the surface here and he’s almost out of breath trying to kind of continue to hit base hits and home runs over the pitches that I’ve been throwing him. But I wanted you to get a sense that this is a book that takes a comprehensive look at how we have slipped into moral relativism, how there is evidence of a natural and moral law, how when you understand that in your own life you can both be emboldened and find yourself strengthened in that conviction, but how you can also communicate that position more effectively to other people which is why there’s this whole section on the public relations issues involved here. I highly recommend this book. The book is titled What We Can’t Not Know. And again, if you order in the next 48 hours you can get it for 50 percent off by calling a toll free number. It’s 888-773-6782 or go to www.spencepublishing.com. J. Budziszewski has been our guest. The book is What We Can’t Not Know. Again, the toll free number is 888-773-6782. We’ll be right back.

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