How Mises Would Have Regarded the American Civil War

To determine that, we will need two passages; here is the first:

However illegal and unbearable the oppression, however lofty and noble the motives of the rebels, and however beneficial the consequences of their violent resistance,

(1) a revolution is always an illegal act, disintegrating the established order of state and government. ...

A revolution is an act of warfare between the citizens, it abolishes the very foundations of legality and

(2) is at best restrained by the questionable international customs concerning belligerency.

If victorious, it can afterwards establish a new legal order and a new government. But

(3) it can never enact a legal "right to resist oppression."

Such an impunity granted to people venturing armed resistance to the armed forces of the government is tantamount to anarchy and incompatible with any mode of government. (HA, 286n)

Here is the second:

The right of self-determination in regard to the question of membership in a state thus means:

whenever the inhabitants of a particular territory, whether it be a single village, a whole district, or a series of adjacent districts, make it known,

(4) by a freely conducted plebiscite, that they no longer wish to remain united to the state to which they belong at the time, but wish either to form an independent state or to attach themselves to some other state,

(5) their wishes are to be respected and complied with. This is the only feasible and effective way of preventing revolutions and civil and international wars.

...the right of self-determination of which we speak is not the right of self-determination of nations, but rather the right of self-determination of the inhabitants of

(6) every territory large enough to form an independent administrative unit.

If it were in any way possible to grant this right of self-determination to every individual person, it would have to be done. This is impracticable only because of compelling technical considerations... (Liberalism, 109ff)

It follows that if the United States before the War between the States was a voluntary union of the states, and if each state had rights against federal encroachments, and if in addition those rights included a legal right to secede, then

according to (1) the federal government aggressed illegally on the seceding territories.

The feds had no right to assist the blacks in "resisting oppression," or so Mises argues in (3), by overthrowing the legitimate government.

Further, slavery or not, the Southern states had a moral right to secede, according to (5), and

if moreover secession was conducted in harmony with (4) (which it was), and

the Confederacy was sufficiently large and was in fact for all intents and purposes a distinctive nation and culture as per (6) (which again it was), and finally

if the rules mentioned in (2) were not followed (which they weren't), then:

those states were in the right, and the Northern states were initiators of a violent and barbaric revolt against which the Southerners had every right to defend themselves.

See also: A Moral Accounting of the Union and the Confederacy.

Ohio Medical Marijuana Nonsense

It's hard to imagine a worse way of botching medical marijuana legalization than what we have in Ohio.

For example:

1) There are 21 specific conditions eligible for treatment with medical marijuana. Why not more or fewer?

2) Why can the "State Board of Pharmacy award up to 60 dispensary licenses," and not 50 or 70?

3) "The dispensary application fee is $5,000 and the biennial certificate of operation fee is $70,000." Why these particular -- and obviously ridiculous -- prices?

4) "The law prohibits the use of medical marijuana by smoking or combustion, but does allows for vaporization (vaping)." For goodness' sake, why the distinction?

Etc.

So much for "majesty of the law." This is a farce.

Whether There Is Beer in Heaven?

You know the jingle:

In heaven there is no beer;
That's why we drink it here...

That is a mistake. In heaven there may indeed be no beer, but in paradise, there is, and with time, as our everlasting lives go on, it will get ever more delicious.

We may marvel and sneer at the crudity of the Islamic paradise with its 72 virgins awaiting every righteous man and his "eternal erection," but Islam may have picked up on something Christianity has neglected: namely the active life and the things that belong to it that, in Gray's words, "stir the blood and quicken the pulse." (Socialist Tradition, 63)

For Christ did not come to abolish the active life but to fulfill it.

Whether St. Thomas Would Have Approved of Capitalism?

Alexander Gray writes about St. Thomas' economics:

Two rights... must be distinguished in this matter. There is the power to acquire and administer; there is the power to use.

Now, so far as concerns acquisition and administration, St. Thomas largely follows Aristotle, arguing that private ownership is not merely permissible, but necessary to human life.

While private ownership is thus consecrated on the side of administration, it is otherwise so far as concerns 'use.'

... the principle of community in use, of making wealth serviceable to the community at large, could only be effected on the initiative of the possessor of wealth, through the voluntary exercise of alms-giving.

The possessor of wealth is the administrator merely; it may be that in his administration he is responsible solely to his own judgment; but he holds it only on condition that he uses it for the good of mankind, which involves the giving of alms. (Socialist Tradition, 56ff)

But then accumulation of capital and growing one's business fall under "acquisition and administration," which is fully sufficient to justify private property in the means of production.

Further, now St. Thomas would realize that businessmen compete to satisfy consumers increasingly better with time; it isn't really true that "the rich man, if he does not give alms, is a thief."

In his time there was not a vast layer of bourgeoisie / middle class. Alms-giving would then fall on every non-pauper, i.e., on the vast majority of the population in a capitalist society. Nowhere does St. Thomas favor "redistribution" or taxation or "welfare state."

Nor would he be able to define "superfluity" non-arbitrarily, for the familiar reason that today's luxuries are tomorrow's necessities.

Thus, I expect that St. Thomas, were he living now, would find privately invested capital fine and dandy, but insist that when one sells his stocks or takes dividends for personal consumption, he meets a general and imperfect duty of alms-giving.

Another interesting point made by Gray is that St. Thomas

belonged to an age which believed that men were assigned by Providence to different stations in life and, as has been seen, that it was their first duty to live in accordance with the requirements of that station.

He was therefore no egalitarian.

He outlined a theory of division of labor by divine decree, according to which one is more drawn to one task than another. (59)

Indeed, St. Thomas argues that giving alms

is a matter not of precept but of counsel.

Yet it would be inordinate to deprive oneself of one's own, in order to give to others to such an extent that the residue would be insufficient for one to live in keeping with one's station and the ordinary occurrences of life: for no man ought to live unbecomingly. (ST, II-II, 32, 6)

He was no Cohenian socialist who keeps the appearance of the free market but demands egalitarianism in consumer goods.

Is Transcircumstantial Depravity Necessary?

It is surely true that God never intends to lead anyone to ruin. But suppose God the utilitarian has a choice to steer the world into one of two possible directions. The first way will create circumstances to which Smith will respond well and earn glory, but in which Jones and Robinson will be condemned. The second way will produce the opposite result: Smith will perish, but Jones and Robinson will be saved and live.

Isn't God essentially forced by arithmetic to pick way #2? God is absolved from any wrongdoing by the principle of double effect: Smith's perdition is foreseen but not intended; it's an unfortunate side effect of imparting into the world the greatest good for the greatest number. Christ may be the good shepherd (Lk 15), but even He must bow down before the iron necessity of cold utility calculus.

Here we bump against William Lane Craig's idea about "transcircumstantial depravity" (TD) of the damned. Craig's intention is to deny a sinner the following line of defense during the afterlife trial or judgment or "life review": if he had heard the Gospel, then he would have believed; or in our case, if God had steered the world into way #1, then he would have been saved. He is a victim of divine providence, and God stands accused.

Craig would have it that for the sinner, there was never a way to be saved, no matter what God did. God was 100% powerless to save Smith. Smith would have revealed himself to be utterly depraved in any and all sets of possible circumstances. Thus, God never really had a choice to save Smith. Smith was done for from day one. It would be better for him if he had not been born; unfortunately, if Smith had not been born, then Jones and Robinson again would perish, and thus Smith turns into a tool used for their salvation which, once it is no longer useful, is thrown into the gas oven of hell.

Craig maintains that God "does no injustice towards the unevangelized who reject the light of general revelation and are lost because He knows that they wouldn't have responded to the Gospel anyway, even if they had heard it." He then tackles the accusation that this view entails "cultural chauvinism," because his correspondent writes that "swathes of humanity are written off." This is a mild way of putting it. Whole nations, billions of people sharing the same race or nationality are spiritually destroyed without so much as a hope for eternal life even in some possible world! But surely this result cannot be accidental; their race must be the cause; they must be some sort of subhumans! I seem to remember a medieval justification of the slaughter of the American natives to the effect that, why, living in the New World, they couldn't have descended from Adam and Eve, and therefore they were probably devil's spawn. Craig's theory of salvation is quite a bit more implausible, because it does far more than merely call for bodily death to unbelievers; its wrath is not even satisfied with condemning their souls to hell, as though Craig were the all-holy Judge Himself, and they were irredeemable hateful monsters like demons; it consigns these folks to absolute depravity in every possible world!

And according to what mechanism, I ask Craig, have the billions of Asians and Africans turned from being transcircumstantially depraved into willing members of the Church? Ah, he will say, this is because "human persons are individuated by their souls, [and] my soul could have been placed in a different body so that I should have been a person of a different race or ethnicity born at a different time and place in history. On such an understanding of human personhood, bodily characteristics are of much less significance than on a materialistic view." What he is trying to say is that God used to place evil, i.e., totally depraved, souls in the bodies of the miserable Chinese, and now that some of these Chinese have a chance of becoming Christians, God places good souls into their bodies. It is true that, while human persons are multiplied by their bodies, they are individuated by their souls or perhaps "spirits." What Craig wants to convey is that humans are individualized by their personalities, and those are immaterial, and therefore the significance of the body is lessened. But surely, one's bodily make-up affects one's personality. Body and soul are enmeshed into one another, creating a psychosomatic unity. Anyway, I find it hard to believe that souls, being created or implanted into a fetus or developing naturally in it as it gestates can be divided into good and evil. It is well accepted that all children are born innocent and capable of becoming either good or evil.

In any case, however, Craig's artifice of TD may be superfluous. For does not transcircumstantial depravity entail transcircumstantial glory? Here's the argument: If a man is condemned actually, Craig proposes, then he is condemned in all possible worlds. By contraposition, if he is saved even in one possible world, then he must be saved in the actual one. But Jones and Robinson are saved in possible world #2; therefore, if God chooses to actualize world #1, then they must also by necessity be saved there.

Thus, Jones and Robinson never actually needed the sacrifice of Smith. They would have been saved even if Smith had never existed. They have -- and always did have, supposedly -- the "good" spirits in them. God stands in no need of Smith's shameful "services."

Craig might object that since God wants to protect His ass from lawsuits, He will not create any world, including but not limited to #1, in which Jones is damned. World #1, though "possible," is not "feasible": God can create it but for His own reasons definitely will not. At the same time, God created and predestined Smith for damnation to make possible world #2 in addition feasible. Perhaps; the reasoning is convoluted.

(Another argument against transcircumstantial glory is that, let's face it, every man has his limits. Suppose God subjected Jones to agonizing though non-hellish torture for 10,000 years. It is quite possible that regardless of his initial resilience and holiness, Jones would end up cursing and hating God and be punished for that sin with everlasting hellfire.)

A more subtle objection is that perhaps Jones / Robinson obtained more glory with the help of Smith's sacrifice than they would have obtained without it. But hell is such unspeakable horror that Smith's eternal suffering would far outweigh in terms of utility any finite increase in Jones' glory, even multiplied by all the days of Jones' everlasting life.

Ethics of Jesus Is A-Ok

My final post on Smith's book will clear up some issues regarding the teachings of Jesus.

For example, Smith claims that "Jesus believed that the establishment of God's kingdom would occur within the lifetime of his followers... the teachings of Jesus must be understood as an 'interim' ethic" before that event. But it should be obvious that Jesus' kingdom (1) was not of this world (Jn 18:36), and (2) came to be immediately upon His resurrection.

Hence it made perfect sense for Jesus to say, "Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come in power." (Mk 9:1) This was not a prediction of His second coming. Therefore, it is false, as Smith claims, that "Jesus was mistaken concerning the immediacy of God's kingdom." (316)

Smith notes that for Jesus, "those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners." (Mk 2:17) His simple reward/punishment ethic is precisely what most people even today, let alone 2,000 years ago, need, because it's the only thing they understand. Jesus did not address himself to philosophers, but to murderers and thieves, such as indeed tax collectors. He wanted to bring heart to the heartless, but the first step to doing so is to lay down the penal code for violent crimes.

Smith interprets Mt 18:3, "Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven," to mean that "children, after all, will believe almost anything." (322) But this is implausible in light of Mt 10:16, "Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves."

Smith accuses Jesus of "narrow sectarianism; Jesus came not to save the world, but to save only a small part of it -- namely, the Jews, the 'elect,' God's 'chosen people.'" (316) This is contradicted by the parable of the great feast (Lk 14:15-24): "The master then ordered the servant, 'Go out to the highways and hedgerows and make people come in that my home may be filled.'" (NABRE comments: it "is a further illustration of the rejection by Israel, God's chosen people, of Jesus' invitation to share in the banquet in the kingdom and the extension of the invitation to other Jews whose identification as the poor, crippled, blind, and lame' classifies them among those who recognize their need for salvation, and to Gentiles.") And further by "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." (Mt 28:19-20)

It's true that in the past Christianity often flirted with asceticism, or pain and suffering for their own sakes, but this was inevitable before the development of economic science and industrial revolution, when the human active life correctly seemed pointless and miserable. "Jesus does not prescribe standards of behavior on the basis that they will contribute to man's happiness and well-being on earth" (317), Smith charges. Of course not. 2,000 years ago there was no such thing as happiness on earth.

Finally, Smith reviles Christianity for aiming to "break man's spirit": "if it robs him of emotional strength and intellectual independence, he will indeed become meek and humble." (324) First, some people, like violent criminals, ought to have their evil spirits broken. Second, for everyone else, a great God can only be worshipped by a great creature. God's glory is directly increased by human glory; it's not the case that man must abase himself to make God look better by comparison. Third, Smith proposes that grace destroys nature rather than builds upon it sweetly, and that is false.

It is time to bring this critique to a close. Smith's book is interesting but fatally flawed. The case against God is weak, indeed.

Whether Christian Ethics Is Anti-Life?

Now we come to the most interesting chapters in Smith's book. In them he builds up a brutal indictment of Christianity as an "anti-life" religion. Let's look at some of his claims.

Back in Chapter 1, Smith writes:

Religion has had the disastrous effect of placing vitally important concepts, such as morality, happiness, and love, in a supernatural realm inaccessible to man's mind and knowledge. ...

Atheism, however, is not the destruction of morality; it is the destruction of supernatural morality.

Likewise, atheism is not the destruction of happiness and love; it is the destruction of the idea that happiness and love can be achieved only in another world. (26)

The first claim in this quote is palpably absurd. Pick up any modern book on ethics and you will find no mention of God or the supernatural in it. Now perhaps religion is important in shaping the morality of the common man, but to the extent that it is based on rationally derived morality, that is of no concern.

Further, Christian morality is deified natural morality. Christian virtues are deiform in character; they are enhanced versions of the natural virtues.

For example, prudence deals with the question of what I ought to do to further my own self-interest (which may include the interests of others); atheistic prudence is directed at the happiness possible in this world; Christian prudence regards actions which lead to salvation and glory and eternal bliss and is therefore far more robust. Religion then places this higher morality in a realm inaccessible only to the atheist's mind and knowledge. Christians can understand its value and follow it, if they want to, with no trouble at all.

Moreover, it is certainly not a Christian doctrine that "happiness and love can be achieved only in another world." What Christianity says is that the happiness that can be achieved here is imperfect in nature, something I think everyone will acknowledge as obviously true; perfect happiness comes only after entrance into glory after death, and that is true according to faith: "We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come."

Smith picks this subject back up in Chapter 12, where he defines "religious morality" as follows:

Basically, [it] defends a universal moral order established by god and existing independently of man.

Man is born into this moral structure, where he finds that his foremost duty is to obey the dictates of his supernatural lawgiver.

Morality, according to this view, serves the purpose of god, not man; and man is required to subordinate himself to the moral code.

Obedience is the major virtue, disobedience the major vice. (297)

This sounds very much like the divine command theory of ethics. It is not worth discussing this straw man. "God made man from the beginning, and left him in the hand of his own counsel." (Sir 15:14) Natural ethics has nothing whatsoever to do with divine commands. Christianity neither entails this theory logically nor in fact promoted it historically. No serious philosopher, least of all a Christian one, has ever held this theory. It has always been well-understood that God communicates with His creatures not directly via "commands" but via the natural law as the Author of nature.

The divine command theory of ethics is merely a philosophical conundrum, a puzzle to contemplate while falling asleep perhaps. Is the good what the gods will, or must the gods of necessity will only what is good? Fascinating, I guess. I don't know the answer 100%, but this question is practically irrelevant, if for no other reason that God does not bark orders at or even speak at all with the vast majority of people.

Smith distinguishes between 2 "divine sanctions": hell and guilt. This is good: St. Thomas, too, separates the evil of fault and the evil of punishment, with the former causing the latter.

As for hell, think of it this way. Good deeds, virtuous behavior "sculpt" the soul into something beautiful and Godlike. They define a person. Evil deeds, hatred, mortal sins, on the contrary, corrupt the soul and make it less human, more undefined. At the end of your life, you will end up as either a tough soul-builder, a warrior who has not given in to evil, or a spiritually sick and twisted weakling. The former will "fit" into heaven and paradise like hand in glove, while the latter may be thrown out into the fire as a worthless, wicked, and hopeless creature. Hence one would be well-advised to fear hell.

Therefore, it's false that "God is to be obeyed because, in the final analysis, he is bigger and stronger than we are; and in addition, he is incomparably more vicious." (300)

As for guilt, Smith's opinion is that the Christian clergy feeds on it. It fosters guilt within the souls of the laity where there is no need for it:

Christianity thrives on guilt. Guilt, not love, is the fundamental emotion that Christianity seeks to induce -- and this is symptomatic of a viciousness in Christianity that few people care to acknowledge.

For all of its alleged concern for the "poor in spirit," Christianity does it best to perpetuate spiritual impoverishment. (304)

Hmm. Is Smith condemning guilt as such? If one has done something wrong and bad, is it not an appropriate response of a healthy individual to feel guilty? What is wrong with a criminal repenting of his crime and making amends? I think our author has proved far too much.

Second, guilt can be taken away through confession, and the traditional prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. Thus, Catholicism provides the means to elimination of guilt. No one forces a person to confess his sins or to try to atone for them. It is Christianity that actually helps one to leave his guilt behind. I have even seen atheists absurdly claim that "a believer can even things up with his imaginary friend without addressing the consequences of his actions in the real world." Yet this charge directly contradicts Smith's. Which is it, then: Christianity condemns too easily or forgives too easily?

Third, there is no need to feel guilty if one has achieved something or done something praiseworthy. Pride is not a sin when it is within right reason; honor is a good worth striving for; and achieving heavenly glory is the whole purpose of life.

Fourth, Smith has postulated a conspiracy of the Church to dupe the impressionable masses into demanding its services and, presumably, paying for them (through donations). "Christianity," he says, "has a vested interest in human misery." (309) Now Smith is a libertarian and Objectivist. Does he believe that in a free market, car repairmen prowl at night surreptitiously breaking cars hoping to cash in on the increased demand for their services? Do drug companies manufacture viruses with the intention of releasing them in midtown Manhattan hoping to profit from selling the cure? All these are logically possible, and the last one was even the plot of a movie, but they don't happen in reality. So why has the Church allegedly succeeded in its particular conspiracy where no one else has?

Fifth, to say that the focus on guilt is greater than the focus on love is a travesty. God loves more the better things, and to the extent that dealing with the emotions and actions that yield guilt will improve a person, so much the better. Charity, for example, is divided with respect to its strength into beginning, progressing, and perfect. As St. Thomas writes, "Even the perfect make progress in charity: yet this is not their chief care, but their aim is principally directed towards union with God. And though both the beginner and the proficient seek this, yet their solicitude is chiefly about other things, with the beginner, about avoiding sin, with the proficient, about progressing in virtue." (ST, II-II, 24, 9, reply 3) So guilt and penance are for the beginners; once a person has reached a certain level of spiritual development, guilt all but disappears.

Sixth, how does Christianity perpetuate spiritual impoverishment? Here we have to understand Smith's take on faith: "acts of faith are united by their submission to an authoritative moral code." (306) Here by faith he means blind acceptance of the moral rules promulgated by the Church. This acceptance is a recipe for an escape from individual responsibility. "I was obeying God's will" becomes, Smith says, a universal excuse. Really? If a murderer on trial were to offer that during his defense, he'd be laughed out of the courtroom and into an electric chair or, at best, be encouraged to enter an insanity plea. In any case, the moral laws are not arbitrary and anybody can and should examine them for himself regarding their value and reasonableness.

Then there is this little gem:

Christian virtues -- such as humility, self-sacrifice, and a sense of sin -- without exception, are geared to the destruction of man's inner sense of dignity, efficacy, and personal worth.

It is not accidental that Christianity regards pride as a major sin. A man of self-esteem is an unlikely candidate for the master-slave relationship that Christianity offers him. ...

Christianity has nothing to offer a happy man living in a natural intelligible universe. (308)

Humility is a virtue rightly understood: "Wherefore a twofold virtue is necessary with regard to the difficult good: one, to temper and restrain the mind, lest it tend to high things immoderately; and this belongs to the virtue of humility: and another to strengthen the mind against despair, and urge it on to the pursuit of great things according to right reason; and this is magnanimity." (ST, II-II, 161, 1)

Humility results from the self-knowledge of one's own limitations, from the realization that some goods are too high above oneself and cannot be attained. But one must be both humble and magnanimous, in the sense of aspiring to great things.

For example, on the free market those entrepreneurs are most successful who have created the most value for the consumers. Their greatness is proportional to the quality of their service to the public. And service is a practical corollary of humility. If we praise the captains of industry, we must praise them in part for their humility.

Our main task in this world is twofold: first, to heal our nature; second, to learn to love others. Humans work in such a way that charity in the heart increases from good deeds performed. A beginner in virtue may indeed initially need to "force" himself to perform works of mercy in order eventually, perhaps after a long battle, to foster charitable feelings. It is in this way that one's feelings may be "commanded." Thus, "self-sacrifice" is a pedagogical tool for those without a holy will. Through helping others, perhaps in spite of one's own initial inclinations, it is hoped that one will come to love the people he helps and the happiness he thereby engenders. So, that way lies the road to perfection. Self-sacrifice is not an end in itself but a means to becoming good.

Smith objects: "Psychological health, to a large extent, consists of being in touch with one's feelings." (323) I see. Go on, then, be in touch with your envy, your rage, your vanity, your sloth, our egotism, and so on. But know well: these feelings can destroy you from within, especially if you are "in touch" with them.

Further, and obviously, one cannot sin and have dignity. When one sins, he becomes a slave. And speaking of which, Christianity does not, of course, proffer a master-slave relationship; it welcomes a believer into a Father-child relationship.

Finally, Christianity has everything to offer a naturally happy man. It offers a lifting up above his nature, knowledge of God, assurance that "what we do in life echoes in eternity," charity and communion of saints, and bliss such as cannot be described.

How Natural Theology Is Done

Smith attributes to the theist the position that with the help of the proofs, "while we may not know the attributes of this being (and therefore have no clear concept of it), we do know that there is some kind of supernatural being, whatever it is. And that is what is meant by the word 'god.'" (221) Of course, this is nonsense. Proofs for the existence of God illuminate God's attributes in mind-numbing detail (see, e.g., Norman Geisler's Systematic Theology, Vol. 2); in fact, describing God is part and parcel of proving that the being so described exists. Nor are God's attributes so discovered "muddled and contradictory." (222) Smith simply borrows this unjustified conclusion from the earlier parts of his book. What we mean by "God" is something very specific and peculiar, not "some kind of supernatural being." The concept of God is fleshed out one argument after another.

This answers Smith's first question, "What caused the universe?" Regarding the second, "How did it cause the universe?" the answer is that "whatever God wills, if that is at all possible, happens" is a law of nature, though not of the created universe's nature but of the nature of God. This is just one way in which God differs from creatures.

According to Smith,

The universe -- the totality of existence -- is a metaphysical primary and, as such, cannot require an explanation. (230)

Man cannot explain the existence of nature, because any attempted explanation logically presupposes the existence of nature. (231)

"What caused the universe?" is an absurd question, because before something can act as a cause, it must first exist -- i.e., it must first be part of the universe. (240)

This is bizarre. No one distinguishes between the natural and the supernatural on the basis of the existence of the thing whose ontological status is in question. The supernatural stands in relation to the natural as the uncaused to the caused, the perfect to the imperfect, the simple to the complex, the infinite to the finite, and so on. But both exist. Existence does not then constitute a difference between God and a created entity.

In other words, natural theology proves God's existence as part of uncovering the divine attributes; and the reason why these attributes cannot be "part of the universe" is that God differs from the universe in rather amazing ways. These differences are not according to existence, since both exist, but according to essence, since God's essence is sui generis and unlike that of any creature. Smith has declared his utter befuddlement over the meaning of the divine attributes, but that really is his own problem.

How Faith Is “Voluntarist”

St. Thomas distinguishes between "science," "faith," and "opinion."

We have seen how "reason" differs from "faith": reason is used in verifying a claim directly, while faith is in the testimony of another person.

One is not free to doubt upon seeing a rigorous scientific or logical demonstration; but one is always free to believe or disbelieve a given testimony.

Thus, the truth of the articles of Christian faith is testified to by the Holy Spirit. Since God always tells the truth, it is a virtuous act to accept that testimony, and a vicious one to reject it.

Smith is aware of this position:

Faith, according to Aquinas, "is an act of the will moved by the grace of God." Retaining this element of voluntary consent permitted Aquinas to argue that acceptance on faith is a "meritorious act." (181)

He is, however, dissatisfied with it, apparently because things other than love for truth are supposedly used to "bribe" the believer into accepting the faith. But, in fact, no such unbecoming shenanigans take place. What is wrong with the Holy Spirit's internal witness, either for an individual or for the Church as a whole? Smith never tells us.

Whether Faith Entails Skepticism?

Undiscriminating a priori skepticism is hopeless and fruitless, because if there are limits to human knowledge, then they can only be found in the process of attempting to overcome them. The success of modern science, both empirical like physics and axiomatic-deductive like economics, has shown that our collective intelligence is vast.

For example, Wikipedia mentions: "Although many initially believed it was impossible that computers themselves could actually be a scientific field of study, in the late fifties it gradually became accepted among the greater academic population."

It is different for God. For example, Smith notes that St. Thomas argued that "to know the self-subsistent being... is beyond the natural power of any created intellect." (65) Smith objects that a necessary being is an unintelligible concept of God. But supposing for the sake of argument that that's exactly what God is, St. Thomas' argument seems reasonable. If God not only exists necessarily (understood as all three of imperishability, simplicity and identity of essence and existence, and logical necessity), but is also lovable essentially (as goodness), then I see no way for us in this life to know the essence of God.

If further, God is infinite, then again, Smith quotes Aquinas: "it is impossible for any created intellect to know God in an infinite degree. Hence it is impossible that it should comprehend God" (68) not only here but even in the state of glory while beholding God face to face.

(To comprehend something is to know it fully, to envelop it in thought as a whole and in every detail. If the Father is the mind of which the Holy Spirit is the ideal thought that grasps the Son as God's real essence, then in heaven we will be thinking this divine thought in the divine language with our human minds, though without comprehending God.)

Smith asks:

What real difference is there between the skeptic who believes that man cannot know reality as it actually is, and the Christian who declares that man cannot know ultimate reality (i.e., God) as it actually is?

How does the skeptic who bemoans the impotence of reason to comprehend existence differ from the Christian who preaches the impotence of reason to comprehend the ultimate form of existence? (130)

The skeptic differs from the Christian in being wrong, where the Christian is correct.

There are arguments in favor of the natural limits of the human intellect as regards God which cannot be used to support skepticism about the created world. Hence the analogy fails.

In short, God really is unseen, and reason cannot discern those mysteries which belong to faith, such as that God is a Trinity. If Smith thinks it can, then let him enlighten us. Otherwise I do not see the point of his chapter on skepticism.