North Western Winds

Contemplating it all from the great Pacific Northwest

Prudent Martyrdom

leave a comment »

Brother, can you spare a cause?

In my series on Russell Kirk (not finished yet – one more point to go, and, perhaps, more to come after that) I talked briefly about Prudence. Today I find that David Warren has written (more and better, as usual) on the subject recently too. David contrasts the Christian view of Prudence with two modern views that take exception to it – the suicide bomber and the “tolerant” liberal.

As a Christian, I cannot be opposed to martyrdom, per se. So it is important to grasp the difference between what makes a Christian, and what makes this kind of Muslim, martyr. At the very least, the Christian requires to be put to death by someone else; and only as the alternative to denying Christ. He must go out of his way not to endanger persons not involved, since martyrdom can do no good to someone unprepared for it.

It is necessary to make this distinction, in order to understand how, in extremis, not only Christians, but Jews, and some people of other faiths, have been able through the centuries to choose martyrdom, as a prudent act — each believing that his own death is for the good of all people, including himself.

This seems shocking to the post-modern mind, for which self-preservation, if not actual cowardice, is the highest prudential good.

To the Christian mind (and Jewish, Muslim, Hindu), the future of man and the world is in God’s hands, and we have no more power over it than over tsunamis. So the idea of preserving ourselves, even as a species over the longest term, is vain.

The Church has taught through the centuries, on solid Biblical grounds, that “prudence” is among the highest virtues; that it would be actually sinful to act without taking stock of the consequences of our actions. The refusal is one of the things that drives me wild about Christian “liberals” — who think they are holy when they have done something “altruistic”, and deem irrelevant what the immediate consequences must be for others.

The last quoted paragraph struck me quite hard. Churchgoers are often accused of being robotic and Catholic liturgy and prayer can indeed be seen from the outside as very robotic. That’s because the action is all on the inside.

Prudence is what keeps us from blindly following rules (Mark 7:1) and it is held in a higher regard, generally, by the religious. Prudence evaluates custom and the present situation in virtue of furthering the highest Law – “Love one another as I have loved you.” Indeed, prudence is what remembers that the highest law even exists.

The general public thinks prudence is ridiculous, and the ridicule often seems to increase as one’s education climbs. This ridicule of prudence is one of the causes of liberal extremism (not all liberals are extreme). Liberal arguments often will take the form of saying they have fulfilled some virtue (Iraq: do not kill; life issues: tolerance and “love”; welfare: there’s never enough) without much regard to other virtues that need to be balanced against it. They will accuse religious conservatives of being hypocrites who do not follow their own faith when the conservative is merely speaking to the need for balance, for moderation and for awareness of probable unintended consequences.

The liberal does not follow rules per se like a robot, but he often gives the impression of acting robotically as an champion of some particular cause over and against another, and of claiming that this unbalanced devotion is the virtue of the enlightened martyr.


Written by Curt

February 6, 2005 at 12:27 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: