Sunday, May 12, 2013

Good Advice from "Alice in Wonderland"

Physical laws, like the ones studied by physicists and chemists, are fairly obvious. Like Lewis Carrol's Alice, we soon learn:
"...that a red-hot poker will burn you if you hold it too long; and that, if you cut your finger very deeply with a knife, it usually bleeds; and she had never forgotten that, if you drink much from a bottle marked 'poison,' it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later...."
("Alice in Wonderland," Lewis Carrol, via Project Gutenberg)
Natural law, ethical principles woven into the fabric of the universe, are just as real. Breaking them don't always have swift, obvious results that ignoring physical laws do, though.

Shoplifting, Melodrama, and All That

Let's say a person decides that it's okay to shoplift, as long as he gives what he steals to charity. it might be a long time before something obviously unpleasant happened. 'Robbing from the rich and giving to the poor' might feel good for a while: along the lines of the 19th and 20th century Robin Hood stories.

Natural law doesn't work like a badly-written melodrama, where the Youth Who Was Led Astray steals a pocket watch: and is promptly killed by a cattle stampede. Our shoplifter might earn a reputation as a philanthropist, and never get caught. So what's the harm in stealing stuff from a store?

Even if the shoplifter only steals from 'big box' stores, each theft takes a small sum from what the store would have earned that day. Whoever manages the store will either have less money to pay expenses, like what the store's employees are earning; or will increase prices to make up for losses from theft.

A conventional assumption is that stores are run by nasty rich people who tear bread from the bleeding lips of oppressed - - - you get the idea. I think that's as plausible as an earlier era's knee-jerk invocation of commie plots, and that's another topic.

I'm pretty sure that some folks who run businesses are anything but paragonsof virtue. But that's not a reason to steal. Someone's going to get hurt: and it probably won't be the dishonest merchant.

Details Change, Principles Don't

When I write posts for another blog, I have to follow rules about intellectual property rights on the Internet. On the other hand, I don't observe details of the Gulathing Law that was part of my ancestors' culture in Norway. Quite a bit has happened in the millennia since the Gulen parliament: anyway, my Scandinavian forebears came from another part of Norway.

Details in the rules we use reflect passing circumstances, and change as the culture changes. A thousand years from now, we'll have new laws and regulations: but theft will still be wrong.

Here's a a very sketchy description of natural law:
  • Natural law
    • Is
      • 'Programmed' into us
      • Part of reality
    • Can be understood through reason
    • Lets us recognize
      • Good and evil
      • Truth and lies
      (Catechism, 1954)
    • Does not change
      (Catechism, 1958)
    • Some rules always apply
      • Don't
        • Do evil 'with good intentions'
        • Help others do wrong
      • Do
        • Follow the Golden Rule
          • "Do to others whatever you would have them do to you...."
          (Matthew 7:12)
        • Respect neighbors
      (Catechism, 1789)
  • How natural law is applied changes
    • With varying customs in different
      • Places
      • Times
      • Circumstances
    • Which means we must think
    (Catechism, 1957)
There's quite a bit more written about natural law, including Catechism, 1954-1960, 2259-2262, 2268-2270.

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.