Inconsistency and wish fulfillment

July 10, 2014 § 30 Comments

Intuitively we tend to think that inconsistency in a doctrine or ideology would make that doctrine or ideology less resilient. But in fact the opposite is frequently the case, with liberalism and sola scriptura as just two examples.

An inconsistent ideology can, by the principle of explosion, assert anything or its opposite. So subtly inconsistent ideologies tend to confirm what people expect or want to hear: they transfer (if only in an ultimately illusory way) “meaning” from the hard and fast objective domain of reality, over which we have no control, to the domain of the will.

Liberalism therefore is an (again illusory, but resilient enough to prove satisfying to most people) mechanism for making politics and morality conform to expectation: to make them what we want and expect them to be, as opposed to discovering them as objective aspects of reality that we have to live with and conform to. Sola Scriptura and scientific positivism (scientism) are two ways of doing the same thing with respect to religious truth (doctrine): of making religious doctrine conform to our metaphysical baggage.

Once folks have made a habit of thinking this way it takes on a life of its own: the result is as many Protestant denominations as there are theological opinions, a “scientific” outlook that degenerates into postmodern nonsense, and a hydra’s head of opposing forms of liberalism that each see the others as transcendent enemy, blissfully unaware that the same basic commitments animate each head of the hydra: unaware that they are all part of the same Beast.  The embrace of untruth has only one ultimate end.

The reason I discuss positivism and liberalism and the like is because they are subtle errors that hold almost all modern people in thrall: much more subtle, and indeed frequently underlying, the really obvious “emperor with no clothes” errors like feminism and racial equality. As I’ve mentioned before I still pull little remnants of these subtle weeds from the garden of my own mind.

The words “nothing but” (“sola” in Latin) should automatically raise suspicion, every bit as much as the words “equality” and “freedom“. As with most of these terms in the context of weaponized nihilism, they aren’t always and necessarily used in a self contradictory way. Sometimes they just mean something banal and obvious. But until you’ve gotten some grasp of positivism it will be easy to be taken in by equivocation amongst positivist assertions, banal assertions, gnostic smugness, and unprincipled exceptions. These are some of the surgical tools that modernity uses against your mind in the modern asylum.

§ 30 Responses to Inconsistency and wish fulfillment

  • Zippy says:

    When I was much younger, as a politically libertarianish conservative I was very impressed with myself. I found that I could “win” any argument by starting from the basic liberal premise that government’s main purpose is to secure freedom and equal rights.

    But after “winning” enough arguments on both sides of a given issue I began to realize that something must be wrong with my thoughts. Around the same time Jim Kalb was the first adult to ever suggest to me even mildly that political freedom and equal rights might not actually be always and everywhere a good thing.

    That is how I came to understand the role that subtle (or not so subtle, once you see them) inconsistencies play in modernity.

  • Bonald says:

    This reminds me of a rambling post I wrote some time ago about how the inconsistencies between the liberal and Leftist outlooks are actually useful to Left-liberalism.

    Reading it again, I’m quite pleased with myself for how gratuitously insulting I was to Wendell Berry.

  • Peter Blood says:

    I had totally forgotten about Wendell Berry. I’m sure he is still finding ways to rip us as the Juggernaut chases the last of us down.

    But I have never forgotten Falling Down.

  • Zippy says:


    Reading it again, I’m quite pleased with myself for how gratuitously insulting I was to Wendell Berry.

    I don’t know about gratuitous. Those quotes of his you cited were embarrassing. If anything, responding to them as if they were in any sense serious was the opposite of gratuitous.

  • jf12 says:

    Preservation of doctrine by preservation of the institution designated to preserve doctrine yields this fine example of an inconsistent ideology: “We don’t change anything ever, even though we could because we have the authority.”

    An example of such inconsistency is the changing of the formula of baptism. See Aquinas’ Reply to Objection 1 of Article 6 of Question 66.

    Another example of such inconsistency is changing the matter of the sacrament of anointing, from the formerly mandated oleo oleum to nowadays “eh, whatever, oil, ok” ex cathedra.

  • Zippy says:

    … because any sort of change is the same thing as rational inconsistency.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    Allow me to clear up the difference between Catholic doctrines and Catholic disciplines, for any who may be unaware.

    A doctrine is a teaching that must be believed as true. They never change.

    A discipline is a command from the church to govern prudential behavior in the current time. They may change. They are not true or false, they are commands. If I say, “jf12, go do the dishes,” that statement is not true or false. It is a command.

    An example of a doctrine is male priests only. It is literally metaphysically impossible for a woman to become a priest.

    An example of a discipline – a prudential command – is married priests. It is not outside the metaphysical bounds of reality for a priest to be married – they’ve just been ordered not to. In fact, Eastern Rite priests (in full communion with Rome) are allowed to be married even today.

    Tweaking the way a sacramental ceremony is performed is fine. That falls under the realm of discipline. However, we must hold to valid matter, valid form, and valid minister. That falls under the realm of doctrine. That is to say, it is metaphysically impossible for a sacrament to take place without valid matter, valid form, and valid minister, and what those are never changes.

  • Mike T says:

    I find most amusing here is that a low church pentacostal conservative will often come to the right conclusions about morality faster than a Roman Catholic precisely because he or she eschews so much philosophical noise and reads the Bible. The overwhelming majority of morality can be inferred by an honest reading of the law books and gospels. Few split hairs about moral issues more thoroughly than Catholic intellectuals and yet still manage to miss the point.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    @ Mike T:

    Are you here to make a point, or just to throw insults around?

    Just as there is no shortage of bad Catholics, I’ve seen no shortage of bad Protestants.

    It doesn’t change what the truth is.

  • Ian says:


    That’s interesting about how you started realizing that something might be wrong with your thoughts. Do you have any examples of an issue where you argued both sides from the premises of freedom and equal rights?

    For me, I started to suspect there was something wrong with my classical liberal/libertarian principles when the New York legislature passed ‘gay marriage’ a few years ago.

  • jf12 says:

    @JustSomeGuy, re: “valid matter, valid form”

    I specifically addressed documented *changes* in valid matter and valid form for this reason.

  • Zippy says:

    Aaaaannd, stipulating changes in sacramental practice over the millennia demonstrates what, exactly?

  • Zippy says:

    I don’t think that jf12 understands what rational inconsistency is. If (say) Bob’s hair was brown in 1994 and gray in 2014, that isn’t a rational inconsistency.

  • Zippy says:

    It has been a good 20 plus years for me, and I don’t have any glaring examples offhand. I remember discovering libertarian zeal for abortion as a turning point too, but as for what specific arguments made me start to suspect that there was something wrong with my own thoughts I don’t recall.

  • jf12 says:

    The inconsistent doctrine is as JustSomeGuy stated correctly “what those are never changes”. But the what did in fact change.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    The inconsistent doctrine is as JustSomeGuy stated correctly “what those are never changes”. But the what did in fact change.

    I’m afraid that’s just a factual error. No doctrine has ever been changed. In fact, no doctrine can be changed.

  • Zippy says:

    Here is a hint.

    In order to show that two Catholic doctrines are rationally inconsistent you have to at a minimum actually cite Catholic doctrines. Citing blog commenters won’t do, and even citing Aquinas won’t do since his writings are, while well respected, not Magisterial.

    And that is just the beginning of what such a demonstration would look like.

    It is entirely possible that you hold two ideas in your head that (1) you think are unreformable Catholic doctrine and (2) are in conflict. But so what?

  • jf12 says:

    What I see as being the inconsistency is more than examples (but there are these examples). An authority to change important stuff that supposedly derives from never changing important stuff is charitably decribed as inconsistent.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    An authority to change important stuff that supposedly derives from never changing important stuff is charitably decribed as inconsistent.

    Apparently you misunderstand magisterial authority.

    Infallibility (papal, doctrinal, etc.) doesn’t mean that what is said becomes true. It means that only true things will be said.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    For example, it is literally metaphysically impossible for Pope Francis to walk out on the balcony tomorrow and make an infallible declaration that all of a sudden we’re cool with (so called) gay marriage.

    That is outside the bounds of possible things.

  • Zippy says:

    As far as I can tell, jf12 is just asserting that when some practice or belief X changes when he thinks it shouldn’t change (or more precisely he thinks that Catholics ought to think shouldn’t change), that is the same thing as a rational inconsistency. He doesn’t just misconstrue authority (the Church does after all have juridical authority in addition to doctrinal assurance – ‘what you hold bound will be held bound’). He also misconstrues rational inconsistency.

    There is nothing rationally inconsistent about things changing. It is only inconsistent to simultaneously assert that X cannot change and that X has changed, for some univocal X. jf12 is a very long way from having shown anything remotely of the kind.

    This post may be relevant.

    Part of the appeal of positivism is that it creates the illusion that the eternal content of the Faith can be captured in a hermetic box from which no surprises will emerge: that the Faith is “fixed” in the sense of being dead and isolated from reality, as opposed to “fixed” in the same sense that a real living thing is “fixed”. Another part of its appeal is that it isolates the individual: it creates the illusion that he does not have to depend on other men in order to understand the content of the Faith. The fact that doctrine develops – that the nature of reality is such that it must develop – scares or horrifies certain kinds of people, mostly those with positivist commitments and those who just cannot believe that God would leave us at the tender mercies of our fellow fallen men, of each other.

    Personally, I think it is a mark of credibility for the Church that its ecclesiology, praxis, and doctrine has always been coherent with the fact that positivism is ultimately self contradictory — even though the fact that positivism is ultimately self-contradictory is something that was not well understood until really rather recently.

  • Mike T says:


    Actually, there was a point in my comment. Sola scriptura, for all of its faults, can lead a sincere believer to the right moral conclusions on the vast majority of situations. The law books are remarkably thorough at providing insight on what God regards as sin. The Gospels provide critical context on subtle matters like God’s priorities on moral matters. For example, God values a heart of love, justice and mercy above all else. Jesus said to the Pharisees what good is your strict adherence to the law when you fail on weightier matters like love, mercy and justice.

    The main reason why low church Pentecostals don’t suffer from a plague of pederast sex scandals in their churches is that they don’t go through philosophical contortions on things like van a man with homosexual tendencies lead a church. They just read Romans 1 and declare it a temptation too severe to be allowed near the leadership. It wouldn’t even occur to most of them that a homosexual could be intentionally admitted into a position of ecclesiastical authority because they just take Paul’s words at face value.

    For what it’s worth, I agree with zippy that solar scriptura is an error. However, Catholics often downplay just how much truth you can easily get from the bible without tradition guiding you.

    (full disclosure, I am not a Pentecostal and I am typing this from a 7 inch tablet.)

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    Sola scriptura, for all of its faults, can lead a sincere believer to the right moral conclusions on the vast majority of situations.

    Fair enough, the key word being “can”.

    I do believe wholeheartedly that – in general – my fellow Catholics don’t have anywhere near the proper love for the scriptures.

  • Paul J Cella says:

    Positivism is a feeble and enfeebling thought system. In some few areas of study, it supplies some benefits; but on the whole it just serves to cut men off from the richness of the world they inhabit.

    Sola scriptura may partake of the error of positivism, but at least it clings to the memory of the sacredness of the Word of God, which Catholicism has never for a moment hesitated to proclaim; and (naturally) against which the whole modern world is in revolt.

    One sound idea for the worldwide discipline of reading the Bible, in a patterned manner, with instruction from those elders who understand its meaning, is precisely that unique power of Scripture to reach the wayward soul. Thus the Church tells every local priest what Scripture to read on Sunday.

    So even from a Protestant perspective, it is a glory of the Roman Church that she still puts people, routinely and with some impressive consistency across language, mores, civilization and tribe, under the nurture and admonition of the Holy Writ, which is alone among the written works of man in conveying sacred history.

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