September 7, 2016 (EveryDayfoLifeCanada) — Recently, I met with a friend who highly recommended the book, What We Can't Not Know: A Guide. I finished reading the insightful text just weeks ago, and I agree with him completely. It's a book worth reading more than once and studying too. In an age of moral relativism and political correctness, the book offers the perfect antidote.
There are countless books out there about religion, ethics and philosophy. However, Budziszewski's text will no doubt teach you and remind you about a great deal you didn't realize you knew. At least this is what happened to me. It's why the book stands out. The author makes natural law and ethics not only understable, but he also has a way of explaining their relevance in living the Christian life, the natural life and the happy life: the life human beings are meant to live.
Today too many of us have come to believe that relativism in ethics rules the day. Your opinions and feelings are just as good as any other opinions; there is no truth, just different views. Human ideologies such as marxism and fascism tried to do away with morality but the “all controlling state” eventually collapsed from within. The ends, no matter how good, can never justify the means.
The thesis of the book is pretty straightforward: every human being is endowed with a “deep conscience” and from there spring values that are enduring and ought to guide our thoughts and behaviour. This moral code is built on the Ten Commandments and natural law. This observation may be quickly rejected by some readers because of its simplicity and common sense. But it's insightful in its logic, its clarity and soundness.
What We Can't Not Know tells us what we already know but too often refuse to accept or rationalize away. We know that to kill unborn babies is murder. And so too is euthanasia and physician assisted-suicide. We know that indiscriminate sexual encounters are wrong and so is human trafficking. We know that stealing and lying are wrong. We know that drug addiction and pornography are wrong. This is why Prof. J. Budziszewski’s book, What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide is truly a refreshing voice in our present wilderness of secularism and feelings. The author reminds us that there is moral truth that we can know through natural law. This natural law is “a universal possession, the emblem of a rational mind, the heirloom of the family of man.” In other words, this moral code is embedded in the human organism.
Prof. Budziszewski presents the work of St. Thomas Aquinas who saw human beings endowed by the Creator with the capacity to know through reason and to be “witnesses” of natural law. This knowledge comes from a “deep conscience, the witness of design as such, the witness of our own design, and the witness of natural consequences.” There is a wonderful explanation of each of these in the book.
This natural plan, blueprint or layout of human design should guide our behaviour. Then, the question is this: why is there so much confusion currently in our culture about what is right and wrong? The author responds by saying that natural law isn't a specific set of principles that we just follow like a computer program, but is more akin to general knowledge that can lead us to those moral truths. What human beings naturally know must be nurtured, taught and developed. And how do we do this? We do it through culture, tradition, institutions and moral education.
However, the problem we face today is that the schools and institutions that were once there to support the individual in applying natural law are disappearing. Just think of how secularized our governments and schools are presently. To add to this difficulty, we have embraced ways to rationalize and deny wrongdoing. We can say that sin, lying and denial are legal and “progressive.” It's a live and let live attitude. So, abortion and euthanasia are no longer murder but societal “rights.” Radical sex education programs are not abusive and unsafe for children because young people are to have sexual choices and thus experience sexual pleasure and freedom. It's a “right” to do wrong. Christian schools are discriminated against in the name of tolerance and inclusion. The sexual revolution of the 60s has failed horribly. Why? Because it didn't account for what human beings are designed to be and do in terms of human sexuality, marriage and family. And today, we are living with the moral fallout. But we are in denial.
Prof. Budziszewski argues that we know these things are wrong yet we learn to rationalize and choose to sin. This goes against the Creator and natural law. However, in doing so we risk paying a high price both morally and physically. We end up with sexually transmitted diseases, sickness, depression and unhappiness. The author explains this denial by the guilt we experience. He calls this the “Five Furies”: justification, remorse, confession, atonement and reconciliation. We can try to escape this punishment but the Furies are “inflexible, inexorable and relentless, demanding satisfaction.” They will seek their revenge.
If you're looking for a book that encourages us to restore moral order in a selfish culture obsessed with carnal gratification and the will, What We Can't Not Know is the text to read and share with your family and friends. Please expect much resistance because we live in a society that has lost nearly all connection with its natural design, its true goal and Creator. Put this book on your reading list. You will not regret doing so. Prof. Budziszewski has given us a great book in the service of truth and love.
Lastly, we do know when we are doing wrong, but we deny and rationalize it. What do you think?
Reprinted with permission from Every Day for Life Canada.