Showing posts with label Thomas Aquinas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thomas Aquinas. Show all posts

July 2, 2023

What would Thomas Aquinas say?

Thomas Aquinas, Altarpiece in
Ascoli Piceno, Italy,
by Carlo Crivelli
 (15th century) Public domain

By Hal Brown

We recently binge watched Madam Secretary. If you're familiar with the show you know that the star Téa Leoni plays Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord and that her husband Harry (played by Tim Daly) is a theology professor who often quotes Thomas Aquinas who has been described as "the most influential thinker of the medieval period and he greatest of the medieval philopsher-theologians. 

In a few episodes he related a "Thomas Aquinas walks into a bar" joke. Here's one of them:

Thomas Aquinas walks into a bar, and the bartender pours him a big goblet of mead.

Bartender says, "How ya doin?"

Aquinas says, "Oh, not so great. I've been working on this treatise for seminarians. Uh, basically explains all the major points of Catholicism. It could be the most important theological document of our time, and I even thought of the perfect title: Summa Theologica."

Aquinas continues, "So, I finish it, and I misplaced it. I can't find it anywhere, and I can't understand why God would inspire me to do this and then allow it to be taken away. What is God trying to tell me?"

Bartender says, "Eh. You win summa, you lose summa."

I am about as far removed from being a religious scholar as I am from being Kafka's cockroach, well, probably further removed. Still, I decided to see whether Aquinas had anything to say applicable to the politics of today and to my life in general. Not about to read his collected works I turned to the website AZ Quotes for his best known quotations. Below are a selection of quotes with my annotations.

This is totally irrelevant to me personally since I don't believe in God. However it should be a quote to live by for all those who do believe in God. You can ask yourself whether members of the far-right could say the above if there was a real lightning hurling god who would strike liars and hypocrites and burn them to a heap of cinders would be around to vote in the next election.
 Whether you love money, power, your family, or humanity or various combinations to different degrees, I believe this.
I agree, but this quite obviously far easier said than done. As someone who was a psychotherapist for 40 years the saying "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink" comes to mind. Of course the horse first has to be thirsty and then is willing to ask you for directions to the watering hole.
This is a tricky one because it is possible to be consumed by anger over injustice to the point where you can be immobilized. I agree it is immoral not to feel angry at immorality and injustice but anger enacted upon in a moral and productive way should be the highest goal.
When Aquinas refers to faith he means faith with no evidence he means believing in God without questioning. His going on to say that those without faith will ignore evidence of God's existence seems to be highfalutin dismissiveness.
There's love and there's love and there's hate. I love people who are in my life, and I can and do have love for people who I admire, and can have a kind of empathy which isn't really love but isn't hate either for people who I understand even though they are to varying degrees intolerant and hateful. While it is risky to be consumed by hate for someone like Trump or DeSantis or their ilk I can feel it and haven't an iota of guilt over this.
I don't know whether this is meant to mean an individual man or mankind. Either way, the assumption that there's a supernatural entity that is capable of such a feat seems preposterous to me. As a cynic I ask why if God is real what is he (or He) waiting for to do this?
Here Aquinas makes an observation tIhat seems to be his being a goody two-shoes engaging in wishful thinking. Getting back to the politics of the day, why should I will the good of Trump or Putin? I wish they were good people but I only wish bad things for them.
Before Anton van Leeuwenhoek invented the microscope there were invisible creatures nobody knew existed. Today we know we sleep because there are scientific ways as simple as being video recorded, to prove we do. If somebody invents a way to prove angels exist I won't believe in them.
By this I assume he means mankind. By ought to believe this seems to mean God. While belief in and acting on all the best of religion would indeed lead to the salvation of mankind, this isn't about to happen. The second and third ideas make sense to me. If you know that you ought to desire and act, for want of a better way to phrase it, that you live by The Golden Rule I agree.
He sure nails it here. One of the emotions that drives the hard right, that drives white nationalism, and also motivates individuals to lash out at other, is fear. 
This seems to be an indictment of self-aggrandizing narcissism. If this is what he meant I certainly agree.
Wow! Sure a person leads a happier more fulfilling life the more joy they experience. But again he has to interject spirituality when this is irrelevant to leading an ethical, moral, and happy life. You can be an abject atheist and still lead a laudatory life. He's goes even further here. What's this carnal pleasure addiction? He probably means sex although the term also means anything of the body so this could be a condemnation not only of sexual gratification but also of enjoying any other kind of sexual pleasure from sensual touching to eating tasty food to enjoying the sun shining on your skin.
Somehow the universe of which Earth is but a minuscule part of came into being. Nobody knows what was here before the Big Bang. I suppose we could call this unknown God, nothingness, Rootie Kazootie, or hell, why not El Squeako Mouse, the great Mexican matador.
This appears to be an appeal phrased as an admonition to reason and critical thinking. I'd put it as saying that it's best in decision making to consider all factors without prejudging and bias.
This is basically a prayer which I find nothing to object to about for believers who find it helpful assuming they don't distort the means of the words to justify evil behavior.
I assume this is a metaphor for an individual never taking risks. It makes sense to me.
You don't have to believe in God to do what's right. The heart is an ancient metaphor for emotions, the saying "follow your heart" usually means taking actions that feel right to you. Unfortunately for some people doing what feels right is morally and ethically wrong.
One the face of this, without going too deeply, this sounds like a valid statement. Unfortunately it could be used to exact what one group considers justice against someone who does deserve mercy. The second part describes how punishment is all too often exacted against groups of people today.
I would add true love to true friendship but I certainly agree with this. 
100% agree.
Add love and I agree.
100% agree.
This is a version of "the ends justified the means" which is often addressed in the study of ethics. Was dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki justified is a frequently used example. It would be interesting to bring Aquinas back and ask him what he thought.
In the language of his time soul meant something deeper than just saying person, but assuming this is what he meant, I can find an argument to support this. Everyone wants to achieve some kind of happiness even in people with some psychiatric disorders, it is by making themselves experience pain. Everyone, even those struggling to survive to the next day, wants to have some kind of meaning in their life even if it is just keeping themselves and their loved ones alive.

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