On communities, hierarchy, and Go(o)d

Each one has its “principality” or “archangel,” so to speak, and we can tell by its frowning countenance when we have violated an ethical norm. And what pleases the Eagle may displease the Serpent, as it were, and be perceived as neutral by the Dove. We can imagine Alaska has an “archangel” as well, and America, and the Milky Way.

Of course the principality of the universe is God and so everything must find its place within this superlative order of community. Sometimes it seems to me that the theories we study are an expression of which particular order in the hierarchy of Being the thinker turns the eye of his or her mind to. Some theorists perceive the unifying principles of humanity while others perceive instead the differences. They then elaborate theories to explain their perceptions. I think that anyone who believes in God is provided with an ultimate way to reconcile all of the apparent opposites like sameness and difference, higher and lower, greater and lesser, and so on. God is beyond Being—the cause of Being—so this superordinate harmony is true in principle.

Just to reiterate the nested hierarchy of community—the “cosmic economy”, as it were—in which all “live and move and have our being”: each of our cells is a community of organelles, each tissue a community of cells, each organ a community of tissues, our body a community of organs. Our “I” also lives within a community of other psychological presences. Each of us is a member of a family. Each family a member of a society and so on and so on. I think it will be clear that each stratum of this hierarchy supports the good of what is above it, and above, and above, and so on to the Good itself which is the first cause and last end of all of the subordinate goods that participate it. “The only beautiful thing is beauty itself,” to paraphrase Diotima. At the same time, what is above also cares for the good and welfare of what is below it. This is reciprocal submission and service, or love. I also think that an exceptionally perceptive person could articulate a theory of ethics from such a contemplation even never having read Aquinas (i.e. who articulated the Natural Law theory of ethics).

How do we recognise improvement? How can we see one thing is “better” than another comparable thing? This word implies a backdrop of moral objectivism against which to measure a particular culture. Otherwise we would not be able to recognise “better” if we saw it. Thus, every judgment and decision in our lives presupposes the existence of an ultimate Good to which we sustain an implicit relation and which binds us in an indissoluble and invisible community, even as we explicitly dismiss it as “superstitious” or “metaphysical.” The pejorative manner in which those words are often used implies the existence of the very thing they are being enlisted to deny.

Thanks to Charlotte for the enchanting photo

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