There was once a time when rigorous debate was valued. The idea was, if your position was the correct one, you would be able to defend it. How would it be defended? By an appeal to logic and reason. Wrong they may have been on important topics, Descartes, Hume and Kant (and others) nonetheless based their theories on a system of thought that no one will deny is impressive. Even the more radical thinkers behind the Enlightenment put some pride in the sophisticated structures that supported their theories. Sadly, this is not the case today.

Logic and reason have been displaced by emotion and raw will, so the ability to even begin a debate over conflicting ideas is almost impossible. To challenge certain ideas or policies today is to open the door to being labeled or marked. Debate is feared because the rational support for so many policies is clearly nonexistent. The modus operandi is to shut down discussion with the weapon of ad hominems. The latest example, and they just keep coming, is the uproar over transgender bathrooms. Should a man dressed up as a woman be allowed access to a public bathroom that is intended for women? Those arguing contra appeal to common sense, as well as to obvious safety concerns for the security of young girls. For this, they are mocked, fired from jobs and dismissed as bigots.

The irony is that, while embracing an ideology that rejects moral absolutes, the left relies on a phony moral superiority to categorically dismiss and delegitimize their opponents as bigots or hate-mongers. But how did we get to this point? It helps to look back to an English Franciscan friar.

ockham-imgOnce William Ockham (1287 – 1347) rejected the Classical and Scholastic teaching that universals, or a common nature, bind things (like human beings) together, something else had to answer the question of where morality came from. If there is no such thing as a common human nature, one logically cannot speak of a moral code to which we are all bound without exception. While Ockham believed that morality came from God, he insisted that this morality was imposed individually on us by God’s (allegedly) arbitrary Will. God could then, in theory, command something immoral because his omnipotent Will trumps every other consideration. (Incidentally, this view, called Voluntarism, is embraced by Islam and Protestantism.) Saint Thomas however taught that even God is bound by reason. Since he is reason/Logos, He cannot contradict his own nature by commanding something immoral. Morality, according to Ockham, is not “baked” into a common human nature by Divine Reason/Logos, it is simply imposed on us individually by sheer Divine Will. Look to God’s will, not human nature, to know right vs. wrong.

Over the centuries, Ockham’s will-over-nature theory became secularized and completely detached from theology. As Edward Feser writes in, The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism, “Voluntarism became secularized in the notion that all law rests ultimately on the sheer will of a sovereign, rather than in a rationally ascertainable natural order.” In Western democracies, it really did become, Vox Populi, Vox Dei. The god became the individual will.  No longer was it necessary to figure out God’s will (if there even is a God); we can simply look to our own will and come to our own conclusions about what’s right and wrong for me. So something like abortion is a morally “good” choice for a woman because it was freely chosen. By virtue of the will freely choosing it, abortion is a morally “right” decision. If a man wills to identify as a woman, that’s good enough for society in 2016. Of course, the logical absurdity of such views is clear as day, but that doesn’t matter.

Where does it end? What aren’t you allowed to will yourself into nowadays? Different genders, races, species, why not different weights or heights, or heck, even inanimate objects like a rock? Who gets to say, and on what basis, “Now that’s just going too far!” And that’s the point. It’s worse than just silly season. The left is, by the day, embracing ever-more bizarre and radical positions and justifying them by appealing, not to reason, but to “Because I feel like it.”