WFB and ‘Final Truths’

This is the second anniversary of the death of William F. Buckley. Though he is most widely known as one of the founders of modern Conservatism, and perhaps its most eloquent spokesman, he was many other things as well – an accomplished author and master of the English language in both its written and spoken form, a great debater, an accomplished sailor, a faithful husband and father.

But often overlooked is the fact that he was a devout Christian, and perhaps one of its most accomplished defenders. I know as a young Christian who previously had been Marxist in my politics and a materialist in my metaphysics, Buckley filled my hungry intellect as I sought to understand how my new beliefs as a Christian contrasted with my previous beliefs. I would often sit for hours reading National Review and Buckley’s essays, absorbing the ideas he presented.

A fine example of Buckley’s view of truth and it’s application to our lives was demonstrated in 1962. Buckley was responding to some high school students who had read his book Up from Liberalism and wanted him to elaborate on what he meant by “final truths” – what follows is part of his response, and I think one of the more profound statements about the proper perspective Christians should have regarding the beliefs that inform their earthly activities, and the final truths which must inform their eternal destinies:

All our techniques of social welfare, all our science, all our comfort, all our liberty, all our democracy and foreign aid and grandiloquent orations—all that means nothing to me and nothing to you in the moment when we go. At that moment we must put our souls in order, and the way to do that was lighted for us by Jesus, and since then we have had need of no other light. That is what is finally important; it has not changed; and it will not change. It is truth, which shall ever abide in the future. And if it is “reactionary” to hold a truth that will be valid for all future time, then words have lost their meaning, and men their reason.

There are of course no ‘final truths’ in materialism or atheism – no confidence at the end, no comfort in knowing what is to come. It is good to know that William F. Buckley, and all those who believe, will experience such final truth.

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17 Responses to WFB and ‘Final Truths’

  1. trog69 says:

    Good evening, Mr. Hudson.

    But often overlooked is the fact that he was a devout Christian, and perhaps one of its most accomplished defenders.

    Yes, when it’s HS students he’s handwaving at.

    “At that moment we must put our souls in order, and the way to do that was lighted for us by Jesus, and since then we have had need of no other light. That is what is finally important; it has not changed; and it will not change. It is truth, which shall ever abide in the future. And if it is “reactionary” to hold a truth that will be valid for all future time, then words have lost their meaning, and men their reason.”

    In other words, he had no answer to the question unless it’s a Christian who asks.

  2. jackhudson says:

    Yes, when it’s HS students he’s handwaving at.

    Buckley was pretty consistent in his positions in any venue, in response to any group of people.

    In other words, he had no answer to the question unless it’s a Christian who asks.

    I don’t know how you got that out of what Buckley said; he was simply saying that no matter how people’s view change in regard to a truth, if it is indeed truth (or final truth – that which endures beyond even human history) then it is mad not to hold to that truth.

    As far as defending his views – he was better at it than anyone alive in the late 20th century.

  3. trog69 says:

    If you take his assertions concerning Jesus Christ out of his response, it makes no sense. Similarly, you’ll have to prove that there is “truth” beyond human history. What does that even mean, outside of cosmology? Truth about the origins of the universe?

    I will concede that Buckley, having a nearly-bankrupt worldview, did as good a job at defending it as is possible, similar to the detriment shackled to Christian apologists.

  4. jackhudson says:

    If you take his assertions concerning Jesus Christ out of his response, it makes no sense. Similarly, you’ll have to prove that there is “truth” beyond human history. What does that even mean, outside of cosmology? Truth about the origins of the universe?

    Well first off Buckley was responding to what he meant by ‘final truths’, he wasn’t offering a defense of the existence of the afterlife, or of the objective reality of truths at all, though Buckley was certainly capable of doing so.

    Nonetheless if ‘truths’ do not exist objectively and eternally they are mere constructs of the human mind, and unreliable constructs at that. If at the end, there is only the end and nothing more, than ‘truths’ are irrelevant and one is free to believe anything wants about reality, or believe nothing at all. Every non-human creature on earth exists without ‘believing’ anything at all, and gets along just fine, as beasts do – of course their passing goes unnoticed, as will our passing, if there is no final observer to take note.

    I will concede that Buckley, having a nearly-bankrupt worldview, did as good a job at defending it as is possible, similar to the detriment shackled to Christian apologists.

    Well, again, I wonder what idea you are comparing it to. If we are merely the product of natural forces and the incidental product of so many atoms bumping together, then it is not the Christian ‘worldview’ that is bankrupt, but the idea of a ‘worldview’ that is bankrupt. Via naturalism the universe is what it is, and doesn’t give a flying leap what view we hold of it. Arguing about what is true about it is as absurd as threatening to change it.

  5. jackhudson says:

    I actually didn’t say that, and if you are going respond to arguements, perhaps you could respond to arguements made, instead of making arguements up to respond to? Of course, it may be you can’t respond to those actually made, in which case, I understand the temptation.

  6. trog69 says:

    That response to mike may be the one of the most ironic statements I’ve seen.

    Sorry, you’re far too gone for discussion with nonbelievers.

  7. jackhudson says:

    According to what you’ve written, Buckley defined “final truths” as what is important. In this framework, he considers Jesus and his words important. In the way you’ve used “final truths” (i.e., simply as what is important), materialism and atheism both allow for what is important, and that can be a wide range of things (like, real things); Importance is determined by the individual.

    That isn’t how Buckley used final truths – final truths are those realities that are important when at the end of one’s life – they eclipse all the other experiences one has had (comforts, scientific knowledge, political beliefs, policy proscriptions, etc) and diminish their importance. If, as an atheist believes, there is nothing at the end, then this is their final truth, and it too eclipses all that they have believed previously.

    You next go on to say there is no confidence for materialists and atheists. This is a non-sequitur. The point Buckley argued and you followed is that “final truths” is defined as extremely important things. This isn’t in relation to the idea that a materialist or atheist does or does not have confidence in materialism or atheism.

    Perhaps I wasn’t clear on this point. When I said there is no confidence in the end for the atheist, I did not mean they weren’t certain what the end was to be, they are certain it will be nothingness – but as I elaborated, there would be no comfort in this, the reality of the final truth cannot comfort in the way the final truths Christians hold do.

    But I think it goes farther than that; all atheists have are the experiences of ‘science, comfort, liberties, etc’, all things which are by nature tentative and only useful to those who have life ahead of them. So in those final moments, everything an atheist had is gone, and even that which was, the ‘stuff of life’, wasn’t certain.

    Finally, you end on a non-sequitur that assumes two things. First, you assume that materialism and atheism cannot be comforting and/or that materialists and atheists do not find comfort just before death. Second, you seem to assume that a materialist or atheist is hanging out wondering “what is to come”. This makes no sense unless you’re also assuming materialists and atheists are full of doubt. Since you only asserted that idea (far from relation to the rest of your post), you have weak grounds for this second assumption.

    Oh, I don’t assume the first – I am certain of it. There is no ‘comfort’ in nothingness by definition. The totality of a materialist life is in the experiences they had while alive, and when that is over, all of that is gone – all they are, all they strove for are like ripples on a pond, one isn’t even aware they existed a few short moments after they dissipate. That is the brutal honesty of it. Of course some atheists (in fact most I suspect) delude themselves into thinking there was some sort of meaning or purpose to their existence because to do otherwise leads to madness.

    In fact, that was one of the realities that led me to Christ. As a brutally honest agnostic and materialist and true skeptic, I saw my beliefs required me to pretend all the time, so I walked away from an illusory life.

  8. jackhudson says:

    That response to mike may be the one of the most ironic statements I’ve seen.

    Sorry, you’re far too gone for discussion with nonbelievers.

    Well, having already been an unbeliever, as antagonistic to religious belief as anyone here, I already know what it has to offer. I am only too far gone in the sense that I wouldn’t return to something I know to be false once I discovered it to be so. I have since found myself not able to play along with materialist delusions of ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’.

  9. trog69 says:

    …final truths are those realities that are important when at the end of one’s life…

    Says who? This sounds like a “no atheists in foxholes” type of thinking, just as does this:

    f, as an atheist believes, there is nothing at the end, then this is their final truth, and it too eclipses all that they have believed previously.

    Why would this be necessarily true? I’ll admit, I would have a “final thought” that would concern me, one that hadn’t previously, or at least, not as prominently; Will I crap myself when I pass on?

    Yep, too far gone. Please, you have no comprehension of my or any other atheist’s mindset; The fact that you’d jump right into Christianity after being an “unbeliever” shows me that you were always a believer, you just needed a little prodding to get back to full-on delusional.

    I can assure you that, should I somehow receive information that would change my mind about the lack of gods, it could never be Christianity, nor any other religions I’ve seen so far. I’d be more likely to believe in dragons and talking trolls than to believe the ridiculous things written in your instruction manuals.

    The difference, perhaps, is that I was never a true believer. I was very lucky to have no one there to indoctrinate me in religious hogwash, when I was young enough to fall for it.

    If I do succumb to Alzheimer’s and start believing in Jesus, I really hope that someone is there to have me committed to an institution, as that would be proof of my complete insanity.

  10. jackhudson says:

    Why would this be necessarily true? I’ll admit, I would have a “final thought” that would concern me, one that hadn’t previously, or at least, not as prominently; Will I crap myself when I pass on?

    If nothing follows, what possible difference could it make what your final thought is or whether you crap yourself?

    Yep, too far gone. Please, you have no comprehension of my or any other atheist’s mindset; The fact that you’d jump right into Christianity after being an “unbeliever” shows me that you were always a believer, you just needed a little prodding to get back to full-on delusional.

    Arrgghh…yes, if I had only been a true Scotsman, I would never have given up the ship.

    I didn’t ‘jump’ into anything. And I appreciate the fact that after claiming I can have no ‘comprehension’ of an atheist mindset (despite having shared the same materialist beliefs at one time), you on the other hand have perfect insight into my mindset, despite never having been, nor even comprehending how someone could become a Christian. I am sure you don’t see this glaring inconsistency.

    I can assure you that, should I somehow receive information that would change my mind about the lack of gods, it could never be Christianity, nor any other religions I’ve seen so far. I’d be more likely to believe in dragons and talking trolls than to believe the ridiculous things written in your instruction manuals.

    Well, at least you are honest that your response to Christianity isn’t a matter of reason and logic.

    The difference, perhaps, is that I was never a true believer. I was very lucky to have no one there to indoctrinate me in religious hogwash, when I was young enough to fall for it.

    I didn’t really either. My dad was a free-thinker, and my mother mildly religious: neither ever insisted I hold to any religious belief. I was comfortably agnostic by 13.

  11. trog69 says:

    I don’t believe you. Sorry.

  12. jackhudson says:

    I am not here to convince you nor change your beliefs, no apology neccesary.

  13. […] and/or okay when the person is a spammer. It doesn’t so much work when it’s done to people putting forth real substance. I actually didn’t say that, and if you are going respond to arguements, perhaps you could […]

  14. jackhudson says:

    This is what I said. These realities can include family, friends, pets, or any number of things.

    I understand what you are saying Michael and I don’t totally disagree, though other people (and certainly animals) can be as ephemeral as anything else. I think Buckley is talking about that which is certain and universally true.

    You can’t possibly prove that a Christian will be more comforted than an atheist at death. As Bertrand Russell (I believe) once said, happiness is happiness because it must come to an end.

    I would disagree with Russell in this respect – happiness of which there can be no possible future memory or awareness of its existence is no more comforting than any other experience we might have.

    As a Christian, the promise of an eternal joy lightens even the most debilitating sadness of this life.

    And I am certain of this happiness because I understand that in history a man returned from death to assure us of such future happiness.

    This assumes that comfort comes from what happens after death. This discussion is based upon comfort at the end of life. The end of life is still life and not nothingness.

    Well, no, again, it’s not an assumption, I believe it to be based on history and revelation; I am confident there will be comfort and joy after I have ceased to be concerned with the temporality of this life.

  15. jackhudson says:

    Oh. Well, if it isn’t true for you then it can’t be true for anyone else.

    If something is true, it’s true – I don’t ascribe to the notion that we can pick our own truths. In fact I think the notion is nonsense.

    Am I the only one who sees the words I wrote? I don’t understand your response. There’s a structural issue with what you’re saying. The argument is premised on comfort at the end of life. Whether something does or doesn’t come after is irrelevant because the point rests on what people think and what they derive from these thoughts. What you were trying to argue is that people must derive particular emotions, feelings, and comforts/discomforts from particular ideas. Specifically, you’ve argued they can only derive what you derive. Since people can actually think different from Jack Hudson, your argument is incoherent.

    My statements really aren’t concerned with what one ‘feels’ at the end of their life, but what one understands reality to be. Comfort and joy aren’t just ‘feelings’ in this sense, they are the reality a Christian enters into at the end of life.

    A materialist on the other hand believes they enter into nothingness. All that is before them is annihilation, the complete eradication of one’s life experiences. All the experiences that came before are made irrelevant because they will matter not one wit to the one whose final experience will be to face the abyss of non-existence – that is the logical conclusion of a materialist mindset. It isn’t pretty, but that would be by necessity the reality they face. If one claims they expect to find this reality to be as joyful as that of a Christian, they are either lying, or mad.

    What Buckley says then are premised on the reality a Christian understands – he isn’t speaking apologetically, but as a Christian to an audience who understands reality as a Christian understands it. And within that paradigm, Buckley lays out what is of critical importance at the end.

  16. jackhudson says:

    Context, Jack. What makes you truly happy is not necessarily what will make others truly happy.

    When you meet a person is ‘truly’ happy at the thought that all their experiences will be lost at the moment of death and their existence will not matter one wit in the ultimate measure of things, let me know.

    Your statements, then, are inconsistent with your original point.

    You began the post by arguing that atheists and materialists have no comfort at the end of their lives because they believe there is nothing more. You’ve now shifted the argument to be based upon what “a Christian enters into at the end of life”. This is a distinctive moving of the goalposts. But if the argument is to take this secondary route, it is trivial. Yes, in a Christian worldview there is something after life and in an atheist worldview there is nothing. If you define “comfort and joy” as something particular to an afterlife, then you’ve won the argument. Congratulations. Now address the points as they pertain to what you and Buckley originally said.

    Buckley’s original point can’t be understood apart from that reality – neither can my point. In fact, I explicitly said in the beginning that in atheism there is, “no comfort in what is to come.” As that is the original point I made, and as you have concluded that I have thus ‘won the argument’, I am not sure what other points I need to address?

    Jack Hudson does not get to determine what mindsets are the most comforting for all of humanity.

    No, I don’t, but I am free to make observations and draw conclusions – and based on my observations these past 46 years, I can draw no other conclusions than the ones I have stated.

    Yes, this is the completion of the goalpost move. Now it is all about Christian perspectives. This then asks the question of why you bothered to bring up any alternative perspective. It is trivial to point out that something which disagrees with your premise (which is not your original premise) also disagrees with your conclusion.

    Did you even read the original post Michael before blathering on about it? I premised it on the fact that, “he was a devout Christian”, that his statement constituted, “one of the more profound statements about the proper perspective Christians should have regarding the beliefs that inform their earthly activities, and the final truths which must inform their eternal destinies”.

    From that I observed that atheists have no confidence in the end, and that they would have no comfort, “in knowing what is to come.” And as you have agreed they would have no such comfort, you aren’t even disputing that original statement.

    It’s not that I moved the goalposts Michael; it’s that you weren’t paying attention to where they were to begin with.

  17. jackhudson says:

    Well. If you’re going to argue from incredulity, I guess my tail is between my legs.

    I have to admit I don’t fully understand the ubiquity of this argument among atheists. Beside the fact that it is the basis of their own belief about God, it is in fact a reasonable statement about any outlandish claim.

    It’s as if I said I don’t think fairies exist because I see no reliable evidence of their existence – and you responded, “Well, if you are going to argue from incredulity, I guess my tail is between my legs”.

    Well yes, I guess it is.

    The argument you’ve won is where you’ve said “In X worldview, “computer” means “apple”. Therefore, “Computers grow on trees” is a true statement. Good job. You can retroactively pigeon hole definitions so you can’t be wrong.

    Having “no comfort in what is to come” still fails. First, the only time this lack of comfort can exist is during life. You can’t argue that the comfort is post-life but also that atheists have no comfort (and you tried to retroactively do). If there is a post-life, then atheists will know it one way or another. Second, if, as your original argument stated, comfort is a matter of the end moments of life, then it really isn’t up to Jack Hudson to tell people what they can and cannot find comforting.

    Well, the problem here Michael is we aren’t talking about something familiar like an apple or computer; we are talking about something neither of us has personally experienced.

    It’s as if we are both standing outside a dark room we both must enter. I believe the dark room merely leads to another room wherein I will be welcomed and greeted by those I love and who love me. I believe this in part because someone I trust went into the room, came back out, and told me what to expect. Now they may have been lying, or maybe I was deluded as to what transpired, but my belief is based in part on that experience.

    You on the other hand believe that you will only enter a dark room wherein you will cease to exist. You don’t really know that, but to say otherwise would suggest something about what you choose to believe about life now, so that is the necessary conclusion.

    What is interesting to me as a Christian is that we might both be right in a certain sense – the Bible makes it fairly clear one way leads to life, the other death. If that is the case, not only is it ‘up to me’ to tell people about what people can find comforting, it is a moral imperative.

    Oh. Well. If you’re going to conclude that only your mindset and ones sufficiently similar to it are comforting, then I guess you really do get to determine what is comforting for the rest of humanity. Ya know, through the backdoor.

    It’s not rocket science Michael. Annihilation isn’t comforting. It’s never comforting. No one finds it comforting. To claim it might be comforting is an extraordinary claim – in fact, I would go beyond that – it is an insane claim. I don’t believe you to be insane, so I have to conclude you are just doing the rope-a-dope, hoping a good argument comes along.

    Why are you still typing this? How is this not clear? Why is this happening?

    Atheists only have this lack of confidence and comfort if they view life through a Christian perspective (and, incidentally, anyone else who isn’t a Christian or the right sort of Christian). Since they are atheists, they do not. You may as well have said “Those who don’t hold Christian views believe different things from Christians.”

    Well, I am open to hear what confidence you find in the thought that you will cease to exist, all memory of your life will end, and whatever you may or may not have thought, believed, and accomplished in this life will be irrelevant in the great expanse of time. Share the comfort that comes from that reality Michael.

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