New Film Follows Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Final Chapter

Gary Blount, psychiatrist-turned-producer, has created a remarkable new film about the last days of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a Nazi concentration camp, told through the eyes of a British broadcast team.

Question: You have just produced a film about influential theologian and anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer after years of studying his work. What has kept you so interested in Bonhoeffer?

Answer: Since first hearing the story more than 50 years ago, I’ve never hit a roadblock or detour.  (That is, once I got used to my Christian hero being a chain smoker.)

As with all of my heroes, I’ve constantly tried in one way or another to relate to Bonhoeffer, and I suppose this has gotten a bit easier as I’ve become acquainted with a few members of his family in Germany and England.

From the beginning, I’ve loved his hard-core faith and courage, but I confess I’ve also been increasingly wowed by his good taste:  Bechstein piano, Audi (okay DKW), and pet Saint Bernard.  And it was easy to relate to his need to move back in with his parents and his willingness to accept an adult allowance.  Dare I mention his eagerness to marry a girl half his age who was possibly smarter than he was  and a lot better looking?

You work as a psychiatrist in Minnesota. Do you have a particular interest in theology? Does your expertise in psychiatry give you particular insights into Bonhoeffer and his still-discussed ideas?

It seems to me there is a kinship between theology and psychiatry.  Many people seem convinced that neither one requires a degree or even specialized study.

Seriously, I love theological insights and, in fact, really look forward to hearing them occasionally from the pulpit.

You know, Bonhoeffer said some harsh things about mental health treatment, but some of his actions in prison reveal a more open stance.  For instance, recently I read that when he would learn from a fellow inmate in Tegel that a family member might benefit from a psychiatric consultation either to address a condition or simply mitigate what otherwise might seem to be a hopeless forensic situation, Bonhoeffer would find a way to refer the person to his father, the recently retired psychiatrist Karl Bonhoeffer.  I would put that in the practical theology column.

I recall a legendary professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota who would tell his residents and students:  “With this new patient, I don’t care who does the physical exam; I’ll do the history.”  That’s what I want to continue doing — focus on the dynamic story.

What is your film Come Before Winter about?

Our story is about the final chapter in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and what must have been the aching for deliverance by the Allies, who were rapidly closing in.  We felt our time frame might extract something of the essence of his life and the perspective which he seemed to seek — “the view from below.”  This view now includes more uncertainty, wartime cruelty, and vengeance.

Bonhoeffer had long been an outspoken foe of Hitler, and we chose to tell the story with the help of a couple of other anti-Nazis: seriously broken vessels Sefton Delmer and Otto John.  The latter has been called “the living link” between Bonhoeffer’s last days and the storyteller in England.

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He liked talking to children and took them seriously. He would throw chocolates from his window to his nephews and nieces who were doing their schoolwork in the garden of the house next door!!

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Portrait (1970), xviii

 by / November 26, 2016

Fidel Castro, the former dictator of Cuba, has died at the age of 90. Here are nine things you should know about the long-ruling Marxist leader.

1. Fidel Castro was born Fidel Ruz in 1926 near Birán, Cuba. His father, Ángel, was a Spanish migrant who moved to Cuba and became a wealthy sugar plantation owner. His mother was a household servant and Ángel’s mistress. When Fidel was age 17 his father married his mother and formally changed his son’s last name from Ruz to Castro.

2. Castro was baptized a Catholic at the age of 8 and attended several Jesuit-run boarding schools. After graduation in the mid-1940s Castro began studying law at the Havana University, where he became politically active in socialist and nationalist causes, in particular opposition to U.S. involvement in the Caribbean. By the end of the decade he became interested in the writings of Marx and Lenin and the cause of revolutionary socialism.

3. During his law school days Castro began to adopt the practice of revolutionary political violence. In 1947 he journeyed to the Dominican Republic to participate in a failed attempt to overthrow of the country’s dictator, Rafael Trujillo. That same year Castro was also accused of instigating an assassination attempt on Cuba’s president, Ramón Grau. When in 1952 General Fulgencio Batista seized power, Castro began making plans to overthrow him too. Castro’s use of political violence continued even after he seized power. The Cuba Archive project has documented almost 10,000 victims of Castro between 1952 and today, including 5,600 men, women, and children who died in front of firing squads and another 1,200 in “extrajudicial assassinations.” Thousands more Cubans also died trying to flee his repressive regime.

4. In 1955, Castro traveled with his brother Raul to Mexico, where he met up with other revolutionaries in exile, including an Argentine doctor named Ernesto “Che” Guevara. The next year the group returned to Cuba to instigate an overthrow the Batista government. Castro’s insurgency succeeded in 1959, and he was installed as prime minister of Cuba. A few months later he implemented “socialist” policies that were similar to those of communist countries.

5. In 1962, while still declaring his country to be merely a socialist state, Castro worked with Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union, on a plan to install Soviet nuclear weapons on Cuban soil. When aerial reconnaissance detected them it sparked the 13-day (October 16 to 28) confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. Castro wanted Khrushchev to threaten to use nuclear weapons if the United States attacked Cuba, but the Soviet leader refused and ultimately conceded to U.S. demands to remove all the missiles from the island nation.

6. In 1965, Castro merged Cuba’s Communist Party with his own Integrated Revolutionary Organizations and installed himself as head of the party. This move officially made Cuba the first Communist country in the Western Hemisphere. Over the next few years Castro founded several organizations to promote revolution and communism throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Castro also allowed several violent revolutionary groups from across the world, including America’s Black Panthers and the Vietnam’s Viet Cong, to train in Cuba.

7. During the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations, the U.S. government had a policy to overthrow Castro (which included the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, led by U.S.-backed Cuban exiles). The CIA also made several attempts to assassinate Castro. The Cuban government claimed that 638 attempts had been made on Castro’s life, but the 1975 Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (the “Church Committee”) substantiated eight assassination attempts that had been made between 1960 and 1965. Some of the attempts reportedly included the use of exploding cigars, cigars poisoned with botulinum toxin, and a fountain pen with a hidden needle capable of injecting lethal toxin into a victim without his knowledge.

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/ November 22, 2016

 Today is the 53th anniversary of the death of Clive Staples Lewis, one of the most well known, widely read, and often-quoted Christian authors of modern times. Here are nine things you should know about the author and apologist who has been called “The Apostle to the Skeptics.”

1. Lewis is best known for his seven children’s books, The Chronicles of Narnia. But he wrote more than 60 books in various genres, including poetry, allegorical novel, popular theology, educational philosophy, science-fiction, children’s fairy tale, retold myth, literary criticism, correspondence, and autobiography.

2. Lewis’s close friend Owen Barfield, to whom he dedicated his book The Allegory of Love, was also his lawyer. Lewis asked Barfield to establish a charitable trust (“The Agape Fund”) with his book earnings. It’s estimated that 90 percent of Lewis’s income went to charity.

3. Lewis had a fondness for nicknames. He and his brother, Warnie, called each other “Smallpigiebotham” (SPB) and “Archpigiebotham” (APB), inspired by their childhood nurse’s threat to smack their “piggybottoms.” Even after Lewis’s death, Warnie still referred to him as “my beloved SPB.”

4. In 1917, Lewis left his studies to volunteer for the British Army. During the First World War, he was commissioned into the Third Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry. Lewis arrived at the front line in the Somme Valley in France on his 19th birthday and experienced trench warfare. On April 15, 1918, he was wounded, and two of his colleagues were killed by a British shell falling short of its target. Lewis suffered from depression and homesickness during his convalescence.

5. Lewis was raised in a church-going family in the Church of Ireland. He became an atheist at 15, though he later described his young self as being paradoxically “very angry with God for not existing.”

6. Lewis’s return to the Christian faith was influenced by the works of George MacDonald, arguments with his Oxford colleague and friend J. R. R. Tolkien, and G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man.

7. Although Lewis considered himself to an entirely orthodox Anglican, his work has been extremely popular among evangelicals and Catholics. Billy Graham, who Lewis met in 1955, said he “found him to be not only intelligent and witty but also gentle and gracious.” And the late Pope John Paul II said Lewis’s The Four Loves was one of his favorite books.

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We might suppose that overstuffed American bellies would hardly need any instruction on feasting. So many of us have grown so accustomed to having so much to eat. Then here comes Thanksgiving. Just put it on autopilot. Fasting is the discipline today that is grossly under-served; no need to consider feasting.

Not so fast. It’s true that fasting is sadly overlooked, and too often forgotten. And yet, perhaps counterintuitively, true feasting is also in decline through familiarity and lack of spiritual purpose. Most of us have never given any serious thought to what it might mean to feast with Christ-honoring intentionality.

We’ve grown dull to the wonder of ample food and drink through constant use, and overuse. When every day is a virtual feast, we lose the blessing of a real one. When every meal is a pathway to indulgence, not only is fasting lost, but true feasting is as well.

Feasting as a Spiritual Joy

The Bible is replete with the goodness of food and the holiness of feasting. God in his goodness made his creation edible. He made trees “pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Genesis 2:9), and created us to eat his world: “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food” (Genesis 1:29). Then after the flood, he extended the gift to eating animals: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything” (Genesis 9:3). But distinct from the kindness of God in everyday food is the special grace of a feast.

In the Old Testament, God structured the seasons and years of his chosen people with fast days and feast days. Then he sent his Son as the great culmination of his nation’s feasts. Now those who make up God’s multinational people through Christ are no longer under obligation to practice Israel’s ancient feasts and rituals (Colossians 2:16). They were “a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:17). Christians are free to feast — or not to feast:

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. (Romans 14:5–6)

But what we’re not free to do is feast in a way that dishonors God. And forgetting him altogether is profoundly dishonoring. As Christians, we want to learn to feast in such a way that we’re tasting God’s supernatural goodness as we enjoy natural tastes.

Not the Same as Indulging

Feasting is not first about the food. It is foremost about the Godward celebration of some specific occasion together. Good food and drink, in abundance, come in alongside our corporate focus to accentuate the appreciation and enjoyment of God and his kindness. The heart of feasting is not the food itself, but the heart of the feasters. A true feast is bigger than the food — infinitely bigger. The center is God and his greatness and grace toward us in Christ.

For Christians, feasting is not the same as mere indulgence. There is nothing particularly Christian about eating and drinking more than usual. What makes feasting a means of God’s grace for nourishing our souls is explicitly celebrating Christ together in faith. Whether it’s Thanksgiving or Easter, a birthday or anniversary, when we feast as Christians, we celebrate the bounty and kindness of our Creator and Redeemer. Feasting in Christ is no mere physical event, but deeply spiritual.

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NRL News Today

Driving a spoke into the wheel of injustice

By Dave Andrusko

dietrich-bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Hillary Clinton made her first post-election public appearance yesterday and encouraged her followers to persevere after her unexpected (to the Clinton campaign and the media) defeat.

Unfortunately, rather than contribute to binding the wounds of November 8, Clinton not only chose not to mention Donald Trump in her 20-minute-long remarks but also mined the meme that a country that elects Trump really isn’t worthy of the likes of herself.

According to POLITICO:

“I know this isn’t easy, I know that over the last week a lot of people have asked themselves if America is the country we thought it was,” said the former secretary of state, bringing the midsize Newseum auditorium to a standstill with her emotional address that she capped off by imagining a conversation with her now-deceased mother. “Please listen to me when I say this: America is worth it. Our children are worth it. Believe in our country. Fight for our values. And never, ever give up.”

Here are two quick additional thoughts about her remarks to the Children’s Defense Fund.

First, as reported by POLITICO’s Gabriel Debenedetti

And as the doors opened to Clinton’s event, the song “Lean On Me” began playing, the sound of Bill Withers crooning, “Sometimes in our lives we all have pain, we all have sorrow, but if we are wise, we know that there’s always tomorrow” filling the room.

It is very, very difficult to lose a presidential contest, especially one as close as this battle proved to be. And, agreed, there is “always tomorrow” unless you are one of the one million unborn babies in America whose deaths Clinton would defend with her dying breath.

Second, as President Obama has done often, Clinton quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who wrote, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Again, we would agree 100% in principle, but disagree on destination. Justice is not killing 59 million unborn babies, or trying to multiple the number by eliminating the Hyde Amendment, or working overtime to export the abortion plague overseas, or by mocking the values of people who value unborn life.

Justice is not, in other words, what the more powerful can do to the powerless. It is rather what the more powerful can do on behalf of the powerless.

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Justin Taylor

Cliff Barrows (1923-2016)

November 15, 2016

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Cliff Barrows has gone to be with the Lord to whom he so often sang. A longtime associate of Billy Graham as his evangelistic choir director, Mr. Barrows was 93.

Here is a biographical overview from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association:

Mr. Barrows first met Mr. Graham while on his honeymoon with his first wife, Billie (deceased), near Asheville, N.C., in 1945. Music played a significant role in the programming of Billy Graham Crusades, for which Mr. Barrows was responsible since they formally began in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1947. Together, he and Mr. Graham shared the Gospel around the globe.

From the beginning of Mr. Graham’s Crusade ministry, George Beverly Shea and Cliff Barrows were the nucleus of the Crusade musical team. They were joined in 1950 by pianist Tedd Smith, and through the years, organists Don Hustad and John Innes provided additional accompaniment.

“I’ve had no greater joy than encouraging people to sing,” said Mr. Barrows. “Every great moving of the Spirit of God has been accompanied by great singing. I believe it will always be so!”

Mr. Barrows remained active in his later years in the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He served as host of the Hour of Decision radio program for more than 60 years and continued that position for a time through the Hour of Decision Online Internet radio program, which posts weekly on BillyGraham.org. He also served on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Board of Directors, beginning in 1950.

In addition to singing at Franklin Graham Festivals and Will Graham Celebrations, Mr. Barrows regularly hosted SeniorCelebrations and Christmas at The Cove, three-day events geared toward senior citizens at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, N.C. He also helped with BGEA’s Schools of Evangelism ministry for more than 40 years.

For significant contributions to Gospel music, Mr. Barrows was inducted into the Nashville Gospel Music Hall of Fame in April 1988, and into the Religious Broadcasting Hall of Fame in February 1996. Mr. Barrows was also inducted, along with Billy Graham and soloist George Beverly Shea, into the inaugural class of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists’ “Hall of Faith” in 2008.

“His uncanny ability to lead a Crusade choir of thousands of voices or an audience of a hundred thousand voices in a great hymn or Gospel chorus is absolutely unparalleled,” writes Billy Graham in his autobiography, Just As I Am. “But all of that talent is not the secret of Cliff’s effectiveness,” he writes later. “It is his humility and his willingness to be a servant, which spring from his devotional life and his daily walk with Christ.”

Mr. Barrows was born and reared in Ceres, Calif. He was married to his first wife, Billie, for nearly 50 years. Then God brought Mr. Barrows and his second wife, Ann, together following the death of both of their spouses to cancer. He and Ann made their home together in Marvin, N.C.

Mr. Barrows, who passed away on Nov. 15, 2016, at the age of 93, had five children: Bonnie, 1948; Robert, 1950; Betty Ruth, 1953; Clifford (Bud), 1955; and William Burton, 1962.

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“Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.” 

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship   

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906—1945)

bonhoefferFor Bonhoeffer, the foundation of ethical behaviour lay in how the reality of the world and the reality of God were reconciled in the reality of Christ. Both in his thinking and in his life, ethics were centered on the demand for action by responsible men and women in the face of evil. He was sharply critical of ethical theory and of academic concerns with ethical systems precisely because of their failure to confront evil directly. Evil, he asserted, was concrete and specific, and it could be combated only by the specific actions of responsible people in the world. The uncompromising position Bonhoeffer took in his seminal work Ethics, was directly reflected in his stance against Nazism. His early opposition turned into active conspiracy in 1940 to overthrow the regime. It was during this time, until his arrest in 1943, that he worked on Ethics.

Table of Contents

  1. Life and Resistance
  2. Ethics
  3. References and Further Reading

1. Life and Resistance

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in Breslau on February 4, 1906. Dietrich and his twin sister, Sabina, were two of eight children born to Karl and Paula (von Hase) Bonhoeffer. Karl Bonhoeffer, a professor of psychiatry and Neurology at Berlin University, was Germany’s leading empirical psychologist. Dietrich received his doctorate from Berlin University in 1927, and lectured in the theological faculty during the early thirties. He was ordained a Lutheran pastor in 1931, and served two Lutheran congregations, St. Paul’s and Sydenham, in London from 1933-35.

In 1934, 2000 Lutheran pastors organized the Pastors’ Emergency League in opposition to the state church controlled by the Nazis. This organization evolved into the Confessing Church, a free and independent protestant church. Bonhoeffer served as head of the Confessing Church’s seminary at Finkenwalde. The activities of the Confessing Church were virtually outlawed and its five seminaries closed by the Nazis in 1937.

Bonhoeffer’s active opposition to National Socialism in the thirties continued to escalate until his recruitment into the resistance in 1940. The core of the conspiracy to assassinate Adolph Hitler and overthrow the Third Reich was an elite group within the Abwehr (German Military Intelligence), which included, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, Head of Military Intelligence, General Hans Oster (who recruited Bonhoeffer), and Hans von Dohnanyi, who was married to Bonhoeffer’s sister, Christine. All three were executed with Bonhoeffer on April 9, 1945. For their role in the conspiracy, the Nazis also executed Bonhoeffer’s brother, Klaus, and a second brother-in-law, Rudiger Schleicher, on April 23, 1945, seven days before Hitler himself committed suicide on April 30.

Bonhoeffer’s role in the conspiracy was one of courier and diplomat to the British government on behalf of the resistance, since Allied support was essential to stopping the war. Between trips abroad for the resistance, Bonhoeffer stayed at Ettal, a Benedictine monastery outside of Munich, where he worked on his book, Ethics, from 1940 until his arrest in 1943. Bonhoeffer, in effect, was formulating the ethical basis for when the performance of certain extreme actions, such as political assassination, were required of a morally responsible person, while at the same time attempting to overthrow the Third Reich in what everyone expected to be a very bloody coup d’etat. This combination of action and thought surely qualifies as one of the more unique moments in intellectual history.

2. Ethics

Bonhoeffer’s critique of ethics results in a picture of an Aristotelian ethic that is Christological in expression, i.e., it shares much in common with a character-oriented morality, and at the same time it rests firmly on his Christology. For Bonhoeffer, the foundation of ethical behavior is how the reality of the world and how the reality of God are reconciled in the reality of Christ (Ethics, p. 198). To share in Christ’s reality is to become a responsible person, a person who performs actions in accordance with reality and the fulfilled will of God (Ethics, p.224). There are two guides for determining the will of God in any concrete situation: 1) the need of one’s neighbor, and 2) the model of Jesus of Nazareth. There are no other guides, since Bonhoeffer denies that we can have knowledge of good and evil (Ethics, p.231). There is no moral certainty in this world. There is no justification in advance for our conduct. Ultimately all actions must be delivered up to God for judgment, and no one can escape reliance upon God’s mercy and grace. “Before God self-justification is quite simply sin” (Ethics, p.167).

Responsible action, in other words, is a highly risky venture. It makes no claims to objectivity or certainty. It is a free venture that cannot be justified in advance (Ethics, p.249). But, nevertheless, it is how we participate in the reality of Christ, i.e., it is how we act in accordance with the will of God. The demand for responsible action in history is a demand no Christian can ignore. We are, accordingly, faced with the following dilemma: when assaulted by evil, we must oppose it directly. We have no other option. The failure to act is simply to condone evil. But it is also clear that we have no justification for preferring one response to evil over another. We seemingly could do anything with equal justification. Nevertheless, for Bonhoeffer, the reality of a demand for action without any (a priori) justification is just the moral reality we must face, if we want to be responsible people.

There are four facets to Bonhoeffer’s critique of ethics that should be noted immediately. First, ethical decisions make up a much smaller part of the social world for Bonhoeffer than they do for (say) Kant or Mill. Principally he is interested only in those decisions that deal directly with the presence of vicious behavior, and often involve questions of life and death. Second, Bonhoeffer’s own life serves as a case study for the viability of his views. Bonhoeffer is unique in this regard. His work on ethics began while he was actively involved in the German resistance to National Socialism and ended with his arrest in 1943. He fully expected that others would see his work in the conspiracy as intrinsically related to the plausibility of his ethical views. When it comes to ethics, Bonhoeffer noted, “(i)t is not only what is said that matters, but also the man who says it” (Ethics, p.267).

Third, like Aristotle, Bonhoeffer stays as close to the actual phenomenon of making moral choices as possible. What we experience, when faced with a moral choice, is a highly concrete and unique situation. It may share much with other situations, but it is, nevertheless, a distinct situation involving its own particulars and peculiarities, not excluding the fact that we are making the decisions, and not Socrates or Joan of Ark.

And finally, again like Aristotle, Bonhoeffer sees judgments of character and not action as fundamental to moral evaluation. Evil actions should be avoided, of course, but what needs to be avoided at all costs is the disposition to do evil as part of our character. “What is worse than doing evil,” Bonhoeffer notes, “is being evil” (Ethics, p.67). To lie is wrong, but what is worse than the lie is the liar, for the liar contaminates everything he says, because everything he says is meant to further a cause that is false. The liar as liar has endorsed a world of falsehood and deception, and to focus only on the truth or falsity of his particular statements is to miss the danger of being caught up in his twisted world. This is why, as Bonhoeffer says, that “(i)t is worse for a liar to tell the truth than for a lover of truth to lie” (Ethics, p.67). A falling away from righteousness is far worse that a failure of righteousness. To focus exclusively on the lie and not on the liar is a failure to confront evil.

Nevertheless, the central concern of traditional ethics remains: What is right conduct? What justifies doing one thing over another? For Bonhoeffer, there is no justification of actions in advance without criteria for good and evil, and this is not available (Ethics, p.231). Neither future consequences nor past motives by themselves are sufficient to determine the moral value of actions. Consequences have the awkward consequence of continuing indefinitely into the future. If left unattended, this feature would make all moral judgments temporary or probationary, since none are immune to radical revision in the future. What makes a consequence relevant to making an action right is something other than the fact that it is a consequence. The same is true for past motives. One motive or mental attitude surely lies behind another. What makes one mental state and not an earlier state the ultimate ethical phenomenon is something other than the fact that it is a mental state. Since neither motives nor consequences have a fixed stopping point, both are doomed to failure as moral criteria. “On both sides,” Bonhoeffer notes, “there are no fixed frontiers and nothing justifies us in calling a halt at some point which we ourselves have arbitrarily determined so that we may at last form a definite judgement” (Ethics, p.190). Without a reason for the relevance of specific motives or consequences, all moral judgments become hopelessly tentative and eternally incomplete.

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