A Syllabus of Errors: An Update In Ninety-Five Sentences 

On October 31, 1517, a 34-year-old Catholic priest affixed a notice of disputation, consisting of ninety-five theses, to the door of the castle church in the German town of Wittenberg.

That act has come to be seen down the ages as a dramatic gesture of defiance and an open declaration of rebellion. It was not. Martin Luther’s act was an academic challenge for disputing certain practices (primarily indulgences) within an institution in need of reform.

Today the rigid orthodoxy of a liberal and leftist ideology prevails on throughout the land. This ideology does not have a central idea or doctrine, but is rather a noxious compound of related tendencies and opinions, including the application of radical doubt, the acceptance of moral relativism, and the imposition of political correctness. It scorns tradition and mocks the good. It silences unfashionable opinion. It stifles. It bullies. It emphasizes will over reason and ends over means. Its logic is to expand and to co-opt, for to come to rest would be its undoing. It expands in two ways: aggressively, by denouncing or ridiculing any idea that does not conform to itself, and subtly, by using social pressure and convention to implant its errors into individual and institution alike.

What follows is a list of 95 propositions calling out, Luther-like, some contemporary mistakes and misconceptions in our cultural outlook in the same way that Pope Pius IX did in 1864 with his Syllabus of Errors—a collection of false ideas condemned in previously published papal documents. Many propositions in the list below may sound familiar for they are widely, if unconsciously, held views. Many are simply leftist lies. Here is a short catalogue of wrongheadedness. It could be longer. There is more where this came from. 

I. On God

 Let that person be held in error whosoever says: 

1. There is no God, or there is no creator of the universe and all that is in it, both seen and unseen.

2. Revelation of a “god” from outside the cosmos cannot happen since nothing exists outside the cosmos.

3. Natural reason is incapable of acquiring a meaningful knowledge about God; hence all knowledge about God properly belongs to the province of faith and not reason.

4. If everything has a cause, God must have a cause.

5. If God is in everything, everything is god.

6. If God exists, he would be the supreme being.

II. On the Universe

 Let that person be held in error whosoever says:

7. The universe “just is,” or is its own cause, or it came to be through “evolutionary” processes, or it is nothing other than a “brute fact” to be taken as given with no further explanation.

8. The formation of the universe is entirely arbitrary and determined by chance, and its origin is unrelated to any “mind” or “intelligence.”

9. There is no design, purpose, or goal of the universe.

10. The universe is like a blank slate on which human beings can impose their own values and work out their own destiny as they choose.

11. Empirical science alone is capable of arriving at a complete understanding of the origins of the universe.

12. The only intelligence evident in the universe is that which belongs to human beings.

III. On Religion

 Let that person be held in error whosoever says:

13. All religions are equally true.

14. Religion has no objective foundation; it is nothing but a “social construct” produced by human beings.

15. Religious faith is a kind of sentiment or a longing of the subconscious mind to achieve union with something divine, and these internal sentiments or longings explain all forms of religious experience.

16. The religious experience of the individual is the ultimate foundation of religion, and the possession of this personal experience is the only thing that makes a person a true believer.

17. Even if there is a divine revelation, it is imperfect and subject to a continual process of human understanding that corresponds to the advancement of human reason.

18. There is nothing supernatural or mysterious about religious dogmas: they are human constructs formulated in a certain time and place and thus are transient and contingent.

19. Christianity is contrary to reason and impedes the progress of science.

20. Science can make progress only if the practitioner adopts an agnostic or atheist outlook concerning the nature of the material universe.

21. Christianity can be reconciled with science and material progress only to the extent it de-emphasizes dogma and adopts a spirit of reconciliation and tolerance of opposing views.

22. Christianity can and should modernize itself to keep pace with human progress.

23. Religious dogmas must be living expressions of the faith and should evolve and adapt according to changing circumstances.

24. If a religious dogma ceases to exist in practice, then it should be changed or adapted to new circumstances and realities.

25. It is up to society to define the rights of the Christian church and to determine the limits within which those rights may be exercised.

26. There are two truths regarding matters of ethics and morality: one professed within one’s church and the other professed publicly in assent of the norms of civil law, and it is always possible to reconcile these two systems of truths for the sake of the harmonious functioning of society.

27. The ethical teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition are harmful to the development of the individual and the well-being of society.

28. To the extent any religious teaching is true, it derives its force from natural reason alone.

29. Islam is a religion of peace.

IV. On Human Nature

 Let that person be held in error whosoever says:

30. There is no such thing as “human nature.”

31. Human nature consists in however one defines it.

32. Human “values” can be changed according to the desires of human beings.

33. Even if human beings have an intrinsic nature, it is not in any case endowed by God.

34. The purpose of human reasoning is to enable us to more easily achieve what we want, and no independent order of reasoning exists apart from this.

35. Human beings have free will because they have no internal or external order to direct them.

36. Human reason alone, operating by its own natural power, is capable of arriving at the knowledge of all truths of every kind.

37. Human reason alone, operating by its own natural power, is the sole arbiter of good or evil.

38. Human reason alone, operating by its own natural power, is sufficient to secure the peace and welfare of society and of nations.

39. The conscience is nothing other than an inner voice conditioned by the values of society.

40. The conscience is sovereign over all authority, whether secular or religious, and should seek to emancipate itself from it.

41. All human thought has its basis in matter.

42. Individual thoughts are nothing more than mental images or symbols in the brain.

43. Human intellectual activity is reducible to mere sensation or to a material process that embodies thought.

44. There is no such thing as the immaterial powers of the intellect, but only various processes of the brain.

45. The origin of human life, and all forms of human behavior and custom, can be adequately explained by evolutionary processes.

46. No aspect of a human being survives the experience of death.

47. There is no such thing as a transcendent judgment about final punishment or reward for human conduct.

V. On Natural Law

 Let that person be held in error whosoever says:

48. There is no such thing as natural law; it is not a feature of the world and has nothing to do with the constitution of the human person.

49. There is no such thing as absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts and that are binding without exception.

50. There is no objective moral truth; moral truths are whatever society says they are.

51. Moral truths are nothing other than the values inculcated in us by society so that humans can cooperate with each other.

52. Moral truths are not immutable but rather evolve with human society and are interpreted by it.

53. The truth or falsity of moral judgments is not universal but is relative to the practices of a group of persons.

54. The Socratic principle that it is “never right to do wrong” is incoherent and subject to exception.

55. Freedom is unrelated to the possession of private property.

VI. On Society

 Let that person be held in error whosoever says:

56. Every culture has value and should be judged by its own standards, and to pass moral judgment on another culture is nothing other than imposition.

57. Adult humans everywhere are free to do whatever they want as long as their actions do not infringe upon what others want to do.

58. The purpose of society is to encourage and to protect the “right” of its members to be whatever they choose to be, however they define that.

59. It is the function of society alone, through the agency of the state, to define what infringes on the freedom of others.

60. Freedom or liberty is conditioned by whatever society decides.

61. The moral teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition should strive to live in harmony with the norms prevailing in society.

62. A just society is one that should be open and neutral, and not dominated by divisive moral “rules.”

63. The well-being of planet Earth is more important than the lives of individual citizens at any time.

64. The Earth is overpopulated and requires the drastic reduction in the number of human inhabitants.

VII. On Sexuality and Marriage

 Let that person be held in error whosoever says:

65. The distinction of sexes has no purpose or foundation.

66. Marriage is nothing other than a civil contract either between members of the same sex or between members of opposite sexes.

67. The adult members of a “family” can be composed of any combination of sexes or “genders” or any other form of “diversity.”

68. Marriage has no intrinsic relation to children.

69. Cohabitation is a fulfilling alternative to marriage and, in any case, provides a reliable guide to compatibility if the partners choose to marry.

70. In some special circumstances, adulterous sexual acts are morally permissible.

71. Persons who advocate and defend the nature and constitution of the traditional family are actually promoting “hate” as a family value.

72. The Judeo-Christian teachings on traditional sexual morality are a form of bigotry and “privilege.”

73. The state of being transgendered depends primarily on one’s asserting a transgendered status rather than on an underlying objective condition, and there is no need for additional evidence.

74. Once a person has asserted being in a transgendered state, it is not the place of society to question that assertion, but rather it should affirm the decision and help that person make the transition to the new gender.

VIII. On Education

 Let that person be held in error whosoever says:

75. The state is fully competent to determine the curriculum for the education of the youth.

76. Education deals with ideas, and since ideas contradict each other, the purpose of education is to understand the intrinsic nature of ideas, which means that a “liberal” education is one that frees us from any objective claim to truth.

77. “Relevance” is the primary criterion for an educational curriculum.

 IX. On the State and Civil Law

Let that person be held in error whosoever says:

78. Civil authority rests solely on majority rule, and the expression of the majority is what constitutes the public good.

79. The source of civil law is whatever society wills the law to be, and there is no higher order to which an appeal against civil law can be made.

80. A human being is free to disobey divine law and to disobey natural law, and is free to say, “That does not exist,” or “That does not apply to me,” but no human being is free to disobey civil law, which is the only law of any consequence.

81. The purpose of government is to protect individual rights, which in turn are what the state says and enforces.

82. A citizen has the right to do whatever he or she wills provided that no one is directly hurt by the action.

83. Every human being has a “right” not merely to pursue happiness, but to be happy, and that it is the function of the state to guarantee and bring this right to its completion.

84. Either the state or society may determine the nature of what constitutes a “family”.

85. In a conflict between religion and civil law, civil law decides.

86. In a conflict between science and civil law, civil law decides.

87. The state alone determines when human life begins and ends, or whether it is worthy of continued existence.

88. Abortion is a civil “right” because without it citizens would not be free to define their own lives.

89. The act of abortion is not a taking, nor does it result in the killing of an actual, specific human being.

90. The issue of abortion is so complex, persons of good will, thinking rationally and honestly, may arrive at opposite conclusions.

91. Anyone who opposes abortion does so from the perspective of a religious belief.

92. Under some circumstances, citizens have the “right” to kill themselves or to have others do it for them.

93. The words and language of citizens are subject to state surveillance, and the state alone is empowered to define “hate speech” and to devise punishments for it.

94. Secular authorities have the right to interfere in matters related to religion and morality, but religious authorities have no right to interfere in matters related to public policy.

95. The moral and ethical teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition are one thing and public policy is another, and in instances of conflict between the two, religious groups ought to accommodate the will of the majority as expressed in public policy.

Editor’s note: Pictured above is Pope Pius IX, the promulgator of the original Syllabus of Errors published in 1864. Luther was seeking a debate with his academic colleagues at Wittenberg University while Pius was laying down a gauntlet against certain modern errors that threatened the Church and society.

James Soriano

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James Soriano is a retired Foreign Service Officer who spent three decades in the State Department, most of them in the Middle East. He has published on counter-insurgency, most recently a September 2016 essay for the National Defense University.

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