Thursday, May 31, 2007

Secrets (Dr. Thursday's Thursday post)

Dr. Thursday has been involved in a fraternity since his college days, and has a very interesting article for us today. Thanks, Dr. T.

Why Secrets?

I am quite busy getting ready for the voyage to ChesterCon07 - if you are travelling to it from anywhere on the route that leads west from Pennsylvania please let Nancy know - in any case I hope to see you there.

We are now after Pentecost, though the Paschal season still has its effect - there's still Trinity and Corpus Christi and the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart. Even more than at Christmas, the Church is like a little kid, just wants to keep celebrating. And so we anticipate the "Inn at the End of the World" where we won't have to worry about time, or wearing out, or getting bored - or old - or any of that. We'll have a new heavens and a new earth, and the Good Wine... Meanwhile, we are still here, and like Milo in The Phantom Tollbooth, facing the demons of ignorance. People make up silly lines about "peace" - but they've forgotten what Gandalf said: "It only takes one to have a war" (I quote from memory.) Thank God we have our dear Uncle Gilbert to help us with the weapon of his mighty pen.

In the last week or so I heard a simply stupid - no, simply hilarious - proposal.
To find out the proposal, continue reading.

It seems that one of those awful Greek Letter College Associations (a "fraternity") is considering the publication of its secrets. Never mind that all their history is available for public contemplation. Never mind that their "constitution" or written form of government was published back in the 1800s. They suggest that it would be "better" to tell the handful of details which they have kept to themselves since they were founded.

Now the correct term for this is "identity theft". It is the destruction of the one thing which makes such an organization be itself-and-no-other. Hence I said it's stupid.

But it's actually very hilarious, because it reveals a greater secret. It reveals that those members proposing it have not read Chesterton, and have not grasped the nature of the thing these fraternities call "secrets".

For they are secrets kept for one of the Three Great Reasons why humans keep secrets and have always kept secrets - which you can read about in ILN August 10, 1907 (CW27:523) or reprinted in All Things Considered. If you don't have the time to read it now, I can be of assistance here...

(1) Things are kept secret because EVERYONE knows about them. Like s-*-x.

(2) Things are kept secret because NOBODY has a clue about them, including the main person involved. Like why one stops for a moment on a hike and looks at a stone or a tree or a view...

But the third reason is the one which applies to fraternity, and the one which those unfortunates have overlooked.

(3) Things are kept secret for the sole purpose of revealing them at the proper time and proper conditions. Like a gift which is wrapped, or the solution of a detective novel.

It has escaped these college graduates that the "secrets" of fraternities - usually amounting to little more than three Greek words and their specific interpretation, a handshake and password - are preserved as secrets, not because they have some sinister plot, but simply because of the real fun of being able to reveal them to their new members. (No, it's not about hazing, or swallowing goldfish - you'll have to trust me on this.)

Like religions, where some people recite a creed stating their beliefs, even if they do not understand the complete character of the dogmas they are attesting, the typical fraternity member may not grasp the intricacies of their "secrets" - they leave such curiosities to the scholars, just as the man-in-the-pew leaves homoousion to the theologians... (Shh - there's a Greek word! Maybe a password?) Sure, the effect of that word is still in the public creed, but religions rarely mention that term, much less its technical lore. And the same is true for fraternities. Nobody is going to study page after page of detailed attributions to ponder the theory of a Greek word because the founders of some college club happened to like its sound. Not even college administrations have that kind of time to spend. But those members-to-be, those who are reading the mystery story, they deserve this little surprise.

Alas. The poor, deprived people who are proposing this most heinous of crimes (like the posting of solutions to Father Brown stories without a "spoiler" warning) would never post their bank accounts and PIN numbers and social security numbers. There's an awareness of the modern e-thugs, e-bandits, and e-pirates who steal identities. The same is true in this case. Let the children's gifts stay wrapped; let the children open them for whom the gifts are intended. We've got our own gifts - we ought to be thankful, even if we've kept them secret. "Your Father who sees in secret will repay you" for He "knows the secrets of the heart". [Mt 6:4, Ps43:22]

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