Thursday, January 31, 2008

Dr. Thursday's Post

I have the slowest internet connection in the world. But here, thanks to Dr. Thursday, is a post!

Expelling False Ideas: Newman's Apologia; GKC's Orthodoxy

"False ideas may be refuted indeed by argument, but by true ideas alone are they expelled."

Having opened the matter of the great John Henry Newman last week, I find it necessary to comment further. I cast back in my memory, trying to recall whether I had indeed read the book I referred to - that is Newman's Apologia pro Vita Sua - and went and pulled it off the shelf and began an exploration (possibly my second, I really don't recall). I rapidly found that it is so important for our study of GKC's Orthodoxy that I must strongly suggest you make the attempt to read it. It does present some difficulties for an American of the early 2000s: it is written in a very high, British, and scholarly style. (There is a big difference between the academic Newman and the newspaper writer Chesterton.) Even more tiring is its meticulous consideration of matters that are small, tedious, and boring, especially since the typical American of the early 2000s will have no clue who Newman is talking to, or about - like the Reverend Charles Kingsley, who was the chief antagonist in a controversy about something Newman had written. Kingsley and Newman's other foes are are all gone, leaving no trace, except as they appear as opponents in Newman's discussion. Oh. That sounds like Heretics, doesn't it? But wait, there's plenty more. You will be surprised.
Read more.
But first... Here is something unexpected, and of delightful interest! In the set-up Newman provides, to explain why he is forced to explain himself, he has something typical blogg-readers will recognise! There is an almost line-by-line critique (I believe the web term often used is "fisking") of a letter from Kingsley. It, and the other back-and-forth discussions in the set-up, give a whole new perception to the so-called rancor, abuse, negativity, misquoting, misattribution... the list of all the rude and trite grade-school snubbing, poking, hitting, and ridicule that our modern "Media" writers and talking-heads and blogg-writers use consistently. The only thing lacking is a "" address. It is just delightful. Why mention this? Because of its clear Chestertonian link, of course.
Proud owners of CW1 will immediately chant "The Batchford Controversies" - the splendid collection of ping-pong articles of the controversy between Chesterton and Blatchford. Who was that? Robert Blatchford was the editor of the Clarion; he published some articles speaking of Christianity in a negative (if not derogatory) sense - but magnanimously permitted GKC to give lengthy rebuttals. (See CW1:369-395.) This happened in 1904. All of this, of course, parallels (and greatly excels in intellectual prowess and real interest) the whine of the talking-heads, and is of course a bit better at spelling, grammar, and considered thought than the great majority of bloggerdom, both posting and commenting.
An aside: Bloggs, after all, are merely one modern version of a newspaper with a device to provide letters-to-the-editor. Here's GKC, writing in 1925, about bloggs: "...every citizen ought to have a weekly paper of this sort to splash about in ... this kind of scrap book to keep him quiet."
[G.K.'s Weekly April 4, 1925, quoted in Ward's Gilbert Keith Chesterton497]
Whew, where was I? Oh. Newman's Apologia. To resume:
As difficult and yet interesting as that part is - I mean this "set-up" which explains why Newman is writing the book - the meat and main body of the rest of the book is this:
"I will draw out, as far as may be, the history of my mind; I will state the point at which I began, in what external suggestion or accident each opinion had its rise, how far and how they were developed from within, how they grew, were modified, were combined, were in collision with each other, and were changed; again how I conducted myself towards them...
[Newman, "II. True Mode of Meeting Mr. Kingsley", Apologia Pro Vita Sua]
In other words, Apologia is to Newman what Orthodoxy is to Chesterton - or so it appears to me.

Obviously, GKC proceeds in a far less rigorous and far more "slovenly" manner. But his work is no less powerful, and indeed, no less truthful - again, or so it appears to me. Consider, if you will, the next lines of GKC's Preface, especially in light of those lines from Newman I just quoted:
It [This book] deals first with all the writer's own solitary and sincere speculations and then with all the startling style in which they were all suddenly satisfied by the Christian Theology.
[GKC Orthdoxy]
GKC intends to examine what HE believes, and (to some extent) how he came to believe it. As we shall hear shortly (maybe even next week), "...I have attempted in a vague and personal way, in a set of mental pictures rather than in a series of deductions, to state the philosophy in which I have come to believe." [CW1:211] Remember this, as we go further into the book. GKC is not really trying to convince YOU of something - though much of his writing, especially in this book, tends to have that effect! He is telling us about his own thoughts, and how he convinced himself. GKC concludes his preface by saying that he "regards it [Christianity] as amounting to a convincing creed. But if it is not that it is at least a repeated and surprising coincidence." [Orthodoxy preface] As I have pointed out elsewhere, using the grand "Prefatory Note" from GKC's 1925 book, The Everlasting Man, "this study is not specially concerned with the differences between a Catholic and a Protestant. Much of it is devoted to many sorts of Pagans rather than any sort of Christians..." Perhaps here he might have said "it is devoted to many sorts of lunatics rather than any sort of sane men" - though that seems more appropriate a comment for Heretics. But perhaps, as you shall see, if we ever get to the main text, where the form of Heretics tends to be by person, the form of Orthodoxy tends to be by concept. I shall give you a rough sense of what we shall see:

We shall consider, with an echo back to his The Defendant - GKC's introduction called "In Defence of Everything Else". (We must recall that the Latin apologia - which I understand is a Greek borrowing - means "defence".) As I have belaboured for three postings now, GKC began with Newman, and he shall pay him homage in this most suitable manner. (I am still waiting to hear back from any young researcher seeking a dissertation topic...)

Then we visit the mentally disturbed in "The Maniac". On this let us be perfectly clear - as so few are, perhaps because they have not yet read The Poet and the Lunatics. Or heard about how GKC and his wife would entertain themselves:
I remember that we strolled out one day, for a sort of second honeymoon, and went upon a journey into the void, a voyage deliberately objectless. I saw a passing omnibus labelled "Hanwell" and, feeling this to be an appropriate omen, we boarded it and left it somewhere at a stray station, which I entered and asked the man in the ticket-office where the next train went to. He uttered the pedantic reply, "Where do you want to go to?" And I uttered the profound and philosophical rejoinder, "Wherever the next train goes to." It seemed that it went to Slough; which may seem to be singular taste, even in a train. However, we went to Slough, and from there set out walking with even less notion of where we were going.
[GKC Autobiography CW16:202]
Now, both Hanwell and Slough are (were?) sites of lunatic asylums. (I see that I have considered this topic previously) Alert ears who hear Scrooge mention retiring to "Bedlam" or the response "Belleview" to the taxi-driver in "Miracle on 34th Street" can understand how these names touched those who read GKC. GKC understood, in the real sense, the important things about the insane - which is what really makes them insane: it is not the loss of their humanity, but the loss of their reason.

Then, he leaps from one form of insanity to another, and looks at "The Suicide of Thought". Here, he richly and wonderfully anticipates John Paul II's Fides et Ratio with his powerful words:
It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.
We shall perhaps plunge into the ancient sense of argument, and see how these two link in a sort of wave-particle duality... but I must not try to explain everything now.

The fourth chapter, called "The Ethics of Elfland" is perhaps among the most printed of GKC's writing. Part of it, as I have learned from Fr. Jaki's Chesterton a Seer of Science, was reprinted in Great Essays in Science, a title in the Pocket Library: "There was Chesterton in the company of Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Henri Fabre, J.R. Oppenheimer, Arthur Stanley Eddington, Alfred North Whitehead, and Bertrand Russell, so many giants in mathematics, physics, and natural history. Chesterton was also in the company of such prominent interpreters of science as John Dewey, Ernest Nagel, and even T. H. and Julian Huxley." [Jaki, CASOS] Amazing. You will find out why when we get there.

Next is "The Flag of the World" - where we find out why suicide is so bad, and we hear echoes from The Man Who Was Thursday - and, therefore, we also hear about martyrs. We shall get a tiny taste of the God's-eye view of creation, as we hear that "A poet is so separate from his poem that he himself speaks of it as a little thing he has 'thrown off'." - Again, from Jaki I learned a deeper truth here, because the Hebrew bara used for the verb "create" has a sense of hacking or chopping off.

Then comes "The Paradoxes of Christianity" - which begins, oddly enough, with even more about science. (And here you thought it was about theology?) But attend: "When once one believes in a creed, one is proud of its complexity, as scientists are proud of the complexity of science. It shows how rich it is in discoveries. If it is right at all, it is a compliment to say that it's elaborately right. A stick might fit a hole or a stone a hollow by accident. But a key and a lock are both complex. And if a key fits a lock, you know it is the right key." [CW1:287] I know, I know - GKC's not getting into the Petrine Commission... not quite yet. But if you want more on that, you can find it in GKC's The Everlasting Man see CW2:346 et seq. (Also see Jaki's The Keys of the Kingdom for more details.) We shall also see something which provides a striking scene in none other than The Phantom Tollbooth - but I must not spoil it for you. (See if you are able to spot it for yourself!)

The next chapter, "The Eternal Revolution," will provide a presaging of an important Chestertonian motif, brought to a deeper and richer presentation in his 1911 Ballade of the White Horse:
If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be white you must be always painting it again; that is, you must be always having a revolution. Briefly, if you want the old white post you must have a new white post.
"The Romance of Orthodoxy" fleshes out something GKC expresses in an earlier chapter, tying in with insanity:
People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad.
It will cause all kinds of havoc, speaking of things like miracles and "progress" - just consider this one sentence! "If you really want poor children to go to the seaside, you cannot think it illiberal that they should go there on flying dragons; you can only think it unlikely." But it gets even more powerful, and simultaneously mor3e controversial:
...let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.
The conclusion, "Authority and the Adventurer," gives an expected summary - which is, of course, full of unexpected things:
If I am asked, as a purely intellectual question, why I believe in Christianity, I can only answer, "For the same reason that an intelligent agnostic disbelieves in Christianity." I believe in it quite rationally upon the evidence.
We hear, almost in a kind of an echo, great themes which shall sound in full strength in his 1925 The Everlasting Man such as the literary style of Jesus. [CW2:332] I shall go no further here except to note this is the chapter which gives the ultimate distinction between the good angels and the bad angels:
Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly. ... solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity. [CW1:325-6]

Let us prepare, then to learn - in particular, to learn to be able to take ourselves lightly - that we may not fall by force of gravity. GKC will help us learn.

--Dr. Thursday

1 comment:

  1. It seems that Newman's final impetus to write his "Apologia" was his adversary's most unchivalrous technique of "poisoning the wells". Newman's adversary wrote that nothing Newman ever said could be taken seriously because of Newman's Jesuitical equivocations. The adversary told his readers that Newman, in effect, might say white and really mean black, might tell us he believes something while holding a mental reservation that he does not believe it at all. This was an attempt to castrate and dehumanize Newman and to relegate Newman and his arguments to a hellish isolation whereby it would have become impossible for Newman to have been taken seriously, or even to communicate at all - for, if the adversary had had his way, every word uttered by Newman would have been suspect in his audience's ears.

    Newman's adversary is our Adversary - we are accused by the Accuser of Old, by him who was a liar from the beginning, and one of the things the scoundrel is still trying to do is to cut us off from our reason and the plain meaning of our words. Post-modernism is in many ways the hell of not being able to follow anyone's arguments to any objective conclusion, for everything everyone says is now suspect, and we have all been painted as prevaricating self-servers, as Newman was painted.

    Anyway, such efforts as "The Apologia", and "Orthodoxy" and even "The Orthodoxy According to Thursday" (your attempts, good doctor, to help us study the work) are the most Christian and chivalrous ways to combat the efforts of the enemy to divorce us from reason, sanity and salvation. Godspeed your efforts!

    And imagine the frustration our enemy feels that had it not been for his attacks, works such as "Apologia", "Heretics" and "Orthodoxy" would never have been written!


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