Thursday, April 03, 2008

Dr. Thursday's Post

The Peril - and a Bridge into Light

We ended last week, smack in the Octave of Easter (the week of eight Sundays!) with a real cliffhanger:
...there is a great and possible peril to the human mind: a peril as practical as burglary. Against it religious authority was reared, rightly or wrongly, as a barrier. And against it something certainly must be reared as a barrier, if our race is to avoid ruin.
And I am sure everyone was wondering what that peril is. Good. So you can wonder just a little more, but you are about to find out - if you dare.

We are coming to the first really serious peak in our "study" (that is a pompous term for my boisterous and lengthy meanderings) of GKC's centennial book, Orthodoxy. We had a couple of weeks where we made a slight detour for the sake of the season - so just in case you let it slide and want to catch up, you ought to read (or re-read!) Chapter III called "The Suicide of Thought" - up to the paragraph end I have just quoted.

Very well. All ready to resume the hike? Good. As Hans the guide called out, "Forüt!" - "Forward!" (That's from Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth, in case you've forgotten... we aren't going there today. Sorry. That leaves from Iceland in late June - wanna go?) Ahem.

What, then, is this peril? Actually, we were told about it, a paragraph or two ago:
The whole modern world is at war with reason; and the tower already reels.[CW1:235]
Yes, please read that again. These times are dark. Few things have been darker, been more misnamed than "the Enlightenment". These times, NOT the 13th century, are the Dark Ages. These times are emphatically NOT the "Age of Reason". You can find this discussed elsewhere; the philosophers, if any still are with us, must now go stand in the corner, for they have refused to help. But GKC is here, with light, with weapons, with truth... (Compare these with Milo's gifts in The Phantom Tollbooth - a book which in so many ways hints at the same things GKC tells us!)

So what is the peril? Summon all your courage, and read on - when you dare.

"That peril is that the human intellect is free to destroy itself." [CW1:236]

Yes. You can, if you choose, think yourself into a state where you can no longer think. No alcohol, no drugs; nothing like that. You read the wrong books, listen to the wrong music, watch the wrong TV shows, visit the wrong web-sites... and Poof.

Your Mind - It's Gone!

By action of your own mind, you make yourself a PUPPET - and no longer think.

You may think this is nonsense, pure fantasy... I can think myself into NOT thinking? Ah, yes... Remember Milo, stuck in the Doldrums in The Phantom Tollbooth because he wasn't thinking? But this is not fantasy. This is for real. This can REALLY HAPPEN... and HAS HAPPENED. GKC is not so much giving a commentary (or predicting, considering its aptness for the present time!) but simply reporting.

Do you think this is profound, or find it unexpected? You will be even more surprised at what comes next:
Just as one generation could prevent the very existence of the next generation, by all entering a monastery or jumping into the sea, so one set of thinkers can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no validity in any human thought. 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. If you are merely a sceptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, "Why should go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape." The young sceptic says, "I have a right to think for myself." But the old sceptic, the complete sceptic, says, "I have no right to think for myself. I have no right to think at all."

There is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped. That is the ultimate evil against which all religious authority was aimed. It only appears at the end of decadent ages like our own...
[CW1:236, emphasis added]
An aside: I wonder, did John Paul II read this before he wrote his 1998 encyclical called Fides et Ratio? (That is, "Faith and Reason"!) Alas, he did not quote GKC; I checked. (If you are seeking a doctoral topic, perhaps a study comparing these two great works might be most profitable.)

The surprise, I am sure you noticed, is that there is an answer, and it is in what MOST people nowadays consider the most unlikely place: the greatest support of Reason is in Faith. In fact, one cannot even have Reason unless one first has faith.

The few real philosophers with us are nodding happily. They are delighted that GKC has taken the Three Great Self-Evident Principles of Thought as his starting point, even though he doesn't state them explicitly. They will not mind that I review them for you:
(1) The existence of the thinking subject.
(2) The principle of contradiction: "A thing cannot at the same time be and not be."
(3) The natural capacity of our reason to know the truth.
These are also called the first fact, the first principle, and the first condition of certain knowledge.
[See Scholastic Philosophy by Michael W. Shallo, S.J.>
These three principles cannot be proven, but must be accepted, or you can do NOTHING AT ALL. Not even write a journal article for a philosophy magazine. Or even post a comment on a blogg...

Yes, if you never resume reading this book, nor ever read any GKC again, please memorise this ONE line.. OK, these three sentences - at least the one in BOLD:

"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."

Aren't you glad you kept reading? You thought all you were going to hear about was that awful peril - and here Chesterton is handing us a weapon! Wow. What a GREAT tool we now have! We have beaten flat most of the last few centuries of philosophers, and can now toss their books into the trash. They are all LIARS, rather, they are HYPOCRITES, doing what they refuse to admit is possible:
[The "moderate realism" of Thomism and Scholastic Philosophy] is the only working philosophy. Of nearly all other philosophies it is strictly true that their followers work in spite of them, or do not work at all. No sceptics work sceptically; no fatalists work fatalistically; all without exception work on the principle that it is possible to assume what it is not possible to believe. No materialist who thinks his mind was made up for him, by mud and blood and heredity, has any hesitation in making up his mind. No sceptic who believes that truth is subjective has any hesitation about treating it as objective.
[GKC, St. Thomas Aquinas CW2:542-3]
But you want to know more. GKC immediately gives an example from one of his "Heretic" friends, H. G. Wells. (Note: I call him that because of Chapter 5 in GKC's Heretics, and not from any personal criticism; GKC considered him a friend.)
...already Mr. H. G. Wells has raised its ruinous banner; he has written a delicate piece of scepticism called "Doubts of the Instrument." In this he questions the brain itself, and endeavours to remove all reality from all his own assertions, past, present, and to come. But it was against this remote ruin that all the military systems in religion were originally ranked and ruled. The creeds and the crusades, the hierarchies and the horrible persecutions were not organized, as is ignorantly said, for the suppression of reason. They were organized for the difficult defence of reason.

Man, by a blind instinct, knew that if once things were wildly questioned, reason could be questioned first. The authority of priests to absolve, the authority of popes to define the authority, even of inquisitors to terrify: these were all only dark defences erected round one central authority, more undemonstrable, more supernatural than all - the authority of a man to think. We know now that this is so; we have no excuse for not knowing it. For we can hear scepticism crashing through the old ring of authorities, and at the same moment we can see reason swaying upon her throne. In so far as religion is gone, reason is going. For they are both of the same primary and authoritative kind. They are both methods of proof which cannot themselves be proved. [That's almost literally the definition of the above three principles!] And in the act of destroying the idea of Divine authority we have largely destroyed the idea of that human authority by which we do a long-division sum. With a long and sustained tug we have attempted to pull the mitre off pontifical man; and his head has come off with it.
[CW1:236-7, emphasis added]
Wow, did you catch this: "in the act of destroying the idea of Divine authority" - isn't that horrifying! For that is the secret aim of so many of these philosophers! It's a war, after all - remember GKC's last words? "The issue is now quite clear. It is between light and darkness and every one must choose his side." [Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 650] And we'll see, perhaps next week, how this idea will link to other matters - big, nasty, debate-making matters - that you might not expect.

But for today, just look at this - doesn't something seem familiar here? Remember: "If thy head offend thee, cut it off; for it is better, not merely to enter the Kingdom of Heaven as a child, but to enter it as an imbecile, rather than with your whole intellect to be cast into hell - or into Hanwell."[CW1:224; cf Mt5:30, 18:8] Ah, yes - but here, there's someone else doing the pulling!

I was about to list names of these Dark Powers - but that would just make noise and waste your energy. (You'll hear one of them in the near future anyway; no it's neither "Sauron" nor "Voldemort".) Let them remain in the dark - you know who they are - I shall just call them the Dark Powers of Evil - those who have rejected the Good - these are all at work, claiming to advance "Reason" but really attacking it! They are hard at work, to pull off the mitres we all wear, in our sworn dedication to Faith... Indeed, the tower already reels.

You may think it is funny to consider all humans wearing the mitre, the conical hat of bishops, the symbol of pontifical power - but these things are serious, and come up in so many places in GKC. You need to ponder what it might mean to be a "pontiff" = "to build a bridge" - and how that must be both a matter of faith as well as reason. If you need a reading assignment, see GKC's memorial at the death of Francis Thompson, ILN Dec 14 1907 CW27:603, or look up the life and work of John Roebling (the Brooklyn Bridge designer), or of St. Benezet. Or, perhaps, even the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas, where you'll read:
Thus alms are besought for the building of a bridge, or church, or for any other work whatever that is conducive to the common good..." [Summa II-II Q187 A5, emphasis added]
But - yes, yes - unless you read it in GKC, some of you won't believe it. So:
"...when men wish to be safely impressive, as judges, priests or kings, they do wear skirts, the long, trailing robes of female dignity."
[What's Wrong With the World CW4:128]
Or if you prefer the fictional version:
"'All ceremony,' he said, 'consists in the reversal of the obvious. Thus men, when they wish to be priests or judges, dress up like women."
[Napoleon of Notting Hill CW6:247-8]
Why is this relevant? Because women are nearly always the first teachers of children. Remember, you cannot spell M-A-N without M-A - a truth which confutes all the feminists!

Let me end this very difficult and complex - but extremely important - stage of our journey with another quote from that excellent book on Education - no not Newman, but GKC. Another one you ought to memorise:
"A teacher who is not dogmatic is simply a teacher who is not teaching."
[What's Wrong With the World CW4:162]
I know at first you'll think that bit about women has NOTHING to do with pontiffs. You'll need to think about that - and perhaps read that book after we're done with this one.

Yes - please think carefully about all of this - while you still can. They are already attacking!

--Dr. Thursday

P.S. I must insist on this bridge matter as being a wonderful symbol for intellect and reason. Reason is, in a sense, a bridge we build from our inmost self to Reality - and like all bridges, requires faith and a firm foundation. It's most thoroughly human: "Building a bridge seemed such a clean, heroic thing for a man to do." [said of Roebling in David McCullough, The Great Bridge p.82-83] I could quote many additional demonstrations, but I shall give just the one which I first learned from Fr. Jaki:
The rebuilding of this bridge between science and human nature is one of the greatest needs of mankind.
[GKC, The Defendant 75 quoted in Jaki, Chesterton a Seer of Science 45]

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