Thursday, February 26, 2009

Our Lenten Adventure

We embark upon Lent 2009 - and we likewise embark upon the last and ninth of the chapters of GKC's Orthodoxy, which we began to study about a year ago, in celebration of the centennial of its publication. As divine providence has arranged, I expect that we shall finish both Lent and our study at the same time, barring unforseen complexities or diversions.

In this chapter we shall see some of the most amazing of GKC's verbal fireworks, some of his extreme and mystic insights into the New Testament, and some distant hints (in fact the high-level outline) of what he will say at greater length in his co-masterpiece, The Everlasting Man. We shall hear some powerful logic, such amazingly strong reasoning, that you will be jotting down quote after quote for use the next time you hear the silliness that GKC also heard - and tore apart.

This chapter, the ninth, is called "Authority and the Adventurer" - and it is indeed an adventure. We ought to recall GKC's own words about such things:
Adventures are to those to whom they are most unexpected - that is, most romantic. Adventures are to the shy: in this sense adventures are to the unadventurous.
[GKC Heretics CW1:74]
These words, of course, will echo for all who have gone down the Road, "There and Back Again", by reading J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. Like Bilbo Baggins, GKC once struggled with some unexpected events (in GKC's case it was a flood caused by some two inches of rain falling within 24 hours) and like Bilbo he tried to make the best of things, even though he was not affected. He got a wonderful ILN essay out of it, with these most Hobbit-like insights:
I do not think that it is altogether fanciful or incredible to suppose that even the floods in London may be accepted and enjoyed poetically. Nothing beyond inconvenience seems really to have been caused by them; and inconvenience, as I have said, is only one aspect, and that the most unimaginative and accidental aspect of a really romantic situation. An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.
[ILN July 21 1906 CW27:242 emphasis added]
But, as we may expect from our Uncle Gilbert, he has more than inconvenience in mind. He has - what do you expect?

Why, Christmas, of course!
...the return of old things in new times, by an established and automatic machinery, is the permanent security of men who like to be sane. The greatest of all blessings is the boomerang. And all the healthiest things we know are boomerangs - that is, they are things that return. Sleep is a boomerang. We fling it from us at morning, and it knocks us down again at night. Daylight is a boomerang. We see it at the end of the day disappearing in the distance; and at the beginning of the next day we see it come back and break the sky. I mean, we see it if we get up early enough - which I have done once or twice. The same sort of sensational sanity (truly to be called sensational because it braces and strengthens all the sensations) is given by the return of religious and social festivals. To have such an institution as a Christmas is, I will not say to make an accident inevitable, but I will say to make an adventure recurrent - and therefore, in one sense, to make an adventure everlasting.
[GKC ILN Dec 20 1913 CW29:602]
Hmm: Christmas recurs so as to make an everlasting adventure! So that must mean... well, I can't go into that just now. (Ahem!) Perhaps you found that too long? Try this:
...even an adventure must have an aim.
[GKC New York American Aug. 6, 1932 reprinted in Chesterton on Shakespeare]
But perhaps this probing into the nature of "adventure" does not yet remind you of Christianity, despite the mention of Christmas, and all the inferences one might make from such profundity. Then perhaps this next bit will give you a steer to the direct road:
It is when you have groups of men chosen irrationally that you have men. The element of adventure begins to exist; for an adventure is, by its nature, a thing that comes to us. It is a thing that chooses us, not a thing that we choose.
[GKC Heretics CW1:74]
And now (drum-roll, please) you may also hear another Voice:
You have not chosen me: but I have chosen you...
[Jn 15:16]
Ah, ha. Just to set the stage, as it were, remember this is from the "Priestly Prayer" after the Last Supper. Yes, this really is an adventure, (though somehow inconvenient) and we recur to the memory of that Great Adventure, as He commanded [Lk 22:19] But we must defer study of that matter to another time and place. For now, let these hints of a future study suffice, and link up to our previous hints about the Great Story:
The life of man is a story; an adventure story; and in our vision the same is true even of the story of God. The Catholic faith is the reconciliation because it is the realisation both of mythology and philosophy. It is a story and in that sense one of a hundred stories; only it is a true story. It is a philosophy and in that sense one of a hundred philosophies; only it is a philosophy that is like life. But above all, it is a reconciliation because it is something that can only be called the philosophy of stories. That normal narrative instinct which produced all the fairy-tales is something that is neglected by all the philosophies - except one. The Faith is the justification of that popular instinct; the finding of a philosophy for it or the analysis of the philosophy in it. Exactly as a man in an adventure story has to pass various tests to save his life, so the man in this philosophy has to pass several tests and save his soul. In both there is an idea of free will operating under conditions of design; in other words, there is an aim and it is the business of a man to aim at it; we therefore watch to see whether he will hit it.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:378]

Excited? You should be. It keeps on getting better... providing you keep your aim.

(( Take aim, and then click here to proceed ))

GKC begins his conclusion by a quick look back at what he accomplished in the previous chapter, which you may recall was called "The Romance of Orthodoxy". (True romance, one might point out, is always an adventure, and the best adventures are romantic. Don't forget the "Adventure and Romance Agency" in GKC's The Club of Queer Trades and the above Hobbit-like quote from Heretics, and the discussion we saw some time ago when we considered how rules are necessary even in order to have fun: "Now betting and such sports are only the stunted and twisted shapes of the original instinct of man for adventure and romance, of which much has been said in these pages." [CW1:328] (By now you may realize how big a topic this is.) But let us proceed into today's excerpt:
The last chapter has been concerned with the contention that orthodoxy is not only (as is often urged) the only safe guardian of morality or order, but is also the only logical guardian of liberty, innovation and advance. If we wish to pull down the prosperous oppressor we cannot do it with the new doctrine of human perfectibility; we can do it with the old doctrine of Original Sin. If we want to uproot inherent cruelties or lift up lost populations we cannot do it with the scientific theory that matter precedes mind; we can do it with the supernatural theory that mind precedes matter. If we wish specially to awaken people to social vigilance and tireless pursuit of practise, we cannot help it much by insisting on the Immanent God and the Inner Light: for these are at best reasons for contentment; we can help it much by insisting on the transcendent God and the flying and escaping gleam; for that means divine discontent. if we wish particularly to assert the idea of a generous balance against that of a dreadful autocracy we shall instinctively be Trinitarian rather than Unitarian. If we desire European civilization to be a raid and a rescue, we shall insist rather that souls are in real peril than that their peril is ultimately unreal. And if we wish to exalt the outcast and the crucified, we shall rather wish to think that a veritable God was crucified, rather than a mere sage or hero. Above all, if we wish to protect the poor we shall be in favour of fixed rules and clear dogmas. The rules of a club are occasionally in favour of the poor member. The drift of a club is always in favour of the rich one.
Besides the very interesting verbal fireworks summarizing chapter 8, there is that very important line (important for us as we begin Lent) about how a God was crucified. In The Everlasting Man GKC will point out the real reason that Jesus came:
The primary thing that he was going to do was to die. He was going to do other things equally definite and objective; we might almost say equally external and material. But from first to last the most definite fact is that he is going to die.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:339]
My own footnote for that first line adds Mt 16:21, Lk 12:49-50; that first reference results in Jesus admonishing Peter who objected to this very blunt and tragic intention - we ought to bear this in mind as we proceed.
But there is also that curious insight about rules and clubs... you might try applying it for yourself to any convenient issue involving "government". As important as the organizations of Man are, GKC is getting to much larger and more profound matters...
And now we come to the crucial question which truly concludes the whole matter. A reasonable agnostic, if he has happened to agree with me so far, may justly turn round and say, "You have found a practical philosophy in the doctrine of the Fall; very well. you have found a side of democracy now dangerously neglected wisely asserted in Original Sin; all right. You have found a truth in the doctrine of hell; I congratulate you. You are convinced that worshippers of a personal God look outwards and are progressive; I congratulate them. But even supposing that those doctrines do include those truths, why cannot you take the truths and leave the doctrines? Granted that all modern society is trusting the rich too much because it does not allow for human weakness; granted that orthodox ages have had a great advantage because (believing in the Fall) they did allow for human weakness, why cannot you simply allow for human weakness without believing in the Fall? If you have discovered that the idea of damnation represents a healthy idea of danger, why can you not simply take the idea of danger and leave the idea of damnation? If you see clearly the kernel of common sense in the nut of Christian orthodoxy, why cannot you simply take the kernel and leave the nut? Why cannot you (to use that cant phrase of the newspapers which I, as a highly scholarly agnostic, am a little ashamed of using), why cannot you simply take what is good in Christianity, what you can define as valuable, what you can comprehend, and leave all the rest, all the absolute dogmas that are in their nature incomprehensible?" This is the real question; this is the last question; and it is a pleasure to try to answer it.
Ah, finally. This is the real cutting issue. It bothers even more people these days than it did 100 years ago: "Why don't we just have that nice warm and fuzzy 'unconditional love' and avoid all the hassle with those hard-line dogmas, doctrines and rules?" Let's see what GKC has to say:
The first answer is simply to say that I am a rationalist. I like to have some intellectual justification for my intuitions. If I am treating man as a fallen being it is an intellectual convenience to me to believe that he fell; and I find, for some odd psychological reason, that I can deal better with a man's exercise of free will if I believe that he has got it. But I am in this matter yet more definitely a rationalist. I do not propose to turn this book into one of ordinary Christian apologetics; I should be glad to meet at any other time the enemies of Christianity in that more obvious arena. Here I am only giving an account of my own growth in spiritual certainty. But I may pause to remark that the more I saw of the merely abstract arguments against the Christian cosmology the less I thought of them. I mean that having found the moral atmosphere of the Incarnation to be common sense, I then looked at the established intellectual arguments against the Incarnation and found them to be common nonsense. In case the argument should be thought to suffer from the absence of the ordinary apologetic I will here very briefly summarise my own arguments and conclusions on the purely objective or scientific truth of the matter.

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. But the evidence in my case, as in that of the intelligent agnostic, is not really in this or that alleged demonstration; it is in an enormous accumulation of small but unanimous facts. The secularist is not to be blamed because his objections to Christianity are miscellaneous and even scrappy; it is precisely such scrappy evidence that does convince the mind. I mean that a man may well be less convinced of a philosophy from four books, than from one book, one battle, one landscape, and one old friend. The very fact that the things are of different kinds increases the importance of the fact that they all point to one conclusion. Now, the non-Christianity of the average educated man to-day is almost always, to do him justice, made up of these loose but living experiences. I can only say that my evidences for Christianity are of the same vivid but varied kind as his evidences against it. For when I look at these various anti-Christian truths, I simply discover that none of them are true. I discover that the true tide and force of all the facts flows the other way. ...
Please note. Here you have it, right from GKC's pen: Orthodoxy is not a book "of ordinary Christian apologetics". (Of course, we now know it's quite extraordinary; some people may still call it apologetics but let's not worry about that here. Hee hee.)

In other words, his belief is based upon reason, which is common sense. It's what St. Paul refers to as logike latreia = "reasonable service" [Rom 12:1] - which Fr. Jaki explains as "a worship that satisfies all legitimate demands of a human mind created in the image of an infinitely rational God" [Bible and Science 211]


Read GKC's answer again:
[I reply] "For the same reason that an intelligent agnostic disbelieves in Christianity." I believe in it quite rationally upon the evidence.
That may seem a bit pompous, but it isn't. For I have split the paragraph, so I could give some comments here, but GKC immediately goes on with examples as we shall see in just a moment.

But I must call your attention to one other line, perhaps the most elegant of all GKC's lovely phrases and the most stunning of all his verbal fireworks in our text. It's not quite an epigram, and is a bit tricky to grab hold of, but please look at this, especially the part I put in bold:
I mean that a man may well be less convinced of a philosophy from four books, than from one book, one battle, one landscape, and one old friend. The very fact that the things are of different kinds increases the importance of the fact that they all point to one conclusion.
This is what is called "converging evidence". It is an incredibly powerful means of argumentation, and is used in all kinds of sciences, as well as philosophy and the liberal arts. It is why I bother calling your attention to parallel arguments in GKC's fiction, used often quite casually or in passing - but it shows that these ideas and arguments truly represent his thought, and are not some trick of pedantry, and the more we see them, the more important they loom.

Now, let us hear GKC's three examples.
... Let us take cases. Many a sensible modern man must have abandoned Christianity under the pressure of three such converging convictions as these: first, that men, with their shape, structure, and sexuality, are, after all, very much like beasts, a mere variety of the animal kingdom; second, that primeval religion arose in ignorance and fear; third, that priests have blighted societies with bitterness and gloom. Those three anti-Christian arguments are very different; but they are all quite logical and legitimate; and they all converge. The only objection to them (I discover) is that they are all untrue. ...
Again, I have split the paragraph, since I would like you to examine these three cases for yourself. They are not what most typical Christians would expect to hear launched against Christianity, but they are certainly common enough - one can hear them all too often in the Media these days.

Next, look at what GKC says about them. You may seem to hear Aquinas as GKC says these issues "are all quote logical and legitimate"! Look at them again, and consider. Do you see that this is true? But - yes, there's going to be a "but". Logic isn't enough, and so I heartily shrug off the famous "logic" of the green alien:
Logic and truth, as a matter of fact, have very little to do with each other. Logic is concerned merely with the fidelity and accuracy with which a certain process is performed, a process which can be performed with any materials, with any assumption. You can be as logical about griffins and basilisks as about sheep and pigs. ... Logic, then, is not necessarily an instrument for finding truth; on the contrary, truth is necessarily an instrument for using logic - for using it, that is, for the discovery of further truth and for the profit of humanity. Briefly, you can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth without it.
[GKC Daily News, Feb. 25 1905 quoted in Maycock, The Man Who Was Orthodox]
In other words, you can be quite logical, and yet quite wrong.

So, you need something more than logic. You need truth. And GKC proceeds to deal with the falsehoods of each of these three questions.
... If you leave off looking at books about beasts and men, if you begin to look at beasts and men then (if you have any humour or imagination, any sense of the frantic or the farcical) you will observe that the startling thing is not how like man is to the brutes, but how unlike he is. It is the monstrous scale of his divergence that requires an explanation. That man and brute are like, is in a sense, a truism; but that being so like they should then be so insanely unlike, that is the shock and the enigma. That an ape has hands is far less interesting to the philosopher than the fact that having hands he does next to nothing with them; does not play knuckle-bones or the violin; does not carve marble or carve mutton. People talk of barbaric architecture and debased art. But elephants do not build colossal temples of ivory even in a rococo style; camels do not paint even bad pictures, though equipped with the material of many camel's-hair brushes. Certain modern dreamers say that ants and bees have a society superior to ours. They have, indeed, a civilization; but that very truth only reminds us that it is an inferior civilization. Who ever found an ant-hill decorated with the statues of celebrated ants? Who has seen a bee-hive carved with the images of gorgeous queens of old? No; the chasm between man and other creatures may have a natural explanation, but it is a chasm. We talk of wild animals; but man is the only wild animal. It is man that has broken out. All other animals are tame animals; following the rugged respectability of the tribe or type. All other animals are domestic animals; man alone is ever undomestic, either as a profligate or a monk. So that this first superficial reason for materialism is, if anything, a reason for its opposite; it is exactly where biology leaves off that all religion begins.
When we come to study The Everlasting Man we shall see GKC examine this matter in much greater detail, as he rebuts the famous Outline of History by H. G. Wells. (See especially CW2:169 on birds building nests.) But there is another essay, from almost the same time as our text, which brings this argument to bear against those who condemn what they call "alcohol" but GKC and the Common Man calls "beer":
Man is an exception, whatever else he is. If he is not the image of God, then he is a disease of the dust. If it is not true that a divine being fell, then we can only say that one of the animals went entirely off its head. In neither case can we really argue very much from the body of man simply considered as the body of an innocent and healthy animal. His body has got too much mixed up with his soul, as we see in the supreme instance of sex. It may be worth while uttering the warning to wealthy philanthropists and idealists that this argument from the animal should not be thoughtlessly used, even against the atrocious evils of excess; it is an argument that proves too little or too much. ... Man is always something worse or something better than an animal; and a mere argument from animal perfection never touches him at all. Thus, in sex no animal is either chivalrous or obscene. And thus no animal ever invented anything so bad as drunkenness - or so good as drink.
[GKC ILN April 20, 1907 CW27:445]
Read it in its entirety, you will be amazed. But let us proceed.
It would be the same if I examined the second of the three chance rationalist arguments; the argument that all that we call divine began in some darkness and terror. When I did attempt to examine the foundations of this modern idea I simply found that there were none. Science knows nothing whatever about pre-historic man; for the excellent reason that he is pre-historic. A few professors choose to conjecture that such things as human sacrifice were once innocent and general and that they gradually dwindled; but there is no direct evidence of it, and the small amount of indirect evidence is very much the other way. In the earliest legends we have, such as the tales of Isaac and of Iphigenia, human sacrifice is not introduced as something old, but rather as something new; as a strange and frightful exception darkly demanded by the gods. History says nothing; and legends all say that the earth was kinder in its earliest time. There is no tradition of progress; but the whole human race has a tradition of the Fall. Amusingly enough, indeed, the very dissemination of this idea is used against its authenticity. Learned men literally say that this pre-historic calamity cannot be true because every race of mankind remembers it. I cannot keep pace with these paradoxes.
A note about Isaac and Iphigenia, which are two dramatic stories of human sacrifice. God orders that Isaac, the only son of Abraham and Sarah, be sacrificed; you can read the story in Genesis 22 (I omit the ending in case you've forgotten what happens.) "Iphigenia" is a play by Euripides (ca. 406 B.C.) in which she is to be sacrificed to obtain favorable winds on the sea. (It's connected with Troy and all that, but I don't have time to give even a synopsis; again I omit the ending.)

But please consider the even more dramatic point GKC makes about the Fall! "History says nothing; and legends all say that the earth was kinder in its earliest time. There is no tradition of progress; but the whole human race has a tradition of the Fall. ... Learned men literally say that this pre-historic calamity cannot be true because every race of mankind remembers it." Ha, ha!

You are now expecting GKC's third example, but we shall defer that until next time.

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