Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Pulling down the gas-lamp / Chesterton

"For these reasons, and for many more, I for one have come to believe in going back to fundamentals.  Such is the general idea of this book.  I wish to deal with my most distinguished contemporaries, not personally or in a merely literary manner, but in relation to the real body of doctrine which they teach.  I am not concerned with Mr. Rudyard Kipling as a vivid artist or a vigorous personality;  I am concerned with him as a Heretic--that is to say, a man whose view of things has the hardihood to differ from mine.  I am not concerned with Mr. Bernard Shaw as one of the most brilliant and one of the most honest men alive;  I am concerned with him as a Heretic--that is to say, a man whose philosophy is quite solid, quite coherent, and quite wrong.  I revert to the doctrinal methods of the thirteenth century, inspired by the general hope of getting something done.

Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something, let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull down.  A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages, is approached upon the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, "Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of Light.  If Light be in itself good--"  At this point he is somewhat excusably knocked down.  All the people make a rush for the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating each other on their unmediaeval practicality.  But as things go on they do not work out so easily.  Some people have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light;  some because they wanted old iron;  some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil.  Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post, some too much;  some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery;  some because they wanted to smash something.  And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes.  So, gradually and inevitably, today, tomorrow or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light.  Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark."

(Chesterton.  "Heretics".  Introductory Remarks, last two paragraphs.)

This would be something like talking about Humpty Dumpty falling of the wall, and how on earth to you put things back together again.  Applebaum talks about this in relation to the post-Soviet era in Eastern Europe.  When you have ruined the institutions, what will you have left and what will you do to rebuild society?  These experiments are very expensive, the damage untold.  Always they begin by isolating people from each other.  Is that the first thing that happens when the light is out?

I am not sure about the doctrinal methods of the thirteenth century.  Luther may have had some problems with those, too.  A Reformation was necessitated quite soon, with the scholastics ready to be thrown outwith their non-sense.  Maybe Chesterton is even engaging in some anti-protestant screed here. The scholastics were not Luther's and the Renaissance's men, nor Anselm, nor Aristotle.  Philosophy is just not the path to freedom in Christ.  We cannot think our way to redemption.  Nevertheless, it makes sense to me to be cautious and not throw out the Light with the lamp-post.  Very simply:  the concepts need to be revealed and Biblical.

(Here, by the way Applebaum writes about the Ukrainian crisis.)

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