Chesterton, Hitchens, and Joy

“We cannot enjoy thoroughly even a pas-de-quatre at a subscription dance unless we believe that the stars are dancing to the same tune.” ~ G.K. Chesterton, Heretics

An acquaintance once compared Christopher Hitchens, one of the most famous foes of the Faith, to G.K. Chesterton, one of the greatest defenders of it. Hitchens claimed that he wasn’t so much of an atheist as he was an anti-theist, famously pronouncing that religion poisons everything. In contrast, Chesterton wrote that the more he considered Christianity, the more he “found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.”[1] Still, in this person’s mind, the two were similar: both were wizards with words who enjoyed witty banter, complex prose, big ideas, and strong drink. Both were also journalists and sharp cultural critics.

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Review: The Platonic Tradition Lecture Series by Dr. Peter Kreeft

“It’s all in Plato, all in Plato: Bless me, what do they teach them at these schools?” ~Digory Kirke, from C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia

I can’t recommend this lecture series enough! In them, Dr. Peter Kreeft gives an excellent introduction to Western thought that’s both accessible and delightful to listen to. Kreeft is perhaps one of the best popularizers of philosophy today. He helps us see the discipline along the beam, in fact. As an admirer of C.S. Lewis, Kreeft frequently makes use of his metaphor of looking both at and along something (the namesake of this blog). He has written an entire book series in which he creates illuminating dialogues between Socrates and various modern philosophers – from Hume, to Kant, to Freud, and more. The best philosophy, after all, is done in dialogue or along the beam. 

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A Reflection on God, Time, and Eternity

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“As a result of God’s creation of, and entry into time, He is now with us literally moment by moment as we live and breathe, sharing our every second.  He is and will be always with us.” ~ William Lane Craig

 

Recently, I had the great pleasure of getting to take a class with Dr. William Lane Craig during my last semester of graduate school. The subject was the relationship of God to time – a subject for which Craig has pioneered some fascinating and important research. This opportunity was such a gift for me, too! I cannot express how indebted I feel to him and his ministry, Reasonable Faith, for helping me through a season of doubt in which I came very close to abandoning my belief in God.

Dr. Craig’s view of God’s relationship to time is novel, to say the least, as he rejects the classical view that God exists outside of time. I believe that he has very convincingly shown this view’s weaknesses, as well. Craig’s conclusion is that God is timeless sans creation but temporal subsequent to the moment He created space/time.

Below are some of my reflections on the class. I hope you enjoy reading them and your curiosity is piqued to delve deeper into this very important topic.

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First Impressions and Intelligent Design

“It is the design in Nature that strikes us first …”

“Everyone must have noticed the same thing in the fixed and almost offensive color of all unfamiliar things, tropic birds and tropic blossoms. Tropic birds look like staring toys out of a toy-shop. Tropic flowers simply look like artificial flowers, like things cut out of wax. This is a deep matter, and, I think, not unconnected with divinity; but anyhow it is the truth that when we see things for the first time we feel instantly that they are fictive creations; we feel the finger of God. It is only when we are thoroughly used to them and our five wits are wearied, that we see them as wild and objectless; like the shapeless tree-tops or the shifting cloud. It is the design in Nature that strikes us first; the sense of the crosses and confusions in that design only comes afterwards through experience and an almost eerie monotony. If a man saw the stars abruptly by accident he would think them as festive and as artificial as a firework. We talk of the folly of painting the lily; but if we saw the lily without warning we should think that it was painted.”

~G.K. Chesterton from What’s Wrong with the World

A Reflection on Personhood, Peter Singer, and Abortion

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Sharran Sutherland: “I am hoping that by sharing these pictures of my precious little boy that it might just make one person who is contemplating abortion decide to let their child live.”  Read more here.

“He has been with us in the darkness of the womb as He will be in the darkness of the tomb.”  ~Gilbert Meilaender, “Bioethics: A Primer for Christians”

It is revealing to look at how metaphors change throughout history, for these most often reflect shifts in the ways we look at the world and ourselves. Consider how the expressions for “having children” have changed. Older metaphors contained in them a sense of reverence for the process: “begetting” in ancient Israel, “genesis” in ancient Greece, and “procreation” in premodern times here in the West. Today, we “employ a metaphor of the factory, ‘re-production,” perhaps “impressed with the machine and the gross national product (our own work of creation),” observes philosopher Leon Kass.[1] A phenomenon so deeply rooted in our biology is spoken of in mechanical and impersonal terms that seem at odds with our humanity. This is just another hint that the two-story view of the human being – with its splitting of body and mind, biology and will – has insinuated itself into our discourse. This is another outworking of the two-story view of truth in our world today (see the footnote for an explanation).[2] Nowhere is this bifurcation of the human person more apparent than in the case of abortion and the personhood theory used to justify it.

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The Revival of Philosophy by G.K. Chesterton

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by G.K. Chesterton

“Some people fear that philosophy will bore or bewilder them; because they think it is not only a string of long words, but a tangle of complicated notions. These people miss the whole point of the modern situation. These are exactly the evils that exist already; mostly for want of a philosophy.”

From The Common Man: “The best reason for a revival of philosophy is that unless a man has a philosophy certain horrible things will happen to him. He will be practical; he will be progressive; he will cultivate efficiency; he will trust in evolution; he will do the work that lies nearest; he will devote himself to deeds, not words. Thus struck down by blow after blow of blind stupidity and random fate, he will stagger on to a miserable death with no comfort but a series of catchwords; such as those which I have catalogued above. Those things are simply substitutes for thoughts. In some cases they are the tags and tail-ends of somebody else’s thinking. That means that a man who refuses to have his own philosophy will not even have the advantages of a brute beast, and be left to his own instincts. He will only have the used-up scraps of somebody else’s philosophy; which the beasts do not have to inherit; hence their happiness. Men have always one of two things: either a complete and conscious philosophy or the unconscious acceptance of the broken bits of some incomplete and shattered and often discredited philosophy. Such broken bits are the phrases I have quoted: efficiency and evolution and the rest. The idea of being “practical”, standing all by itself, is all that remains of a Pragmatism that cannot stand at all. It is impossible to be practical without a Pragma. And what would happen if you went up to the next practical man you met and said to the poor dear old duffer, “Where is your Pragma?” Doing the work that is nearest is obvious nonsense; yet it has been repeated in many albums. In nine cases out of ten it would mean doing the work that we are least fitted to do, such as cleaning the windows or clouting the policeman over the head. “Deeds, not words” is itself an excellent example of “Words, not thoughts”. It is a deed to throw a pebble into a pond and a word that sends a prisoner to the gallows. But there are certainly very futile words; and this sort of journalistic philosophy and popular science almost entirely consists of them.

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Wonder and the Philosopher

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Prehistoric cave paintings from the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave (from about 35,000 years ago)

“Fairy tales founded in me two convictions; first, that this world is a wild and startling place, which might have been quite different, but which is quite delightful; second, that before this wildness and delight one may well be modest and submit to the queerest limitations of so queer a kindness.” ~G.K. Chesterton

“The beginning of philosophy is wonder,” and its end is divine worship.[1]  Yet since the end of the Medieval Era, philosophy has begun from a place that has ensured ends of uncertainty, dislocation, and despair. In his essay The Philosophical Act, Josef Pieper observes that modern philosophers adopt only the disillusionment aspect of wonder, never moving towards its positive ends—the ends that humble us, but also give us a cosmic location and identity. They interpret someone like Socrates as merely a gadfly, failing to see that his insistent questioning was founded upon assumptions that were deeply rooted in tradition, not merely doubt. Pieper notes that “under the impulse of a rationalistic and ‘progressive’ doctrine, the history of philosophy as it has been written in modern times, does the exact reverse and sets the beginning of philosophy at the moment when thought cut itself free from tradition.”[2] Modern man uses philosophy to break down what he sees as the confining walls of dogma without moving further up and further in, so to speak, to the wonder that will move him to praise. One such man was philosopher David Hume, the thinker that would awaken Kant from his “dogmatic slumber.”[3] Hume needed a good dose of the species of disillusionment that wonder evokes, for his doubt did not go deep enough. It merely uprooted the mind, leaving it to languish in an unexamined, skeptical dogma of its own. G.K. Chesterton’s Elfland is perfectly suited for this task, for it is built upon this more “elementary wonder” that reminds us the world is astonishing because it could have been different.[4] This is the true wonder that is the beginning of philosophy and whose end is gratitude.

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A Skeptic in Elfland

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“We need this life of practical romance; the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure. We need so to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome. We need to be happy in this wonderland without once being merely comfortable.”[1]

The morning fog hung heavily about me as I waited for my appointment to arrive. He was late. “Miracles,” I thought to myself as I examined the surroundings. I had been in this part of London before, but something seemed new. The tall trees that lined the long street looked like hairy-headed giants or crowned kings in the morning mist, frozen in a sort of dignified expectation for the arrival of something or someone. Everywhere was gray and dull as the light from the early sun struggled to penetrate the air, deciding instead to let the fog win. I stood by the entrance to a gated park, the insides of which were completely obscured by the gloom. It was one of many such parks in London, but it was new to me. It must be private for the gate was locked.

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The Sanctity of Human Life

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Amalie Mathilde Bauerle (12 November 1873 – 4 March 1916)

“When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family we step into a fairy-tale.” ~ G.K. Chesterton

“When it comes to alleviating suffering, we must prioritize the needs of the thinking, feeling, actual person walking around on two legs over that of the potential person in the womb.” This statement represents a cogent summary of one of the most powerful arguments for abortion one will find today. Framed in both emotionally dense and philosophically loaded language, it puts the pro-life advocate into several difficult positions at once—first, to seem to not care about another’s suffering and second, to have to wade into the deep, philosophical waters of defining personhood. This argument reveals many things about the debate, not the least of which that it hinges upon the disputed concept of personhood and an impossible calculation of suffering. While the latter must be responded to delicately and with compassion for it is a species of the problem of evil, we often do not have to luxury of sidestepping the personhood aspect of the argument. This is primarily because the connection between personhood and abortion has been codified into our legal system and thus, it shapes the thinking of many in our culture (as the opening quote reveals). I propose that questions of personhood can indeed be engaged from practical, philosophical, and scientific standpoints and that the cumulative results of such an engagement form a powerful existential case against abortion.

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Darwin and the Darkling Plain of Doubt

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Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky (1817 – 1900) “Pushkin farewell to the sea”

“The one created thing which we cannot look at is the one thing in the light of which we look at everything. Like the sun at noonday, mysticism explains everything else by the blaze of its own victorious invisibility. Detached intellectualism is (in the exact sense of a popular phrase) all moonshine; for it is light without heat, and it is secondary light, reflected from a dead world.”

~ G.K. Chesterton, “Orthodoxy”[1]

On hearing the notion that Christianity is the enemy of science, G.K. Chesterton responded with the following: “It illustrates the precise fashion in which modern man has provided himself with an equally modern mythology.”[2] He noted that practically speaking, that mythology may exhibit “something of the power of a religion.” From science comes one of the great superstitions of our age, its power lying in the fact that it is seen as being anti-superstitious, even by its high priests. “The mere word ‘Science’ is already used as a sacred and mystical word in many matters of politics and ethics,” Chesterton continues, being used in all its abstractions “to threaten the most vital traditions of civilization—the family and the freedom of the citizen.”[3]

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