Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Suicide of Thought

I am posting here a quote from Chesterton's Orthodoxy.

Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert - himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt - the Divine Reason. Huxley preached a humility content to learn from Nature. But the new sceptic is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn.

. . . . .

The whole modern world is at war with reason; and the tower already reels.

. . . . .

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. . . . 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. 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.

Think about it and give me a ring.


ScottB said...

Interesting stuff - particularly coming from Chesterton. It's been a while since I read Orthodoxy. I'd have to see the quotes in context, because he's also, as I recall, the one who said that poets don't go mad - chess players do.

My initial thought is that all knowing is contextual and situated, and that it happens in the finite minds of finite beings. I think you know my approach to this sort of thing well enough to know that I'm not shy of forming and defending an opinion ;). But at the same time, I don't want to baptize my knowing as "Truth" (capital-T) because of that ambiguity.

I think a Christian epistemology needs to start with sin. That we are fallen, that we are deceived, and that we are limited - these things impact our ability to know absolutely.


Scott said...

Yes, Chesterton does say that ; ) He says as well that the poet tries to get his head in the heavens and that the logician tries to fit the heavens in his head (therefore, the losing of his sanity).

We need to move backward a bit, I believe, for our starting point. Man was created in the image of God. Our mental ability was good at one point before it became corrupted, though even then it was finite. And then in the Fall our minds were corrupted by sin.

Repentance, if I correctly remember my Greek, is literally "to change your mind." When we repent we change our minds to think as God does about something (simplified, overused definition, but true). Not that we didn't agree that lusting after the woman walking down the boardwalk was sin to begin with. But our thinking was corrupted by pride, if only momentarily, when we thought that surely we know better than God when it comes to girls in bikinis.

But we know better. We know the absolute truth of the matter. Don't we?

About "Truth" - What would you place into that category? How would you categorize it? Is all of my knowing "Truth"? Absolutely not. However, there are things that you and I know that are "Truth."

ScottB said...

I think that we grasp parts of Truth. But I don't think we know Truth exhaustively - and I know you're not saying that ;). But I want to be cautious, extremely cautious, to guard that distinction. So much so that I typically qualify my statements about knowing - I want to remind myself, and others, that my interpretation may not be the right one, that Scripture speaks with a plurality of voices that sing in harmony, but not in unison, and that my brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with me are still my brothers and sisters.

I guess I've just seen too much baptism of "truth" as "Truth" in theological circles. I've had too many people tell me their sixteen points are the only way to read scripture, and that everyone else is damned to hell for not dotting their i's and crossing their t's with the same brush strokes. I've seen people reinterpret church history to silence the dissenting voices. But if you silence all dissenting voices, from where does the prophet speak? That's a scary path, I think.

So I speak of Truth the way I speak of beautiful and terrible things - hesitantly and cautiously. Not because I don't believe in it - but rather because I do.

Scott said...

Thanks, Berkhimer. Good points. We are so quick to judge one another, and so slow to love.

I had a wise Bible professor, Ted Hildebrandt, who taught me a lot along these same lines. He would often say, "This is how I kind of read this passage today . . ." knowing that he had interpreted the passage differently in the past, and that he would probably interpret it differently in the future.

Anyway, thanks for the comments. And if you have any more thoughts on the issue, please share them.