Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fighting - the Right Way

Please finish your food and drink before reading!

I think it is one of the funnier aspects of the calendar of the Saints that on September 29 we have the archangel St. Michael "the Scrapper" (as William Dunnigan calls him in The Miracle of the Bells) - and the very next day, September 30, we have St. Jerome - who was also rather a scrapper, and a holy man as well.

It brings to mind that we as Chestertonians must utterly reject the "intolerant" and the "judgemental" rejection of us because we are intolerant and judgemental. Why of course we are. We have to be. There's too much at stake! Apathy is not a virtue, nor is ignorance. You don't let a child eat a mushroom you know is poisonous, even if you have to grab it out of his hand. Nor do you let him eat it if you don't know it's edible! There has to be some sense and proportion as to what matters, whether it is eating or reading or any human activity.

But perhaps that seems too violent. It is always a joke to me when people talk "non-violence" as if that was some Christian thing. (But we must be careful about terms here.) Didn't they ever hear Jesus cursing the Pharisees? Wow. Brood of vipers! Hypocrites! Sure He said that. Or Herod: That fox. Yeah.

Again, perhaps too violent. But then are there not times when one must be very stern, even abruptly so - when the error is very serious? (As in the case of Hey kid you can't eat that!)

So what is the issue here? There has got to be something. It seems that there are different cases, and different ways of handing errors. OK, so let us see how Chesterton deals with his foes - how about good old George Bernard Shaw:
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.
[GKC, Heretics CW1:46]
What is the point here? The point is that it is possible and even permissible to say someone is wrong - providing one has the sense that there is a point which that person needs to consider - or reconsider, and which you are trying to bring to his attention. Not that one says, or means, "you are wrong, and so I want to hurt you" or something of that kind. Chesterton wasn't like that. And a fortiori, (that is, "how much more") Jesus wasn't like that. Don't you remember this:
And which of you, if he ask his father bread, will he give him a stone? Or a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he reach him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father from heaven give the good Spirit to them that ask him?
[Luke 11:11-13]
Jesus would certainly have grabbed a child to keep him from swallowing something poisonous... that's what He was trying to do with the Pharisees. And lest you think it didn't work, just remember one of the most famous Pharisees is the man we now call "SAINT PAUL". Yes. Though there was a bit of violence too, but just enough to get him to pay attention.

So I think that's part of the point about St. Jerome (who might also be called the Scrapper). About St. Mike - well, that's a little different. We all know the Enemy he has to deal with, and that there's no chance he's going to change his mind.... Chesterton reminds us of such serious cases when he points out the danger in one of the truly nasty uses of printing - I won't use the word here, you know it, it starts with P, O, R, N - but he said: "There is such a thing as p*rn; as a system of deliberate *r*tic stimulants. That is not a thing to be argued about with one's intellect, but to be stamped on with one's heel." [The Common Man 127] I think you can readily grasp the allusion to Genesis 3:15 - it's the same Enemy.

I should mention that one needs special training when one must engage in this necessary but very difficult form of warfare. That training used to be spoken of as a sacrament - "Confirmation" or something like that - which had the Latin sense of "STRENGTH". But there's also something to be said for training in the milder forms of correction - cases where one can use true humor - that is, where one points out the silliness of a statement, but in a way which is utterly devoid of any personal insult or ridicule. Chesterton was a master of this, and there's one quote of his that almost always gets me laughing heartily. You need to see it, so I will show it to you... yes, it would be good for you to have a deep laugh just now, and it will also enlighten you on the method to be used:
That capable and ingenious writer, Mr. Arthur Symons, has included in a book of essays recently published, I believe, an apologia for "London Nights," in which he says that morality should be wholly subordinated to art in criticism, and he uses the somewhat singular argument that art or the worship of beauty is the same in all ages, while morality differs in every period and in every respect. He appears to defy his critics or his readers to mention any permanent feature or quality in ethics. This is surely a very curious example of that extravagant bias against morality which makes so many ultra-modern aesthetes as morbid and fanatical as any Eastern hermit. Unquestionably it is a very common phrase of modern intellectualism to say that the morality of one age can be entirely different to the morality of another. And like a great many other phrases of modern intellectualism, it means literally nothing at all. If the two moralities are entirely different, why do you call them both moralities? It is as if a man said, "Camels in various places are totally diverse; some have six legs, some have none, some have scales, some have feathers, some have horns, some have wings, some are green, some are triangular. There is no point which they have in common." The ordinary man of sense would reply, "Then what makes you call them all camels? What do you mean by a camel? How do you know a camel when you see one?"
[GKC Heretics CW1:167]
Oh, my. Some camels are triangular. Hee hee. What's instructive for us to see is the difference when GKC handles his good old enemy H. G. Wells who tried say something similar:
Then there is the opposite attack on thought: that urged by Mr. H. G. Wells when he insists that every separate thing is "unique," and there are no categories at all. This also is merely destructive. Thinking means connecting things, and stops if they cannot be connected. It need hardly be said that this scepticism forbidding thought necessarily forbids speech; a man cannot open his mouth without contradicting it. Thus when Mr. Wells says (as he did somewhere), "All chairs are quite different," he utters not merely a misstatement, but a contradiction in terms. If all chairs were quite different, you could not call them "all chairs."
[GKC Orthodoxy CW1:238]
What works better? Well, the nearly mathematical argument used against Wells works very tidily, and perhaps Wells nodded in a somewhat chastened acknowledgement that there was perhaps something wrong in his words. But the feathered, triangular, winged, green camels of Symons is far more memorable, and perhaps even he laughed about it as he grasped how odd his own words were.

I think I will give one more example, since it seems to fit in well with GKC's "feathered camels" - it is a bit less personal, but perhaps even more effective:
I have just received a long, elaborate, and very able document from the Moral Instruction League, describing what they conceive to be a complete system of sensible education in ethics; a scheme of ethics to which everyone assents and which can therefore be substituted for the moralities of all the creeds. It is supposed to represent the morality in which all men agree. And really, I do not think I ever read a document with which I disagreed so much. I do not mean at all that it is an exceptionally silly document; in many ways it is exceptionally capable. The only mistake in it is the mistake (as I freely admit), of almost all the enterprising educationalism of our day. That mistake is simply that all the people who think about education never seem to think about children. I solemnly assure the reader that I have read whole books about education written by intellectual people with great ingenuity; and I can only describe the effect on my mind by some kind of wild parallel. It felt as if I were reading a book called "How to Breed Horses," and it was all written like this: "Many people can enjoy the sweet voices of the horses singing at daybreak who nevertheless know little of the way they build their nests; and who (when they have tamed them) will often neglect to clean out their cages and be content merely with occasionally smoothing their feathers." One could only come to a sort of blear-eyed conclusion that the man was not talking about horses at all. Exactly in the same way many modern educational documents, including this one, strike me as not being either bad for children or good for children. They are not about children. The man who wrote them has obviously not the most glimmering idea of what a child is like. To take the most obvious point, they all talk as if the child stood still to be educated.
[GKC ILN May 30 1908 CW28:111-112]
You see? That's the trick... the point is not to insult the enemy - but to show him his error. In most all cases of human interaction, the man is a friend who made a mistake, and you need to shwo him with all kindness - as you might wish to be corrected when you fail (willfully or not). But we must also not forget that there are real dangers which may require more stringent action on our part. The Scholastics used that word distinguo (I distinguish) when one needs to divide a matter so as to think, see, understand (and argue) more clearly and correctly. We need to pray - to St. Michael, and St. Jerome - for light to know how and when to be kind and humorous - or severe - as we must be.


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