Monday, August 28, 2006

Asking God questions ( a game, of sorts)

This is what happens when one reads other people's bloggs. Like Catholicae Testudines where people want to know the "spritual significance of a tarantula". Wow.

Everyone has questions to ask God - burning, terrible, sharp questions: death, pain, why.... We are desperate to know the answers.

What if we had the chance?

No, this is not one of those games, though it actually isn't such a bad premise for one! OK, I will set it up: (drum roll) Presenting....

The "Asking God questions" game!

Q: If you met God, what would you ask Him?

I had to start this because I read a hilarious version of some questions which GKC asks God... well, actually it's in a story, and the character asking the questions is an atheist, and the person he talks to is in an asylum... but it's really, really funny. And I already hogged up the Testudines comments box, so I decided I had better post this here:

(Turnbull, the atheist, is addressing the lunatic who says he is God, who had volunteered to be his second in a duel.

[Turnbull says,] "The fact is, I don't like having God for my second."
"Sir!" said that being in a state of great offense, "in my position I am not used to having my favours refused. Do you know who I am?"
The editor of The Atheist turned upon him like one who has lost all patience, and exploded: "Yes, you are God, aren't you?" he said, abruptly, "why do we have two sets of teeth?"
"Teeth?" spluttered the genteel lunatic; "teeth?"
"Yes," cried Turnbull, advancing on him swiftly and with animated gestures, "why does teething hurt? Why do growing pains hurt? Why are measles catching? Why does a rose have thorns ? Why do rhinoceroses have horns? Why is the horn on the top of the nose? Why haven't I a horn on the top of my nose, eh?" And he struck the bridge of his nose smartly with his forefinger to indicate the place of the omission and then wagged the finger menacingly at the Creator.
"I've often wanted to meet you," he resumed, sternly, after a pause, "to hold you accountable for all the idiocy and cruelty of this muddled and meaningless world of yours. You make a hundred seeds and only one bears fruit. You make a million worlds and only one seems inhabited. What do you mean by it, eh? What do you mean by it?"
The unhappy lunatic had fallen back before this quite novel form of attack, and lifted his burnt-out cigarette almost like one warding off a blow. Turnbull went on like a torrent.
"A man died yesterday in Ealing. You murdered him. A girl had the toothache in Croydon. You gave it her. Fifty sailors were drowned off Selsey Bill. You scuttled their ship. What have you got to say for yourself, eh?"
The representative of omnipotence looked as if he had left most of these things to his subordinates; he passed a hand over his wrinkling brow and said in a voice much saner than any he had yet used:
"Well, if you dislike my assistance, of course - perhaps the other gentleman - "
"The other gentleman," cried Turnbull, scornfully, "is a submissive and loyal and obedient gentleman. He likes the people who wear crowns, whether of diamonds or of stars. He believes in the divine right of kings, and it is appropriate enough that he should have the king for his second. But it is not appropriate to me that I should have God for my second. God is not good enough. I dislike and I deny the divine right of kings. But I dislike more and I deny more the divine right of divinity."

[GKC The Ball and the Cross]

If you have not read this fantastic book yet, go and get it and read it!

Oh yes. If you want, you can play the game too. Meanwhile, I have some other matters to address to God just now, so if you will excuse me....

Saturday, August 26, 2006

International Musicians Conference Demotes E flat to minor status

No, this posting is not about music, though there are few things as wonderful and as amusing as music, and musicians. I used to think the accordion was the most hated instrument - (remember the "Far side" pair of scenes: "Welcome to heaven, here's your harp"; "welcome to hell, here's your accordion." ?? Hee hee) - until someone showed me page after page of viola jokes! Ahem.

Actually, I wanted to post a few words about Pluto, and its "demotion". Somebody pointed out that Pluto is the same thing it was 60-odd years ago when it was discovered, and it's going to stay that way, no matter what term the astronomers choose for it this season. Which is quite true.

But there really are some funny things to say about this tempest-in-a-teapot, and, as you may have epected, they were said by Uncle Gilbert. The first, though it refers to Earth (aka Terra, Tellus, Sol III), suggests an interesting concern for what we may call topological cosmology:
I do not believe in being dehumanised in order to study humanity. I do not believe in dwelling upon the distances that are supposed to dwarf the world; I think there is even something a trifle vulgar about this idea of trying to rebuke spirit by size. And as the first idea is not feasible, that of making the earth a strange planet so as to make it significant, I will not stoop to the other trick of making it a small planet in order to make it insignificant. I would rather insist that we do not even know that it is a planet at all, in the sense in which we know that it is a place; and a very extraordinary place too.
[GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:155]
The second even more necessary, for it provides a kind of reassurance that we ought not worry too much about what the scientists are saying this week. They will probably say the opposite if we wait a little while:
...the most confident cosmic statements of science can collapse. If fifty years hence the electron is as entirely exploded as the atom, it will not affect us; for we have never founded our philosophy on the electron any more than on the atom. But the materialists did found their philosophy on the atom. And it is quite likely that some spiritual fad or other is at this moment being founded on the electron. To a man of my generation, the importance of the change does not consist in its destroying the dogma (which was after all a detail, though a very dogmatic dogma), "Matter consists of indivisible atoms." But it does consist in its destroying the accepted, universal and proclaimed and popularised dogma: "You must accept the conclusions of science." Scores and hundreds of times I have heard, through my youth and early manhood, the repetition of that ultimatum: "You must accept the conclusions of science." And it is that notion or experience that has now been concluded; or rather excluded. Whatever else is questionable, there is henceforth no question of anybody "accepting" the conclusions of science. The new scientists themselves do not ask us to accept the conclusions of science. The new scientists themselves do not accept the conclusions of the new science. To do them justice, they deny vigorously that science has concluded; or that it has, in that sense, any conclusion. The finest intellects among them repeat, again and again, that science is inconclusive.
[GKC, The Well and the Shallows CW3:380-1]

Wow, I am still laughing. There is a nearly parallel quote in his ILN essay from April 20, 1929, which was not long before Pluto was discovered.

The really funny thing about this de-planetization is that had nothing to do with Christianity, or some view regarding Genesis, and the earth going around the moon or something. It's even funnier to think that the decision to call Pluto a planet was made not even 80 years ago - hardly something which may have been interfered with by a Church Council. But it is something which some "scientists" seem to like to do very much. Please note: I am, or try to be, a scientist - I know a little about how it's supposed to work, at least if we were honest about it. But I've read a goodly number of books about the history of science, and know that scientists are just as human as those who specialise in the liberal arts... people are used to the fads of literature, but they hardly ever notice the fads of "science". And when somebody like Chesterton does notice, it's going to be very humorous:
I mentioned last week that the doctors have now discovered that Christmas pudding is an exquisitely hygienic and harmless food. That is typical of all the developments of scientific thought in our day. Many prophets and righteous men, many thinkers and idealists, have wasted their lives in running after scientific truth. Never run after scientific truth. Stand where you are, and in a few years scientific truth will run after you. Continue to eat pork, and sooner or later the doctors will say that pork is the only food that is perfectly digestible. Continue to drink port, and sooner or later a Man will arise in medical circles who will prove that port is the only certain safeguard against gout. The specialist may have told you to take your children to the seaside. But if you are only long enough in packing he will very likely have discovered that sea air is poison before you start. The best authorities may have told you (if your chest is weak) to make your bed in your back garden for a year. They may be telling you to grow your tulips in your bedroom the next year. In fact, I did definitely see in a medical article the other day that the fresh-air cure ought to be given up as fresh air was not so good a thing as had been supposed. The truth of the matter is, I suppose, that what a medical theorist has to do is almost exactly the same as what a social or historical theorist has to do: he has to strike an average between an enormous number of effects produced by one thing, all of them different effects, some of them contradictory effects. It is as difficult (I expect) to say whether the effect of sherry is good or bad as to say whether the effect of Napoleon was good or bad. Among these ordinary human things there is no such thing as the simple poison and the simple antidote.
[GKC, ILN Jan 19, 1907 CW27:376]
How much water ought we drink in a day? And what about coffee? Or eggs? What about any food item? Well! So in a year or two we can expect to hear that (1) because of some new data, Pluto really IS a planet (2) also because of some new data, Jupiter is NOT a planet, and neither is Earth. (Hee hee!)

Actually, even though I do not know very much Greek, it seems kind of funny to say that this wanderer named Pluto is not a planet. For the Greek planhthV (planetes) means "wanderer". If they feel compelled by a sense of size (see GKC's first exerpt above!) to add a diminutive, they may call it a "planetoid" as they call Ceres. (Or perhaps "planette"? hee hee)

And since I have brought up Ceres, it may be useful for us to re-acquaint ourselves with the astronomical situation in the early 1800s when Ceres was discovered, and hear the bleat from some "astronomers" who were insulted that there was something else out there between Mars and Jupiter. And speaking of the relations between the Church and science, let's not forget that Ceres was discovered by Father Giuseppe Piazzi, a Theatine monk, and founder of the Palermo Observatory. Oh, yes!

Meanwhile, I am going to write a letter, or at least a note, to the International Musicians Conference in defense of E-flat...

Friday, August 25, 2006

GKC on The Princess and the Goblin

It has been a while since I have posted, for I have been quite busy with work, both the employment kind and others. But my friend Enbrethiliel at Sancta Sanctis recently posted some comments about George MacDonald's fairy-tale, The Princess and the Goblin, and I had to post something as a follow-up.

It is a very wonderful story, even more so because it is a direct ancestor to works of our Uncle Gilbert Chesterton, and J. R. R. Tolkien, and has an effect even on more modern works (yes perhaps "Harry Potter" and even "Star Wars"!) If you have not yet read P&G, I strongly urge you to do so.

Chesterton wrote an introduction to the 1924 George MacDonald and His Wife, by Greville M. MacDonald, which sheds much light on P&G - and I will quote part of it here. It will tell you a little about the story, not enough to spoil it, I hope, but enough to tantalize you into wanting to read it - or read it again. There is far more in the story than is apparent on a first reading, and it will repay you to try it again.

-- Dr. Thursday

There is something not only imaginative but intimately true about the idea of the goblins being below the house and capable of besieging it from the cellars. When the evil things besieging us do appear, they do not appear outside but inside. Anyhow, that simple image of a house that is our home, that is rightly loved as our home, but of which we hardly know the best or the worst, and must always wait for the one and watch against the other, has always remained in my mind as something singularly solid and unanswerable; and was more corroborated than corrected when I came to give a more definite name to the lady watching over us from the turret, and perhaps to take a more practical view of the goblins under the floor. Since I first read that story some five alternative philosophies of the universe have come to our colleges out of Germany, blowing through the world like the east wind. But for me that castle is still standing in the mountains and the light in its tower is not put out.
["George MacDonald" in G. K. C. as M. C. (a collection of GKC's introductions to books by others)]
I find I have to add an afterword to this brief selection. There is a very strong sense of relevance to this quote - I mean in particular the idea of an invasion from inside. Compare this to GKC's vision of siege within a French church, in his "The Conscript and the Crisis":
It seemed to me that we were barricaded in this church, but we could not tell what was happening outside the church. The monstrous and terrible jewels of the windows darkened or glistened under moving shadow or light, but the nature of that light and the shapes of those shadows we did not know and hardly dared to guess. The dream began, I think, with a dim fancy that enemies were already in the town, and that the enormous oaken doors were groaning under their hammers.
[GKC, "The Conscript and the Crisis" in A Miscellany of Men; full essay is here.]
For we are still beset by enemies, the powers of darkness, whether their names are Sauron or Voldemort or the goblins below... Then let us pray for each other, to be always guided by the "light from the tower" and secure under the watchful eyes of the "old woman"...