Thursday, August 8, 2013

Keeping things in perspective...

Something that has been kicking around in my thoughts of late is the way in which conversations (or debates, dialectics, or the study of a particular subject) can dominate the room to the extent that we participants have the (illusory) impression that OUR discussion is THE discussion.

I first was struck by this when reading Jesus of Nazareth by B16. I may have mentioned to you before how I kept realizing that the gospels that I knew on one level like the back of my hand, had dimensions to them of which I had previously been ignorant, and what is more that those dimensions were the principal meaning of the gospel stories. On reflection, I think that what I had taken to be the meaning of much of the new testament writing was really an almost academic debate of the world of Christianity after the Reformation.

I see this also in books like The Everlasting Man, in which Chesterton describes moods, fads, heresies, and philosophies that I simply do not really 'get.' But the fact that such moods are not the mood of our society today does not mean that they are not "valid" or capable of moving men. I recall reading in Dante's Inferno that some men were in hell for the sin of squandering (if I remember the right term); the footnote explained without elaboration that in Dante's time there was a fad of some rich young noblemen to go around and burn down barns full of food, basically destroying their own property. That is a mood whose motivations simply pass me by; I've never even felt a remote temptation to do something like that.

To make a long story short, while there are many local rooms with local conversations (no less important for their parochial character), the Church has this universal quality, this 'bigness' that acts like a ballast steadying the ship when the winds would push it over in one direction or another. Thus whether it becomes fashionable to deny everything but one's own consciousness, or to deny the consciousness and everything but matter, or to deny both as illusion, to attack the body as the degenerate creature of the evil force or to exalt the body and its pleasures as the only god worth serving, etc. etc. etc., the Church seems to smile as the mother at her young child chasing after some new fad, and to gently but firmly separate the good grains out of the chaff.

In the room in which modernism (including conservatism and liberalism) and postmodernism hash out their concerns, it can be sometimes helpful to climb up to higher ground and see the other rooms around.